I had to laugh. I just had to.
Lying in the dentist’s chair, I wanted to burst out laughing. But seeing as his hands and several pieces of dental equipment were in my mouth, I couldn’t. I couldn’t laugh when he said that the pain that had been plaguing me for the past year and a bit, the pain that had me spending most of 2021 in his chair, may not have been tooth related at all.
“You should go see a doctor and see what they say,” he told me.
So it wasn’t my fault. The thorough flossing, the three different toothbrushes, the extra attention to my gums – it turns out all that had been enough, and I had been taking care of my teeth adequately. The mysterious headaches were not due to poor dental hygiene. Just as with so many other things in my life, I was not to blame for my woes. I had done my best, but life refused to relent.
Every year since I started keeping a journal began with the same quote:
“But nothing changes / on New Year’s Day” – U2
I’d long been aggressively cynical of self-help gurus, life coaches, or anyone selling a philosophy that positive thinking could improve your lot in life, but this January I decided to play along and for the first time in history I jotted down something different:
“I / I will begin again” – U2
Same song, different lyric. A compromise to satisfy the imaginary friends berating me for not having a sunny outlook on life.
I was beginning again, though. I was starting this year completely untethered from the past and from society in general. If there was any year to implement a mindset shift, this was about the cleanest slate I could get. The only thing I was carrying over from 2021 was the constant pain in my head.
A tumour? A cyst? It ended up being some kind of growth very similar to the ones they’d found on my sternum and surrounding area just about a month prior. Sitting at the base of my skull, it was benign enough to avoid surgery but irritating enough to perpetually send waves of discomfort over me. I was told to avoid getting those nerves inflamed, whether through excessive movement or pressure or stress.
Sleep, once my last refuge from the world, became a chore. I had to work to sleep properly, carefully calculating every movement while lying down and training myself to stick to one position for the whole night. Sleeping on my stomach was out of the question, and side-sleeping a risky proposition as well. To even fall asleep required a nightly regimen of ASMR podcasts, melatonin tablets, and calming oils in my diffuser.
Now that the whole process was such an ordeal, naps were no longer worth investing time in. I couldn’t even flop down on the bed after a long day for fear of making an abrupt movement that would irritate the panoply of growths in my body. And I LOVED flopping onto my bed.
Sleep was no longer fun, it was work. The positive association I once had brushing my hand against my pillow was gone. I stopped having solid, deep sleeps and with them my last form of escapism – dreams. I literally stopped dreaming.
My waking hours were similar. I could no longer just exist normally in a default state. I couldn’t just move the way I wanted to or I’d risk another two weeks of damaged nerves. All my life I’d avoided vices like drinking, smoking, and drugs yet I was in the same state as an unhealthy 70 year old due to the stress of my life. Not even my new habit of drinking 8 cups of water a day would save me.
Nevertheless I tried to remain positive. Even after my car battery gave out prematurely in the freezing January wind, I gritted my (properly maintained) teeth and soldiered on.
A friend of the family had fallen on hard times, and so I decided that I’d try to help him out any way I could. After all, this was the father of one of my closest childhood friends, and he was in dire need of assistance getting his son back on the right track in life. My entire family came together, utilizing our respective areas of expertise to do what we could. I became the tech support go-to, and though it was a small role by comparison I felt useful for the first time in a while.
In 2021 I finally watched a TV series in full for the first time in over a decade (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). I upped the ante in 2022 by becoming an avid fan of a TV series for the first time in over a decade. 70s TV detective Columbo had my attention every week, and brought a small bit of joy into my life with his relentless trolling of blue-blooded villains. It really is a great show.
It was a long winter this year. But these were not the long muddy days of late winter with eroding hulks of ice lining the streets. These were not the days of sand and dirt strewn across the sidewalks, patchy skies, meltwater cascading downhill and making passage very difficult at times. This was still heavy, deep winter. Crisp white snowbanks, negative temperatures in the double digits, daily fresh snowfall, and every corner of the neighbourhood looking like a Thomas Kinkade Christmas card.
On March 23rd.
I’ve grown to like the quiet solemnity of winter, even the bitter winds. So I didn’t mind this from a purely surface level perspective. What did bother me about it is that it gave me the sense that time had paused and we weren’t two and a half months into a year where I had yet to accomplish anything of any consequence. In reality we had already passed New Year’s, Valentine’s, and St. Patrick’s Day.
Midday Host left her show at the Edge in March, and despite the many, many headaches she’d caused me over the years I realized I would miss her quite a bit. She may have been the source of a great deal of drama in my life, but to her credit she was one of the few major players from my past who had not disappeared from my life. She may have been a flaky coworker, but in the end she showed herself to be a true friend. And now she was gone; my last connection to the golden year of 2016, now across the country.
