the cycle of life.
The histories we hold in our heads are dearest to each of our hearts, maybe as dear as our hearts. I turned twenty-four in April this year, and even though I still can't rent cars, it still feels like a big threshold to cross; a quarter of my life is spent, and that's if I'm lucky. My grandfather will turn ninety-seven at the year's end, and my grandmother will be ninety-six. As he and she approach the afterlife with wisdom and with fear of the Lord, I increase in seriousness, experience, knowledge and ambition. There are those to whom life happens and those whose lives truly live. I aim to design my life to be more than a series of missteps and unfortunate events, one that ends as a comedy and not a tragedy.
I went to my high school's graduation ceremony six years after my own, not as a participant but as a stagehand. I saw six high schools graduate and I saw my cities' youth stare wide-eyed into the unknown with optimism and courage; I thought about as much of such sentiments as I did six years prior at my own graduation, cynically. I hardly waste time to think of high school, and, when I do, am filled with swirling, unconquered emotions and memories I cannot make sense of, only be haunted by. I made friendships I let fade, forgot 60% of what I was taught, can only remember the names of teachers who wronged me, and miss it none, besides who I was then. Three-fourths my age now, I remember myself as more anxious and more depressed, with sharper edges, living dangerously through the end of my childhood and reflecting none on the histories as I was making them. I felt funnier, more playful, looser, more expressive and creative, self-loathing, very Christian though testing the boundaries of my increasing freedoms; I felt powerful. There's no drug like being a teenager.
I lost my faith in God almost immediately after high school. My more successful friends and girlfriend left for Washington university while I stayed home to get an associate degree at community college. I paid $1,500 of my trust fund that had just vested and applied for classes; my girlfriend and I hardly had a plan for a long distance relationship and by September we had broken up, a week before fall quarter. I took my first math class in two-and-one-half years as well as French and nutrition, passing none, flunking out with 34 credits left. I got my first job and lost it in a week. I took nothing of this well. I didn't know how to tell my parents I had no plan. I yelled at my best friend on a road trip home from visiting the university. I inadvertently attacked my gay friend for being gay, then advertently attacked him for being a bad friend. I got attacked at my ex-girlfriend's bible study I still attended for swearing online. I got attacked after my ex-girlfriend's bible study for hating capitalism. I turned to my youth pastor and he gave me no comfort. Everything hurt. I was thrashing. I prayed a stream of consciousness song on a guitar tuned to a C-chord and cried. I called my youth group leader for solace. That night I felt the Holy Spirit leave. I continued to go to church and confide in a new old friend everything I was going through. I was ending my lifelong Christianity while she was starting hers. I continued to thrash, and pulled away from even her. I sought employment and persevered through rejection best I could; I got sent to a temp job 30 minutes out of town to a truck stop where the staff didn't speak English. My pain-threshold was low. I became a church's media intern under my brother's supervision, during which I continued to wallow in my own pity. I found church increasingly unbearable as the problem of pain became more and more pronounced in my life as I had seen in others'. My worldview, my friends, my career, my education, my religion, I stood still and tearfully thought about all of them, as I changed into a shape I had never been before and have been ever since.
2013 and 2014 are lost years to me. Events happened, but I remember very little; I'm glad of my poor memory. The Adam Bates of eighteen would have said everything happens for a reason: you've achieved a career by volunteering at church; agnosticism found you and filled the God-shaped hole in your heart; you're still a goofball who laughs at yourself in the mirror; you found a girlfriend to love who loves you more than anything; you have an apartment, you escaped(!), you thought you'd live with your parents until you'd die; you have less friends but you've reached soul-depths with those you fought to keep; you worked through two years of counseling to learn how to love your family better than before. And yet the Adam Bates of twenty-eighteen thinks the universe is chaos: the suffering we experience is better seen by an indifferent universe than an all-powerful loving God who doesn't intervene; the pain I've inflicted on others I was and am unable to seek forgiveness from may never be vindicated; the hurt from my childhood feels as though it may stay with me for my entire life; the trials I once thought taught me patience seem only to have left unhealing wounds; there's yet so much I have no answer for, years I cannot account for; I am still so incomplete.
As my mother's father edges ever closer to leaving his body, as do I, do we all, I'm forced to consider his conflicted history, remember our relationship as a whole, introspect quietly on his entire life... I do not choose to remember the tears. I remember, through happy tears, all the laughs.