Humans, by nature, seem to be very resilient creatures on the whole. That is not to say that EVERY human is resilient, but as a species we are pretty strong creatures. Mostly we seem to be able to take hardship, surprise, and shock fairly well and come out better for it on the other side. Chalk it up to evolution or whatever else but our flexibility in the face of difficulty is our main competitive advantage in our environment.
No matter how strong we are as a species, every individual has a breaking point. Everyone has that one proverbial straw that pushes us over the edge. It’s the last insult in a long series of insults that makes someone run into a school with guns blazing. It’s the unexpected health problem on top of the recent layoff that sends a man off a bridge and into the river. It’s that final hate filled argument that ends a marriage. We all have that point even if we don’t know what it is. Each and every one of us walks through life not knowing how close or far away we are from that one thing that is going to break us. Most people never worry about it. They never get close enough to seeing the edge to even suspect it is there. Others live on the precipice of the cliff every day. Many exist somewhere in between.
I wonder if I have found that point and slipped to the other side.
I made a promise to myself many years ago. It was a simple thing and something I thought I would never have to break. It is a promise that probably would seem silly and trivial to most people but to me it was important. It was important to me because it would come to signify a level of success. It was a way for me to know that no matter how bad things got I would always have this one luxury. Over ten years ago, while I was still a young undergraduate student I promised myself I would never again drive a car without air conditioning.
I spent most of my college years driving a run down blue Chevette handed down from my grandparents. I was thankful to have it because neither I nor my parents were in a position to buy a car, but it was also a source of some embarrassment. It seemed like everyone else I knew drove a new or nearly new car and I was always the guy with the beater. During those few years as an undergrad I also joined a handful of campus organizations and a few, one in particular, required I wear a suit and tie for regular functions and in general have a somewhat “well groomed” appearance. Imagine how embarrassing it is when whenever you get somewhere you are soaked in sweat because you live in the south and your vehicle has no air conditioning. Well, that was me. We won’t even go into the problems of having other people riding in the car but you can certainly assume it wasn’t conducive to my dating opportunities.
I don’t remember when the A/C in that car went out and there were probably times when it was working but what I remember are the hot days when my back was soaking wet. I remember the days when by the time I got to class I was already exhausted from the heat of the drive. I remember the joy I felt on rainy days when I knew things wouldn’t be so bad. I can’t say how many days I actually spent driving that car when it was really uncomfortable but at some point in time I decided I would never do it again. I felt then that I had worked too hard, sacrificed too much, and made too many tough but correct decisions to have to spend part of every day hot and uncomfortable. I resolved that if my time in the books was to be worth anything it would be worth never going to work or anywhere else for that matter with sweat dripping off my back. Maybe that is silly or arrogant but those were my feelings at the time.
Today, 15 or so years after I made that promise to myself my resolve is being put to the test and it could not come at a worse time. Between the unexpected IRS bill I got hammered with from last year’s tax season, the reduction in household income due to both losing one full income and part of another, the old debts, the new debts, and the expenses getting ready for our first adventure in public schooling I am literally broke. The emergency fund is depleted, the overtime is scarce, and the unanticipated expenses just keep coming. Then, after all of this, at the point where I am often scrapping the bottom of the freezer to feed my family, the solid, reliable, 12 year old Toyota truck that is older than my marriage blows its A/C compressor.
Not being able to fix the truck would be the ultimate admission of failure for me. For me it means that nothing I have done over the last decade and a half has amounted to much anything. While that may be true regardless of what happens to the truck, being forced to let the vehicle go un-repaired would make me finally accept the reality for myself. I could easily get it repaired using credit and just keep digging an already too deep hole. I could keep my promise to the detriment of my finances which are in pretty rough shape anyway. Or, I could just let it go, do what it takes to keep the truck drivable, admit defeat, admit failure, and move on.
This brings us back to “The Straw”. This seemingly simple, little thing that seems so important to me may be that one thing that breaks me. I can handle being stuck in a job I hate. I handle being unhappy with my health. I can handle seeing the fruits of my labor squandered on bad decisions. I can handle the pain that comes from admitting I allowed a world of opportunity to pass me by. I can even deal with the failed attempts to fix these problems. I am, I think, a pretty strong guy. What I don’t know if I can handle, however, is dealing with it all at the same time and facing the reality that the struggle has been pointless and that I should have given it up long ago to start over and try again. The issue with the truck isn’t such a big deal by itself but what it represents is big. At least it is for me.
I don’t know if my back is broken yet, but the load is heavy, my legs are tired, my body hurts and the end of the trail is nowhere in sight. Today is the day I admit that I just don’t know what to do or where to go. Maybe it is an ending or maybe, just maybe, it is a beginning. The one thing I am pretty sure of, however, is that I am afraid of the future and that is not where I want to be.