Friday, October 24, 2014

Post-Thesis Re-Rewriting

Months passed and late into the summer I found myself sitting on a bar stool beside someone I loved saying, “The truth about depression and drinking is there is no such thing as rock bottom.  You have a particularly hard time, you wake up covered in your own vomit, blood mysteriously died and crusted between your toes, and you think you’ve hit the bottom this time but it can always get worse.  And it will.  You have to want to start climbing back up, that’s how it stops.  That’s how you get out.  And maybe you slip and fall, and maybe it hurts all over again from time to time but you get through it because you decide you want to.”  And I would say one more thing: there is no such thing as happily ever after, but there is after.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Blue Pillow

For the first six months I had nothing but a mattress on the floor, two suitcases, and a cardboard box.  I made my first purchase for the place in November: a shelf for my books, because I kept spilling wine on them when they were just piled against the wall by my mattress.  In January I bought new sheets and I ordered a bed frame.  I had put off doing any such thing for so long because I hadn’t seen the point.  I didn’t want to be living in that room so why would I bother making it look like a place someone would want to live?  But in December I had become lonely in that quiet, maddening way that convinces you that no matter who says they love you—a friend, a boyfriend, your family—they can’t really mean it because love shouldn’t be selfish but people damned sure are—hell, I was.  But with that conviction, came a desperate urge to start over and since moving was out of the question, I signed up for an online dating site. 
That was where I got the idea to fix up my room.  The only person I met through the site was an actor who had just broken up with his girlfriend.  He told me about trying to feng shui his bedroom to attract good karma or something.  I think he eventually got back together with his girlfriend but I think he had the right idea.  And while I didn’t care to move my mattress around to whatever side of the room would attract good energies, it finally made sense to me to make the place nice.  It was going to be hard to feel happy if my room looked depressing and I would probably never have the hope of ever having someone to love and to share my bed with if it wasn’t a place I wanted to be.  So I bought blue sheets because I remembered my mother or Seventeen Magazine once saying that blue is supposed to be a calming bedroom color.  And when it arrived, I pushed the long, bed frame box up four flights of stairs and assembled it by myself, late at night while drinking a beer.  And I didn’t even spill the beer.  Then, one night, I walked thirty blocks in the snow to buy picture frames from a store I had noticed near Bloomingdales; I had nothing else to do and I figured a walk would do me good.  Lastly, I bought a second pillow.  Not that I needed one.  It was just in case.
Sure, I puked red wine all over my new sheets once or twice in January, because I was still lonely and drinking doesn’t fill any void no matter how much you do it.  But it was a start.  And that’s the thing: I think you have to be ready to have what you want before you can get it.  I knew I didn’t want to be going to bars by myself, making up lives and histories that weren’t my own and telling them like truth to the old men who sat beside me drinking Scotch while I sipped Prosecco.  I was just trying to pass the time and there was a certain comfort in the dim glow of a bar and the way the liquor bottles look like gemstones.  And besides, there are all sorts of ways to be alone.  You can go to the gym and to the movies.  And I did.  You can go to restaurants late at the night, after the dinner rush, and sit at the bar and learn to make cocktails by watching the bartender with the practiced, steadied gaze of someone who drinks alone.  And I did.  And you can smile politely and be friendly to people you don’t really like.  But I couldn’t.  Because no matter how lonely I was, I preferred being alone to being with people I didn’t care much for.  And I think that’s the best way to be alone.  Just do it until one day you find you don’t have to anymore.  In March, I needed the second pillow.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What do you want me to say?

Is it going to be funny? If you’re going to write about so many tragic things, you’re going to have to have a sense of humor.

Do men care if you like having sex with them or do they just care if you care that they like having sex with you? Is reverse low self-esteem a thing?  Is it like reverse racism?

My bartender says he always remembers me because I’m so polite.  There’s a tip for you.

Everyone will disappoint you.  Accept this and it will be easier to love people. 

There are different kinds of cheating.  They all involve disloyalty.  Where do your loyalties lie?  What is the difference between lay and lie?

I knew love was hard when my mother came home drunk and mimed the way the only man I ever knew my grandmother to love, trying to drunkenly break into their house by chopping down the chimney.  She said he had an axe. 

No woman is easy.  But sex is.  And we all know this, we just don’t want to talk about it.  Sex requires nothing but a condom—at best.  And that’s really pushing it.

Sex is like drinking: I’d rather do it alone.

You’ll tell me I have a very dry sense of humor and on the one day of the month that I’m trying not to drink you’ll ask me to have few with you. 

