Journal Excerpt, June 1, 2008: Happy Birthday, self! Goals for the day: Enjoy Knoxville! Get outside! It's a beautiful day! Don't forget to smile!
That is the mindset with which I entered my first summer in the South. It is also the last day I can remember being happy.
The following is a chronicle of the rest of the summer, a downward spiral characterized by discomfort, paranoia, and slow brain death.
To begin, I should explain a bit about me. I live alone in a small, one-bedroom apartment. I'm not particularly outdoorsy and have only a few friends. Consequently, I spend vast amounts of time sitting on my couch. I should also mention that I have neither cable TV nor an antenna. So most of my couch time is spent staring at a computer.
Also relevant here is the fact that I was raised in Michigan, a state where, in February, it is not unusual for schools, government, and businesses to operate unfazed and undisturbed with as much as 20 inches of snow on the ground.
As a Northerner, admittedly, I was born with certain flaws in my genetic makeup that keep me from being able to, say, replace a carburetor without first being taught how, deep fry vegetables, or emphasize the first syllable of the word "Luttrell." I'm pandering to my readership right now, obviously, but here's the point of all this: I lived through a whole summer in this region—a region where the summer air can have a consistency not entirely unlike a freshly cooked stew—without an air conditioner. And, despite my frigid, Midwestern background and an acute desire to commit suicide throughout the last third of July, I sort of made it.
OK, "lived" may be overstating it, since the only times I ever really felt alive from mid-June until early August were the seven seconds I had between a refreshing, cold shower and when I collapsed on my bed sweating and struggling to breathe. "Survived" is a bit more accurate, albeit a tad melodramatic for my taste. "Whined" is about right. I whined through my first summer in the South without an air conditioner. I'll demonstrate.
Journal Excerpt, June 23, 2008: It has gotten really hot in this apartment. Why did I get an apartment on the second floor? I'm uncomfortable.
What comes next is a bit embarrassing because I know that living without something as luxurious as an air conditioner shouldn't be too much of a problem. But here's the thing: I am a 26-year-old white, gainfully employed American in the 21st century. By virtue of these facts alone, I feel pretty covered as far as my basic needs go. I am not, and have never been, lacking in food, shelter, or the love of a gifted and expensive psychotherapist. And on top of that, I have, like, a zillion DVDs. If I stay on schedule, I should be hitting complete self-fulfillment right around age 38.
What I'm trying to illustrate here is that things are usually absurdly comfortable for me. I basically live in a grown-up womb. That's a good thing most of the time, but it has a flip-side. This life I lead has left me mentally and physically unprepared for even the slightest breach of the uterine lining.
So allow me to preempt any criticism you may have as to my complaining with the following concession: I am aware that my problems are obnoxiously first-world, and I am very, very weak. I'm not too proud to admit that publicly because, as I've found out, dignity is a luxury for people with cool air.
Journal Excerpt, July 3, 2008: It's not that big of a deal, though, is it? Most of the world, after all, lives without that cool, refreshing convenience, with its crisp, clean waves of air, and that persistent, relaxing sound that soothes you to sleep more effectively than a glass of warm milk.
Whirrrrrrrrr .... Whirrrrrrrrr.
Friend, God, mother, saint, lover ... It is ALL things.
Love, Food, Sex, Death.
Wait. Where Was I going with that? Right. No big deal.
It is incredibly hot here.
Journal Excerpt, July 7, 2008: Okay, seriously. I haven't slept in two days. I've been taking 20 showers a day. I can't concentrate on anything, and I can't stop crying even though that makes my face feel even hotter. And then I cry more, and then I get [passage rendered unreadable by big globs of tears] live when you can't even be comfortable in your own house?
HOW CAN ANYONE LIVE IN THIS UNBELIEVABLY BRUTAL, INDIFFERENT, AND HOT UNIVERSE???
At one point, I resorted to bargaining. "Gang-gang," by the way, is the family name for my maternal grandfather. He died about ten years ago.
Journal Excerpt: July 13, 2008: When is this going to stop? Please, God, I will do anything.
YOU CAN STOP THIS.
I'll start going back to church. I'll pray 12 hours a day. WHY ISN'T THIS STOPPING? PLEAASEE!!! Gang-gang? Can you do anything? Satan?
There was a period, as July wore on, and the 90-degree-plus days kept happening, that I just started logging data.
Journal Excerpt, July 20, 2008:
Sunrise: 6:36 a.m.
Sunset: 8:48 p.m.
Total sunlight: 852 minutes
Temp. at 3 p.m.: 91 degrees
Temp at 11 p.m.: 76 degrees
Showers taken today: 7
Avg. shower time: 20 min.
Estimated water usage (shower only): 280 gallons
Sleep (last three days): 3.2 hours
Sleep intervals: 20 to 40 minutes
Avg. daily sleep sessions: 2
Sleep cycles (avg.): 0.5 per session
REM sleep per day: 0 min.
Realizing that I couldn't go on living like this for too much longer, I decided to stay at a motel for a few days. This was a nice little vacation back to mental coherence for me. The motel itself wasn't very nice, though.
Journal Excerpt, July 22, 2008: HUZZAH!!!!
I know comfort again! In the past days, I've gained 3 lbs., slept 18 hours, watched HBO's newest presentation, "Disturbia," seven times, and not burned myself with a cigarette once.
I *HEART* YOU ROADSIDE MOTEL
I should just move into this wonderful, perfect place and never leave again.
Geez. There's a lot of stains on this bed.
Turns out, even the most reasonably priced motel becomes prohibitively expensive after two or three days—more expensive, in fact, than your average mid-range air conditioning unit. Huh. How about that?
Unfortunately, it turns out that the motel may not have been such a great idea. Having known a normal life again, just for a few days, I went even crazier when I got back home.
Journal Excerpt, July 28, 2008: Guy in apartment 2 will not stop going outside. He has open and shut his door so many times today. It is the loudest thing I have ever heard ... IN MY LIFE!!!
Jesus, inside or outside. Just choose one or the other. He's trying to destroy me. Not if I get to him first, though.
A plan ...
And it continues to degrade from there. There's no real point in going into it. There was, of course, no plan and no action taken against the offending door-slammer. There was, however, a brief, but prolific, period from 11 p.m. on July 27 to 3 a.m. on July 28 in which I wrote over 25 haiku poems (sentences diagrammed). I'll spare myself the embarrassment, and anyone else who reads this of the pain.
It's now nearing the end of August, and the weather has graciously started to break, a tolerable 85 degrees during the day and an almost cool 60 to 65 degrees at night. This reprieve, albeit temporary, I'm told, has offered me some perspective on this ordeal.
Initially, I went into all of this with an adage in mind: Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Here's the thing about that: It's bullshit. Tell that to someone who's had a heart attack, or gone through chemotherapy, or had to live 60 some-odd days in a mild to moderate state of discomfort. We know. Suffering weakens and eventually breaks you.
I will never be the same again.