Of Fish & Firstborn Sons.

“Maybe you’ll stand. Maybe you’ll give and break to find another way and make things better. Maybe you’ll find a life you can live and learn to love along the way.”
Isolation, Alter Bridge.

Though Moe and I had planned on it during my vacation the week before, there was a miscommunication, so we elected to go kayaking and fishing the following Friday. I had literally been talking about kayaking again for years, eager to feel that sort of energetic peace I get when around bodies of water in general and eager to kayak specifically, and finally I was going to follow through. Moe had offered that we fish, too, and despite not having fished for some time and my unexplained disgust and refusal to eat anything aquatic, that sounded appealing as well.

So that Friday I got up early, went through my often enduring waking up process, and headed his way. After shooting the breeze at his house as we (mostly him) prepared the fishing poles and lures and all that, we got some drinks, I got a fishing licence, we loaded up his two kayaks and then left for a nearby, private lake.

Being on the water was fucking spectacular, as expected — for some reason, staring at the reflections playing on the disturbed surface induces a calming, cleansing, almost psychedelic state in me. Being surrounded by trees enhanced the cleansing feeling, too. It didn’t bother me much that I probably wouldn’t catch anything, it just felt good to be out in nature. We weren’t even out there for long, either, when, in the midst of talking with Moe, I got a violent bite.

Was I snagged on something?

Pulling back, the pole bowed so much I thought it was going to snap, but the aggressive movement made it clear as day that I indeed had a catch. As I reeled it in, afraid I was going to lose it as it swam beneath the kayak, Moe started paddling towards me like crazy. He pulled it up, mind blown, mind blown even further that I didn’t seem as mind blown. In his estimation, it was a large-mouthed bass of roughly five pounds. We didn’t bring anything to take it home with, however, and both of us had left our phones in the car, so I couldn’t even get a photo.

My immediate thoughts? Dad will be proud.

Hours later, when we returned to solid Earth and prepared to leave around nine in the evening, I finally got a chance to check my phone. I thought about texting my father about the fish, but it turned out that he had already texted me.

His text read, simply: Check your texts.

This seemed silly, for to follow his instructions I would have to have first, well, followed his instructions. To make matters more perplexing, his text was the only text. Even so, I knew what it was about, no matter how much I might try to convince myself otherwise, and my heart kind of sank. It was about my mother’s older brother. My uncle Fred. The ever-lingering concern as of late.

Cue flashback sequence.

When they were growing up, my mother once told me, she would be amused to see him sit on the edge of his bed in the morning, half asleep, chin propped up by a fist like those statues called The Thinker. She also always joked that he looked like a monkey, so one year, I think it was for Christmas, I did a pastel work of a monkey in The Thinker pose as a gift for her. I liked the inherent contradiction in the image — not to mention the fact that it served as a pretty good metaphor for how she perceived her brother in general.

He was a fairly hairy guy, so I’m sure that had something to do with the monkey thing, but she also saw him as rather un-evolved in certain ways. He wasn’t too social, wasn’t great with girls, and he was rather inept at taking care of himself. She told me once that when he finally got a place of his own he had to call their mother, as he hadn’t the foggiest idea how to do laundry.

The fact that he was catered to in his youth by his parents, my mother has often said, did him no favors. Fred being catered to by his parents didn’t do me any favors, either, as it turned out.

It’s not too complicated. Fred was the first child. Clearly, he was also a son, and being the firstborn son made him the golden child in his parents’ eyes, which stuck my mother in his shadow, where she grew quite cold about it, and understandably so. Her revenge was sought in an indirect fashion called transference. In other words, when it came to be that her first child turned out to be a son she took out her vengeance on him — me — as a sort of involuntary stand-in for her brother. She inverted the value system that her parent’s cradled. Her parents treated Fred like the golden child; as I grew up, mom treated me, well, like shit. It was only when she retired and became a grandmother that our relationship changed, and I like to see all that bullshit as being behind us now.

Despite her critiques of her brother, however, mom also frequently remarked how Fred was remarkably intelligent. Though he never confirmed it, she was also convinced he had a photographic memory. And to me, he was always the super-smart guy around — at least that’s the way I saw him as a kid.

I remembered how he always visited on the holidays, though typically having forgotten to get everyone gifts in the style of an absent-minded professor. He’d spend most of his time drinking coffee and reading one of his sci-fi novels while simultaneously watching the Sci-Fi Channel. Sometimes he would go and play a game on the computer. If I had questions regarding science or technology, he was always the guy to ask.

For a short period he was married, though my mother always said marriage never suited him and suspected the cold bitch he’d ended up with was only in it for the money. After the divorce, he got a dog, a rambunctious dalmatian, and since the dog’s death in the late 80s or early 90s, Fred has lived alone in his house in Cincinnati, where my parents maintain he originally moved to escape his mother. He was diagnosed with COPD several years back, quit smoking and ultimately retired.

From as early on as I can recall he was always complaining about his job at the time. What the job was, how much he made, where it was located — none of that ever seemed to make a difference. And I’ve always understood that, understood it all too intimately, but I assumed that retirement would be his time to shine. That he’d live it up. Be happy. Without a job, he could live by his own rules. Read his books, watch sci movies, fish, shoot his guns, and so on. He lived serving other people’s interests his entire life, but now his life could be his own.

After he retired, though, things just seemed to get worse. As time went on, he turned into a hypochondriac, constantly thinking things were physically wrong with him when it became increasingly clear to others that, aside from his COPD, his issues were largely psychological and self-inflicted. He complained he couldn’t drive because he couldn’t catch his breath on the way to his truck, for instance, and despite the fact that he was clearly having an anxiety attack, he denied it. He finally went to a psychiatrist, but stopped shortly thereafter. Despite him constantly going to see doctors, he considered them all useless quacks who knew diddly dick.

He came down for the holidays increasingly infrequently. He often wouldn’t even answer my mother’s emails, texts or calls. He also refused to let my mother come down to visit him; she suspected it was because he was embarrassed what she’d think when she saw the house. Though I forget how it happened, mom made friends with his neighbor, who she described as a kind lady who also cared and worried about him. The neighbor visited him, though he never let her in the house, either, and they shared suspicions that Fred had become a hoarder. She sort of became Mom’s secret contact, her secret agent, someone with whom she had a covert alliance and through whom she could keep an eye on her declining sibling.

When the neighbor informed my mother that she would soon he moving to Florida, Mom became understandably worried that without her help she would just discover he had died one day, likely some time after it happened, and be left to sort through a house packed to the brim with junk.

Then something amazing happened. Out of the goddamned blue one day, Fred actually called Mom. Stranger still, he openly declared to her that he needed help, as he just couldn’t live like this anymore.