I’ll give you anything you want, but I’ll have to put it on my credit card.

I don’t know if IT ever stops hurting.  After a while you just stop calling IT “Hurt” and start calling it “Me.” 

Come True

“We’re not young anymore,” I wanted to tell her as we sat drinking wine outside a café on Madison Avenue, watching white haired, high-collared women walk by.  Or maybe we’re still young, just not as hopeful.  All that hope we had for the world when we sat in that café on Printers Row in Chicago, talking about all the places I was soon to go—it stretched thin over the interim years.  Maybe we measure youth in hopefulness.
But we trade hope for something tangible.  Hope is a feeling.  You can’t touch it.  It’s not real.  An apartment in the east 90’s is real.  Coming home, doing the dishes, lighting a candle and reading while noodles boil on the stovetop is real.  And in some ways it’s more than what you hoped for.  Because who ever hopes to feel at peace?  I always hoped for adventure.  And I got it and it got me somewhere and I’m happy with that.  Did you ever imagine me saying, “I’m happy” with anything?  Of course, you have to maintain perspective.  You have to keep goals, remember to look at the stars and wish for something now and then.  There’s always California, London, Paris, Provence…  But right now there’s this.
I’m not saying to stop trying for more, to settle, to leave well enough alone.  But I’m saying it’s important to be in the moment, to run your fingers over whatever it is that you have to hold.  Be in love with your present, if you can.  Fall for the real thing because it’s the only thing that can catch you anyways.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moving

When Taylor and I moved into our apartment, the first thing I brought over was a box of framed pictures, which I took pride in carefully placing on the shelf the previous tenant had installed above the kitchen counter.  The smiling faces of everyone I loved looked so bright in the fresh, white painted room.
I wasn’t quite nineteen years old.  It was May and it was raining when we moved in. The apartment shook all day and night, as the train rattled by inches from our window every seven to twenty minutes.  The bathroom window looked out over elevated tracks and rows and rows of rooftops that made the city seem like an endless puzzle pieced together playground.  
Maybe we were poor but maybe that’s a good thing to be when you’re that young.  And anyways, I didn’t notice because I had enough money to buy flowers and angel food cake once a week from the grocery store in Little Vietnam.  We ate mostly canned soup, perhaps because that was what we could afford, perhaps because I was constantly nauseous—perhaps due to a lucky combination of the two.  One afternoon the floor in our closet caved into the downstairs apartment.  But we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood and we spent our evenings walking along the beach.   I loved the view of the downtown skyline jutting out and up over the water as the whole horizon turned pollution pastel pink at sunset.  Less than a year earlier I had seen Chicago only twice in my whole life and now I felt I owned it in the way that anyone who is young feels after they have moved to a city for the first time, learned the train routes, fallen in love, carried too heavy bags of groceries down too many blocks, discovered the best Chinese food, seen the downtown glimmer in the twilight and nearly forgotten how they used to marvel at stars on a dark country night.
My grandmother gave us old shelves from her basement and a box of white bone china and my mother drove a small red folding table down from Wisconsin.  I used to do the dishes in the afternoon while Taylor was at work and before I had to head downtown for class.  And I used to think of how my mother washed the dishes when I was young and she was tired and sad.  And I would think about the things we do out of love and the things we do out of necessity.  By Labor Day weekend, I was living alone in a new apartment, closer to the lake in Lincoln Park. 
Through the years and through ten different apartments, I’ve carried little more than two suitcases of belongings and a couple of carefully packed framed pictures and paintings.  In living I have learned how to leave things behind.  But I have also learned that what you will keep is very rarely ever what you intended.  What I have kept is moving.  
That first summer in that first apartment in Chicago and for several years to follow, I believed so easily in words and promises and longevity.  I took risks without really believing that they were actually risks at all.  And I jumped heart first and headstrong into experiences that would leave me crying on the floor.   Lately, I find myself thinking that if I had known how happy I’d one day be, I wouldn’t have cried half as hard over the bad days and bad boyfriends or put with nearly as much as I did.  But really, I think it was all worth it because now I don’t take risks; I make choices.  I know the personal price of things.  The price of believing someone.  The price of heartbreak.  I don’t still naively believe that bad luck and brokenheartedness is a cross for someone else to bear.  But I think living is about momentum.  Choices keep us moving.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fine, Thanks.

