In Which We Begin a Thing

It is five o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep.

I usually can’t. I wake up. I am prone to panic attacks. I have been since I was a teenager. They’ve happened regularly for twenty years. Like clockwork. It’s comforting to be able to depend on something.

And I am very dependable in that way. I have been consistently anxious since I was very young. I am easily discouraged and frequently suffer from bouts of deep depression. I drink to excess, often and with verve. I am bad with money, when I have it. These things follow me around like a fluffy little rain cloud, and hover inches over my head in the middle of the night. They are a part of me. They will not be shaken. Managed, maybe. But never shaken.

Listen, I have good qualities, too, but it’s five o’clock in the morning, and there’s only so much my fevered brain can focus on. Besides, I’m getting at something, the long way around: My favorite character flaw. Which is different from the anxiety and depression and nascent addiction, because I chose this flaw. I carefully curated it throughout my life, and frequently celebrated it, dressing it up in the guise of a virtue.

It is this: I am a commitmentphobe. I have a very healthy dislike of commitment. You could say fear. If you like. I wouldn’t. But you could.

It extends into every facet of my life. For instance: In school, I never chose a major. I tell people that I studied theater and creative writing, and I’m not lying. I did. Just not in any official capacity. I went three-and-a-half years without declaring. What if I found something I liked better? (It should be noted here that I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t, but why risk it?)

Instead of going to class, I wrote. I sat down in the basement of Blue Sky Coffee every night well past midnight, chain smoking with the other Sullen Boys Who Wrote. We wrote in journals and legal pads in those days, and in the margins of dogeared copies of The Collected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. We drank black coffee and wore stupid sweaters and smoked entire packs of cigarettes in a single sitting and then asked the Sullen Boy who was writing next to us if he’d watch our stuff and he’d shrug noncommittally and we’d go into the cool autumn air and buy another pack, and then we’d smoke that too. We were young and Sullen and never finished anything, but oh the sorta-poems and almost-drafts we wrote! And how we felt it in our hearts and our guts and our lungs.

At any rate, three-and-a-half years of this, and I dropped out of school. Or was disinvited from returning for what should have been my last semester. I forget which (not really). It isn’t important from this vantage point anyway.

I left school and I got a job. It was a pretty neat job for a drop out. It was for a company that owned and managed theme parks all across our great nation. At first, it did not feel corporate at all. At first, I just got to dress up like an old timey lawman and sing bluegrass songs to tourists. After a few months, they asked if I wanted to stay on and write children’s plays. And so I was a Professional Writer! It was very good until it started to feel terrible, and then it was terrible for a very, very long time. Ten years! I had a number of opportunities for advancement during that time, and declined each one. Because this was a job that I was doing while I “pursued” my career. Which eventually worked out! Sort of.

See, I told people that I was a Serious Writer. It turns out that if you do that long enough, and are regularly seen carrying a notebook and maybe a copy of The Collected Works of Rainer Maria Rilke, people will ask you to maybe write stuff for them. And (here’s the tricky part) if you occasionally actually write, like, just long enough to hit a deadline once or twice, they fucking believe you! THEY FUCKING BELIEVE YOU. So eventually I was asked by someone who commits to this sort of thing if I’d write screenplays with him, and I quit my job, and we (eventually) wrote a movie, and it did okay, and blah blah blah etc. Now I have a CV.

I’m veering off point. Point is: I have never been fully committed. My writing partner’s off making movies right now, and I’m sitting on my couch at five o’clock in the morning writing a blog post in boxers and a t-shirt that I cut into a muscle shirt as a joke but secretly like to wear because it makes me look like the kind of dude who wears muscle shirts. Because he is fully committed to making movies whereas I didn’t want so much to be nailed down to it. Because that makes sense, yeah?

Here’s the thing about commitmentphobia: it looks an awful lot like freedom for a long time. Not committing to school allowed me all the time in the world to write. Not committing to my job did the same. It didn’t make me productive, or happy, it just allowed me to believe in a future where I was capable of attaining happiness and productivity because I hadn’t been chained to a shit career.

