by Randy Ford
I am an invisible man. I want to be seen, but I’m now a walking skeleton. I think I am ignored. I know I am ignored. I have been ignored for most of my life. I have felt as if I have always been ignored. And I am an old man, a very old man, by anyone standards a very old man. My body doesn’t work very well anymore. I carried too many crosses. I drove too many nails. I climbed too many ladders. I fell once or twice. Before Christmas, I fell once or twice. Since Christmas, I fell five times and broke both shoulders.
I lost my wife. My children have their own families. I want them to have their own families. I wouldn’t want them to live alone. I wouldn’t want them to be invisible. I wouldn’t want them to feel ignored. Everyone grows old. It’s what we all have in common. Yes, I am old, a very old man. I am not sure how old I am. I have never wanted to keep track of my age.
My body may not work very well anymore, but I’m not frail. I think I am healthy. I’m not frail. I am not frail. I may look frail, but I am not frail. I still have my senses. I can think. I remember things. I live by myself in a small apartment. I live alone in an efficiency apartment. I have a table and chairs, a sink and a bed. I share a bathroom down the hall. Sometimes it is inconvenient, but I don’t mind sharing a bathroom as long as it is clean. And I have no friends. I’m not sure I want friends. I’m happy living alone. Besides, I don’t think I could live with anyone else, so I live alone. I think I am sufficiently independent to think I can safely live by myself, but they seem to think it’s unsafe for me to live alone. They? I’m not sure who they are, but they think I can’t live by myself.
They’ve already taken me to court. (It felt as if I was arrested for something.) No, sir, I refuse to leave my apartment. I refuse to go into a nursing home. I refuse to allow anyone make me or take me. I refuse to allow anyone to take care of me. I refuse to allow anyone to take my liberty away from me. No, no, I refuse though I know I am running out of time. Time. Time. Within the blink of an eye, time, time, time has gone bye-bye.
Well, I understand why people who don’t know me would be concerned. Naturally there are people who need to be in a nursing home. Naturally I can’t explain why I am so against it. I know perfectly well what people think, and I know what my family thinks. I know they worry about me. I know perfectly well I am not being fair to them. Maybe it isn’t fair, but I know what is best for me. I know better than anyone what is best for me. I am not going to harm myself or anyone else. So let me live. Let me have my liberty. Let me be free. Freedom! Freedom! Free … Whoa, that took my breath away. Too many cigs. Too many cigars. I guess … no! Freedom! And yet, if I am not safe … No, I don’t want to think about it.
I have been living alone for a long time … a very long time. Or what seems like a long time. Now I must be in my eighties. Surely I am not in my nineties. I don’t feel like I am in my eighties. I used to be a public servant. I retired long ago. I live on Social Security. Thank God for Social Security. I fought for Social Security. I fought for many things. I fought for my rights. I was a public servant, a servant. I considered myself a good public servant. I always listened to people and took my job seriously. After all, I believed in helping people. I believe in people. I believe in Social Security. I believe in social programs. I believe social programs make a difference. Where would we be today without social programs? Where would we be?
I remember back when there were few social programs and back when there was ramped malnutrition. I remember back when people went away hungry and went away empty handed. I remember when there weren’t any educational or employment programs. Before Social Security, I remember what it was like for old people like me. Most of them had been hard-working. Most of them worked hard all their lives; but there were also cheats. There were always cheats, cheats who took advantage of other people or any opportunity to cheat. And cheats were those who gave everyone else a bad name. I generally got along with my co-workers. I generally got along with everyone, but there were always people that got under my skin. I battled with them over everything. There was no need for it, but bickering never stopped. This, however, wasn’t the rule. It was a long time ago. Yet it seems like yesterday. Where did time go? I blinked, and it was gone. Now I’m here.
But do you know what I missed? I’m not sure what I missed. I’m not sure. I’m not sure what I could have become had I chosen a different path. I’m not sure. I’m not sure what I could have done. I’m not sure what I could have done differently. I’m not sure what more I could have done. Why, the whole point, the vilest point, is that I think I could have done more. Let face it, I didn’t do much. I didn’t do much with my life. I don’t know what I would’ve done differently, but I could’ve done more. And I’m constantly aware of how little I’ve achieved. But I am not at all an embittered man. I may sound like an embittered man, but I am not. That is, I wasn’t embittered until recently. I’m not sure when I became embittered. I’ll likely calm down before I die. Indeed, I am more disappointed than embittered, though I suffer from insomnia.