I hate Mondays.  And Tuesdays.  And Wednesdays.  And Thursdays.  And most of Fridays.  I hate everyone.  Of course, I don’t actually hate everyone.  But also, I do.  
Every weekday morning I wake up, feel around in the dark for my phone, check the time and see 5:30a.m. glaring back at me.  I roll over and go back to sleep.  At about 6a.m. I will wake up and check my phone again.  And then again.  And then again. Until it is 10 to 8—just about the time that I should be waking up and slumping into the shower.  Instead, I reset my alarm from 7:55 to 8:20.  I am convinced that 25 minutes of sleep will change everything.  That extra 25 minutes of sleep will make me feel excited about my job, it will inspire me to eat a salad for lunch, it will give me the energy to do some writing when I get home, maybe I’ll even eat a salad for dinner instead of French fries and a bottle of wine.  In the dark, moderate comfort of my bed I tell myself that I don’t need to shower or put on fresh make-up or find an outfit that I haven’t already worn to work at least once a week for the past month.  In reality, that extra 25 minutes of sleep changes nothing but the amount of minutes I will be late to work and just how gross and depressed I will feel all day. 

If I do shower, I will first pour myself a glass of orange juice, which I will bring into the shower with me and drink while the fluctuating hot and cold water beats against my back.  Then I will reach out of the shower, grab my toothbrush from the sink and brush my teeth while I stand, half awake.  And I will never blow dry my hair.  I will pull it, still dripping wet, into a tight bun and I will glance at myself in the mirror just long enough to notice the faint wrinkles forming around my eyes.  Thoughts of age and the mathematics of years start to float to my mind’s surface, but I push them back down—I don’t have time for getting old.

As I stand impatiently in the subway station I will notice women wearing eye liner, with freshly blow-dryed hair and pretty painted faces.  And when the train finally arrives I will squeeze my body against theirs and many—too many—other bodies and I will stand, scowling behind my oversized sunglasses as the train creeps from 96th Street to 59th.  I hate everyone.  And I hate days when it’s too gray or rainy to justify wearing sunglasses because then I have to be really careful not to role my eyes as I repeatedly glance around the train car.  When the train stops at 59th I will silently curse at every single person who walks in front of me because they are all too slow and seem not to know that I woke up 25 minutes late and –in fact—have only been awake for 40 whole minutes and I have neither the time nor the patience they seem to have as they climb the steps out of the station. 

Once outside, I race the traffic lights one avenue and two blocks to my office, flash my ID and settle myself down in my cubicle, where I will remain for the next eight to nine hours.  I am least ten minutes late, sometimes 15 minutes, but I will never be anything less—anything close to on time because every morning as I run down the sidewalk, narrowly avoiding being hit by an early bird taxi looking for a pedestrian worm, I am struck by the ridiculousness of running to sit.  Rushing to wait for the day to be over.  Hurrying up only to count down the hours. 

In my cubicle, I drink bad coffee and eat yogurt and I answer the phone and I thank you for calling and I’m doing very well, thanks and one moment please and have a nice day and I pride myself every time I sound genuinely happy because after years of practice, I have learned that if I smile when I talk, then I sound like I mean it. 
Throughout the day I hate everyone.  I hate the noises that the people who sit in the cubicles near mine make.  I hate their prissy laughs and their prep school preening voices.  I sneeze several times a day because the woman who used to sit at my desk had so many cats that she tracked their hair anywhere she went.  No matter how much I scrub, cat hair clings to the cubicle walls, the keyboard, the files…  And so I blow my nose into a paper towel and I do office things with fancy titles like Presentations and Proposals and I sit and I wait and I count down and  I’m doing very well, thanks.  

I think that in order to be satisfied with one’s job, a person must either be making a lot of money or doing something that they are extremely passionate about.  Anything in between is hell.  Because it is empty.  Money buys things that look an awful lot like happiness and passion invigorates the soul.   Both are things to believe in, as any good American citizen knows.  Everything else is a lie.  I try to lie to myself, to convince myself that what I am doing matters, because it does matter that I keep my job and earn a paycheck and survive.   I try to reason with myself that I need to care about something.  Maybe all those people I hate—people who look pretty and well groomed and more calm than I ever am—for some reason care about what they do, they certainly look like they do.  I look like I’d like to go back to bed.  And I would. 


But I do still care about things in the same abstract, liberal arts way that I always have.  I read the news every day and I care about what is going on in the world.  On weekends I get drunk and rant about feminism because I care about gender equality.  And I say, “I love you” and I sure do care about that.  And I call my brother every now and then because I care about how his life is going and I really do hope he has a nice day.  And sometimes I do take the time to sit in front of my computer and write because I even if I don’t care for my life, I still care about a good story.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Love and Faith, On the Subway

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.