I thought there would be more than this.
I’m looking back on the months that have passed and I’m trying to dissect them, trying to make sense of these stacks and piles which have collected about me. But the truth is that I can’t see anything but a bunch of pixilated images, floating in and out of my view line. Matt Nathanson sings it best – “relying on my best memories to breathe for me; breathe for me.”
You know how we all hear that schpiel from our grandparents as they age or on their death beds ? The “Now I can die happy because I have such a lifetime of wonderful memories” deal? I’ve always taken that to be a crock of shit. But recently, I’ve come to understand the visceral feeling of living in your memories -- of actually getting joy from them. Sometimes I think I spend half my day in a place that isn’t even here.
I’m nostalgic as shit lately – missing everything:
I miss feeling comfortable and easy. I miss my friends. My first friends, my high school friends, the ones who have remained. I miss Hannah’s room and eating jellybeans on the floor and sneezing because of her cat. I miss driving with Julia all over Boston, staying in the car when it’s raining or snowing for hours listening to folk music. I miss driving to Scott’s after 1 AM and laughing too hard with Ben and leaving and knowing we’ll always see each other in the morning. I miss going to Cabot’s with Jelena and sitting outside her house on summer nights and being anxious and riding the T. I miss Milton and green manicured lawns and days with drippy ice cream cones and licking vanilla off of each other’s cheeks. I miss Club Passim and wheat pizza and the genuineness about Stephen Kellogg that has come, somehow, to represent all of the East Coast to me. I miss driving on the Pike and the ever smiling toll booth men with thick Boston accents. I miss being able to play Tiny Dancer on repeat thirty times and still wanting to hear it again. I miss being alone with songs and feeling like they were the only thing that could describe you (Jason Mraz's Better or Ari Hest's Holding On). I miss my old summers. I miss the last nights of camp, faces up in a circle staring towards stars you can’t even make out. I miss sobbing with my entire body for girls who felt like sisters. I miss sticky buns on Sunday mornings and blue pastel colored sweatshirts with paint stains from A&C on them. I miss being okay with being chubby. I miss not eating frozen strawberries dipped in Splenda, Lean Cuisines, packs of gum like cigarettes, big salads with dressing on the side, five cans of Diet Coke a day, apple for breakfast, lean chicken breasts, no butter oil or bread please, fruit salad, Special K, frozen yogurt. I miss not desiring so deeply to see something other than what I am. I miss the places I’ve been. I miss the tiny towns I’ve been to that let you feel like you own the world. I miss being innocent and wide eyed and not having anything because at least that left the promise of something. I miss being little and needing my family. I miss my dad making Mickey Mouse shaped waffles with me on Sunday mornings. I miss our vacations and having your parents take care of you. I miss my mom making barbeques and telling stories. I miss my sister and I upstairs in our old Newton house, bitching about our parents after we all fight, or her pulling out the air mattress and sleeping on my floor.
But I don’t just miss the past. I even miss this city while I’m still in it. There are moments when Los Angeles makes me feel absolutely fucking alive. Most often it’ll be when I’m driving – near dusk – just off the 405 and coming onto the 10 and I can see the city and all of its lights – I feel like I’m flying. It sounds idiotic, I know. But there’s this translucent sense that no one can touch you, that you can be everywhere and nowhere all at once, almost.
I remember early this year in the California winter of January, my car arrived and I jumped in and headed to Malibu. It was gorgeous outside, a warm, gooey kind of day. Stephen Kellogg poured out of my stereos and out of the windows, and as the ocean sped by on my left side of the PCH I thought this is it. I’m here. I’ve made it. Instantly I remembered the dream that had pervaded my entire childhood – that longing to live by the sandy beach, to exist in some undefined kind of glamour world that only Los Angeles could promise me. I don’t know why, but that moment – that drive – is probably the happiest I can recall being ever in my two years in Los Angeles. I’ve tried to think about what made this moment so special numerous times. Was it the weather? Couldn’t have been – beautiful days aren’t a rarity here. The independence, excitement and freedom of finally having my car here? Partly, sure – but I’d been down the PCH before. It wasn’t a new phenomenon. Often, I think it’s just because I felt I was in love at the time that I was so happy. Everything had that stupid, fuckin’ rose-tinted glow, you know? I mean, it could have been anything. Stupid shit. My birthday was in a few days, even. But really, what I think that it was, oddly enough, was that palpable feeling, that visceral sense of my old dream flickering away…of realizing I was completely alone with my car and my music and my sunglasses and my thoughts and my 3,000 miles and I was okay. I was damn better than okay. I was fucking happy.