I haven’t been honest when I questioned where time went. I wasn’t honest because I don’t like to think of when time stood still. I am aware of when time stood still, but I am not aware of when it moved along. I am aware of when time didn’t move fast enough and when it stood still but not when it move along. moved fast enough. It moved too fast, too fast, and it was gone. I am aware of when things didn’t go right, when things didn’t go right between me and my family, and particularly me and my wife. I remember difficult times … difficult times … very difficult times.
There were secrets. There were secrets between us, between me and my wife, things we kept from each other, things we never talked about, things that swarmed inside me, things begging to come out … things … I wouldn’t want to go further into it. This tormented me. This torments. I felt ashamed. I feel shame. Why couldn’t we talk? Why couldn’t we talk about it? We never talked about it. We never talked. Until the end, we never talked. Never talked! My wife and I never talked. By now you perhaps think I am seeking sympathy from you when I am not, I am certain you think so. But I assure you I don’t care what you think.
I could not accuse you of something. I could not. I could not be mean. I could not hurt anyone. I could not say anything that would hurt anyone. I would not hurt anyone. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. And I now that I am living out my days alone, asking myself what else I could do and feeling totally useless. In the end, only a fool would ask for more. I guess I’m a fool. I am a fool. Yes, I’m a fool. And yes, sir, we live in the twenty-first-century, and I don’t feel like I belong in the twenty-first-century. I am an intelligent man, and I don’t feel like I belong. I don’t understand so many things, so I feel limited. But does it matter? At my age, does it matter? Why, it has taken a lifetime to get here, and it doesn’t matter. Now tell me, honestly, who would like to live like this? I could live to be a hundred. Wait! I don’t want to live to be a hundred.
You might imagine I am trying to sell you something, that I have an agenda and I am trying to convince you I am right. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! I am not trying to sell anything. I am past trying to sell anything.
I live simply because I am living. I eat because I have to. If I don’t eat I will die. I pee. If I don’t pee, I will die. Maybe I don’t want to die. I sleep. I sleep and eat. I sleep and eat and pee. And I sleep more than I used to. I have enough money. I have all the money I need. I live on Social Security and have all the money I need. I’m not worried about money. I have a small apartment, an efficiency. It’s not very much. I’m told I shouldn’t be cooking. I cook anyway. I am told I shouldn’t smoke. I smoke anyway. I am told I shouldn’t have a shot of whiskey every night before I go to bed. I drink anyway. They tried to place me in a nursing home. I don’t know who they are. I am told I shouldn’t be living alone. I am told I am a danger to myself. I don’t think I am a danger to myself. I’ve lived with myself for a long time, and I should know I am not a danger to myself. I know. I know. I know it. I know it better than all those wise guys. I don’t want to move. I refuse to move.
I want to tell you why I think I can live alone. I want to live alone. I have lived alone a long time. But if I wasn’t allowed to live alone, I swear I wouldn’t live anyplace else. I don’t know if I’m making sense, but I’m certain I couldn’t live anyplace else. I am certain I couldn’t live with anyone else. And every day I live alone I consider a victory. Except I’m running out of time. I am running, running out of time, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop, and I can’t stop it. Yes, I am old man.
I’ve lived a good part of a century, and now I am living in the twenty-first-century, a man, more-over, who doesn’t like what he sees. Not that the previous century was ideal. Hopefully, the twenty-first-century won’t be as bloody. In some ways I have the misfortune of still be living. I haven’t a choice, since I don’t want to die. I don’t want to kill myself. It would, for instance, be quite all right to have died with my wife. But for some reason it wasn’t to be. Like I’ve said my children have their own families. Now that I think about it: I think I lived so long because I lived an active live. I got involved. I got involved and tried to make a difference. I made a difference. I think I made a difference. You may think I’m bragging. It may sound like I am bragging, but bragging for me at this point would merely be an exercise. But who would brag about things that don’t exist anymore. I made a difference, and you may think I’m bragging.
