“There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
– T.S. Eliot, The Wastelands, lines 25-30
“What I’m saying is that there are known knowns, and that there are known unknowns. But there are also unknown unknowns; things we don’t know, that we don’t know.”
– Gin Rummy, The Boondocks (2005), from “A Date with the Health Inspector”
The unknown should frighten you. It should send a shiver of existential dread down your spine. You should be aware that the universe is vast, empty, and cold. You are a collection of atoms merged together inside of a bio dome which appears as a pale blue dot in one of the Milky Way’s spirals. This is factual, not interpretive. This is what my brain screams lately, on a daily basis, shrinking my ego.
But I don’t believe that something so incredible should be feared. The fact that, for now, we are alone in the universe should be liberating. The universe may be dark but we are illuminated by loving, warm light every single day. Our true mother, the earth, provides for us as well as giving us a natural place to die when our time is over.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. Allow me to distract you. The last year of my life has been anything but peaceful. In the long run none of it will matter and that is one principle that gives me comfort every night before I sleep. I fled from my home across the country, leaving everything I knew behind in search of something that I shared with early settlers whom traveled to California during the Great Depression: opportunity. I left a girl that never really loved me, who relished pain more than comfort, and sought a new life in the west. Since then I’ve encountered some of the hardest trials of my life. Unemployment. Loneliness. Loss of inspiration. Sleepless nights. Trauma. The unknown.
I’ve tried to make peace with the unknown. I really have. But its difficult when the void stares back, taunting. There is so much that can go wrong. I have run on anxiety for months in the same way that cars use gasoline to power their engines. I am in a safe, secure place, and I’m writing now more than I have when I graduated college. Perhaps, even longer than that. I’m healing. The unknown still calls to me. What if you lose your job? What if your travel plans fall apart? What if your parents, or other family members, doesn’t make it home for dinner? The strongest lesson I’ve learned this year is to always be on guard, just in case. You never know when personal misfortune may befall you.
But I’m loosening my shoulders, and breathing deeper than I have in years, filling the annals of my self that haven’t had oxygen in years. Soon, I’ll be okay. Soon. “When” remains to be seen.
I won’t divulge the dirty details, but this year has been crippling to say the least. The unknown is a pendulum swinging into rational and irrational territories. “Of course you’re going to be okay,” one side claims. “You never know,” the other taunts.
I know that it’s just my imagination playing tricks on me. On all fronts, I’m much better off than I was a year ago. When I think back to those nights with my ex, the one who never loved me nor herself, I used to lay awake and listen to her breathing. Each inhale was labored, and each exhale shook her frame, as if she were weeping even in her dreams. Within the rhythm of the rise and fall of her chest I could hear those final words beginning to form, the end approaching, but I didn’t want to believe it.
On one of these nights, I climbed out of her spacious queen size bed and crept upstairs. I entered my “man cave” (we lived in a two bedroom apartment, and while my room was seldom used we still referred to it as such). Gently I allowed the door to click shut and I lay face down, arms propped up, watching the snow fall outside my bedroom window and onto the suburban streets. Luckily my cat Salem (who is the mascot of my blog) was in the room and he sat patiently next to me. In silence we watched the snow while my mind reflected the flurry, thoughts tangling up and mixed emotions stirring. I eventually reached over to scratch Salem’s head and he purred, standing on his hind legs and adjusting my hand to itch that sweet spot behind his ear.
I’m not sure what triggered it, but looking back I guess it was watching him relish in my attention that something clicked: she hadn’t shown any sort of affection towards me that I knew wasn’t forced for months. My cat, the one we adopted, seemed to love me more than ever claimed to in the last year of our relationship. And I cried. I cried fucking hard because I knew it was over before it began. Between sobs when I was able to catch my breath I promised Salem that I was going to find a better future for us, that he may have to go away for a while someday. He would have to live with my grandparents because I had no money for my own place and my parents, if they took me in, could not harbor him.
I was in the unknown. Could I salvage whatever was left of my relationship? Would I have to leave Salem again, for another year or more? Was there any way I could make it on my own without the financial security my ex provided? It remained to be seen, and until this point, I was deeply entrenched in the unknown. I was scared. It would be a long road that take more than it would give, and I didn’t know if I could survive.
But I did. I overcame the unknown. And while I’ll always remain in its company, at least I can stand on my own. There are more knowns than there are unknowns. And what is known far, far outweighs the knowns. I have a great job that pays well. I have parents who love and support me. I have good friends that are there when times are tough. I am going on a trip outside of the United States to the United Kingdom in February, departing a few days after my 24th birthday, to meet my pen pal and best friend for the first time. I am writing and creating again, and that alone makes me feel wealthier than if I had a million dollars.
To the unknown. Although you will inevitably return someday, I conquered you. I won this battle. And I have just two words for you: fuck you.
We’ll meet again someday. But I’m stronger now. And I hope that you are ready, not the other way around.