I feel like I spend so much time trying to make this place feel like home. And really, I think all that means is I try to make it reminiscent in any way of Boston…of that girl I used to be. I surround myself with the images of those I love – none of whom are here – of beautiful celebrities and cities which all, again, promise me something after this. Will there always be this sense, for the rest of my life, that nothing is authentic because it’s not the roots? I mean to say…where you come from, what you have come to know about the world – these things all feel reliable because they are your foundation. And I think as you continue to grow you don’t ever, really, alter these foundations.
The thing is, is that I don’t really want to go home, even, because I hate knowing it’s not the same. I hate this growing up stuff. I hate seeing people I love only a few times a year. I hate not knowing where home is. I hate not feeling satisfied. I hate living in my memories – I hate breathing in them, feeling them so palpably – knowing they’re all I have and knowing they’re not even real. Story of my life.
I want good love. I want easy Sunday mornings and banana pancakes and burnt toast. I need to find someone new. Really, I think I need to go somewhere else. (That’s just the idealism.) In high school you say you want a boyfriend because you want to make out in the back of some run-down Volvo in the high school parking lot or you want Post-It notes stuck to your locker or you want circles under your eyes the next morning in class because you were up too late talking to him on the phone. You want everyone to know that someone else thinks you are pretty so that they’ll think so too. But I don’t want any of that. I have this idea that someday, late twenties, I’m going to sink into this relationship that’s going to be all consuming and intense and fucked up and gorgeous. The idea enthralls me – being incapacitated by someone else – having big, messy fights and sex for days, all different kinds, and knowing more than just the favorites (authors, restaurants, lyrics, positions), traveling and wine and walking endlessly and always meeting and seeing and doing, talking for hours and not getting sick of each other and then getting really sick of each other, having to get away, feeling independent but with a new piece, a new heart. Fuck, you know? I want that.
But you know what I hate? I hate that more than anything, more than all of my cynical words and dress to impress and big fancy dreams, all I fucking want at the end of the day is literally to be held. There’s this moment I have, every night before I fall asleep – I can see the picture there splayed onto the white plaster wall beside my bed like one of those old projectors that throw love into shiny white balls of light. I can see him, this guy – he’s lying on cream colored sheets and I’m clinging to him like a baby, like a fucking little animal in its mother’s pouch. Oddly, the guy’s face is never clearly defined – sometimes his angles change with the months that pass or the words that I hear. But there I am, always the same. Every night, last image I see – this needy little girl. And when I wake up in the morning I find myself like that, sometimes, clinging, always needing more. And I think, God, is this really what I am? After the strut and the words and the attitude, is this what I am? Desperate? A fucking baby?
I was seeing this man recently – I say man because he was one – and because being with him made me feel like a little girl. But not in that good sense, not in that fun toothy smile and lollipops and ruffled skirt girly way. In that little way, the way it is when you know someone is older than you and it makes you feel odd and out of place and you wonder why they’re with you. He would spew off this shit – I mean absolute, 100 proof bullshit – about my eyes and my hair and my ‘curves’ (don’t they all somehow note those and manipulate the wording?) – about how it was all beautiful. And I can remember just looking back at him, this empty vessel with clear eyes. He was just a body, a replaceable person with replaceable, silly words he thought I’d believe in. I wondered why he felt the need to say such things. We both knew why we were there (and how ironic that when you say you don’t want what they want, which is, always, sex, that the words stop coming). I didn’t feel anything when I was with him – literally nothing – not sad or happy. And this is what I noticed most about him, and why, if for any reason, I’m glad I met him, because so much of that feeling pervades my life. The sense that you’re living in a moment, experiencing it, but consciously wishing it to be something else bigger and grander. Willing yourself to feel and to love and to speak words or call back or kiss harder because you want to believe you can transform people, make or ‘sculpt’ them (as Anais Nin writes) into someone who can fulfill all this shit you long for that you don’t have. This is going to sound awful, but most of the time I don’t believe my friends, or anyone, really, when they tell me that they’re in love. Most of them take it back in a year or two anyway – find someone new or better – have the ability to hide their memories somewhere and not search for them. What is love, really? What if deep down everyone is, in the dark, that little baby girl who wants to be needed and loved and protected? And that's all love is -- finding someone who can satisfy that need when we need it met. When does that feeling become too overwhelming to handle? When are you forced to take what you can get? How do you reconcile that settle? Do you always play tricks on yourself, saying your expectations were too grand, or that they have now changed? What makes one person pick another, and why that person? Where are they from and what do they want – what do they say they want, really – what are they actually getting and how does it, of course, never match up?
