The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the day “August 30, 2020”

Too Clever For His Own Good

First published Mar 24, 2016 Wenceslas_Hollar_-_The_sword_of_Damocles


Mine was a sad story, an old story, a story that’s been repeated a million times.  I saw the opportunity for easy illicit gain, and believed myself too clever to get found out.

This miscalculation was my ruin, all my youthful potential wasted.  With one ill-conceived plan, I blocked every path I might have taken to a normal happy life.  There was no undoing any of it yet not a day went by without me willing myself back in time to warn my younger self against this colossal mistake. For me, there would be no forgiveness…not by anyone else, but certainly not by me, of myself. This compounded the tragedy and deformed my life into one of adversity.

If I’d been able to forgive myself for throwing away my life, for wasting my talents and intellect, for hurting and disappointing and bringing shame upon the people I loved and who loved me, I might have found a measure of contentment in whatever I could make of things. But I didn’t feel as if I deserved any respite from my guilt and my shame, because my guilt and my shame told me I wasn’t worthy of respite. And thus, the unbreakable, inescapable circle. I punished myself far more harshly than society could have.

I’d started out with such promise, so clever and ambitious. Everyone thought I would be a great success. But eventually it occurred to me that I might not have what was necessary to fulfill these expectations. It took more than just cleverness and ambition.  To win, you had to play the game by their rules. But I’d always bristled at rules. I choked on the bit of authority. I would not follow when clearly I was smarter than all of them.

I would show them!  I would beat them at their own game! I would write my own rules!   They might try to keep me out, but they would be underestimating me.

And when I couldn’t break through, I decided to take what I felt was my due. I’d show those smug bastards!

In the beginning, none of them had any idea. I lived the kind of comfortable life from which they thought they’d successfully excluded me.

But my situation was untenable. I lived in denial for a while but it hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. I could not hide my malfeasance forever.

When discovery was imminent, I ran away with whatever I could salvage and lived the rest of my life in hiding, abandoning everyone and everything I’d ever known or cared about. I would not bring anyone else into my sinking ship. My life options had narrowed 1000-fold.

I never married. Never let myself get too comfortable in any once place, with any one person. Never dropped my guard. Never used my real name again.  Never let anyone get too close for fear of giving it all away or dragging them down with me. Never stayed in any one place too long. Never again held job worthy of my talents.  I died sad and alone, never again feeling the touch of someone I trusted, which I took as my penance.


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