When I heard this from her, it was a relief. It brought a smile to my face. I was actually proud of him. After all, this couldn’t have been an easy thing for him to do. I mean, imagine it: you spend countless years making money, buying a house, building a life you’re in control of, loathing the mere thought of asking anyone for help as you’re convinced through this suffering life you have, if nothing else, gained some sort of independence and autonomy, some liberty, some true, goddamned personal freedom — and then, suddenly, you are forced to face the fact that you just can’t do it alone anymore. Your life has become a hopeless, unmanageable, dilapidating bag of festering shit and you have to summon up the courage to swallow your pride and ask a trusted loved one, someone who has been trying to nurture and sustain a bond with you for years to no avail, for help. Allowing degrees of vulnerability you’ve likely never expressed to flower as you show that person — mom, in this case — that you trust her more than anyone else.

Mom later told me she suspected that the real reason he called her was because someone had reported him to Health and Human Services and he needed her help so that he could make a more convincing case to them that he really didn’t need help. While this killed my buzz, it seemed to present a far more likely scenario.

Yet again, cynicism wins.

He was in the hospital when Mom first came down, and without telling him, she went into his house. Uninvited. And it was horrid. His nesting instinct had gone awry, gotten stuck in overdrive.

He was indeed a hoarder.

She’d brought their German Shepherd down with her. It was roughly a four-and-a-half hour drive and, particularly given the fact that she had never driven that far before alone, she needed the company and sense of security the aging pooch could provide. As they entered the house, the dog was afraid to move, refused to enter the place.

My parents are very clean and orderly, at least with respect to the majority of houses I’ve been to in my life, so the poor pooch was not acclimated to this kind of environment. Not in the fucking least. The same was true of my younger sister, Linda, and mom’s story about the dog immediately reminded me of it.

When my youngest sister was very young, my mother had brought her to our cousin’s house. I forget if mom was feeding their animals while they were away or what the exact circumstances were, but my sister felt so threatened by the cluttered surroundings that she clung to my mother’s leg the entire time. Unsurprisingly, my sister’s house, now that she has helped build a family of her own, is perhaps even cleaner than our parents’.

Once my mother cleared a path for the dog, she actually submitted to entering the mouth of that maddening house. Mom then cleaned a room and left, if I remember correctly. In any case, she returned home enlightened, now at least aware of her brother’s living conditions and capable of beginning the process of acclimation to the epic mess she was going to have to deal with when he finally shed his mortal coil. And, hell, she even got a head start on sorting through the garbage heap that she was doomed to inherit as well.

When he finally conceded to allowing her to see him at his house, which in his eyes was the first time she saw the place, mom was somewhat acclimated to her surroundings, psychologically prepared for what it looked like — and so was spared the inevitable double-whammy, for it immediately became apparent that she was not at all psychologically prepared for what he looked like.

He was deathly skinny and had long hair and beard. Her overall description made me imagine an unkempt, severed Jesus head atop the pike of a stick figure’s body clad in baggy clothes — though to be fair, I wasn’t there.

She continued to go down there once, twice a week, cleaning the house, doing all she could to help him get better. However much she persisted, he wouldn’t eat or drink, save when he tried to get her to stay, and couldn’t even make it the short distance to the bathroom before having an anxiety attack and calling it quits. No wonder he couldn’t make it to his truck to drive down to us for the holidays.

He was in and out of the hospital and she tried to get him into assisted living, but he resisted. He just kept getting worse. He started calling mom at three or four in the morning, usually over a disturbing, vivid, paranoid-fuelled dream he’d mistaken for reality. From the hospital, he was put in a nursing home, where he swiftly graduated to a hospice, which was thankfully also in the hospital.

Simultaneously, my parents continued going through the house, which is an ongoing chore for them. He hadn’t opened his mail in some time. There were bills from years ago, gift cards we’d sent him, even presents, all unopened. There were bags of new clothes and appliances he had bought, dropped, and left unopened on tables, on the floor. Packets of batteries were everywhere, some corroded despite being unopened. Bags of rotting, unopened food. Plastic bags that were disintegrating as soon as they were touched, they were so old. Since he had the aforementioned difficulty making it to the bathroom, he had also evidently taken up the habit of pissing in empty Evian bottles. There were guns and ammo buried in every room. At one point, Mom had gathered up some clothes for him to bring to the hospital. Once they got there, she discovered there were bullets in one of the pockets.

This old hoarder house was armed to the fucking teeth.

There were also the pills, some for various conditions he thought he had, others for anxiety and depression. Some he had taken for awhile before stopping, others he had never opened.

Then there was the locked room. What could be in there? I thought it, too, but my sister, Eve, the middle child, was the one who actually verbalized it to Mom one day when they were discussing the room:

“Whatever happened to his dog’s body when it died?”

My parents burst into laughter.

My two predictions were the dead dog (though mostly in jest) or that it was a porn room. When the door was ultimately opened: porn it was. Magazines, DVDs, even a box of VHS tapes. There was a dildo and other sex toys. Not to give the impression that the porn was limited to the porn room, mind you, as they found when they started bringing bags of stuff they’d excavated from the Cincinnati hell house back home to go through. Dad was reading something in their upstairs bathroom, a magazine of Fred’s, and found an interesting makeshift bookmark in the process. It was a signed photo of a stripper calling him by name and thanking him for “cumming.”

Still, it beats finding a dead dog. I mean, I guess.

A few weeks ago, upon visiting my parents, I was out by the fire pit in the backyard when my mom slowly approached me and told me she wanted to talk to me about something. She knew Fred had a lot of money, but she had no idea how much until she started dealing with his finances. She said that what she wanted to do was give us all a cut and that I should use mine to find a place nearer to home.

I tried not to get too excited, particularly given the guilty feeling it gave me considering how I might profit from the death of a loved one, but I couldn’t help but imagine the ease this would give me. I didn’t have to worry that I’d find a place near my parents place but not a nearby job, so I’d have to commute between there and where I work now, a good distance away — or find a job but not a place, which would be equally shitty.

What if my car broke down?

In any case, that would elicit unbearable anxiety, particularly in the winter months. That’s why, as much as I’ve wanted to move, I haven’t.

It would be a far easier transition knowing there was some significant cushion in my bank account. With the money, I might even be able to buy a trailer, and after paying it off I’d only have the lot and utilities to worry about. I’d never have to move again or worry about not having a place to live — and family would be nearby. And I could finally quit this job and find another.

Still, I knew all that was uncertain. I considered his outstanding bills. The nursing home would have cost a lot. Then the hospice.

