“Please don’t tell me everything is wonderful now!“
Today I was cleaning out our storage room and I came across several spools of old CD-R disks. They were ambiguously marked, which made me curious what was on them. Several said “CPU BACK-UP” but had no date, so I was curious what I could have backed-up from an old computer I had years ago. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found.
Scrolling through the haphazardly-organized folders, I found old pictures and videos of bygone friends during bygone times from a bygone life — and it didn’t really bug me. I found a few folders of MP3s I’d probably downloaded from Napster — and it didn’t really bug me.
Then, on the third or fourth CD-R, I found a solitary folder simply labeled, “Brundage.” I looked at this folder for a second and wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, an instantaneous double-click later revealed the folder’s digital contents, and for some reason, at that moment, with the song that happened to be playing on my iTunes at that exact moment (“Wonderful” by Everclear, obviously), I couldn’t help myself — an emotional avalanche flowed from me and I began to weep uncontrollably.
It’s been a long time since I’ve cried as hard as I cried tonight.
Staring at me from my computer screen was apparently the disk I used to back-up all of my teaching materials from my teaching computer. Not only that, but staring me in the face was the memory of every lesson I taught in the six years I was a teacher — teaching the allegories of Animal Farm, teaching the tragic imagery of Ethan Frome, teaching the societal parallels of Lord of the Flies — and then it hit me: I have completely and irreparably fucked my life up.
And I began to cry harder than I’ve cried in a long time.
Thank God, I was home alone (although, I was on the phone with my best friend, so I muffled my sobs to the best of my ability).
There’s a certain agony which comes accompanies the feeling of loss I was experiencing. In essence, I was mourning the loss of the life I had, and there was no one to blame except myself. I was literally mourning the death of my bygone life, and I was the guilty murderer of that life.
I often tell people, “I have my dream job!” because I get to write full-time. However, the caveat to that is, most of the writing I do is about the fact that I ruined my life. Even my fiction is based on the emotional turmoil I experienced in my real life. So, every day, when I sit down to write, I must channel the torturous agony of the knowledge that I’ve ruined my life — and even worse, I have hurt so many other people as well. I can only imagine the pain my former student experiences, I know my wife struggles with it, and I know my daughter’s struggles will only get worse as she enters middle school this year (because, no doubt, some horrid kid will find out who her dad is and torment her to tears, and then she’ll hate me as a result — domino effect).
At the end of Lord of the Flies, the main character, Ralph, is rescued on the beach of the island on which he and a group of boys have been stranded. However, upon encountering the British military officer who has discovered the marooned group of boys (who were at the climax of a violent mutiny amongst themselves), Ralph does not rejoice at the prospect of being rescued. He does not smile at the thought of being rescued.
These boys had turned on each other while they were marooned on the island, resulting in a bitter conflict which claimed the lives of several of the boys stranded with them.
So when Ralph was rescued, he did not joyously shout.
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
—From Lord of the Flies by William Golding; p.202
Ralph was not happy that his personal Hell was over; Ralph wept because his personal Hell existed.
My personal Hell has passed, so now I live in a perpetual state of living Purgatory. I will always be haunted by the lingering memory of the life I had, the life I enjoyed, and the life I ruined. And although it may seem like I am living “my dream job” as a writer, that simply is not the case.
I died when I went to prison; I was dead when I was released from prison. And now, this, right now, this life — this is Purgatory.
My life is Purgatory — My life is a living Purgatory, torturously awaiting the next stage of the living afterlife.
I am Howard W. Campbell, Jr.
And there are days — many days — when I have to muster up the strength to go out and live a life. I am driven by the knowledge that I have a wife, daughter, family, and friends who love me. But even more so, I agonize over the fact that I’ve hurt so many people, including them. And yet, they still love me — a love I do not deserve. Therefore, sometimes, even the simplest step forward is a miracle. Sometimes, leaving my house feels like an act of God. Sometimes, interacting with other people seems like a superhuman feat. Because, at all times, I am me — and that is not a good thing to be.
This is my Purgatory.
Life is my Purgatory.
And I’m frozen here.
“What froze me was the fact that I had absolutely no reason to move in any direction.”
—From Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut; p. 232