Monday, February 5, 2018

My TV Remote - the Only Thing Left in My Life That I Can Control (and I'm pissed off about it)

Human beings seek control--control of their fate; control of their careers and finances, and many times control of their peers or family. We crave it. Instinctually, we seek as much control of everything that we can. Actually, more precisely, we seek the maximum amount of control that society deems acceptable without being considered controlling.

There’s a point at which we seek too little control and society deems us weak. We grab too much control and we are deemed manipulative in our personal lives, and micro-managers in our work life. There’s a sliding scale that somehow determines acceptable control, weakness and being controlling. It’s a game we all play and want to win, and a dance we all learn and try to master, but none of us really have any idea what the rules of the game are or if we should follow, lead, or God forbid, correct our dance partner.

Collectively, society determines what is to be the appropriate amount of control in our lives, and society’s viewpoint is fluid, ever changing with the times. As individuals, we have no clue. We never really know what the acceptable levels should be. We never know exactly when its necessary for us to make a stand, draw a line in the sand and declare we are tired of lacking control in our lives. Nor do we know exactly when we need to pull back and rely on fate, God, astrology or whatever, if anything, we believe may guide us. We never know until after we take a position when society tells us if it is acceptable or not. It’s comical at times, but it’s such an unfair game we have to play. 

When we are dealt a series of bad cards in life and feel control start to slip, we maintain our poker face for the next hand. And, then one day we might wake up and decide we have had enough of being nice, your poker face has caused wrinkles and the only thing you can do to stop your death spiral is stand up for yourself and declare, “Not fucking today, Satan!” and you plot a course to control your circumstances and shed yourself of the dreaded poker face because you’re not going to take it anymore. But, were you talking to Satan when you ask that question or was it Satan driving the question all along?

Recently, I reached a breaking point in having a lack of control of my life, and as I do, of course, with many things I took it to the extreme. Rectifying the final bad hand that I was dealt became my singular, laser-focused objective and if I didn’t succeed then I would be doomed to perfecting my fucking poker face for eternity.

2018 was having the nerve to treat me worse than 2017, and I was going to prove to myself that I was a man by changing my fate. As it turned out, whoever you believe in, because I don’t believe in much along these lines, was laughing at me. I was desperate to grab back the control of my life, but along the way, fate was still fucking with me at every turn until it nearly broke me.

This ridiculous game we play with control sent me on an obstacle course through hell this past Wednesday morning until yesterday. At times, I put myself, I am quite sure, on a path that I could have easily not survived. The catalyst for this seemingly, maniacal quest to gain control of my life was when I realized Wednesday morning that someone to whom I was loyal and had helped without question in the past, had stolen my cell phone and lied to my face about it We searched at home for it forever it seemed and then he volunteered to go retrace the path we walked to breakfast earlier in the morning to make sure it wasn’t dropped on the ground as we walked. I continued to look all over the house for the phone while he went to check the road.

He never returned.

My calls went unanswered and within 90 minutes I was able to track the phone by GPS with Verizon to an apartment complex in Clearwater--the complex at which my friend now lives. He had helped me search the house for over an hour for the phone all the while he had it on him. He offered to help and go check the path we walked only as a way to make his escape from my house with my phone.

I don’t know how to describe what went through my body and my mind. This person, and fate, thought I was so na├»ve that I was just going to keep taking this shit. "You have cancer, Mr. Shaffer". "You need to start chemotherapy immediately, Mr. Shaffer". "Oh sorry, Mr. Shaffer, the chemo has damaged your heart so we need to make a change in course". "But, no worries, Mr. Shaffer, just a little more of a different kind of chemo and we will have you all fixed up". "It’s ok, Mr. Shaffer, it’s just a phone."

None of it is fucking okay. I’ve never felt worse while lying to people that I feel ok—both physically and mentally. Every day for nine months when I wake up each morning there’s a new challenge or symptom to my body. This incident with my phone and someone I mistakenly called a friend was more than I could handle.  All these challenges combined to make me believe again as I have a few times before in my life—that life would be so much easier if I did not have people in my life who gave a crap about me. Or, if I didn’t give a crap about anything. I hate more than anything to talk about things like my cancer, or feeling so sick that I could throw up while smiling through a meeting with you. Or, the disloyalty of a friend.

When people care they ask questions, they naturally want to know what’s going, what’s the prognosis, what did the doctor say this time. Oh, goddamn, I hate that more than anything. In order to make it end quicker, I maintain a bitchy smile and a little sarcasm and I lie through my teeth and say, “Oh I am feeling pretty good.” People that care about you will keep asking though. They learn a little more and then some more and then even more until I feel like I am no longer me. That I am defined instead by merely what is happening to me. I can’t tell them that I have been pissed off for about a year about this cancer, that life is so difficult for me lately that all I really want to do is sleep all day, every day. 

