Right now, I work as a copywriter in the marketing department of a financial newsletter. Luc’s one of our designers. I don’t know how this happened. That’s what I want to figure out.
I left Brooklyn the last time in April 2012 to move back in with my mom and stepdad in Richmond, Virginia. I was 35 years old, out of money and unemployed. Yet again, I had absolutely no idea what was happening in my life. I’d just completed my second master’s degree, this time in philosophy, and I’d been applying to law schools while simultaneously trying to get a copywriting gig. I figured I’d take the first thing popped up, but I don’t think I really wanted to do either. I didn’t have any ideas anymore.
I’d never really finished studying for the LSAT. It was a half-hearted attempt, brought about by an argument I’d had with Fox News over the Constitution while sitting in my mom’s living room during Christmas the year before. Back in New York, my therapist kept asking me what the hell I was doing. Once upon a time, a PhD had sounded like a good idea. Because people always tell me I’d make a good professor, but a lot had happened since 2008. Four years later, all I really wanted to do was finally finish the novel I already told you I’d been working on for seven years. I needed to do something practical for a change. I was in serious debt from all that education.
Truth is I was tired. By the time I left Brooklyn that last time, I wasn’t hipstered out any longer. I was truly beat. Friends had been offering to let me crash on their couches for as long as I needed until something finally opened up, but all I could think was, Man, I’m 35 years old. I’ve been living like this too damn long. So I decided to head back south and see what I could scrounge up.
My last night in Brooklyn, I went on a solitary walk through Williamsburg, that neighborhood that defined so much of my adult life. I put an Anthrax playlist on my then-ancient iPod, and I walked up Lorimer to Bedford Ave, all the way over to Greenpoint, by my old place at the corner of Manhattan and Nassau (where I’d truly lost my mind for the very first time) and back down to the Broadway G train stop. As I walked, thrash metal deafening me like I’d always hoped it would, I started praying. Something I never do. Thinking about my time in New Mexico, I spoke to the ancestors, to my family that had already passed on. My father, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, even dogs rose to the forefront of my consciousness. Then, I was conversing with ancestors I’d never even met, people I’d only heard about, some of whom I’d maybe seen faded photographs of… a Native American grandmother in Texas, a German Jew traversing the ocean from Germany, a Swedish family who gave their daughter up to the Lutheran orphanage. I saw them all so clearly, and I asked all of them, every last one, to watch over my journey as this next phase began.
But I managed to get into law school. The only thing was the school I got into in Chicago didn’t give me enough funding. I was excited about the prospect of finally moving to one of the American cities my family had branched out from. But once I did the calculations one afternoon in my mother’s kitchen, it looked like by the time I started working again, at the age of 38, I’d be nearly $300,000 in the hole. There was no way I was going to be able to practice human rights law with a load like that hanging over my head. I’d be doing corporate law, working 80 hour weeks and trying to make partner at some firm, which I was probably already too old to do anyway. No. If I was going to be in the corporate world, why not hustle a little bit more and try to do something might leave my nights and weekends free enough to do what I really want, which is this.
I’d given up hope, accepted that law school offer I couldn’t afford, when I heard back about the job I have now. They offered me a position in their Copywriter Development Program with three other aspiring writers. Only thing was, I’d be the oldest entrant by more than ten years, and I’d be living in Washington, DC because I certainly wasn’t about to make my home in Northern Virginia. DC was one city I always said I’d never return to. There were ghosts haunting me there I didn’t even know I had. It was the city I’d gotten clean in for the third time back in 2005. But I didn’t mind. I needed a job.
That day I got the job offer, I put the Anthrax playlist back on my iPod (in honor of the ancestors), and I headed out for a walk beneath the trees, around the suburban streets and down to the lake in that same neighborhood my mom’s lived in since my junior year of high school. I felt like a cat on, at least, its eighth life. For the first time in nearly three years, there was a slight strut to my gait again, and I thanked the universe for the experiences I’ve received. When I got to that lake where the neighborhood kids go fishing for fish I don’t think are there, I bowed to the watery depths alone. I envisioned the madness of H.P. Lovecraft’s demonic Cthulu rising off its surface. In my mind’s solitary eye, I saw the ancient one in all its formless glory, an essence defying the laws of our world’s Euclidean geometry. And I told the devil, “We’ve battled a long time, my friend. You’re a worthy opponent, but let’s call a truce.”
“Gabriel,” only I heard the devil whisper to me, “If that’s even your name. You are free to go. For now, but I’ll meet you again. Either in this life or the next.”
Out of respect for such a worthy adversary, I switched the thrash metal playlist over to Slayer, and I wound my way back up to my mom’s house on the hill.