What am I saying? Everyone toots their horn from time to time. I haven’t done it enough. I haven’t done it often enough. And why not? There were accomplishments that I was proud of. And I do, though few people remember them. Few people remember I was involved in such and such. Remember in the beginning I said I was invisible. I used to say pride was a disease. I still stand by it. Pride is a disease. As many other things, pride is a disease. But it’s sad when we see we didn’t make as much progress as we thought we had. Tell me, now: why the majority of people in this country don’t think like I do? Why the majority has settled for less? When once upon a time they could look forward to a bright future … no, not all people. It has never been true for all people; yes, at those very moments I was … no, I won’t brag. I worked in a small office. Once upon a time I worked in a small office. I worked in a small office in a poor community, a very small community.
We had few resources. Once we said “once upon a time we had nothing. Nothing. We had nothing. Nothing.” Before I entered social services, I was keenly aware of what was going on around me. And the more aware I was, the more I felt I had to do something; and more likely I was to be overwhelmed by it. But the main point is that it seemed like I was called to do something. I knew I had to do something. And as though this were normal for me to do rather than a compulsion, so I devoted my life to it. It became my mission, and I became righteous about it.
And how I struggled! Most of my life I struggled. I took on weight of the world. Weight of the world: imagined how much it weighed. Imagine the load. How heavy it was. I had to solve everyone’s problems, everyone’s problems and my own and obsessed on it. Imagine. It was me. I got stuck. Stuck, I got sick. I am still sick from it. I ended up in a hospital and ended up with a major illness. A mild stroke. I thought it was my heart. Thank God it wasn’t my heart. I knew something was wrong. It frightened me. It frightened me enough for me to seek help. Until then I tried to ignore the problem. I tried to ignore stress. I tried to ignore the problem. I ignored it, ignored it until it was almost too late. I’m now acutely aware of my health problems. Thank God it was not my heart. It’s about time. I know my capabilities. So see! People have nothing to worry about. I am capable of assessing my situation. I feel pleasure in proving everyone wrong. What will happen will happen. There is no use tearing yourself apart over it. In the end, it’s the same: no cares, no pain. Yes, no cares, no pain. We’ll all end up the same.
I don’t need to explain it, explain it to you or anyone else. We know this. We ask the same questions Only our answers differ. Where we differ is what we believe happens afterwards, after death. I don’t have inside information, any inside information about it. I hope my wife is in a good place. I trust she is in a good place. I would like to join her. Yet I cannot be sure, be sure I’ll join her. Some people say they are sure. I’m glad they think they are sure while I can’t be sure. If there were still time for me to change, I might try to change, might try to find out. I say might. I say might because I’m not sure. I’m not sure I want to change. I might wish to do nothing. The reason I brought it up was because I’ve wanted to know what happens to us when we die. I wanted a definitive answer, but maybe there isn’t a definitive answer.
And then my search, my search or whatever you want to call it, whatever you want to call it comes from normal and fundamental curiosity and fear of the unknown; hence people like me will keep searching for answers. Some people have easy answers. Some people have taken an easy path. Some people have faith (and believe) they have answers. And so some of us continue to search and have to find answers for ourselves. Then it is easy to think we are hoodwinked, hopelessly hoodwinked and a fool. But enough … enough … enough. Where has it gotten me? Perhaps there isn’t an explanation. Will I ever get to the core of it?
Well, I am egoist. I am a grouchy, old egoist and think I have a reason to be grouchy, but I have a tough skin. I’ve had to have a tough skin. And I am bent over, and can’t see, and yet there have been moments, when I am reminded, I clearly see and stand up straight. Naturally it would be wonderful if it weren’t such an effort. It would be wonderful if it weren’t hard. It would be wonderful if there were an easy path for me. Naturally it would be wonderful. I hurt. At my age I expect to hurt, but then it is when you hurt that you find the greatest relief … naturally, it would be relief after experiencing so much pain, particularly when you’re most aware of pain. And if you fall you get up. If you’re knocked over you pick yourself up. You dust your pants off, pick yourself up, and continue to walk, if you can. But the main thing is, you stay active. You continue to walk as long as you can.
