For the longest time the whole appeal and lure of zombies were lost on me. I chalked it up to getting old and figured this was yet another sign of the times; that I was not the demographic the pop-culture mavens were trying to reach. Then the most fortunate of tidings befell me when a friend recommend I watch "The Walking Dead". Not only do I understand zombies now, I'm one step closer to sympathizing with those folks on the fringes of society (mentation?) who feel driven to stockpile supplies and ammunition against the zombie apocalypse. To be perfectly clear here, you won't soon find me building a silo in my back yard like some of those wing nuts. However, in the event I ever find myself surrounded by a bunch of walkers, I'd be down with having some skills in the whole silent-assassin-cross-bow area.
Now if you're honest, I'm guessing you'll cop to what I'm about to describe. You sit down to watch an episode of a show on Netflix or Hulu and because it's so damn good and there is an entire season at your fingertips you just keep on watching. Episode, after episode, after episode. Eventually the sun comes up and you realize you've got shit to do or perhaps you should get some sleep or maybe think about eating or emptying your bladder or some such thing. Am I right? All I know is this: I managed to put a whole season of "The Walking Dead" under my belt in a shameful amount of time. And honestly, there is no better way to watch three seasons of "24" then back to back to back. When it comes to cliffhangers, I have no willpower! I can't pull myself away. And it has to be said that Netflix has completely ruined watching real time television forever. I'm sure if I tried to watch anything in real time I'd become as petulant as a toddler having to wait a whole week for a new episode. Perish the thought! (Again, shameful I know, but hey, it's been a tough year and TV has provided some serious balm for my aching heart. But I digress).
Getting back to "The Walking Dead". After the last jag I went on I had an epiphany of sorts about what I enjoyed so much about this show. It has nothing to do with the zombies or the dystopian elements of the story line. Rather, I empathized with something in the characters at once. To a one, they are living each day, each moment in a state of heightened awareness and vigilance. There is a clarity with which they see what is important and necessary ~ everything that is unimportant is literally left by the roadside. I recognized that kind of living immediately and I was surprised to find that I miss that quality in my life, that razor sharp quality to my days. I had to watch the entire season all at once - it was exhilarating and gave me that feeling. Maybe I just sound crazy. Maybe you understand. Who knows?
I'm not saying I want cancer and all the turmoil of those days back, of course not. But waking up each day knowing exactly what I needed to do, knowing exactly what mattered and why, knowing in my bones how much of my and everyone else's lives around me were filled with superfluous shit that could be jettisoned and not missed for a moment was so liberating and defining. The days since Phil's death have been fuzzy by comparison. I am reminded of a lecture I went to when I lived in Washington about methamphetamine abuse of all things. The lecturer said that one of the worst things about meth use is the damage it does to sobriety. The way it stimulates the brain is so powerful and it's high is so potent for addicts that it makes sobriety almost unbearable by comparison. This is what makes being sober so difficult. Sobriety isn't just boring, it's painful.
I get that, boy do I. My new found "sobriety" lacks a certain clarity, it lacks precision and a singleness of purpose, an edge. To compensate I've populated my horizon with Steeler games, my kids school activities, and "the next big thing" on the calendar to give me a sense of purpose and meaning I long for. But it still falls short a lot of the time. It's a temporary solution while my brain resets itself I guess. I have been through a crucible after all.
In thinking about all this, I know one thing for absolute certain. I don't want to become the walking dead, like the zombies I see all around me. People asleep at the wheel, people going through life's motions with no emotion. People for whom sobriety is painful or worse, for whom sobriety is so hard they have to pretend to be happy when they aren't. People who are unhappy and don't even know it, who are hiding from themselves. I won't ever do that. I've been through hell and back, and although sobriety doesn't look the same anymore, I'll be damned if it's going to be painful.