Oh, why can't I find a way to be happy living a completely solitary life? I know it’s not nearly the norm for someone to say, but I have always thought my life would be so much easier if I could just exist without anyone even knowing my name. But, then there’s that collective will of society again determining that this is not acceptable and I may not live that way if I want to be considered normal, or even sane.

Every year is a little more difficult for me than for most I suppose because I struggle with this all the time. Don’t misunderstand, I love people, my friends, family and the things I do in my life, but there is still that nagging voice in my head saying, “If only, I could be completely alone, all the time.”

2017 made me sicker than I’ve ever been, more unsure of myself then I have ever been and this is a lot to say when considering I have been counting Christmases since 1989. And now when I’m feeling my worst the people around me, albeit with the best intentions, are bombarding me with questions at precisely the time in my life I want to talk less than ever.

You can read my previous post titled “From Cancer to c-a-n-c-e-r, but Back Again?” here for more details about how perfectly hateful I feel about my 2017, but I suffice it to say that it sucked, I felt like crap and I faked my way through most of it. I could lie to you and tell you that I faked my way through it in order to not burden my friends and family with how challenging it was, but the real reason was simply and only for my own benefit. I don’t ever want to feel like a character in a Nicholas Sparks novel with people huddled around me offering unending support. It will seem foreign to most of you, but exposing myself to that much intimacy is one of my greatest fears.

Now, go ahead, tell me that goes against what society says I should feel and that a good therapist can me help me to change that. Guess what? No thanks. This is the way I like it. This is the way I want it. This is the reason I packed a suitcase, a backpack, and a laptop and went chasing after my cell phone in a panic to get my life back. I just knew with my entire being that if I did not take a stand against my fate this time that I was doomed to a life of never-ending crap rolling downhill at me. It isn’t and wasn’t logical but it represents to me a life of smiling in people’s faces when I just want to choke somebody. Getting my cell phone back was going to change the rest of my life.

Before I packed my bags, I made a reservation at an unsightly motel that was going to be the sight of my plan to entice my previous friend to bring me my cell phone back. He’s an addict and I know addict behavior, and in another ironic twist this place would make him feel safe and romance him right onto its doorstep. Of course, the place was going to feed my desires for a previous life too. I knew that I would partake because not only was I going to save my life somehow by this journey, I was also going to escape my life for a while because for nearly a year, life has been pissing me the fuck off. I was going to do this successfully or I was going to do something far more sinister the next time I got the short of the stick.

The only way I had to contact the person with my phone was through my Google Voice number on my laptop. Once I was checked into this motel, I did just that. I dangled the bait and he responded. He claimed some outrageous story I didn’t care to listen to let alone remember. What I do remember is him telling me that I would have to pay for his ride down from Clearwater to me in order to bring me the phone. he seemed dismayed at how easily and quickly I was able to locate the phone. He was evidently not only disloyal but also an idiot.

This is the point at which he began to hold my phone for ransom. I had somewhat anticipated this would happen but nonetheless, it sent me directly to the liquor store.  It took me four hours to get back from the liquor store because along the way back I was pulled into several parties going on at the motel that were oddly reminiscent of those in the Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman unnecessary sex movie “Eyes Wide Shut”, but without the artistic cinematography and filled with people not nearly so cleanly dressed and clean smelling. The escape portion of my quest had definitely begun, for better or worse.

My phone never was returned that night, and I never returned to my room either. I got there just as the sun was coming up, took a shower, saw on my laptop there was still no message about my phone, had breakfast at the delicious on-site restaurant(yikes) and hobnobbed around with Tom and Nicole the rest of the morning.

By the afternoon,  I received a message that the phone ransom was now going up to $40 for his rides to me and $60 for his pocket for a total of $100. Dollar wise, I was still ahead. The insurance deductible for a replacement phone is $199.

By this time I had enough firsthand knowledge of how much “fun” the motel was that I began telling him about it. I knew he really could care less about returning my phone and probably wouldn’t without incentive. As I told him about the night before, I could feel him become captivated. He would show up now at some point with the phone. I know the romance of addiction and I selfishly used it against him because the only thing that mattered was the phone. The phone was what was left of my life and if I had to drag him to hell with me in order to get it then so be it.

Ironically, at this point, I realized how beautiful life was without the phone. No one could reach me. I didn’t have to answer it.  For 24 hours I had gloriously been alone (except for Tom and Nicole, of course).  Or, had I been selfishly alone? Phooey, it was glorious. Places like this are always glorious….until they are not.

At this point, I realized it was a day later than I thought it was. Somehow I had lost one of those so-called glorious days. I charged it to the game. I knew I was in danger of staying here too long and not being able to escape myself. Partially feeding an addiction is a dangerous game to play. I sped up the negotiation of the phone ransom. I got him to agree to the same $100 plus I agreed he could stay the night here in my room and experience the decadence of the place that I could feel him craving.