Then I went kayaking and fishing with Moe and left my phone in the car. When I saw my father’s text, I was hemming and hawing, wondering if it would be rude to Moe to call him then and there, and Moe sensed it and urged me to call. I did. Dad answered. I told him I got his text but no others. Mom later said she tried to send out a group text but might have done it wrong. In the moment, though, Dad cut to the chase, his voice low energy.

“Fred died.”

He passed away on the morning of Friday, July 27, 2019. According to Mom, he had been getting worse. No longer merely confusing dream with reality, he was faithfully believing in false memories and having blatant hallucinations.

It was frightening to contemplate what it must have been like for him. I read Fred’s story, at least the last quarter, like a fucking horror novel. A cautionary tale. I interpret his life like I would a bad dream. A goddamn waking nightmare. It saddens and terrifies me, how he ended up. It was hard not to be bothered by this on an intimately personal level, too, considering mom had for so long treated me like his premature reincarnation.

If there was a message for me in his story, it was clear as fucking day:

This is what could happen. You cannot let this happen. You cannot leave your sisters the kind of stressful fucking mess that your uncle left your mother. Clean your apartment. Pay your bills. Delete your porn, or at least hide it better. Try to get your shit in order, not so as to be someone else but so as to be yourself, and get on the right path lest you deteriorate the way Fred ultimately did.

What the fuck is the right path, though? I mean, where exactly did it all go wrong with him? Where did his life narrative go off the fucking rails and end in delusion and death? Fred had freedom, intelligence and money — all shit that I’m rather shy on — and yet it didn’t make him happy. Didn’t put a dent in his machine of misery.

The following day, my father messaged me. Evidently, Fred had told Mom that he wanted to sell his two houses (in reality, he only has one) and buy a house near the water so he could go fishing. The last time my father had spoken with Fred he’d explained how he’d love to be by a river right now, fishing.

Then, on the very morning he passed away, I go kayaking on a lake, which I haven’t done in years, and fish, which I haven’t done in far longer, and I catch a five pound bass. He couldn’t help but wonder if Fred was channeling me.

Maybe Fred hitched a ride with Moe and I, finally living up his real retirement.

I truly hope so.

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Stay Out of my Dreams, Lady.

“Give me the biggest sandwich you’ve got,” the customer told Alesha at the register.

“I’m sorry, that’s not available on the app,” she explained.

Apparently, this is how the conversation went down, or so Alesha told me at the fryer vats right before I went on break.

“Just tell her to save time and have us inject the lard directly into her ass,” was my mean-spirited response to the story. Curious, I looked at the counter, and it turns out the customer was the vile-looking woman from the dream. I tried not to make eye contact as I washed my hands at got my medium coffee for break, but she spoke to me anyway. Seemed to kind of go out of her way to.

“How goes it, boss?” It was something like that. I was too uncomfortable to hear clearly.

Stay the fuck out of my dreams, lady. And never park near me.

“Surviving,” I answered, and with my coffee, I clocked out and went out the back door, so she couldn’t see me, and into the comfort of my car.

Stolen Drive (8/31/18 Dream).

As is often the case right before work, on my thirty-minute break, or during my numerous smoke breaks throughout my shift, I’m sitting in my car in a parking space in front of the restaurant. Out of my peripheral vision I see a vehicle pull up in the space beside me, and while I don’t remember if it was on the passenger or driver side, the large, white vehicle is absurdly close to mine — so close that had it happened in real life it would’ve taken out my side view mirror. I’m fuming angry and, once out my car door, I yell at the person, who turns out to be this dirty, flabby, miserable-looking old woman, and she acts as if I’m being absurd and she’s done nothing wrong. For some reason I then go towards the door of the restaurant to tell Steve, one of the typical night managers, and as I walk away the woman is saying something I don’t entirely remember, perhaps didn’t even completely hear at the time, but the gist if it is that she used my full name and mocked me for going to tell Steve — two things I immediately realized she shouldn’t have known. Though I never got his attention, it strikes me a moment later as I’m near the building that I never locked my car doors and may have even left the door open, and a terror seizes me. When I look back, the big white vehicle as well as my own are gone. It then hits me that she had anticipated my reaction and had orchestrated the whole thing in order to steal my car.

An internet search turned up an article by Lauri Quinn Loewenberg entitled, “The 5 Most Common Stress Dreams.” By her measure, at least, dreaming of a stolen car ranks pretty high up there, and this specifically deals with stress involving a lack of “drive” with respect to moving forward on a certain path and your uncertainty regarding what direction to now take. Ever-passive, you’re left spinning your wheels, stalled, going nowhere fast, waiting for motivation, awaiting a road to present itself to you. That this may have to do with a job was one of the first examples she offered, and given that I was parked in front of work in the dream suggests to me that this is probably a valid interpretation. I’ve parked myself at this job and I’ve totally lost my drive for it and I want achingly, desperately to move on, to start a new chapter, but I haven’t the foggiest clue where to go.

The rest of the dream is a bit more difficult to interpret. The woman parked too close, invading my personal space. I do hate it when people park too close and I’m afraid of them hitting my car when they open their door or I have to open my door ever so carefully and squeeze myself out in fear of hitting their car with my door. I like my space. This is also why I go into my car to smoke or during break: I want to be alone, to write or read or just smoke and sip my coffee, enjoy the silence and isolation, let my mind wander and roam free. People talk while I’m reading or writing and I lose my place, become distracted, feel irritated immediately: just wait until I’m done to bother me, damn it, this is my mini-vacation. I’m releasing pressure. Breathing. Escaping the fake fucking bullshit world I’m forced to be a part of.

The dream seems to suggest that my space was invaded and I was robbed of my mobility by whatever was represented by the vile dream-woman. She was reminiscent of this customer at work that has been coming in lately, her personality, insofar as it has been expressed, as disgusting as her appearance. She’s the kind of person that seems to take joy in complaining, the kind of customer that takes advantage of that “the customer is always right” bullshit. She wants us to do all we can to please her, or else have us treat her poorly so she’s justified in having a hissy fit.

Maybe she represents the customers in general.

Coughing Up Earthworms (8/19/18 Dream).

I coughed up this mesh of thick, interwoven fibers, maybe the size of two fists, that fell to the ground. As I’m staring at it initially, I wonder, given that I’m a smoker, if this isn’t some wad of phlegm, but it looks nothing like that. As I lean down to inspect it more closely, I find that they’re actually interlaced, elongated earthworms — some dead, stiff, motionless and light brown or tan in color, the others alive and still moving.

