Boredom. I’ve written about it many times. I invariably describe it as more terrifying to me than death. I’m not exaggerating. The prospect of having nothing to do is miserable beyond belief to me. I do not idle well. I’m not going to relax. I don’t want to relax. I want to make things. And when I can’t make things, I lose my mind. Trust me, I’ve been losing my mind severely lately, and my grappling with the boredom demons has never been worse.
Of course, I don’t just roll around on the floor shrieking when I am in this state. I desperately try to find something productive or constructive to do. But sometimes there’s just nothing left, and I have to get creative. After all, one can sort the proverbial sock drawer only so many times. So I did something I hadn’t ever done before: I opened up my huge trunk of memories, and I sorted through it.
Now, just to explain what this trunk is all about: I have this steamer-sized metal trunk. I don’t remember where it came from, but I’ve had it for something like 40 years, and, sentimental soul that I am, I’ve kept it packed with all the yearbooks, photos, letters, and press clippings that ever meant anything to me. I tend to throw out a lot of stuff in my life, but when it comes to sentimental objects, they have survived the decades and many moves from place to place. It’s kind of a miracle that this trunk has managed to make it through my life intact.
So the sorting and order of the mountain of stuff in there took place about a week ago. And yet my desperate need to Do Something persisted, so I decided to do Round Two with this thing, and I endeavored to specifically take out the countless letters I had kept and sort through those. That, I knew, was a hazardous undertaking, because I would wade into waters that were populated with tumult, emotions, heartache, and regret. There be dragons here.
I began thumbing through the piles, putting them into different groups. Letters with friends go here. Love letters to my girlfriend in this pile. Love letters from my girlfriend in that pile. College admissions and rejections go over here. Indeed, looking at the stack of letters Princeton sent me, urging me to join their school, induced plenty of mixed emotions, even though it all took place 37 years ago.
In my OCD-induced sorting, I held up a yellow envelope, and I couldn’t believe it. This was the one. April, 1981. That’s the letter the girl I had a huge crush on from middle school sent to me. I had fallen head over heels about her back in the 8th grade, but we were destined for separate high schools, so I figured I’d never see her again.
I never had told her how I felt. I didn’t think she gave me even a second look. And it had been twenty months since I left the 8th grade when in my mailbox appeared this card from out of the blue. It was from………….…her!
It wasn’t a love letter or anything like that. It was just a really sweet card from out of the blue. The fact she even remembered that I even existed surprised me, let alone that she took the time and trouble to compose a nice message for me and send it along.
Of course, I wrote her back immediately (we only lived two miles from each other, but like I said, we were at separate high schools). It turns out that she felt the same way about me as I felt about her, and this unspoken interest in one another was suddenly lit ablaze, even though we were now in completely separate worlds.
And so, within weeks, I was with this beautiful girlfriend who was a person that even a month prior I figured had forgotten I ever existed. It was like heaven. Truly heaven. I’ve never been happier.
But that was a long time ago. And now what was before me was not just that one card which began it all, but the mountain of letters that had gone back and forth. I began to get very, very uncomfortable with what I saw and what I read. Her letters were beautifully rendered. The handwriting is perfect, and they go on for pages. And what she writes – – the words she uses – – are loving, graceful, and elegant.
And just look at my pig slop. Terrible handwriting. Crude and clumsy language. Absolute garbage. I am an embarrassment to myself. How could I reply to this lovely prose with this dreck? How could she put up with it? Compared to her Stradivarius violin, I was an aluminum pot with a rock banging against it.
It starts to sink in again: what I might have been compared to what I really am. Am I half the person I could have been?” No, that’s too generous. A quarter? A tenth? My estimate keeps plunging. Maybe 1%, if even that.
The bottomless pit of missed opportunities, squandered promise, and all-around fuck-ups makes my stomach turn. As I stare at all these records of my past, and the memories associated with them, I can think of only one thing: you, Tim Knight, have blown it. Utterly and completely.
Forlorn, I move away from my desk and look out my home office into the family room. There she is. Instantly, I am that 15 year old kid again, who just got the card in the yellow envelope that I am holding in my hand, forty years later. And in that moment, the sheer miracle that she’s even here hits me. In spite of all my failings, all my flaws, and my innumerable shortcomings, she’s actually still here. That cute girl from the 8th grade is honestly, really still there, in the year 2021.
There are plenty of people who fervently hope that, in the end, a person gets what they really deserve.
God, I hope not.