Religion was a good hiding place. He convinced himself he was good because he was following a recognized good, he stood for it. There was order, a system, routines and rituals to make him feel safe. He didn’t have to get to know himself because giving up your life was the highest good in this religion. He could feel the rightness about certain parts of the belief system and it made him feel right too; He had value, because it had value. And he so desperately needed to feel valuable, to feel right, to feel that he had integrity. Because he knew it wasn’t true at the moment.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying to do right. God knows, he was trying to live up to what his parents wanted, to what the society wanted, and to what his girlfriend wanted. And it was keeping his parent’s marriage together, the family together, and his own relationship together. But at some level that he didn’t really want to acknowledge yet still dimly sensed, it was killing him. Literally, although slowly, it was paring away at his life force. It took a lot of energy to create a false life; A life that didn’t resonate with who he really was.
He felt older, much older than his years but it was worse than that. He had lost his true joy, his bliss. He still had fun, it wasn’t that. It was just that the fun was somehow empty, like it was bouncing off of walls in an empty house, echoing. He felt so alone all the time. He was in a relationship and he even liked her but he was well and truly alone. He didn’t understand why he felt like that.
It hadn’t always been this way. He stood looking out at the rain drizzling down. He remembered how it felt to be so alive, to feel connected with himself and what he wanted. The last time he had felt lik that was high school.
There was the sport that he loved and his friends. Things were different then. He wasn’t trying to be what his parents, especially his mother, wanted him to be. He wasn’t trying to be the glue that held them together. He was just being himself. He played guitar and jammed with his buddies. He had choices. It had been the best of times.
But then, all things end, don’t they? He wondered. Other people seemed to have lives they enjoyed but maybe that was an illusion. His best friend seemed to be doing all right. He was always happy and he wasn’t doing exactly what his parents wanted but they still seemed to have a good relationship. He wondered how that worked. He knew his parents weren’t like that. He lived under the threat of losing their approval. Yet lately, he was beginning to wonder how important the loss of their approval really would be.
He thought back to a day, just like this one, with the rain drizzling down. He was standing looking out the window in his parent’s house. His mother had just sat down in the living room. He braced himself and he spoke. “Mom? Do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure, Dear. What would you like to talk about?” His Mother replied absentmindedly, looking through her mail.
“About next year.” He responded. Next year would be the year after graduation.
“Yes, next year you will be at University. I can’t wait! I’m so proud of you, Dear!” His Mother gushed.
“Yeah, well, I was thinking I might not go. At least not right away. I’d like to travel, maybe go on a Mission trip for a year or two. Actually, I’ve been thinking of pursuing music and that would give me….” He began but he didn’t finish.
“Excuse me? You can’t be serious! You are going to get scholarships and you are certainly not going to fritter away the best years of your life wandering around doing nothing. If you want to go on a Mission trip you can do it in the summer. And music? You couldn’t make a living doing that! It is simply out of the question! I thought we had agreed on a science-related career for you – Dentistry sounded good. I thought that was what you had wanted.” His Mother asserted emphatically.
“No, Dentistry was your idea, Mom. I agreed to go into science courses to keep my options open.” He countered.
“But you are good at it! Why wouldn’t you do it? It would be a great career and you would be well off. If you want to make music on your off time, you would be able to. You can’t make a living at music. Surely you can’t be so foolish as to not understand these things!” His Mother argued.
“Mom, I’m good at lots of things but I love Music. That is what I really could see myself doing. I just don’t really think university….” He responded.
His Mother cut him off. “Look, there’s still time for you to come to your senses. Your best friend is going to university. You were going together. I suppose if you want to take some music courses, you could do that. Why ever you would want to, I can’t imagine! But you are certainly not going to throw away your future on such a silly notion. Your grandparents have saved enough money for us to put into buying an apartment building to help finance your studies and we just made the downpayment.” She told him. “Are you telling me they just wasted their money?”
“Oh! I didn’t know that. I never asked for that.” He blurted out, taken aback.
“No. But they want the best for you, as do your Dad and I. Your Dad and I have had our differences but we are willing to stay together to get you and your sister through your degrees. It’s not an easy decision but if we separate, we won’t be able to give you kids that and we feel we want to.” His Mother confided.
He could have made the decision to go against her wishes if it hadn’t been for the guilt that she had laid on him. He couldn’t deal with that. He felt his eyes tear up and he turned back to look out at the rain. He wanted to make music. Music was his joy. But he went to university because his parents wanted him to. He felt it was wrong for him but he couldn’t bring himself to leave. He felt so responsible - Not for himself, that would have been welcome but for the misery his parents were choosing to live for the investment his grandparents had made.
But if he didn’t make music, what difference did it make what else he did? If he didn’t make music, somehow life didn’t feel as good. But two years later in late August, he left his guitar at home and went off to university.
In his third year of university, he met her. She was everything he wasn’t and she was totally determined to be in a relationship with him. So he let her. In some ways she was the relationship, since he really wasn’t there. It didn’t seem to bother her. She didn’t seem to notice he wasn’t being true to himself. She enjoyed being able to get him to do what she wanted. He did it to be a good person. At first it did not bother him because being agreeable made him feel good. But lately it was becoming less satisfying.