The obvious connections are earth and nature, which carries on the theme of animals (particularly cats and dogs) that have dominated my last two recalled dreams, though in this case the additional association with underground, which is to say the unconscious. The fact that there were so many might suggest there are many interconnected or closely-associated unconscious elements surfacing, which I’m “coughing up,” perhaps through writing.

But some are dead, others alive. For the moment, at least, I’m not at all sure what that means, and it kind of freaks me out.

Cats & Dogs II (8/17/18 Dream).

I walk into a caged area with someone else, approaching small wooden house, barn or similar structure. As he opens the door to the structure and begins to go in, I stop him by touching his arm. There is a lion nearby, but it doesn’t see us. It just walks toward the fence some distance away, as if watching for intruders. Once I walk in the door I find a bunch of wolves inside in dim lighting. They look at me, particularly one of them, but it is done calmly. There is no fear, no sense of threat.

Cats & Dogs (8/10/18 Dream).

I’m at my parents house, and I’m supposed to be watching two tan-colored dogs, identical in appearance. Though I’m uncertain who they belonged to, I’m fairly certain that they didn’t belong to me. At some point I noticed that I hadn’t seen them around in some time, though initially I dismissed it as me being paranoid and put it out of my mind. Eventually, though, I felt justified in my worry and began asking people if they had seen either of them, and when it became clear that no one had, I began my search in earnest. As I began looking around inside the house, I saw my parents’ collie laying on his side below the kitchen table and immediately suspected he was dead, but chose to ignore it, figuring I was merely being paranoid.

I looked everywhere for the missing dogs. Each time I even thought of my own little, black cat (which I do not, in actuality, own), it would show up nearby, as if summoned, but I could not find the twin dogs anywhere. Ultimately I went outside to look, and eventually went into a little fenced in area with a large wooden box-like structure with a door, an area that turned out to house all these cats. They all seemed to really like me, especially one fluffy one in particular, which looked at me curiously. I kept looking. In the yard, by the driveway, I see my parent’s dog again, and someone’s lifting him. He’s clearly dead and stiff as a board. When I finally went back into the house, my youngest sister comes back inside as well. Her face is red and, with tears in her eyes, she tells me, sobbing, that the dogs are barking — at least, that’s what I think she says. I take her to mean not the two dogs I had been looking for, but rather the neighbor’s dogs, specifically the neighbors who used to have the vicious rottweiler I had affectionately named Cujo.

After that, I finally woke up and got out of bed.

Though I’m not entirely certain at what points in the dream that it happened, I actually awoke once or twice in the midst of it and decided to go back to sleep and enter back into the dream because I wanted to find those two dogs before I got out of bed. I never did, but I find the fact that I was capable of entering back into the dream damned intriguing in retrospect. I think I’ve been able to do that in the past on relatively rare occasions, but it has been some time. Indeed, it has been a long time since I’ve had any degree of dream recall at all.

In the past, I’ve had recurring dreams in which I suddenly recalled that I owned pets that I had forgotten about and had failed to provide food and water for, often finding them dead or near death. Though this dream doesn’t exactly fit that pattern, I suspect that it references and reflects the same underlying issues.

In general, animals may symbolize instinctive drives and emotions. Humans are animals, after all, it is only that we are self-domesticated, so other animals in dreams may be associated with the biological drives we dissociate ourselves from, the aspects of our identity that we tend to repress — in essence, the Jungian Shadow. My recurring dreams of having amnesia regarding owning pets and not having given them food or water suggests a failure of responsibility towards aspects of myself dependent on me for health and survival, and so perhaps my instincts themselves. This more recent dream, however, features two dogs that were temporarily dependent upon me and for whom I was responsible. In losing them, I not only let the animals down but whoever had entrusted me to care for them.

In addition, there was again a dog that belonged to someone else, namely my parents, and he was dead. To call this dog a friendly dog is to make a molehill out of Olympus Mons, as he is the biggest, most adorable attention whore I’ve ever encountered. He constantly wants to be petted, always tries to step up on your lap or stick his nose in his face and always follows you around, often waking you up out of sleep with a cold nose or sloppy lick to the face. Though he can get irritating, I adore the dog, as I do with respect to most animals, and spend a lot of time when I visit my parents feeding him the attention he craves.

So lost dogs, dead dogs: the dogs got lost due to my lack of attention, and the dog that craves attention more than anything has died. Like the recurring dreams of animals, it again suggests not investing attention and properly nurturing someone or something, perhaps buried and instinctive drives. And dogs I strongly associate as an animal that is loyal but incredibly dependent on the owner. My characterization of cats is much different.

Cats are typically independent creatures. Rather than followers, they are, at best, partners with their own, strong sense of self. A little internet searching regarding dream interpretations reveals that they are also seen to represent the Jungian Anima, or the feminine aspect of the male psyche that he projects onto the women in his life, and also his intuition. Of potential relevance is the fact that twice in the dream I dismissed my intuition as paranoia only to later discover that I had, in fact, been right: first, assuming the two dogs had run off; second, assuming my parent’s dog was dead. Typically, dogs are considered to be more obedient; cats, more independent, but the circumstances in the dream seem to imply the reverse. I couldn’t find the two dogs, but every time I so much as wondered where my cat was it seemed to suddenly just be there.

Blacks cats in particular are additionally associated with the unknown, the mysterious, and with the occult and magick. To some they also represent bad luck, but that’s never been an association of mine, at least consciously. Everything else associated with cats offered above, however, also resonates remarkably well with the qualities I find alluring about women I’ve been close to in my life.

Angles of Angst.

3/6/08

Passing by the mother and child, who are sitting in Zombie Man’s usual spot, I turn the corner, walk passed tables and approach the men’s room door. I look to my right, out the handicapped door, as I casually push open the men’s room door with my hand. I then slowly turn my head towards the restroom I’m entering. The men’s room door is a third of the way open now. A third of the way open, and I’ve already seen enough.

I look away and let my hand slowly guide the door to a close.

I could just walk away. I usually do. But I’m not walking away. Not today, damn it. I push the door back open, where I see Magoo, that aging fossil of a man, at the hand dryers. Legs spread, pants to his knees, tighty-whitey geezer-bulge aimed at the space right below the hand dryer’s blow hole, the warm, perpetual exhale blasting against his piss-dampened prehistoric package packed in some percentage of cotton and polyester.

I want to scream at him.

“No more of this,” I want to yell. I want to scold him. “What if some kid were to walk in here? Pull up your motherfucking pants, damn it.”

But not too far behind me, the child and his mother sits, so I can’t scream at him. So I look at him, my voice firm but set at a normal volume, and I go, “hey,” and when that doesn’t get his attention, I speak a bit louder, “Hey, Magoo,” and he finally looks up, and I go on to tell him, “You can’t do that anymore. No more.”

