Larry and the Meaning of Life

Janet Tashjian

Henry Holt and Co.

Larry and the Meaning of Life
PART ONE
"Things do not change; we change."
 
Henry David Thoreau Walden
There is nothing good on television at three o'clock in the morning. I've spent months doing research; I know. Like a media-fueled zombie, I clicked from channel 02 to 378 then back again, night after night. The programming was dreck, but the images and sounds comforted me. I'd been home for a few months after traveling the country by bus to try and find my girlfriend, Janine.1 After eight months on the road, I realized she was history. When I returned home, my stepfather, Peter, gladly removed his treadmill from my old bedroom. My best friend, Beth, was less than an hour away at school--I should've been happy. But this was the most miserable period in my life.
Peter tried not to let me see his growing concern. He slapped me on the back and told me I just needed time to settle in. He threw the stack of woe-is-me letters I'd written from the road into the fireplace, setting off a handful of sparks.
"All kids go through this," he said. "Being rudderless at your age is the most normal thing in the world."
"That's the first time anyone's ever used the n-word to describe me."
"See? There's hope for you yet."
I turned toward the fire, avoiding eye contact during yet another humiliating personal conversation. "I hate to sound like a walking cliché, but I don't know why I'm here. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with my life."
"Have you tried talking to your mother?"
I told him last time I tried she wasn't there.2
"Nonsense. Probably just a bad day. But maybe this will help. Beth's father called--there's a part-time job at the hardware store if you want it."
I'd already bungled my September start date at Princeton and was scheduled to begin classes in January instead. I knew I needed to work between now and then, but I'd replaced the requisite job search with South Park reruns. Rerun--I was only eighteen, yet my whole life already seemed like one.
"The hardware store sounds great. I'll call him tomorrow." As much as I'd always enjoyed filling the bins with bolts and mixing paint colors, the thought of getting up, showering, and being at the store by 7 A.M. sent me burrowing deeper into the cushions of the couch.
"Once you get to school, you'll be fine. You're always happiest when you've got a project to keep you busy."
"I tried to change the world and failed," I said. "Several times. Just making it through the day is about all I can handle right now."
"I think it's time to talk to a professional."
"A truckload of Prozac couldn't help me deal with how messed up the world is."
"Is that what's bothering you?" Peter asked. "The state of the world?"
"There's conflict on every continent, the poverty rate is increasing, the environment's a wreck, and I'm not supposed to be affected?"
"Maybe you should get involved in solutions instead of sitting on the couch complaining." The touch of anger in his voice reminded me of the old Peter, the workaholic ad exec who'd married my mom.
"I did that, remember? Got my head handed to me on a platter. Spent months writing sermons, spearheading a grassroots campaign for change--nothing."
"You've been through a lot," Peter said. "You're just exhausted."
"I feel like I'm sleepwalking and I'll never wake up."
"I've got to admit I'm worried," he said. "I've never seen you like this." Peter sat with me awhile before going to bed.
It wasn't that long ago my life felt full of purpose.3 MaybePeter was right and this was just a blip on the radar screen, a phase that would end once I entered college. But when I really stopped to analyze it, losing the election or the state of the world wasn't the problem--I was. Being so directionless was new territory for me. I'd always prided myself on knowing what I wanted to do: fight consumerism, run for president, change the world. I'd filled notebooks and blogs with ideas and projects since I could remember. Now? I'd tried to write a few sermons since I'd been home but came up dry. Watching an episode of Family Guy seemed much easier to manage. And since I stopped hearing my mother's voice at Bloomingdale's, I felt more lost than ever. Talking with her--alive as well as dead--had been a beacon for me, a way of continuing to improve myself and grow. My biological father had died before I was born; for some reason lately, that early loss throbbed like a new wound. If he were alive, would things be different? Peter--at least this recent, caring version--was helpful and kind, but even he couldn't jumpstart my malaise.
When I started the www.thegospelaccordingtolarry.comWeb site, some people had called me a guru, but I was the first person to say the term never applied to me. Those long months on the road made me realize I didn't have any answers. And as much as I looked forward to college, it seemed naive to think some professor would take me under his or her wing as a spiritual protégé.
I picked up the remote and clicked--infomercials, Nick at Nite, The Terminator. I sank deeper into the couch, hating myself for choosing the wonderful world of distractions over the difficult job of fixing my life.
Copyright © 2008 by Janet Tashjian