She was followed by one (very funny) member of the morning show. Then a producer who was another exemplary coworker. Then my direct supervisor. In the span of a few weeks most of my favourite colleagues all went away.
Left to my own devices, I spent April to June in a Groundhog Day type loop with almost nothing differentiating each day. And like Bill Murray in that movie I tried fruitlessly to add some sort of change into my life. An alternate route for my walks, new music, exotic foods, and of course: reaching out to people online in hopes of reconnecting. None of these things helped, especially not the latter. I received nothing from people but the very conclusive, arms-length conversation stopper “Hope you’re doing well!”
I can tell you definitively that not one single noteworthy thing happened to me in April of 2022. And this is a year where thus far the most noteworthy things had been lumps growing all over me, discovering a 50 year old detective serial, and most of my daily contacts vanishing. My supernaturally gifted memory allows me to accurately describe any given day in 2006 to you but I will never be able to tell you what happened in April 2022.
So no, I was decidedly not doing well.
One day in May walking to the bank I realized that exactly five months prior in December I’d been walking exactly the same route and had thought to myself on that day “I wonder if I’ll still be in pain in the spring?” It turned out I was. I had been in some degree of pain every single day for the past 6+ months.
Speaking of pain, a former employee of my company decided in late May to lash out and accuse her former cohost of verbal abuse. I cannot at this time tell you the full truth of the situation, but it was a lot more complicated of a situation than the media reported. She got him canned though, while also throwing the entire classic rock station into disarray and causing months of anxiety for two more of my favourite coworkers. The lives of two kind, gentle, and hilarious fathers were wrecked because of one bruised ego.
It was during this period that I had to take the reigns and act as my own boss, delivering a social media report to the entire company. The first legitimately positive occurrence of the year, but ultimately pointless. There was nobody left to impress. Those who respected me and treated me kindly did so before this presentation, and those who didn’t, didn’t. I did not garner any accolades from new people. Nobody was converted into a fan. I still ceased to exist every day at 5:00pm.
The opposite was true for my personal social media. Instagram’s new algorithm allowed for my videos to be seen by a much wider audience, and I managed to score a few minor successes online. Again, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter whether it was a hit or one of my many, many, (many) flops, it didn’t translate into any sort of lasting popularity. A few dozen followers here and there, but no messages of adoration from either unknowns or knowns. Thanks to the most unsupportive audience in the world, I remained completely detached from the real world. Everyone was out having fun and I was sitting in my room with my insides covered with uncomfortable cysts.
And I was gradually becoming at peace with that fact. Wholly and entirely, I had disappeared, and if I wasn’t meant to exist in the wider world with everyone else, then I’d resign myself to living in my own bubble for good.
Historically speaking, July has always been a major turning point of any given year. Aside from the anomalous 2021, the halfway point of the year has not only been a symbolically fresh start, but a measurable moment of change. Things just tend to happen in July. The universe can be very cliche at times.
Right on cue, it was on Canada Day weekend that I returned to real life. I attended my first concert in almost two and a half years, and what better act to see than the Backstreet Boys? I began taking on weekend shifts at GNR640 again, sitting once more in my safe and cozy throne at the radio board.
I’d long feared some of these moments, and they were just as bad as I thought they’d be:
Sitting at Exhibition GO looking up at the giant three-sided billboard tower.
Standing on the 8th floor terrace at work looking at the buildings on the waterfront.
For the past two and a half years I’d had sweats imagining these visions because I knew when I returned to them my life would be drastically different from before the pandemic. Nearly everyone I’d cared about was no longer in my life. All those people who I’d texted daily had long disappeared, either to new jobs or just simply cut me out of their lives.
I was back in a world that had moved on without me. Like It’s A Wonderful Life, except this was not a vision or hypothetical scenario. I was living in my own reality where I didn’t exist.
It seemed as though the universe would just not let me be miserable in peace. It was intent on bringing me right back into a world indifferent to me, a simulacrum of 2019 that was missing everyone I talked to then. I could not bear to be in this world and so for the first time in five years I dusted off my resume and began looking for a new job.
…and just as suddenly stopped looking for a new job, because it was also in July that I met my new supervisor Goggles. Goggles, who started off our first virtual meeting by saying “uhhh no I’m not your boss, I don’t know why they told you that but this position is lateral to yours”.
That set the tone for a much more relaxed work environment where I once again had something resembling a friend. A friend who sent me memes and unprompted texts outside of work hours and would finish off our meetings by doing the laughing sigh and saying “byeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.