The way he looks at me, it’s a cross between how a dog might look at you when you make a weird noise, with it’s head all cocked to one side and one ear up in the air, and how a person looks when you’ve just woken them up. And Magoo, he goes, “Huh?”

As in, “What? What are you talking about? Isn’t it perfectly natural for an aging man to blow-try his testicles beneath the hand dryer in a fast food public restroom?”

I point to his bottom half. “That,” I say, shaking my head in the negative, “you can’t do that anymore,” and then I close the door and I walk away, away, far away, trying to be amused but just being pissed off, fired up. This kind of thing, it’s just not a good way to start your work shift. Not after waking up with less than three hours of sleep, going to college, and dealing with the frigid Ohio cold. Even on an otherwise good day, no one should have to try an explain to an old man why it’s inappropriate to hang around in public places with his dilapidated, nearly transparent underwear on for all the world to see, with his pants around his knees.

I’ve been so fucking angry lately.

I woke up at five this morning, a Wednesday morning, with this dream lingering in my head. I didn’t write it down, and usually when I don’t it tends to fade, but this one stuck with me, kept popping up in my head all day. For some reason, I was living at my parent’s house, and I was up in my old room. I had totally lost control, I was kicking and screaming and beating every inanimate object around me. I don’t know what set me off, but I remember my dad being there, and his emotional state was pretty clear. He was trying to decide whether he should just excuse this, stand back and let me go or whether he should seek to restrain me, talk to me, punish me.

And I know in the dream that I was the angry part of me and my father represented my critical, judgmental thinking towards myself. That this dream was a metaphor for my emotional state as of late. His consideration of whether he should let me go unrestrained and mind his own business or step up and try to restrain or punish me was my consideration regarding whether or not I should feel guilty about feeling so angry, whether I should hold myself back or whether it was appropriate to feel so much rage.

Just itching for a release, that’s all. It’s like this psychic wedgie is within me. The itch you can’t scratch because fingernails can’t get at it. No matter how many times you move, no matter what you do, the wedgie remains. You’re uncomfortable, restless, almost claustrophobic inside yourself. Like thirst in a desert, hunger when there’s food all around you but you can’t reach it because your trapped like a mime in your invisible box, only I’m not pretending I’m in an invisible box or, if I am, I’ve certainly managed to convince myself otherwise.

Gus has been getting on my nerves. He can’t ever admit he’s wrong, even consider it, and when you get so far that he might begin to feel his view could be flawed he changes the subject or tries to turn it all into a joke. And some days, it seems like he just won’t leave me the fuck alone. Shea, that bitch, has been really getting under my skin, and for the same reason. While she often leaves me alone, when she doesn’t she still thinks she’s right and no one can convince her otherwise — and she thinks I always think I’m right. Why, because I actually question things? That’s not thinking one is right, noun, that’s the act of trying to find out the truth, verb. Bitch.

It just seems totally pointless even interacting with some people. And I don’t find her attractive, not really, I’d never, ever do anything with her, but she keeps pinching my nipple, slapping my ass, hugging me and digging her nails in my back and I can’t help it, it turns me on, and I like it, and I hate, hate, hate liking it, and it just builds up this swirling intensity in my fucking head and she thinks it’s so fucking funny.

“You probably wouldn’t be so bitter if you just got yourself laid,” she said to me in the kitchen.

“Then come over here and open your legs and let me pound my cock into you or just fuck off, you stupid bitch,” and I said this, I just didn’t think it, and I don’t know if she heard me, but the dumb wench didn’t come near me for the remaining half an hour she had on shift. Good. I fucking hate her.

Earlier, Gus says something like that. I don’t know if he meant to imply I needed to get more sleep or get laid, but he said that if I didn’t do one of them soon I was going to end up worse, more bitter and angry than he did. I didn’t answer, I just walked away.

Maybe my life just needs more meaning, ever consider that? Too many years as a peon, as a wage slave, as a guy who’s job is limited to cleaning up other people’s shit, clogging their arteries and having to watch crazy old fucks wander around half-naked in the bathroom. Or put keys in your apartment door, trying to break in.

Tuesday morning, I saw her before I left for work. The lady who puts her keys in my door. I went to go get my mail and I saw her there, by the mailboxes, in the vestibule. I just stared at her back, tried to burn a hole through it. I was nice to her when she spoke to me, when she defaulted to the weather, but beneath my uttered words of fake kindness I transmitted a warning. Don’t fucking try and break into my apartment. It’s my apartment. Mine, mine, fucking mine, you bitch.

Making a difference would be nice. Contributing to a potential solution might be nice rather than just feeding and maintaining the problem. I don’t know. Regardless, maybe that’s the problem: a significant lack of meaning, of purpose. Maybe answers to my plaguing questions might help. And yeah, fine, maybe I’m achingly lonely and horny, but I want my privacy, I want my own life, and a relationship is an antithesis to that. You can’t have both, it seems, or you won’t be happy. You can’t have one or the other, either, without being unhappy, so you can just never, ever be happy. And so I always choose myself, big deal, it doesn’t matter either way anyway. So maybe that makes me selfish and detached. In a world without lasting happiness regardless, maybe I see this as my path, you know? And it sucks, but it has its perks.

So I was in a bad mood, but it was a bad mood with some degree of energy, so I cleaned things I wouldn’t ordinarily clean. I was beneath the tables in the dining room when Mr. Potato Head came in with his wife, Mrs. Potato Head, who also now works at this shitty fast food restaurant with us. He came up to me, asked me how I was doing, and then told me how he’d slipped on the ice and hurt his back, how the doctors think it might be a vertebrae, how he has a slip that says he should not come to work for two days. Tater here is always hurting himself. He’s a walking accident. He’s like a hypochondriac, accept he seems to actually seek out physical damage, you know? So while he’s telling me this his kid, their kid, the little Tator Tot I call her, she’s hanging around, watching me clean. I say hi, but she doesn’t respond. Cute kid. How such a cute kid came out of the sexual union of these two, who knows, but she is simply adorable, even with that boyish new haircut they gave her.

She begs her mother for a cookie, but they don’t have any money, and they have cookies at home anyway. I tell her, “but the cookies are so damned good. I eat a dozen of them a day, I swear,” and then I say I’ll go steal her one with my Ninja skill if her mother will allow it. And she’s hesitant, but she says okay, and I do, and the kids happy as a pig in shit, happy as a puppy with two peters, as the saying goes. And they leave, and the tater tot’s happy, and for about ten minutes I’m actually not angry anymore.

Closer to Being.

Struggled with the Shadow,
so on it goes with the Anima.

Elevating above the battle,
it’s clear to see what strategies
constipate the route to synthesis.