The worst thing is that you continue to age, by natural law you continue to age. No, no, no, I am happy. I feel happy. I feel happy and joyous, joyous about my life. But I have seen too much. I have lived perhaps too long and seen too much. I have always considered myself perceptive and would you believe I’ve often wished I were not, were not perceptive. At any rate, it has been easy for me to be critical. It has always been easy for me to be critical of myself and other people and even cynical. And I am at fault because it hasn’t served me well. In many ways I am my worst enemy. For it has held me back. I’ve wondered what I would’ve been had I been more open. For I’ve considered myself a good person and I’ve been the happinest when I was helping people. I was miserable when I hurt people, when I didn’t help people, and held it inside. It still rankles. I could’ve done more to help people.
Take people who are a ghost of their former selves. Take people who are old, very old and filled with self -pity. How do they stand it? If, let’s say they are filled with regret and self-loathing. Such a man or woman will feel like he or she has lived too long. Most of them would’ve outlived friends and family. These people won’t have a reason to live. These people will want to die. Only they can’t find the will to die. Incidentally they haven’t given up. Dying would be simple, but for some reason they refuse to die. They continue to breathe. No matter how hard it is they continue to breathe. No matter how much they suffer they continue to breathe. And people who think this is easy are kidding themselves. While they continue to breathe, they look for a pretax to live. They refuse to take their own life. They continue to breathe. They may try to hold their breath, but they will stop before they kill themselves, And to them thinking of death is calming. It’s final, so it’s calming
Well, then, in my view, what I’m going through now is normal. It is true and normal. It is part of being human and what every human being has to face. I envy a man or woman who can face it gracefully. I envy such a man or woman up to a point, He or she is fooling him or her selves. And how do we know how it will end? How do we know how we will die? We all know we will die, but do we know if we’ll die peacefully or not? And what makes me ask this? So far it hasn’t been easy. With the death of my wife it has been hard. I miss my wife. I loved her very much. I loved my wife. I loved my wife very much. I suppose I could give up completely. I suppose I could vegetate and cut short a lap of nature. I suppose I could starve to death, but I couldn’t kill myself. In that respect I am a coward … and so on and so forth.
And the main thing is that no matter what happens to me I have to wait. I’ll have to wait and see. Waiting is hard for me, and that’s an important point. Waiting has always been hard for me.
Let’s take a look now at this process. Let’s suppose, for example, that a person has been successful (or has almost always been successful) and longs to compete. He or she will have more pent-up bitterness than someone who has been a failure most of their lives. A nasty, mean desire to compete will rankle when he or she can no longer do compete because of failing health or some chronic illness and cannot view it as no more than natural.
And finally, we come to death itself. There are more questions about it than answers. There are many ideas about it, but are their answers? There are more questions and doubts than answers, so many that it’s hard to know, hard to choose, so we rely on enlightened people who stand above other people, and if we are wise we try to avoid judges. Maybe it’s better to shrug it off … shrug off the whole business and accept what happens. Like I said, my wife died. I knew she was going to die. We all knew. She wasn’t sick for very long. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I didn’t think she was old. I didn’t think she was sick. We didn’t know she was sick. If she was sick she kept it to herself. She was a private person, a southern private person, a proud lady. She acted like nothing was wrong, and then she died. She was gone. She disappeared. She was no longer there. She was no longer there for me. That was when I learned that it is easy to disappear. I was sad. Really sad. She just checked out. Completely. Now I want to check out, check out completely, but I can’t stop breathing. For a while, nothing mattered any more. I loved her. Love her still. And I got very angry. It’s easy to disappear. That was when I learned it was easy to disappear.
And there is in it hatred, a black hole and hatred, malice, for the rest of your life malice. For many years, more years than I can count, malice to the last shameful moment of death. So I haven’t taken care of myself. I’ve abused myself. It ate me up. I didn’t want to live. I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep. I don’t need to get into the shameful details. You would pay less if you moved on because on your death-bed you remember what you missed.
