I awake in a start. I am burning up, soaked from night sweats and fear, haunted by dreams of bubbling, azure lava fields and lost worlds. I lie in bed contemplating my mortality and the idea that I will never die, that no one ever truly does, not when the force remains strong and endlessly reverberating across time infinitum.
Moments like these should serve to energize me, but instead they just leave me drained and morose. I know this is because I feel unwanted and lacking in direction. And I wish it meant less to me, that I was above feeling pain and sadness, but it does not, and I am not, and waking-up just serves to remind me of how little purpose my life now holds.
There was a moment when I considered the possibility of trying to rehabilitate my image, appearances on talk shows possibly, maybe even a memoir, but ultimately it all just felt like wishful thinking, a fantasy about what might be and not my making peace with what is. I am trying to be at peace now though, day by day, and moment by moment.
The fact is, great men are asked to do great things, and we do them because it is expected of us, and necessary. We also do them knowing that we have very little control over how history will choose to remember us and the decisions we were compelled to make.
I say leave that to the historians, however, and while it is hurtful to me that my counsel is somehow of no use to anyone any more, I do have more pressing concerns. For example, how to entertain myself until breakfast begins and I can have my oatmeal. Or more immediately, how to get out of bed when the brain is willing and my old man legs are not.
Frankly, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly it all goes. When you’re young, getting old and the physical limitations contained therein is impossible to comprehend. And then one day you wake-up and it is all too self-evident. Still, once a warrior, always a warrior, and fight I will until the end. With this in mind, I push myself to place my feet on the floor and complete my morning exercise regime, seven squat thrusts, three push-ups and ten crunches.
I get back up, and linger by the window for a moment taking-in the mass expanse of desert that looms just feet away. There is a great temptation to make a run for it, but I don’t have that kind of energy anymore, much less the desire to actually do so. And yet, this doesn’t mean that my mind isn’t as vibrant as it ever was, or that I do not see the world for what it truly is, something that can sometimes be taken by hard fought negotiation, but mostly, and inevitably, needs to be taken by force.
I lose myself in this thinking for a moment, awash in nostalgia and possibility, but I am snapped back to reality by the creeping realization that my heart is suddenly pounding, my shoulder blades tightening and beads of sweat have burst loose across my brow and are now flooding the scars that mark my face like the tributaries of Dagobah’s swamplands.
In a panic, I quickly look around for my nitroglycerine tablets. I spy them on my nightstand. I struggle to raise my hand into the air, beckon them to come to me, and watch as they hurtle across the room before shakily landing in my palm. I take a moment to regain my strength. I wipe my brow, then fight the childproof cap and take my pill. I drink some water. And I am calm again.
I close my eyes and I focus on my breathing, in and out, in and out, and soon find myself taken back to another time and another place. I am in Panna and I am in love, and while my whole life still lies before me, I can see it so clearly, family, partnership, happiness, all of it, right there, and just within my grasp.
Instead there is none of that and none of it is remotely within my grasp anymore. No one visits, no one calls. And it’s not a surprise really. Nor even a regret, exactly. It is a loss however. I always saw my mission for intergalactic domination as a family venture. But I never could convince any of them that whatever it was they desired, the dark side could offer them more of it. Then again, maybe I never did understand what it was they actually desired.
I suppose it’s true that we raise our children to be independent, to break away from us, and at times metaphorically, if not literally, kill us, so that they can assume their rightful place in the world. But does that mean it doesn’t hurt when they reject you, or that you don’t want them to ultimately return as you age and are no longer a threat to their sense of self.
At times like this I wonder what I might have done differently. I am not above admitting my mistakes, as a parent, nor as a man, but relationships are a two-way street. There is give and take, deposits and withdrawals, and the carving out of common ground. It’s how relationships work.
I imagine my children would say that inviting them to be part of something so much greater than ourselves is not ultimately the same as parenting, sitting down and talking, listening, being there for them. And even as I concede that they would be right, I also believe that we could be better now, couldn’t we?
I look in the mirror and know though that it cannot be, will not be. There is no reconciliation or closure in this story, no going back and fixing that which is broken.
Which also means that this is enough looking back for today, it is time to look forward and focus anew on taking it one day at a time. This is not the life I imagined for myself, but it is a life none-the-less. It is also breakfast time and I want my oatmeal. I put on my cape, gloves and helmet. My breathing grows deep and regular. The aches and pains begin to fade. And I head out the door with a small skip in my step.
Ben Tanzer is the author of the books You Can Make Him Like You, My Father’s House, So Different Now and This American Life among others. Ben also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his vast, albeit faux media empire.