For too long engaging
in the struggle with oppositions,
now getting between, behind, below
and finally rising above,

I see them for what they are
and what I am not.

And I am that much closer
to being who I am.

The Nature of Child’s Play.

“Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid, the ones that I never wanted old girlfriends to see… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang of something — not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret. There’s one of me in a cowboy hat, pointing a gun at the camera, trying to look like a cowboy but failing, and I can hardly bring myself to look at it now… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.”
— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity.

“Well, then get your shit together. Get it all together and put it in a backpack. All your shit. So it’s together. And if you gotta take it somewhere, take it somewhere. You know, take it to the shit store and sell it, or put it in the shit museum. I don’t care what you do, you just gotta get it together. Get your shit together.”
— Morty, Rick & Morty.

Towards the end of my high school career, when I finally went to see a psychologist regarding the strange memories and experiences that had come to envelop my life, I did so with some trepidation. My limited experience with social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists had suggested to me that they could have just as easily been patients, and I feared this guy may just serve to reinforce my opinion. It turned out I was wrong. He was intelligent, passionately interested in the subject matter, and seemed to have a firm footing on more than one reality at a time. Though part of me was quite happy that he wasn’t judgmental, he seemed very careful about revealing any thoughts he had on my experiences. I knew I had to corner him, and I did, insisting that he tell me what he thought my flashback regarding the Doctor was all about.

This was a flashback that occurred somewhere on the bridge between 1994 and the following year. By that time I had remembered a wide variety of strange incidents and odd dreams, but it was nothing like what happened that evening. Unable to get any shuteye, I had been staring at my lava lamp while in bed and it suddenly seemed to have almost psychedelic effects on my vision, which was waving like the surface of a pond. When my eyes landed on a book on the shelf attached to my bed, a book I have yet to read — War of the Worlds, by HG Welles — I was instantly somewhere else, somewhen else. Later, when I would read Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five, I was instantly reminded of the intense flashbacks I began having that evening. It wasn’t just remembering, it was reexperiencing.

Despite the length, this is the most condensed version I can muster. In this flashback, I had re-experienced hiding beneath my bed around five or six years of age. This I determined due to the leg braces I was wearing and the fact that I had worn them for a little under a year when I was a kid. From beneath the sheets and blankets hanging over my bed, I watched these creatures, some of whom had three toes, as their feet pitter-pattered across the carpet. They seemed to be going through things in the room, picking things up and examining them. Afraid they would eventually find me, I tried to scoot myself even further under the bed, but one of my braced legs hit a large box my parents had my sisters and I always keep there. It contained our drawings, report cards, and other such things. This not only made my leg abruptly jut out from beneath the bed, but made a loud noise for added effect. I winced and the silence in the room was deafening. When I finally opened my eyes again, I saw the feet and legs of one of the creatures standing by my braced leg, reaching down three, long, tan-colored fingers to touch it. Instantly it reminded me of the closing scene in the 1950s film War of the Worlds, which was my favorite movie at the time.

Certain for some reason that they would make me forget, with determined eyes I scanned this creature from his feet to his face so that one day, when my talents were good enough, I’d be able to draw him. I have in the years since, but I can never seem to get it right. I do know that he had eyes akin to those of a human’s, which is to say a white sclera, a yellow or brown iris, and a black-as-death pupil. His had a pug nose and his face was etched with deep wrinkles. His most memorable feature, however, was a long, deep-set, almost cartoonish frown.

Upon meeting his eyes, we were suddenly communicating mind-to-mind. They were scientists, I understood, and he was The Doctor. He was very old, very wise, and in some way served as a grandfather to me. After this, which seemed to be a form of internal yet interpersonal dialogue, I next found myself in a setting that seemed to be my room, but not quite. I was sitting down by my bed, looking up at the Doctor, though now he was different. He wore glasses that magnified his eyes instead of bearing eyes that were naturally that size, as was the case before. He wore a long white lab coat, had a stethoscope around his neck, held a clipboard and his cartoonish frown was inverted into a Cheshire grin. He told me that they just needed to run some tests, that this was just a check-up.

As he said all this, he seemed to be standing in front of me in a way that suggested he was purposely obscuring something, but all I could make out from behind him were bright lights, indecipherable chatter and a lot of activity a short distance away in my room. I also couldn’t ignore my growing suspicion that this was all a sort of dream we were sharing, one that he was sort of shaping into a false memory or cover-story.

It was an incredibly real experience, somewhere between a memory and mental time travel into my younger body. I experienced this formerly-forgotten event as if for the first time, and it was only the first of two such flashbacks I’d have that very night at sixteen. As my psychologist and I had been talking about the Doctor flashback, however, it was this that I so desperately wanted his opinion on, so I kept badgering him.

Finally, he let out a reluctant, “I think you had a confrontation with your Shadow.”

Though I knew what he meant, I had but a limited understanding of the concept. Before I had met him I had come across references to Carl Jung in my reading but had never read the words of the man himself. Around twenty years of age, I became rather obsessed with the ideas I found in The Portable Jung, however.

Jung referred to the total personality of an individual as the psyche, which he then broke down into three levels that constantly interacted with one another. The conscious mind, sensibly enough, would constitute everything we’re aware of at the moment. It’s the only sector of the psyche we ever experience directly. Regardless as to whether we have a present sensory experience, remember something or have a dream, we must experience it through consciousness. The personal unconscious is the basement or attic of psyche, the graveyard of the forgotten and repressed or dissociated. It is the giver of dreams and memories, shaper of perceptions, keeper of habitual behavior, passions and tendencies.

He saw yet another level to the psyche, however. Having studied myths from across the world, he saw recurring stories, themes and symbols, and in studying his patients, he saw many of the same themes and symbols manifesting in their dreams, fantasies and behaviors. In an effort to explain this, he posited the collective unconscious, composed of what he referred to as archetypes.

There are two ways of explaining archetypes that make some sense to me, and the first is a useful metaphor. Say that consciousness is a sheet of paper and all of our thoughts, emotions, and memories are iron filings sprinkled atop it. An archetype would constitute a magnet below that paper, arranging those iron filings in a pattern. The pattern of the iron filings provides the only evidence we have of the magnet, however, which we cannot perceive or interact with directly.

Another way of explaining archetypes is to compare them to instincts. They may, in fact, be extensions of them, but even if that’s not the case they serve as a useful metaphor. Upon reading The Portable Jung around twenty years of age, I remember Jung describing how a particular insect was driven to enact incredibly complex behaviors devoid of any training, which was essentially what he saw in his patients. Archetypes may then be seen as a bulk of instincts shared by the species that not only organizes behavior into specific patterns but also governs psychological forms and processes. As a consequence, they manifest not only in our behaviors and relationships but also in the realm of the imagination as well: our personal dreams, projections, hallucinations and delusions as well as in our literature, artwork, myths and religions.

