I was wearing knee high black leather high heeled boots that I had bought on Madison Avenue for an unreasonable amount of money last December, when I spent Christmas drinking alone. I stared at them in order to avoid eye contact with a woman who was hobbling up and down the subway car. I could see her feet—she was wearing dirty lime green Crocs and even dirtier yellow socks with big holes in the heels. Her sweatpants hung in ripped, fraying strands around her ankles. I instantly felt stupid for being all dressed up--wearing a black silk dress with lace sleeves, my lips painted pink. I wasn’t going anywhere special, just out to drink at a dive bar in the East Village. Since moving to New York, I either feel incredibly silly for putting effort into my appearance while there’s people begging for food and spare change all around me or else I feel ashamed for not trying harder when I see women in nicely pressed blouses and pencil skirts and pretty patent flats.
The woman’s feet were nearing mine. I squinted my eyes closed as if I was in pain. She was singing. “Love lifted me up. Love lifted me up.” Her voice was crackly. She was carrying two large black trash bags. “Love lifted me up.” I wondered if she had ever been in love. I wondered if she had ever laid her head down on someone’s chest at night in bed, slept with her legs entwined with another’s, smiled in her sleep at the feel of the warmth beside her body under the covers. I wondered if when a person doesn’t have a home or a job or enough to eat, if they still long for something like being loved. Probably. Good love is like a bowl of warm, creamy mashed potatoes—it fills you up and warms your soul.
I was wearing the same outfit that I had worn on a first date seven months ago.
“Love lifted me up. One more time.” She yawned. “Love lifted me up.”
All day I had been in a good mood, feeling pleasantly secure in my relationship and my new job and nurturing a renewed sense of purpose in my writing. I squinted my eyes shut again. I was mad at this woman—maybe for reminding me that it is always possible to loose what you think you can keep.
She was walking the subway car once again, this time stopping in front of each rider. “May love lift you too, sister,” she said to me. I stared at the stains on her socks. At least she wasn’t going on about God. So many people plague the subways with fiery talk of one god and hell or another.
I thought about God on my walk from the subway to the bar. If someone asked me right now, if I believe in God, I’d say, “I believe that the past happened.” I believe that I was home in Wisconsin three years ago, driving down the highway with my brother singing “Hallelujah” and the air-conditioning in the car was broken so we had rolled down the windows to let the dusty air whip our wet skin and it smelled like gasoline and cornfields and sun warmed blacktop and hay. And I loved it all in some way that would haunt me for years because you’re not supposed to love the place that taught you how to wear a scar like a tattoo smile. But you do because it’s beautiful—like how a former boyfriend once told me I looked pretty when I cried, mascara rolling rivers down my cheeks. And I don’t know about forgiveness or absolution but I know what it feels like to be in hell, drinking in the company of your memories, unable to love anyone because the first people who were supposed to love you also hurt you. And I’ve learned that you have to let go of the hurt you’ve been hanging onto in order to grab hold of some happiness.
And I let it go. And I’m happy. I don’t know if love lifts a person up. I think you lift yourself up and maybe sometimes you get lucky and there’s someone standing next to you holding your hand. These days I’m lucky.
In the past seven months, I went through four different jobs, I had a first date and a second and eventually lost count, I graduated my MFA program, I lost some friends and made some new ones, and life changed. And that’s what I believe in. Things change for the better and for the worse and just for the hell of it and you get through it not because you fall in love or fall into some good luck; you get through it because time pushes ever forward and you must too. And sometime maybe you will be standing in a crowded bar and you will see a dear familiar face across the room and everything will feel warm and beautiful and right. And you can hold that happy feeling in your heart for a while because you let the rest of it go.