But it is precisely in this state of despair and malice, in this self-loathing, in this insidious self-destruction and hopelessness that you’d find pleasure. Pain and pleasure like hurting yourself. It is so incomprehensible that some people enjoy hurting themselves. And it doesn’t matter how. It may be difficult to grasp without considering these people insane. It may be hard for people who haven’t been there. And perhaps you may add, “it will not happen to me. And it will never be understood by people who have never been there.” and thus reminding me that I’ve hurt myself for pleasure. I wager that you’re thinking he is insane. I may sound insane, but I can assure you I’m not. I know insane. I’ve worked with insane. I also used to work with people who hurt themselves, who hurt themselves for pleasure and who are not insane. But enough of this, not another word about this subject.
I will continue calmly about what I see and about what I don’t understand. Although there are many people who take sides and bellow about this or that …. who think they know how this or that works and takes sides, there is a larger population who say nothing. But many people … maybe most people have given up in face of impossibility. Is this because of the loss of a dream? I’m not sure. Well, of course – they hear their dreams are still possible. Perhaps they are, but I’m not sure. If people prove to you that it is possible, then you’re sure. But there is no point to fight it, accept it as it is. Your life is too precious to sweat it very much. And the lives of millions of people are too precious to fight it unless you’re fighting for them, unless you have them with you. And the rest of the rot and nonsense doesn’t matter. There is nothing to be done unless people rise up. There is nothing to be done because world is too complicated for most people.
“My, my,” they’ll say, “do you hear what you’re saying … the world is too complicated for most people. It madness, madding, but true. People don’t give a damn for you, whether you live or die. You must accept it, accept that people don’t give a damn. It’s true. Indeed, it’s true. And so on and so on. But what do I care. At my age what do I care. I know I used to care. I know I ought to care. I’ve spent years assuming I cared. So now? I don’t like it, but what can I do about it? I don’t have the strength to fight it. I wish I had strength. I used to be strong. I wish things were different, and I had strength. Of course I’m not getting any younger. I’m aging. At my age, I am aging. How long will I live?
As though old age is a confront, knowing I don’t have much time left helps me make peace with it. Knowing I don’t have much time left, helps. How absurd it is to anticipate death, to be aware of it, each day waiting for it, and yet refusing to reconcile yourself. Why be afraid? Why be afraid of the most revolting conclusions when an alternative could be the opposite? And it is obvious that no one is to blame but yourself. So why cry out when you don’t have anyone else to blame? That all of this is simply part of life. And yet, despite all the uncertainties, you’re still in pain.
Some people find pleasure from jumping from airplanes. Other people enjoy jumping from bridges. A few people jump from bridges to relieve pain. I understand it. I’ve been there. I know. In such situations, of course, they don’t nurse their pain silently, though sometimes it’s not seen or heard, though often it’s missed. That’s unfortunate. It’s always unfortunate. Often silence says as much as a cry for help. It’s louder. Silence is often louder. Often silence expresses a sufferer more directly than a cry for help. It expresses your pain more than anything else, and when someone tries to break through you clam up even more. It begins with your awareness of your pain, your recognition of it, which of course you deny. You deny everything. You deny humiliation you’ve felt. You deny having a problem. You deny everything. Nevertheless, you’re suffering. And to realized that there’s no one to blame but yourself doesn’t help. You feel you are a victim … a victim of your pain, and you only wish your pain will go away. You wish. It seems like it will go on forever, and if you won’t wish it won’t go away, what you can do then … the only alternative … is jump. Jump. Jump! and nothing else.
Well, then, this is not an alternative. I’m not suggesting it is an alternative. I’m only suggesting something bold like jumping from airplanes. Like I implied, some people make a practice of it and find pleasure. They make a mockery of pain by jumping out airplanes. I ask you to listen carefully to people who suffer quietly. Maybe on a different day when you least expect they will cry out differently. Maybe they will cry in a way you’ll see and hear them. Maybe you’ll understand. And maybe it will be like something you’ve felt. His or her pain maybe is like your pain, or similar. And yet both of you realize complaining doesn’t help. You both know that crying out won’t do any good. People today say we all have choices, and we have lived with the choices we make. People who say this acquire a kind of nastiness. They become mean and malicious, and harden their hearts. And they close themselves off from the rest of the world. They refuse to listen. They refuse to see. They refuse to debate. They cut themselves off. And they know better than anyone else what’s right and wrong with the world. Then at some point people stop listening to them. All right then! Who am I talking about? Do I know them or not? Have I met them?