While the manifestations differed from culture to culture and from individual to individual, they did so under certain constraints and in accordance with certain guidelines akin to how instincts function. Like instincts, archetypes are not learned but inherited, not personal but the legacy of our species. Like instincts, they cannot be directly observed, only inferred by their influence, their manifestations, how they arrange behavior and symbolic imagery. Unlike instincts, however, at least as popularly conceived, they influence not only behavior but psychology. It seems to me, as it did when I first read it, that archetypes are really the logical extension of instincts. Why wouldn’t they structure and animate the mind as they inspire and structure behavior?

In any case, Jung argued that these archetypes had a huge influence on the life of every individual and we must gain an understanding of them. To grow, to evolve as individuals, we must make the unconscious conscious, we must expand our consciousness. He warns us not to ignore the archetypal manifestations or to identify with them, but to become aware of them, to subject them to analysis.

All archetypes have a bipolar nature, which is to say they have within themselves what we might categorize as positive and negative qualities. Each archetype is also paired with a polar opposite, or shadow, and their relationship is one of interdependence. Whatever archetype we embody and personalize becomes our Ego, then, which casts its corresponding Shadow into our unconscious minds. The Shadow is essentially the anti-ego, serving as a collection of all we have repressed or have failed to bring out of latency in our conscious personality. We all bear both archetypes, but the degree to which each influences us varies in each individual and over time — and to have an excess of either is to live a life out of balance.

If the Doctor really was my shadow, then, at least at that point in my life, what kind of shadow was he — to what archetype did he correspond? If he constitutes an archetype at all it would by necessity be the Senex, which is Latin for old man. In his positive form, he often manifests as a mentor, wizard or shaman. Merlin, Obi Wan and Yoda are all often-cited examples. Disciplined and wise, he has often come from a distant, foreign land to offer knowledge and guidance. In his negative form, he takes the form of a tyrant, hermit or ogre who is bitter, brutal, greedy and stubbornly resists change. Rigid thinking, strict rules, harsh discipline and hierarchy are emphasized. He’s concerned with time, tradition and science. Prone to taking things seriously, he seldom if ever laughs or seems to enjoy himself. He is cold and distant, associated with depression, winter and death. With his frown, his interest in science, his status of a doctor, his claim that he was both wise and old to the extent of centuries and his clearly alien nature, the Doctor fit the negative end of the Senex polarity a bit too close for me to ignore.

Whether I was projecting the Senex onto the creature or the creature was purely a manifestation of my diseased mind is up for grabs, but at the archetypal level it doesn’t change the insight this might offer me about myself. Nimi, the female alien who used to come and visit me, typically at night, once told me that I was an Artist, that art was my “work.” If I am an Artist, it makes perfect sense that the Doctor, leader of his team of Scientists, would have served as a manifestation of my shadow. I am more creative and emotional; he is more logical and intellectual. As I said earlier, opposite archetypes attract — and Senex would serve as the shadow or antithetical archetype for the archetype Jung called Puer Aeternus, or the “eternal boy.”

Appropriately, the Puer is the predominant archetype when we are young and it focuses on play, as it is through play that we experiment, explore, and ultimately discipline our mind, develop our imagination, master our body and adapt to our environment. The Puer also has a bipolar nature, of course, and at the positive end of the pole you have the Divine Child, reflected in the mythical birth stories of figures such as Heracles, Horus, Cupid, Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Krishna, and the Buddha. It can manifest as an adult with childlike qualities like Raymond from Rain Man, or a child with adult-like qualities like Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic, Linus of Peanuts fame, or Allie Keys from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, Taken. Despite coming into this world weak, vulnerable, and dependent on others to satisfy his needs, the Divine Child is powerful in that he attracts the attention of others, inspiring them, bringing joy, wonder and hope for the future. In its positive form, the Puer brings joy and wonder. He is optimistic and fun-loving, curious and creative, idealistic and insightful.

He is also fertile with possibilities and rich with potential, but this is but a temporary condition in our youth by necessity. Jordan Peterson explains that we have more neural connections at birth than we do at any other time in our lives, but that in that state we are essentially low resolution, latent potential. We contain possibilities and probabilities but are nothing for certain at all. Just within two years, however, we lose most of those connections, which he describes as akin to dying into your childhood personality. This is just the first period of neurological pruning we will experience as we grow, a process in which neglected associations are snipped away and only those that have been repeatedly reinforced remain. Use it or lose it: this is evidently how the brain develops what Huxley referred to as it’s “reducing valve.” With each brush-fire of the brain, the dead wood is burned away and our perceptions and character narrow further, specializing, adapting to the specific environment at hand.

As we develop, we come to see things increasingly less as objects and more as “shadows,” as Peterson puts it, though I think Colin Wilson hit closer to the mark when he used the word “symbols.” These symbols are only complex enough to let us do what we need to in order to survive and achieve our goals, little to nothing more. They are mental maps of sufficient detail: no more, no less. In terms of personality, our character becomes more solidified, which is why the hands that mold us when we are still soft are so influential. We further develop a relatively narrow set of unconscious and automatic programs triggered by familiar stimuli, or what Wilson refers to as the Robot Function. It happens again at the end of adolescence, between sixteen and twenty, where you die into the specialized, adult personality into which you are reborn with senses fine-tuned to your surroundings. When approaching adulthood, you settle on one role to the exclusion of all others. You adopt an apprenticeship, and so enter into an extremely narrow and limited training period that develops the appropriate skills. You become more competent at a specific set of things but become largely blind to all else.

Once we’ve adapted to life, after we’ve died to ourselves to do so more than once, we achieve the last half of life. We become the Senex. It is here that Carl Jung thought the proper path in our ongoing development was to come out the other side, that the head of the serpent had to swallow its tail. To adopt the positive qualities of the Senex, the old man must rediscover the child he once was and left behind and reintegrate him into his character. His work now involves opening old doors and rediscovering the world again, accessing new possibilities and regaining his capacity to play. He finds his source of enthusiasm, peace, creativity and joy for life. He not only gets to be what he has earned but regains the potential of the child he was forced to abandon in the process.

In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept known as Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind,” which is essentially a state in which you regain your lost sense of virginity to experience. Free of preconceptions, you approach something in a very present, open and enthusiastic manner. A much-quoted line from Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, summarizes it nicely, explaining how “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” This has clear ties to the positive aspects of the Divine Child and how an adult may integrate that aspect of themselves back into their personality.