I was the same way in love. A series of relationships that were filled with passion and excitement and that eventually ended in terrible disappointment. Because I had a foot out the door. Always. It was miserable. And yet, I was willing to continue with this lifestyle ad nauseum. Because it meant I never had to be responsible- truly responsible- for another person’s happiness. And because there might always be something else.

And then, of course, I met Amy.

Which is why we are here, really.

Amy was smart, and confident, and funny. And she knew what she wanted, and made plans to get those things. She was resourceful. If she found something lacking, she’d fix it. She was tough, but it was tempered with kindness. I mean, she was basically all of the things that I wished I was.

Also she was beautiful.

Also she liked me.

Also she had very little patience for commitmentphobia, and told me so. And yet I found myself sticking around. And then moving into her apartment, which was kinky and cluttered but felt like home. And each day that we spent together I felt a sort of unwinding of a singular tension. The steadfast commitment to not committing. So close to her heat, it sort of melted off. To mix metaphors.

And then, after a couple of years of this, one night we were walking around Charleston (very much more on Charleston later) and we got to the Harbor, where the moon fell across the water and the summer wind was warm and everything felt perfect. She pulled out a letter to read to me. It was beautifully written, and though at first I thought it was the opening salvo to an intervention, as it continued it became very clear that she was asking me to marry her.

And though my brain was a raging maelstrom, my mouth (which despite myself I have learned to trust) said yes, and when it did, I became very calm. Because yes. Of course, yes. Yes, this person whom I admire and wish to be more like. This person who knows how to throw a left hook. This person who is skilled and decent and full of life. How could I not commit to more of her?

At any rate. I’m shaking at least this one character flaw dressed up like a virtue. The rest I’ll manage to the best of my ability. At the very least, when I wake in a panic at five o’clock in the morning, I have her beside me, gently snoring.

Here, I am going to talk to you quite a bit about weddings, but also about existential dread and depression, but also about love and how good it is to be in love. Also how scary. But mostly how good. Because it is very, very good.

13 thoughts on “In Which We Begin a Thing

  1. Nick, I love this; I’m so happy that you’ve found Amy and the courage to commit to her. As a fellow commitmentphobe, one with trouble committing to menu choices and phone plans, I know that you’ve got this. I’ve been married for ten years and have a child, for Christ’s sake, and that means that you can do this too. Everything worth having is a little bit terrifying. You deserve this (I don’t know if Amy does, but she asked, right); let yourself be happy. XOX

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  2. Not every Sullen Boy (or Girl) grows up to be a man (or woman). The gifts of perception and sensitivity; all the feelings (and there are so many!!) are the foundation of our greatest creativity and joy. Brains wired just so; a chemical soup that needs a touch more salt or serotonin or dopamine. The psychiatrist will just keeping tasting until determining it done all while we simmer waiting for all the ingredients to become something palatable to ourselves and society. Meanwhile we love or hate or lust or some terrible, beautiful combination thereof. The highs so high and the lows? Well there is an Indigo Girls album for that. Mistakenly we believe that the intensity of the interaction, the need for that person must…mean…something. It has to. Otherwise why? Why do we chase it like a drug? Why do we feel that only trying to stay upright on ever-shifting sands makes it real? This makes me happy to read…I hope you have felt the peace that accompanies the drama free love. It is like a yoga class for the soul. You stretch and assume contortions that while awkward don’t hurt but just leave you a little sore in a good way. You breathe and they breathe with you. You laugh when the new positions make you fall and they laugh with you – never at you – because they too are beside you flat on their ass. You help each other up, go get some froyo and talk of tomorrow. Namaste.

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  3. Honestly, I feel the same was as you do, and I am just so happy for you to share this experience. After reading it, your last few paragraphs about waking up next to her even though you are panicking, I just felt calm. Thank you.

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