I can see I am disturbing you. As if to say, I am intentionally disturbing you. Well, then bear with me. I want you to feel what I am feeling. Now I am not as disturb as I tried to convince you I was at first. Now I am no longer trying to convince you but I am delighted I got your attention. I am delighted that you see through me. And I am delighted you’re still with me. All right then! I’m glad you’re not sick of me. If you were sick of me I would understand. I would feel the same way if I weren’t me. Good, then let me sicken you.
You’re still left out. You don’t understand. You think you’re understanding me, but you’re not. Perhaps I expect too much. Perhaps the joke is on me. Perhaps I’ve been trying too hard. But that, of course, is because I’m not sure of myself. Can anyone with any intelligence continue to listen to me? Why do I insult you?
Can a man really find pleasure in pain? If I say yes, I speak from experience. I’ve even craved it. I’ve asked for it, and I’ve gone out of my way to find it. And how I’ve pushed people! As if on purpose, I have gotten myself into trouble when it was unnecessary. And the worse thing of all is that I have hurt people to achieve it. Yet, again, I’ve tried to repent. I would repent, if I could. I would ask for forgiveness if there were anyone I could ask. I would cry out if I were sorry. I can’t be dishonest. At this point, I can’t be dishonest. It’s not within me. Even if it were possible I don’t think I would want to. It’s terrible to say this, and was terrible when I lived it. It makes me angry, angry to recall it.
You may ask why I’m wringing my hands like this. The answer: I don’t know. I hope it is not a waste … a waste of precious time, time I don’t have. Really that is it. Nothing else, it is it. Really, that’s how it is. And I don’t know where it’s going. I know I don’t have much time left, and I don’t know where it’s going. I should have made more of life, and I thought I had. I created the life I had, so at least I had something. I had a family, have a family, a wife and two children. How many times out of the blue did I hurt them? How often did I neglect them? I know they resented it. And in the end I got what I deserve. And I brought it on myself.
I could never control myself. I’ve always been compulsive. And I suffered because of it. I assure I have. I suffered. It’s cost me. Deep down you know what is going on. Yet you can’t help it. I’m jealous of people who can control themselves. I am jealous. I am beside myself. I can do nothing about it. And all because I’m restless. I’m crushed by restlessness. I often think of running, running away. It wouldn’t matter where I went. My wife put the brakes on it. I’ve spoken of this before. I loved her. I love her still. I love her though she is gone. I repeat I limited myself. I limited myself because of her. And it puts my mind at ease to blame her. How can this be explained? Maybe I don’t need to explain it. It was a limitation I had, a limitation. Maybe I ignored the real cause. Maybe I didn’t have it in me and blamed her … blame her. Blaming her puts my mind to ease, and that after all is what I need now. What else do I have to lean on? Putting aside my age, we’re back where we started. I am a very old man, who lives alone. Why the same things again and again?
I assume you could call it vengeance. It would be easy for me to call it that … vengeance. Now I could easily take revenge. I know why. Look at me now. And it’s not simply a matter of sour grapes. To me it’s justified. I’m convinced it’s justified, but what’s the point? It wouldn’t do any good, so I won’t do anything. Anger could, of course, outweigh everything, and I could die an angry man, an angry broken man. Precisely, except it isn’t a way to live. But what I am to do if there isn’t any anger in me? Would I have a reason to live? Why live then? And maybe it is part of the process of aging. And maybe it will go away. And what happens if you throw up your hands and give up because you haven’t found a reason to live? But try to live on, try to live past your time, try to find meaning, so you don’t sit around with your thumb in your mouth. You’ll be where I am now. I don’t mean to be filled with self-pity, self-loathing.