One time, after a fun night, I put my head down on the counter of Cup & Saucer and said nothing. The woman I’d spent the night with asked if I felt “like an empty room.” I did, and I still use the phrase all the time. Sometimes I feel like a minivan with no kids in it. I would prefer to feel like a retriever or something, if anything at all. Although I don’t want to feel like anything at all most of the time, there are people who prefer me sentient and most of the ways to feel nothing end up making you feel nothing forever, and then all your friends feel a particular looming something at your very memory until they don’t feel anything either. Today a friend of mine would have had a birthday that made him old enough to be president, but he’s not having a birthday because he died this year. Another friend was at his funeral and was gone himself two weeks later. This was a few months after my friend’s older brother stopped answering texts then stopped breathing a few days after that.
There’s a dull ache we tend to mistake for nothing, but it is like a running up slight incline that leaves you breathless after only a mile or two, you cannot understand why something that appears so minor is sucking the life out of you. How many Dad’s naps are just depression? Treating your dull ache as chronic and not curable feels workable, acknowledging it and tending to it instead of solving it, because solving it is solving yourself which sounds ridiculous on paper, which isn’t always how thoughts sound when you think them alone, but this one thinks like it reads on paper; nuts, undesirable. I am inevitably surprised when acknowledging and working on the problem isn’t enough, as if the problem wasn’t rude to begin with. Matching up my own dull ache I’ve carried around since I was a boy with some collective ache that we all felt this past year. It did not occur to me that the collective ache might snap in a way that my own never would.
As the light at the end of the tunnel some politician invoked way too early becomes visible to people, because now it might actually be there, we have this ache that is seeing light for the first time. The damp chaos of the past year was such an onslaught that the particulars congealed, and are now thawing, breaking apart into sharp pieces. You look for tools in your toolbox. My health insurance has a miserable labyrinth for mental health that helps no one, but they do offer a $1 a year subscription to the Calm app. When the more striking things that have taken place in our personal lives are held against “normal life” instead of a collective despair, they will finally be put in their proper place, outside the context of what has just happened to us, alongside the other things that have happened to you. And then we just live with that forever, which is something, when nothing sounded pretty good, but isn’t an option.