So, I’m not sure my whole volunteering plan is going to work out that well.
Debate works as a distraction from my vast emotional pain for two reasons. For one, it is a reaffirmation that I have some modicum of self-worth. My ability to have things to offer in the context of debate is one of the very few things that I have confidence hasn’t been completely destroyed by the events of this summer. But for the other thing, debate is loud. It’s noisy, boisterous, active. Often three or four or seven people are talking over each other, striving to be heard. There is little to no time for contemplation, for reverie, for the creeping dragon of self-doubt to tiptoe into the back of one’s mind and start breathing fire all over the neighborhood.
Volunteering, on the other hand, at least the early-morning kind that starts in a quiet kitchen at 8:30 and involves shifting chairs and wrapping silverware, is almost silent. The work is rote, but it’s mindless enough to set one’s mind to all kinds of frenetic racing. I was almost elated when a seemingly schizophrenic client and apparent some-time volunteer came up to the table to assist with rolling cutlery up into napkins. He bantered on about coyotes and baseball cards and the lyrics to songs and my only regret was that he wasn’t more plainly audible so I could engage him more thoroughly in conversation.
It’s just one day, my first at the mainline traditional soup kitchen at Elijah’s Promise, as opposed to Highland Park’s experiment of A Better World Cafe. I’m sure that if I become a regular, even one day a week, I’ll get brought in more to the kitchen, strike up conversations with the retirees and the full-time staff and the congregation members who have all known each other for a long time running. But the number of times I nearly broke down weeping today was far too many for this to work. I suppose weeping with a broom in my hand or while I’m cleaning dishes is better than weeping alone in my room, but I’m not sure the kind folks at the kitchen would agree.
The problem, more than anything, is how profoundly I’ve been rejected. Ever since I had to leave Broadway Middle School after skipping four grades to get there, there’s been a taunting narrative of failure and incompetence running in the back of my head. When PLB dumped me via paternal e-mail, the narrative got a brutal and powerful ally in the field of romantic viability. The extremity of both of these circumstances, especially the latter, has indented me with a deep-seated feeling of certainty that I am worthless and that the only antidote to my worthlessness is either unassailable intellectual accomplishment (e.g. North American Debate Championship) or unassailable romantic fulfillment (e.g. marriage to the love of my life). Unfortunately, one of these is revocable. And there simply isn’t any way to build it back up. There isn’t. I’m not saying I’ll never love again, though I might not, but the tarnish that a lightning-fast and permanent betrayal of a 7-year marriage imprints does not wash out. I am marked with this for life.
As I told Fish and my parents last night, time doesn’t do a damn thing. Memory might fade, or distractions might arise. Those are what people are really talking about when they say time changes something. It’s not the nature of time or its passage – it’s the nature of human frailty and malleability. People get older and decay and their minds get less sharp and that’s why things hurt less over time. If they’re thinking clearly and living meaningfully, nothing gets better. They just tell themselves a story where it seems less relevant because it was longer ago.
We all have needling voices of self-doubt and perhaps even self-loathing in the back of our heads. Most of us can wash or paper them over with the realities of their true achievements or strengths or inner beauty. But my counter-arguments have been silenced. Nothing is so inculcating of self-hatred and despair as being rejected in this way, cast aside so cavalierly in the name of selfishness. The love of one’s life is supposed to be selfish by staying with one, not by leaving. I have been told I failed at the only thing I ever really cared about, and I will never get a second chance. There is no antidote to that rejection. The best-case scenario I can paste up is dirty transparent wallpaper for the lurking reality of an endless wall of shame.