I started my third semester at the University of Connecticut after losing my house. Well... alright, I'm tired of using that term, that I "lost my house". That makes it sound like I misplaced it on the bus or something, which doesn't even make sense in the first place.
My house burned down. That's what happened. I got up early one July morning, fed my cats the last meal I'd ever feed them, drove to UConn with my mom and sister, dropped my sister off, and came back to find the house surrounded by firemen, policemen, and assorted onlookers. Apparently, a fire started in the back lawn somehow, spread throughout the house in a brisk 10-15 minutes, and that was it. Two of my cats, a lot of my writing, my room, and a crapload of other assorted sentimentality... gone. Nineteen years down the drain.
One thing I'll always remember about that morning - sitting on the stairs in my neighbor's house, cowering over and not knowing quite what to do, I said very simply to my mother - "I can't go back to school." Maybe not the most rational thought, but not one without merit. I mean, I'd just lost the only house I'd ever known, for fuck's sake! College, at that particular moment, just seemed... hollow, I guess, to put it in superficial terms. It didn't seem like there was any use of it. Of course, my mom started with the "Sean, you're going to school, stop talking like that" bit which of course shut me up. Knee-jerk reaction, I guess.
I don't know. Maybe I just didn't want to see people, after what had happened. After the fire, I developed something of a superiority complex - like my house burning down had taught me some valuable lesson about the evils of materialism that nobody else could possibly dream of experiencing. "Well, your house didn't burn down! You've got it made, man! So stop bitching!" That rang through my head more than once during the summer.
When I did get back to UConn, I was treated to the polite "How was your summer?" greetings that would elicit a very casual response from me under any other circumstances. Now it was a moral guessing game. Should I lie and say something like, "Well, it could've been better, but it was okay?" and feel guilty for the rest of the night, or blurt out something dumb about the incident and make the situation as awkward and sad as possible? "Oh, my house burned down, only one I ever knew, my cats died, I lost my baby blanket," pity pity pity bitch bitch bitch.
I chose the former in most situations, which wasn't great. The people I told, well, I told casually, like it wasn't a big deal. The way I made it sound, it was like, "Yeah, man, it was a real bummer." When I told my roommate what had happened, embellishing the fact that one of the cats that had died was my kitten, his response was simply, "Dude... that's not cool." I don't blame him, because how do you react to something like that? But it didn't make me feel much better.
It got to the point where I started to feel very, very guilty. My friends are used to me making very bizarre, morbid jokes. That's just what I do, you know? So when I told people that, "Hey, two of my cats died in a fire!" That's not a joke to me. If I smile while I say something like that, it's because I don't know how to deal with it. I can't face the truth, so I try to crack a grin and makey the laff-laff. Simply put, I was a psychiatric basket case after the fire, and I'm barely less of one now.
So what was I supposed to do? Crawl pitifully to the ruins of my old house and claw at the blackened door handles, hoping for the dapper visage of Jesus H. Christ to somehow materialize in the ashes right before my eyes and make this whole Job-esque domestic tragedy worthwhile?? Of course not. After the fire, the rest of the summer was very subdued. We moved to a rental condo in the middle of nowhere. I moped around a lot. I hung out half-heartedly with my friends. I played whatever video game was there. I think I shaved a lot for some reason. It was not a great August.
And then UConn. UConn became an abandoned stage; that's the metaphor I use. The weeks of rehearsal were finished, the production went off without a hitch, everybody partied and had a good time, and the stage was struck. Now when I wandered around campus late at night, I was walking through an empty stage. A lame image, I know. But it's the only one I can think of.
This didn't help classes. I sat and observed. I watched my fellow students, I watched my professors, I watched my assignments. I didn't feel like I was apart of many of my classes. I was banging on glass at an aquarium. It really didn't feel right. And it was a shame, too, because many of the professors I had seemed like genuinely nice people. My Modern Novel professor, specifically, seemed like a guy I would really get along with. I didn't talk with him once all semester; at first out of disinterest, and later on out of pure guilt. I hadn't talked to these people all year - what would it be like if I suddenly struck up a conversation? How would that go?? No no no no. Way too awkward. I just had to keep to myself. I'm the lonely kid who's house burned down over the summer. I'm that kid, now. That's my persona. That's my excuse.
I came up with this really cheesy motto before I went to UConn - "Embrace what you love." A totally unoriginal phrase, like something out of "You Got Mail." But that's what I started to do, whether I liked it or not. I searched out crappy pop songs I loved in middle school. I tried to rekindle my social life. A friend of mine pointed out to me that I ended up writing about The Legend of Zelda in my blog twice in a goddamned row - something I didn't even realize. I'm starting to care about this kind of stuff again - this fluffy, pointless nostalgia. I almost feel restricted by it; this is practically all I can write about anymore, The Legend of Zelda and old pop music.
I'm glad I have what I have. I'm glad I have friends. I'm thankful that my family is still here. I'm lucky that I can sit around and love The Legend of Zelda all over again. But at the same time, that's all I feel like I'm allowed to do. Be grateful. I can't mourn, because how do I mourn? The closest I've gotten to that is remembering random things about my cats that seemed way too recent, and just stop in my tracks for a moment and stop functioning. That's all I can do in their memory; block all bodily functions and just sigh. That's it. I'm afraid of depression, so I don't want to make a gravestone or revisit the house or something. I'm too afraid. I can't do that.
"Embrace what you love." Is that all I can do? I guess that's it, then. That's all I can do for now. Maybe I've just written myself into a corner, I have no idea. But I know what I love, and that's never a bad thing. I love good music, I love great video games, and I love just sitting around... just contemplating about that kind of stuff. It comforts me. And in a time like this, I'll take all the comfort I can get.
Maybe I'm just not much of a scholar. Maybe I've got ADD and am incapable of paying attention in my classes. Maybe I'm just a straight-up idiot. I don't even know anymore, and I don't think I care. I'll embrace what I love. Yeah.
That's kinda starting to sound nice, actually. My black-cauldron of a heart is cracking, I guess. I knew it'd happen.