Like A Phoenix
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I moved up to Upstate New York from Philadelphia in 2019 with the express intention of getting off prescription drugs. I rented a cottage on a picturesque former farm that my landlady, a retired classical musician, had turned into the kind of bucolic paradise that gets rented out for weddings.
I caught COVID midway through, and after I had recovered, I started dating around a little and getting out of the house more. It wasn’t a bad time for me. I probably would have stayed up there longer, but in late 2021, I had to move on essentially no notice after water damage to the house I had been renting for almost three years led to a case of black mold that triggered my allergies and made it impossible for me to breathe indoors. I secured a six-month lease on a small but well-appointed apartment in a neighboring town and moved in in January 2022.
Shortly afterwards, I met a young lady with whom I thought I might have a future. This did not turn out to be the case.
Midway through the year, just before my lease was about to end, I started The Wonderland Rules as a way of staying sane. Between my own deteriorating romance, the drama associated with being a self-acknowledged weirdo transplanted to a village of no more than fifteen hundred people, and the withdrawal from benzodiazepine sleeping pills, I had never been under as much psychological stress as I was at that point in my life. Writing for publication seemed like an opportunity to remind myself who I was while I ran out the clock on benzo withdrawal (a process that can kill you if you rush it). After asking experts and applying the metric of SWAG, I determined that I’d need to wait at least six months after my last dose before I would be healthy enough to travel. I’d stopped the drugs entirely in February, so in August, I moved.
Whatever the opposite of fun is, I spent the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall 2022 having it. Moving under the circumstances sucked. My health was still more fragile than I had hoped it would be by that time, I presented strung-out as hell, and I was still dealing with toxic relationship drama.
The first place I went was my old hometown in Massachusetts, a place I had never been as an adult. I don’t know how much of my melancholia was withdrawal-related, but I can only liken the experience to the scene in the film Grosse Pointe Blank in which John Cusack discovers his childhood home has been torn down and replaced with a convenience store. The month I spent there was confusing and heartbreaking; I barely remembered the town in which I’d been born, and in the nearly forty years I’d been gone, the place had changed utterly. Only a few of the people who had known me then were still alive.
While in Massachusetts, I had a final phone call with the woman from whom I was disentangling myself. After I hung up, I realized that there was nothing more in New England for me. I decided that as long as I was starting fresh, I might as well apply the principle of More Dakka and take the premise of reinvention of the self as far as I could. A few weeks later, I let go of New England entirely and got a short-term rental in the South, a place I’d visited briefly but never called home.
There was a moment I can actually pinpoint, just as I crossed the North Carolina border, where a subtle but noticable shift in the energy field through which I had been traveling occurred. Strangers smiled at me, and it was friendly. I started to smile back. I got my bearings shortly thereafter and met some people IRL I’d been talking to online. They turned out to be awesome. (One of them forged me a spear. I’m still kind of lost for words about that.)
I got my truck back. As a saga, this one is less exciting, involving as it does me driving a shamefully fucked-up beater for ten months while a plethora of vehicular surgeons who specialize in classic automobiles reenacted scenes from Young Frankenstein in their garages, but I am happy to at last be cruising around in my ‘95 Bronco Eddie Bauer. I drove a ‘95 Bronco years ago, when I was hanging out with The Wolf, and being behind the wheel of a vehicle so much like the one my Sifu used to openly covet is a callback to a time I remember fondly. I may keep it, I may not. In either case, it completes a circle (and made for a sweet road trip).
I also started trade school; I’ll be a bona fide locksmith in ~6 months. (I will report on this more as I get closer to finishing up.) I think locksmithing combined with whatever The Wonderland Rules morphs into (A reader suggested I do some music journalism, which I’m going to try; any similar suggestions will be taken into consideration as well, because why not?) is going to result in the best of both worlds for me—I genuinely believe you lose something human if you don’t work with your hands and your brain.
As an unexpected bonus, it turns out that not living spang up against your family means you start to actively enjoy dealing with them rather than plotting how you’re going to stow away on one of Elon’s rockets and escape to Mars. More on that later.
To sum up, 2022 was a lot like one of those dreams that starts shortly after you’ve exited a disintegrating aircraft, only to find yourself in free fall with a failing parachute. Fortunately, my reserve opened at the last minute, and the landing was the kind you walk away from.
I’m actually looking forward to 2023.
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Scientific Wild-Ass Guess
Don’t get me wrong; I also get a kick out of the fact I’m legally entitled to carry burglar’s tools.
I was in my kitchen singing this song and realized I was inspired by the title of this article. This will now be my theme for 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls3rD8VfiSY
There is something I need to say about getting to know you (in whatever slight way that even counts, over the past several months).: I am continually impressed by your willingness to let people in. You lift the veil, and in doing so I believe you help a much larger number of people than even you can guess (and I'd include myself among that number).
I don't know if that kind of openness is anywhere in my nature, and I've been thinking lately that is to my great disadvantage. I think many of us have similar stories of rebirth that we're trying to convey. But to tell them in the way you do takes serious balls as well as brains.
Anyway, thank you Jay. I also believe 2023 will be a great year for you, and hope it will be for the rest of us as well.