Last year on November 7th, I was beginning a rapid spiral into depression and self-loathing. It was my birthday and I wanted to die. I had never felt sadder, lonelier or more worthless.
A month earlier I had struck up a conversation with a guy while sitting alone at the bar at The Vortex eating dinner. (This guy became known as Tater Tot Todd to my Sunday School boys.) When I got up to leave he said, “So? I’m never going to see you again?” I just smiled at him and left. But later, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so I went back the next week and gave my business card to the bartender and asked him to have the guy call me when he came back in. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and was about to give up. Then one Friday night, I was home in my pajamas cooking spaghetti and out of the blue he called, said the bartender had just given him my card and asked if I wanted to come have dinner. This was it! The man I’d been waiting for! I just knew it! It was like a fairy tale!
After changing clothes four times, I met him at The Vortex and we had dinner on the patio at Escorpion. He had a doctorate, no TV, and had traveled the world. He was fascinating AND liberal! But I felt like such a provincial bumpkin around him. We went back to his place, talked and then went out on his balcony, lay in a hysterical leopard spotted papasan chair and kissed. It was really nice. Then he held my hand, walked me home down Peachtree Street and asked me if he could see me again Saturday night. I was so excited I barely slept!
The next night we went to dinner at Papi’s and then he came over to my condo to watch the Georgia/Kentucky game. He said he was mildly allergic to cats, but he’d been at my place less than an hour when he went running out saying he was having an asthma attack. And then I didn’t hear from him again for a month. What had I done wrong? What was wrong with me? What a horrible, hideously ugly, worthless person I must be to run someone off like that. I was crushed.
I decided to better myself. I was going to get a passport and go back to school. I applied for information on the Educational Design program at Georgia State. That would make me more desireable! I would prove to the world that I wasn’t a bumpkin! In the meantime, I had struck up a Facebook friendship with a married man who shared my love of sports and old movies. I thought it was kind of weird when he invited me over to his house to watch a movie, but I said yes. He told me his wife didn’t mind if I came over. It was all very strange and scary. But I just wanted somebody to like me – to find me pleasing and acceptable. Risk be damned!
I decided my birthday was going to be a day-long self-transformation project. First I had an appointment to get that passport. But I got lost and missed my appointment. Next, I went to Little Five Points and bought some funky new clothes at Junkman’s Daughter to change my image. Then I went to Savage Pizza, got a pizza for one to go, came home, sat in the floor alone, stuck a candle in the pizza and had a birthday pity party while I watched it rain outside. I was miserable. I had no idea who I was anymore. I just knew I was hurting terribly and didn’t see any reason to keep on living. I had never been so unhappy.
And then a few small things happened that may have saved my life.
First, in response to some of my sad, glitter-tooting Vaguebook messages, my friend Bobby texted and persuaded me to get up, get out of the house and come to the Wednesday night dinner at church. I sighed, put on my new black Doc Marten’s with the little red flowers on them, a big sweatshirt and a ball cap and headed out. I was still miserable, but at least I wasn’t going to be alone, sitting at home pondering how to die. Still, I felt like such a shithead. I wanted to do something “bad,” so before I went to church, I went by CVS and bought a pack of Camels. Then I sat on the side steps of the church hidden by the bushes, smoked a couple of cigarettes and wondered if my heart would ever stop hurting.
Then I went on to the church basement dinner, pulled my cap brim down as far as I could to avoid eye contact with the world and at least tried to pretend to be sociable. But I just couldn’t quit thinking about how sad I was and how scared I was by how much I hurt and how frightened I was by the idea that I was actually going to this strange man’s house on Friday night. Sitting there in my fog, I decided I needed to talk to somebody about it before something terrible happened. I told my friend Mandy what had been going on and said I wasn’t sure if this guy and I were going to watch a movie, or if I was going to wind up made into Saturday’s chili. She gave me a virtual slap upside the head and said that this was not normal behavior. She made me promise to go home, unfriend him and cut off all communication with him. And she reassured me that I was loveable just as I was, that I didn’t need to change myself or put myself in danger to chase approval and affection. And she sent me home with a big hug to ponder my life.
So in the end, this is not a story of sudden enlightenment or salvation. I didn’t go home that night and suddenly burst into songs, dances and jazz hands of joy and self-acceptance. In fact, things got worse over the next nine months before they eventually started getting better. But for that day, a couple of people’s small, loving, caring actions helped keep me safe from myself, and kept my head above water for one more day. And that was huge.
So for me on my birthday tomorrow, simply speak a kind word to someone who might need reassurance, take someone lonely to lunch, hug someone who might be desperately craving human touch, call someone you haven’t talked with in a while who’d love to hear your voice, commit a beautiful, random act of kindness. You might be the one thing that keeps someone from drowning today. And nothing would make me happier. It would be the best gift you could give me this year.