Ten years ago, I was in college at Stephen F. Austin State University-- about twenty minutes from where I grew up in East Texas. I was supposed to be graduating with all the people I’d gone to high school with. It had been four years. That’s how long college takes. It’s written somewhere in the manual. Instead, I’d spent my four years drinking beer, skipping class, and working a variety of colorful jobs.
I had a lot of jobs, but I wasn’t a hard worker. I was a below-average, but not awful employee. I saved my awfulness for being a student. I could pass the tests, but I rarely showed up on non-test days, which usually led to some tense visits with professors. My thought was (because I was 21 and a complete moron) that if I could pass the tests, and if I was paying money to be enrolled in the class, then it shouldn’t matter whether or not I actually attended. Ah, yes, the righteousness of youth.
Not only was I too cool for school (have you ever seen that used literally?), I was also too cool for “dreams.” I had convinced myself I would live and die in my small hometown and be content with the fact that the lady who sold me smokes and beer always remembered my brands (Marlboro Lights and Budweiser) if not my name. By the way, there is nothing-- absolutely zero-- wrong with that. I think I would have been happy with that life. Proud of that life, in a way.
But it’s not the life I wanted. It’s the life I believed my anxiety and depression were limiting me to.
I was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2008, but I didn’t seek the proper treatment (or any treatment, other than the aforementioned booze and smokes). It was tough to be in public places because I believed I was always one strange breath away from a panic attack. I couldn’t fly anymore. I couldn’t drive too far away from my apartment. It was almost impossible to fall asleep, and when I did I had trouble getting out of bed the next day.
I saw each day as something to fight. Fight to not have a panic attack. Fight to not get kicked out of school. Fight to not get fired. Then I met my wife (she wasn’t my wife when I met her), and everything changed.
She lived four hours away, and the only way to have a relationship with her was to push my limits. Fortunately for me, she can push really hard. She pushed me to work on my mental health. She pushed me to graduate college, move to another city, and get on airplanes again. Eventually she pushed me to travel the country for two years in a 17-foot trailer. During that time, I found a strength I didn’t know I had, and saw beauty I never knew existed.
Glacier National Park in Montana is a far cry from East Texas. That’s where we were when my agent called with my first book offer, because my wife had also pushed me to write a novel during our trip.
Now we’re home in Austin where I’m working on my third manuscript. It’s been ten years since I met my wife, and except for an old pearl snap that belonged to my grandfather, everything I have is thanks to her—including our daughter. She’s set to go into labor any day now, which will be yet another situation where I’m useless and she’s having to push.
James Wade lives and writes in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Jordan. He has had twenty short stories published in literary journals, anthologies, and magazines, including The Bitter Oleander and Bartleby Snopes. He is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Short Fiction Contest. His debut novel, All Things Left Wild, will be released June 16, 2020, from Blackstone Publishing.