And so summer became palatable during work hours.
A former coworker of mine from No Frills passed away in the early summer, and even though I hadn’t spoken with him for a few years I decided to attend his funeral. It was hard to believe that such a lively, impish spirit could be extinguished.
The single most eventful day of the summer – and perhaps of the year – happened in early August during one of my nature hikes. A wrong turn on a trail led me down an incredibly long and arduous detour that, due to poor planning, led me to the side of a major road. Already tired and harassed by mosquitoes, I walked at least 2 kilometres under a baking sun until I got impatient and decided to cut through a big field to get back to my car.
The field had what looked like paths that would become exits. They in fact were part of some kind of insane labyrinth that led to nothing but more impenetrable brush and dead ends. Slowly my mild annoyance turned into actual, genuine fear and instead of seeing this as a humorous misadventure I started to see it as an actual problem. Every corner I turned just led to more unmaintained property and there was not one actual trail in sight.
Finally I saw a long stretch of land that looked walkable; stepping on it I realized it was not at all walkable. I sank waist deep into a bog, my shoes becoming filled with mud. Every step went deeper and deeper down. Every part of me that wasn’t covered in mud was covered in mosquitoes. I became frantic and delirious and finally snapped, ripping apart every plant and tree that stood in my way until I finally got to a man-made trail that got me back to where I’d parked.
After a long shower I went downtown to a Pitbull concert.
The crusade of helping our family friend and my oldest friend from grade school continued in my personal life, with my father now helping out financially, my sister helping out with legal matters, and me doing what I could with devices and emails and other various accounts. It seemed to be working, and my old friend’s life was stabilizing. I’d been working mostly with his dad thus far throughout the year, but I talked directly to him in the summer. We chatted a bit in the grocery store checkout lane, and he mentioned that he was looking for a roommate – a proposition I thought would work out great, until a few weeks later when I heard he’d run into some problems again.
Towards the end of the summer I finally met Goggles in person, who was even more fun offline. I couldn’t remember the last time a girl had touched my arm or stood so close to me or bought me lunch. “We’re going to be a great team,” she said multiple times that day, along with taking pictures of a scribbled drawing of mine she wouldn’t stop giggling over. And for the first time in a year and a half I had a new crush, and I can’t say that Summer 2022 was that bad, even with the bog day.
September brought with it a gradual decline in overall quality. With less daylight I could spend less time outdoors and evenings became hellish as I’d sit by myself trying to figure out what to do before bed. 7:00-10:00pm on weekdays was a time of unfettered dread, where I’d curse the universe for condemning me to loneliness. Weekends were worse. Long weekends were torture.
THE weird feeling that has been plaguing me for decades became an actual issue. A cross between deja vu, nostalgia, anxiety, nausea and existentialism, it hits about once or twice a week at completely random moments, seemingly without a trigger. It lasts for about a minute during which I get the faintest flashes of images or memories or sensations that I can’t pin down for even a second, like an uncatchable wisp of a very short dream. It’s impossible to properly describe this feeling to others, and up until this year wasn’t really worth mentioning as anything other than an anecdote about a weird phenomenon.
Except now it had become strong. Along with the strange sensation there now comes a tsunami of anxiety or nausea. Every time it hits me I alternate between being on the verge of tears or throwing up. And I still can’t explain it.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I rate every day out of 5 in my journal. By early October I hadn’t gone above a 3 in all of 2022.
I made myself a list of trails to explore during autumn. They were both places I hadn’t been since childhood or brand new locations, and I made it a quest to see them all before the trees lost all their leaves.
This wasn’t really too hard to achieve, and within a few weeks I’d visited all of them. Not one of them sated my desire for new experiences. Each one felt forced, like I was trying too hard to create a core memory. There was no sense of awe or wonder like I’d felt when I first discovered the Arboretum in 2020 or the Lakeside Manor in 2021. Even the Rouge Hill Waterfront Trail with its massive horizon didn’t register as anything more than a “meh”. You just can’t force genuine appreciation.
I went to the airport one day. Not to go anywhere. Just to watch the planes and to feel like I had plans to go on the planes. If you are thinking “this is deeply messed up”, you are correct, but it’s easy to get to and I just really wanted to experience the faintest potential hint of travel.
My friend from grade school died in October, leaving me shaken to the core.
I felt immense sadness for his suffering family. I felt guilt for not doing more to help him. And, perhaps selfishly, I felt fear. This was a story with no happy ending. Despite everyone’s best efforts, all the work we had gone through to fix his life this year hadn’t stopped him from being alone in his final moments. There was no last minute miracle or sign, and now his family was torn apart forever.