She was into the religion big time. So he tried to be too. It was a unifying factor. They had started as friends first. He thought he knew who she was. They had fun together, went to church, made friends together, and travelled. There were doing fine. He could almost ignore the fact that it wasn’t perfect. That it was all on her terms. That it was all about her values. He was almost okay with it.
Almost. Little by little something twigged to him about her behaviour. She was very materialistic and somehow that felt familiar. She wanted the status quo – a big house with a picket fence, kids, the fancy car, always moving up. He had never really been that way. He had wanted to do something good for humanity at large. He thought it would be good to go and live in a third world country and help others. She wasn’t interested in that.
It was only after a family visit that he began to understand. It had been like a puzzle and he finally was able to see all the pieces in place. He was standing at the back of the church, talking to his grandfather and grandmother and watching her. She was talking to his mother. They were laughing and talking, glancing off and on at him. He felt a strange sort of déjà vu about it. Then he felt a shock and almost slightly ill. They were like the same person. She was totally like his mother! How had he never seen it?
After that things became increasingly difficult. He felt put upon when she made requests. He had begun to make suggestions about things they could do but she would rarely do anything he suggested. It made him feel exactly like he was dealing with his mother, who always had to win and he had always given in. He stopped agreeing with her. He began to stand up for himself. It was halting at first. But he got better at it. It brought out the worst in her.
“What do you mean you don’t want to go to the dinner tonight?” She retorted angrily, when he had refused politely to go out.
“I have some studying to do tonight, exams are coming. You can go if you want.” He stated.
“This is a dinner for the young adults group. They’re all couples. Do you think I want to go alone? How would that look? They would think we are fighting. Which we are – again! You are so disagreeable now! Why can you just not agree?” She stamped her foot in anger, her voice becoming louder.
“I’m not you. I won’t always agree with you. You rarely do what I ask. I usually go along with you but tonight is not going to work for me. Sorry!” He insisted. Then he simply got up and walked into his bedroom, getting his notes out.
She went into a fury. She stood at the door of his room and began to scream:
“You get your sorry butt out into that car! We are leaving now! I am not going to have you make me look bad. I said we would be there and damn it all, we are going!”
He was shocked. He felt himself wanting to give in. He took a moment and took a few deep breaths. “No.” He said calmly and evenly. “I am not going. But you can leave now. That would be a good idea. You don’t tell me what to do. If you think you do and that is the basis for our relationship, maybe we need to end the relationship.” He couldn’t believe he had actually voiced what he had been thinking about for several weeks.
Her face fell. “You don’t mean that! You love me. We are engaged. People are counting on us at the Youth Group. You can’t tell me to leave! What about our hopes and dreams for the future?” She was pleading.
“You mean your hopes and dreams? You don’t take my hopes and dreams into account. You’re all about money and status. I don’t care about that. I want to help people and change things in the world.” He replied.
“What’s wrong with being practical? You have such lofty goals. How are you going to achieve them with no money? That’s just dumb! You can’t even help yourself, how can you help anyone else?” She scoffed.
He felt the anger rise in him, as she threw his own doubts back at him. But he wasn’t angry with her. Not really. “Look, I’m not going tonight. That should be obvious. I’m also thinking that at some point we are not going to be viable as a couple because we both want to go in a different direction. We can try to talk through that or we can simply end it. What do you want to do?”
“What do you mean we are going in a different direction? You are going into medicine and so am I, how is that different?” She couldn’t understand the change in him.
“I’m in medicine so that I can go to underpriviliged countries and help out. You are in medicine to make money. Those are different directions.” He explained, throwing part of the real issue on the table.
“You are serious about doing that? I thought it was something we could do when we retired. Why do you need to do that now? How are we supposed to have children when we are in some dangerous impoverished environment?” She asked perplexed.
“I don’t really want kids. And I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to do something I have always wanted to do and that is right for me.” He asserted.
“You don’t want kids? You never said that before. I don’t understand why you are being like this. That’s part of getting married – be fruitful and multiply, you know?” She was near tears. He had seemed like her dream man and now he was someone different.
“I’m not so sure about anything right now. But I have to admit that I haven’t really been myself for awhile. I let myself get talked into going to university and it hasn’t felt right. I need to stop agreeing with people just to be a nice guy. I am going to be standing up for what I want and believe in from now on. I’m sorry if that bothers you. A relationship shouldn’t just have one person in it. Ours only had you because I just agreed with everything. I won’t be doing that anymore, so if that is a problem for you, well, maybe the relationship isn’t your style.” He quipped.
She looked at him for a full minute and then she turned on her heel and left the room. He heard her packing her bag and then the front door opened.
He lay back on the bed and a smile spread across his face. I should have done this with my mom a couple of years ago, he thought. Funny how the relationship had given him a second chance to fix his own problems. Did they always do that?
He opened his lap top and booked a flight to Europe with the money he had left. Then he printed “For Rent” on a large piece of cardboard and stuck it in the condo window. He would finish this semester’s exams and then he would begin living his life. Part of him wanted to go today but the other part thought, oh well, better late than never.
Several weeks later, he pushed the contact on his phone and called his mother from Paris. He was still smiling after the call, although she didn’t take it well. He looked up at the street name and then down at the map. He was totally lost but it didn’t matter because he had already found his way back to himself. He felt totally alive and joyful. He hefted his guitar and hailed a cab. Within ten minutes he was standing at the back entrance to the club he would debut at later that evening. His first show in Paris!