This is not, however, the only form and path of the puer, nor is it the one most familiar to me, as I shamefully discovered months ago and has finally begun to set in. It was unnerving to watch a YouTube clip of Jordan Peterson profile the Peter Pan personality type. With every following word, I felt my wince tightening, my heart dropping further, my body sinking deeper into the sofa. My hand went to my forehead as if I were attempting to hide my face from someone in my empty apartment. With every following word, it became increasingly freaky, increasingly clear that he was talking about me. It was the story of the immature man-child, the old infant.

Pan is Greek for “everything,” which is appropriate enough, Peterson tells us, as he is the boy who refuses to grow up. He passionately strives to maintain the latent potential of childhood and resist the actuality of adulthood. This is largely due to his only available adult role model, Captain Hook, who is being chased by a crocodile with a clock always tick-tocking away in its belly. This Peterson refers to as the dragon of chaos, time and death, residing beneath everything. It has already bitten off his hand, in which place he has put the hook that earned him his name, and now the tick-tocking croc has got a taste for him. This, he explains, is a metaphor for what happens when you get older: time keeps biting off pieces of you and sooner or later, it will fulfill its destiny and devour you entirely. Just as a sense of mortality can spawn in some people, this circumstance with the croc traumatizes Hook so much he tries to increase his sense of control over everything, exerting power through cruelty, and so becomes at once a coward and a tyrant.

Seeing Hook for who he is, Peter Pan understandably refuses to end up that way, generalizes Hook as a characterization of adulthood as a whole and so naturally elects to extend his own childhood indefinitely. He flies off to Neverland, a place that doesn’t exist, to become King of the Lost Boys, which Peterson describes as a band of losers who can’t get their act together. Then one day it seems that his Shadow (which Peterson never seems to mention, despite being a fan of Jung and despite some clear correlations with the archetype of the same name) has somehow become detached from him and led him to London, into the bedroom of Wendy. She proves to be a mature girl that accepts her mortality and wants to have children one day. He sacrifices a potential relationship with Wendy, a real girl, however, and continues to content himself with Tinkerbell, an imaginary substitute, essentially the Fairy of Pornography, as Peterson suggested.

Though I’ve never read or heard it serving as an example, I think Rob Fleming, the lead character in Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity (and the subsequent 2000 film), certainly qualifies as a puer. There were two lines in that movie that articulated what Peterson’s saying here in a different way. One involved keeping options open to ensure you can always back out and never get trapped in something; the other, his realization that committing to nothing constitutes suicide by small increments.

A man in the grips of this shadow aspect of the puer aeternus detests restriction and oppression and values liberty and independence. He covets individuality and personal liberty. Individual freedom to the fullest extent. Unrestrained instinct, chaos and intoxication excite him. Limitations, restrictions and oppression are intolerable. He refuses the call to adventure into maturity, shying away from adulthood. Fearing commitment, this emotional adolescent forever extends his “temporary” life because he fears that in making a move he might lose himself and be caught in a trap of a career or imprisoned in a marriage.

Peterson emphasizes the fatal flaw in Peter Pan’s presumptions: you grow up whether you want to or not. Though you can postpone maturity in our culture without suffering an immediate penalty, Peterson stresses, the penalty accrues, and then when it finally hits, it hits much harder. You can be lost and clueless at 25, as it’s acceptable that you’re just trying things out at that age. When you’re instead in your 30s or 40s, people tend to be less understanding. You a have become a 40-year-old King of the Lost Boys, a man-child, an old infant, a living corpse of a child. So you might as well manifest some of that potential in a particular direction and choose to become something as opposed to nothing.

I’m 39. I’ll be 40 this November. Many who know me would undoubtedly say quite confidently that this is me in a nutshell. Since shortly after my high school career came to a close in 1997, I began referring to adulthood as the 13th grade and arguing that adults did not, in fact, exist. What we took to be adults were just children wearing masks, putting on costumes and trying to play the roles the culture tells them to play. They aren’t mature adults, they’ve just achieved that state of “seizure” a child experiences when playing a game of “as if,” as Joseph Campbell has put it, though not in this context. They mistook the game for reality, their masks for their true and original face, their roles for their souls. I always refused to do any of that. I opted out.

My most recent experience on psilocybin mushrooms seemed to communicate, among other things, that reality was a sort of multifaceted illusion, sort of a system of games, and the appropriate response was not to forfeit but to play. This resonated with the “child” theme that has followed me throughout my life and took in a rather life-like quality in the context of my strange experiences just shy of two decades ago. The ultimate message in the psilocybin experience was to play the game we call society or culture, to try and make this ride a meaningful one, to take these games seriously while simultaneously keeping in mind that it was all illusion and was ultimately of no consequence.

Now I find that the observations of those such as Jung and Peterson seem to suggest that it is futile to forfeit the game anyway, for in doing so you turn into precisely what I have become: an old infant, a man-child. Peter Pan in the flesh.

As additional reinforcement, there remains the fact that I’m still not convinced that a single, actual adult exists on earth. I still think our game is essentially stupid, but I am beginning to regret not having taken the game seriously, not choosing a role to play and having time force me into a rather pathetic and meaningless one. I’ve resisted intimate relationships, kept friends and family at an arm’s length, and have remained in an extended “temporary” job more suitable for high school kids. Fast food should serve as a sort of “scared straight” program to inspire kids to go to college and make something out of themselves so they don’t have to suffer this fate into their forties. For some, it’s worked out just fucking dandy; evidently, it has failed to work for me to this point. I’ve forfeited the game and remain here in a fast food McNeverland just because I’m afraid to play the role of the adult.

I should have identified an appropriate adult role for myself right out of high school, but I was too wrapped up in the craziness of what had happened, too depressed and anxious, too damned undisciplined and unstructured. I thought that of myself even then. I could have finished college when I finally went in my thirties, but the crippling anxiety that shot through the roof when I again attempted public speaking paralyzed me and I fled. I could have been a master of the visual arts and writing by now, translating what is in my mind more effectively. I might be living off my passions and expressing myself through play as a way of life.

I fucked up.

After enough sessions, the aforementioned psychologist gave me a homework assignment: to master the mundane. He told a tale of students going off on a vision quest, receiving a profound one, and returning to their master, excited for the next step, invariably disappointed when the master told them to chop wood and carry water. I needed to have my feet planted firmly on the ground, he told me. I needed a career, friends, a girlfriend. What he was saying makes more sense now than ever: I needed to go through the process Peterson described. And I didn’t, not really, and here I am, two decades later, with an inner child deserving of an outer adult to nurture it — an outer adult I have I have utterly failed to develop and provide.