I went to my second funeral of the year in late October and say goodbye to my first and oldest grade school best friend.
There was a major power outage in early November, which despite my logical impulses I took as a sign. In the pitch black darkness I vowed that once the power returned I would ask out three girls who I knew were single, without waiting for “the perfect moment”.
The first said she was too busy.
The second never replied.
The third was Goggles.
After a day of filming that involved an incident where I was in incredibly close quarters with her as I attempted to untangle her face mask from her earring and we both laughed and laughed and laughed, I decided to throw caution into the hurricane.
The stern rejection was humiliating, but what followed was worse.
Normally when a girl rejects me she is kind enough to uphold the “let’s just be friends” part of the speech, at least for a little while. Goggles distanced herself so far from me you’d think we were strangers on other ends of the country. I felt like I was talking to someone who I’d messaged on social media after three years of no correspondence, rather than the colleague who I’d been working with every day for five months.
She wasn’t mean, she wasn’t cold, she wasn’t rude in any way. She simply flipped her personality switch off and erased any bit of camaraderie from our interactions – interactions which she minimized as much as possible. I became “just a coworker” that only existed from 9-5, and just barely even then. Other than necessary emails and meetings I was shut out of her life completely and knew that once she inevitably moved on with her career I could be easily removed from her contacts forever.
In mid-November I had one good, solid week.
First, I scored my very first legitimate viral hit video. After years and years of trying, I raked in millions of views and became the talk of many towns. My workplace was very pleased and I basked in accolades for days. Immediately afterwards, I won a company wide award for my video work, continuing the accolade train.
But being corporate golden boy did not make life easier. Nobody contacted me the weekend after the awards ceremony, or the weekend after that, or after that. From 9-5 I was a towering legend of unimaginable skill (management’s sentiment, not mine). After 5:00 I was literally nothing. Instead of a better life I was hit with a barrage of mildly difficult life situations involving weather, driving, and family members’ health that made my anxiety 10x worse.
I found out that Cindy was single again. Cindy, if you remember, was 2010’s big “Crush of the Year” and I hadn’t seen her for almost a decade, but seeing she’d deleted every picture of her and her now-ex I jumped at the opportunity and asked her to meet up. I wore my best blazer, cranked up the charisma to the max, and dropped my best and most exciting stories from the past 10 years. Stories that elicited nearly no interest from Cindy. Then we parted ways, and thus ended that experiment.
I realized I’d failed my biggest goal in life. I was still a nobody. I was still a loser. Despite all my attempts at bettering myself over the decades, I was still that same dork from high school that no one invited to Christmas parties. No matter how hard I tried to make myself a better person I couldn’t turn myself into a valuable part of someone’s existence. I was an unremarkable chump who was worse off than the married backwater townies who spent most of their lives in dimly lit bars drinking cheap beer. I was worse off than unhygienic nerds whose lives revolved around Fortnite, anime and Reddit and yet had large circles of friends.
Christmas was fine, though I spent far too much of it knowing that this was the best I could ever have it. I would never get to have a Christmas with a partner and surprise her with fun gifts or have our own traditions. Not when the only text or message I received this year wishing me a Merry Christmas was from the mysterious number that’s been sending me well wishes for three years and I’m convinced is some Yuletide guardian angel.
Obviously I was also not invited to any New Year’s parties, so I had the choice of watching the celebrations on TV by myself or taking another long walk that would no doubt resurrect traumatic memories. I opted to do neither and instead found a last minute advertisement for a DJ night at a club downtown.
It went exactly as one would have expected. In fact it went almost exactly like the lyrics to a certain song by The Smiths.
There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody that really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home
And you cry and you want to die
So now my year was bookended with two very different sets of lyrics.
At 1:00am on January 1st I returned from the club and lay carefully positioned in my bed so my broken body wouldn’t ache. And in my weary state I couldn’t help but appeal to whatever forces drive the universe.
With only the slightest bit of sarcasm I said out loud:
“HEY UNIVERSE LOOK AT ME RADIATING POSITIVE ENERGY. I AM MANIFESTING GOOD THINGS FOR ME. I WANT A LOT OF COOL FRIENDS AND MORE MONEY AND I WANT TO EXPERIENCE LIFE FOR ONCE. I WANT ONE, JUST ONE GIRL, ANY GIRL, TO BE ROMANTICALLY INTERESTED IN ME AND GO ON ONE REAL DATE WITH ME.”
And then I checked my phone just in case anyone had sent a belated ‘Happy New Year’ text, sighed as I saw nothing, and went to sleep.