It's hard to predict the habits that end up defining our personalities. Most of us strive to remain close to the norm, recognizing our few deviant tendencies and working to correct them, or perhaps bury them further into private routine where no one can gawk at them. But life intervenes and unforeseen events or dispositions that were once unfamiliar to us can draw us into patterns of behavior that we wouldn't have otherwise predicted.
I’m officially a homebody, and pretty much everyone around me knows it. Every day when I return home from work and enter my room, I put down my bag, take off my coat, close my eyes and feel the deepest euphoria. I am now in my space and have nothing on the docket for the rest of the night. I can strip down to boxers and a T-shirt and lie in bed, watch movies, work on beats, and smoke away the stresses of the day by huffing clouds of smoke. Occasionally, this meditation is thrown off schedule by my obligations, things that most people would consider part of a normal social life: parties, concerts, dinners, meeting for drinks. I try to minimize these as much as possible. They become especially hard to avoid on weekends.
Like most people, I have a group of friends that understand me, whom I don’t have to make an effort to hang out with. With these cats, I generally smoke hard and shoot the shit a couple times a week. Outside of this crew, I care very little to make new friends. My whole life I’ve been enthusiastic and friendly when I meet people, and for a long time I meant it, but over the past few years I’ve noted people seeing through my pleasantries and catching a glimpse of my impatience and unease at having to have conversations. As they’ve caught on, I’ve made less of an effort to hide it. That probably makes me come off like kind of a dick, but frankly if that’s what it takes for me to be left alone, I’m all about it.
Before I start sounding like a stereotypical pothead, let me fill you in on why I find myself most comfortable at home. Yes, weed probably has something to do with it, but it’s another substance entirely that has led me to this place. The central point of socialization in New York, as it is in most places of the world, is alcohol. Sporting, coupling, celebration, sympathy, relaxation, and just about every other social institution, save for AA, is accompanied by drinking. In college I was as limitless in my capacity for alcohol as any 21-year-old, but this invincibility disintegrated for me suddenly, in a single act inflicted upon me by a 14-year-old kid. Just after I graduated from college, I was out drinking, positively shitfaced, with a friend in Baltimore when we were jumped by a gang of boys trying to steal our cell phones. One of them stabbed me in the throat with a broken glass bottle.
The edge missed my Carotid artery by an eighth of an inch and instead severed the nerve that controls the area between my right shoulder and elbow, immediately leaving the area paralyzed. Though there are plenty more fascinating details of that ordeal, in the context of this story it serves to establish the next year of my life trying to recover. I lived with constant, excruciating nerve pain for many months, and no drugs, not even the ones designed specifically for nerve pain, did the trick. My doctor, knowing how fucked I was, pretty much gave me an open prescription to anything I wanted—if not to address to pain, to distract me from it. He first prescribed me Oxycontin, and I had the wits to ask for something weaker and less addictive. Instead, I was given hordes of generic Percocet. Alongside these awful little things, I self-medicated with weed, nearly doubling the amount I was smoking in college. For those months, I scarcely left the house, and like a geriatric or a prisoner, every excursion out became an adventure, as exciting and horrifying as retrieving buried treasure from a mystical ancient ruin. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a trip to the barber gave me so much adrenalin. I was scared of everything: packs of kids, people on bikes, anyone walking behind me. The only solace I had was that I would eventually return home to my room, where I could be alone and in silence.
Alcohol never, ever felt the same to me again. Though in subsequent years I had several nights of drunken debauchery, I’d always have to force myself to ignore the horrible nausea, dehydration, headaches, and restless sleep that consistently result from alcohol. I still will never say that I don’t drink or that I have quit drinking, because it’s too dire of a statement to make and I still occasionally hold and daintily sip a token beer, but I will say plainly that I hate alcohol. I can understand why people like it, but to me it’s a corrosive poison that will forever be associated with disorientation, vulnerability, and imminent death.
After about a year, my shoulder made a surprising and unprecedented recovery, giving me nearly the full range of motion I had before the injury. I got a job and eventually moved out of my mom’s house. My prescriptions ran out, and I didn’t ask for refills. Kept smoking the same amount though, perhaps even a bit more in the absence of the pills. I resumed my social life but began to see every engagement as a chore. The comfort that I had felt as an agoraphobe never left my temperament, and I would watch the clock any time I was out, waiting for the right moment to make an exit. Another deterrent for me was that as my drinking diminished to nothing, my friends grew into real Philadelphia men, for whom drinking was a consistent habit. Overworked, embittered, and slowly being crushed by the responsibilities of the real world, their beer bellies grew, and to this day those paunches remain monuments to their owners’ desperation for escape.
My own habits hardened alongside theirs, and when the day came for me to move to New York, I plunged into the change knowing that it would be good for my working life, and recognizing that a lot of it would bother the shit out of me. Here, it’s hard to be a young person who’s a homebody. People think it’s weird when someone in their late 20s doesn’t go out. According to every movie, TV show, and commercial, going out and getting fucked up is what I should naturally strive to do. Instead, I get invited to go to things, and I always make up an excuse involving work or some prior engagement. To this day, I haven’t told a single person the honest truth: “That sounds nice, but I was really looking forward to getting the hell away from you and all other people in the world tonight so I can sit on my ass and get stoned out of my mind alone, so I’m going to do that. I’ll be in my room smoking tons and tons of trees, reading comic books, and eating candy.”
When I first moved here, there was a slight, natural guilt I sometimes felt for ignoring all the shit that most people consider to be fun and staying home instead. When I’m holed up in my room on weekend nights, I can hear the wasted knuckleheads through our paper-thin walls, bounding around the hallways and screaming, guys and girls without the wherewithal to walk a straight line or speak using inside voices. It’s hard for me to imagine wanting that now, and as I get more set in my ways it seems less and less likely that I’ll ever enjoy that lifestyle again.