Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Good Life: My Life on Social Security Disability
When I review my past, I think of all that could have been.
And yet my life in the here and now is good, or at least good enough. I have everything I could ask for, at least reasonably ask for. I don't have to worry about money. I get disability from the government. I just have to live and breathe, which is more than an asthmatic can hope for. I come home to a nice apartment. I could make friends, if I really tried. I don't feel loved, but at the same time I don't feel overly tormented.
How can I possibly feel unhappy sometimes? I have no right to sorrow. And yet at times I find I can't enjoy what I have. I come home through empty streets to my quiet little apartment, to the emptiness inside, and I lose myself in thoughts, and I start to feel so lonely. I eat something, and the food seems to have no flavor. I worry that I've lost the capacity for excitement that I used to have in such abundance as a little boy, living in Philadelphia with my family.
I remember the mealtimes of my childhood -- I don't mean the holidays, just the ordinary, everyday meals. When my mother said, "Dinner is ready," I rushed to the dinner table, hands unwashed. My mother sent me back. "Wash your hands, Gary!" I remember the excitement of dinnertime. Four of us clustered around our plates, banging elbows, chattering and gobbling. My father would tell us sternly, "It's time to eat, not talk!" So we'd all settle down to win the competition, each of us cramming the food away by the fistful as fast as we could.
The taste of the food that I ate forty-five years ago remains in my mouth more vividly than the food I eat today, because that's actually the memory of a kind of fun I can never have again: I'm remembering the flavor of being with my family, part of one big, if not loving, group. It's just myself now. It's down to just the two of us now -- myself and my alter ego.
That's probably why I have so much trouble falling asleep at night. I turn out the lights, and my head fills with thoughts that begin to circle madly through my mind. Then I imagine a big eraser inside me where my thoughts are. I rub that eraser across the bustle and buzz, rubbing out one memory after another, until only silence remains. Only then can I sink into the luxury of sleep.
But sleep never lasts. Sooner or later a nightmare always wakes me. In the middle of the night I can't find my eraser. My heart is pounding in my chest. I have to find another strategy for calming down.