Five minutes later, he was there. Good move, buddy. You were already on the way while we were talking about the ransom because you wanted to catch me off balance. He left the phone downstairs with his driver in case I had people there to jump him. We went down to the truck and made orchestrated and simultaneous exchanges. The phone was in my hands and I felt exhilarated by it.

He immediately announced he would be right back and told me how much fun we were going to have during the night here. His next move I had anticipated early on as he negotiated his ransom. What else was an addict in a place like this with that much cash in his hand going to do? He was going to score something before he came back to settle in the room.

Now, as he left, it was time for the most thought-out but nerve-racking portion of the evening. I knew I had to turn and grab things quickly. The laptop and anything of value had to come out of the room ASAP because although I doubted he would attempt a break-in in such a public place, I wasn’t sure. He told his friend that drove him to head on home and that he was staying, and I secretly smiled. Here we go.

Twenty minutes later he returned and saw through the curtains, that I had purposefully left open, that my laptop and other valuables were gone. The neighbor in the room next to mine and whom I had watching out for his return after I rushed from the room said the look on his face was priceless. He knocked on the door and then looked into the window and suddenly realized he was stranded 15 miles from home and broke because he had just gone and bought drugs with the only money he had. I had my phone back and I had successfully fucked over the person that fucked over me. I excitedly gushed over it in my head as I ordered dinner at a restaurant a couple blocks away.

I rushed back to the motel two hours later just in time to wave goodbye to him as he was being head-ducked into a police cruiser. I shook my head up and down gesturing “yes” over and over again to him until he had his second realization of the evening. You see, Verizon had told me that even if he were caught with the phone in his possession, prosecution is difficult when the suspect is a known acquaintance. However, in researching his name to determine his exact address while using the online “Find Your Phone” feature, I stumbled across a web page indicating he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. So while I ate my dinner and alerted the police to his whereabouts, Tom and Nicole kept him occupied in the room I told the police they could find him in.

It was late by this time and I was standing on the second floor outside my room smoking a cigarette when I saw a guy I had had several conversations with over the past couple days. He was pushing a shopping cart full of what looked like his belongings through the parking lot. I called out to him, and he came up and told me he and his wife had really gone at it and she threw him out. He was visibly humiliated by having to transport his clothes with a shopping cart and he had nowhere to go. In previous conversations with him, he was clearly a little high strung but in a goofy seemingly harmless way. I ended up telling him he could keep his belongings in my room for the night but that I was leaving first thing in the morning. Then I looked again and I didn’t see what many of you would see. Addicts are not fearful of or taken aback by people pushing their belongings in grocery carts. It’s merely part of our landscape, so I told him he could sleep in the second bed in my room for the night too if he had nowhere to go.

I slept like a baby for the first time since maybe, April. I fell asleep fast. I slept hard. I don’t think I rolled over once. I woke up late, around 10 am. I stretched and I felt incredible. Then, I saw it and I knew what I was about to discover. I looked at the bed next to me and it was perfectly maid, and the guy with the shopping cart was gone. I immediately reached for my wallet, and it was gone as well.

I was stranded with no wallet and it was check-out time. I had my phone back but it was still locked from reporting it stolen. The laptop I had with me didn’t have my contacts or anything else synced on it yet, and I didn’t know hardly anyone to call because who dials by number anymore?

What had I achieved? Did I change the trajectory of my recent fucked up life by taking a stand and getting my phone back? Had I dabbled around the fringes of my addiction on purpose? What day was it anyway? And what all did I miss? Who did I let down? And who have I left worried about me? Was this quest I was pulled into somehow so important that it trumped everything in my life? Was I making a stand to get my life back and grasp some control? Or, was I sabotaging my life in order to fulfill my belief of the voice in my head telling me that life would be so much easier without people who care about you?

I don’t have the answers to hardly any of these questions yet. And each one of them flooded my brain the instant I realized that now I was the stranded one.I have been home just about 24 hours as I write this. No magical answers have come my way. I still honestly feel empowered by turning around one bad deal of the cards out of many bad deals over the year, an overwhelming number of bad deals. Holding my phone now gives me a sense of it being a weapon or a shield, and in that moment my phone was gone my mind made exactly the decision it needed to make when I packed those bags and left because the alternative popping into my head would have not only been defeatist but left me unable to type this today. I certainly have regret over how I may have made people feel or over letting people down by being essentially AWOL, and for that, I apologize and will apologize. This writing, however, is not to be mistaken as an attempt to explain, discount, justify or apologize. I write today and most days as a way to understand myself, my actions, the actions of other people and my relationship to the world as a whole, but mostly I write because it makes me really think and analyze the feelings and emotions that I feel are often unique to only me. It doesn’t make me always get to an immediate answer, but it does always put me on the path to the answers I seek.

Note: My Cell Phone Is Now Back On After I Recovered It.

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