My future is a blank slate. And I’m scared. Next year, this summer, I could be anywhere – New York City, Connecticut, Chicago, Boston, Rhode Island – Los Angeles, even. And all of those places mean very different things. But I’m not scared because of that uncertainty – not because of the overwhelming possibility. I'm scared because if there is no image, then there can only be one – one spliced together of fantasies and memories – one I’ve been unable, for 20 years to evade producing. This is how I know I’m still a girl. A woman wouldn’t have such childish dreams.
The past few days I've found myself glancing over towards the duffle peeking out from under my bed. It's new and barely scuffed by the airport carousels. I wish I had the balls to throw my hair into a ponytail, toss a few pairs of jeans into the bag, heave it over my shoulder and leave.
I want to be simple -- tangled hair, cleanfresh face, hoodies and Birkenstocks. Instead, I am the girl sitting in the train station who hides behind oversized sunglasses, hoping others see her with mysterious eyes. I tuck my hands into the back pockets of designer jeans and dig headphones into my ear buds. I comb my fingers through my bangs as they fall into my eyes.
It would be thrilling to leave this all behind -- not forever, but for a while.
Over dinner at the local 29th Street Cafe tonight, one of my best friends here, Marieke and I discussed travel. Maybe it's naive to believe that simply being in another place enhances your character. Despite that, undeniably, I believe that being faced with new people, new culture (real culture that exists beyond that of Los Angeles's culture of vanity) and new sights helps you to reaffirm who you yourself are in a pure and healthy way.
Yes. Part of me thinks I'll find something better somewhere else. I know that's never true -- and has always failed me -- but that "anywhere but here" attitude has always been ingrained inside of me -- if nothing else, that's what I am -- wide eyes. I want to live life slow; sexy.
And so we're doing it. Applying last minute to study abroad this next semester. Why? Because why the fuck not? Because after these next few months I have requirements to fulfill and obligations to answer to. Because nothing is keeping me here. Because being here feels stagnant. Because the best parts of my days are writing. Because I shop too much -- seriously -- and that was never who I was before...that was never what I valued. Because I'm scared of a fucking lot and I want to push myself into fear. Because I want to -- need to -- challenge myself again.
I can't believe I'm almost twenty.
The word alone is thick and weighty. I look in the mirror and see a girl with chubby cheeks and wide eyes. I'm just a baby! And twenty is important. Twenty is leather briefcases and key rings and a large bookshelf. Twenty isn't really me yet...is it?
I need to know that I'm making the most of my time.
(These were some of the best):
Athens, Greece. Sixteen. It is the last of 14 nights and I've: slept on a rocky boat bumping over waves, stood beneath crumbling and archaic ruins, let a needle slide hot through my earlobe, stared out at mountains/oceans/faces, had alcohol slide down my throat awkwardly, discussed love at 4am in the corner of a dirty motel. On this night I have danced in a dimly lit club -- Lava Bore -- with people I have come to call friends. We walk, tipsy, miles back to the hotel over stony roads. The Acropolis is lit with enormous, plastic looking spotlights. A bunch of foreign boys we've met drape their arms over us. I walk next to a Spaniard named Sergio. His name makes me laugh. He whispers into my ear and I feel old. We all trip into a crepe restaurant, licking strawberries off of each others fingers. Soon we are back at our hotel. Sergio kisses me in the lobby. I have a flower behind my ear. After he leaves, I wonder if the desk attendant saw him cop a feel.
Persan, France. Thirteen. It's a quiet Sunday morning in the quietest town I've ever been in. People in this town walk to their neighbors homes carrying loaves of doughy bread and deep colored wine. People let their clothes hang in the wind. People in this town have crooked teeth. It's Sunday in this town, Persan, and my host family, the Cubizolles, are taking my friend, Julia and I to a local flea market. My stomach is full from breakfast -- hot coffee and sugary, powdered pastries. (Still, I am tiny then.) Hidden under cloth tarps, families huddle at tables, selling bumpy fruit, silk scarves, patterned tablecloths. Everyone smiles at me. I speak in broken French and buy a pair of pants.
Vancouver, Canada. Ten, or eleven. This is one of the clearest: I have been traveling with my family in a rented motor home for a month. This is not my family -- we are modern, high-rise hotels and palm-tree resorts -- but then we camped. We were close and natural. One evening, 4pm, we pull into a camping site. Here, we took a picture: My sister was a baby with choppy bangs. My mother was beautiful -- radiant and young. I wore glasses too large for my face, a grey camp sweatshirt with "Pinecliffe" emblazoned across the front, and tight black 80s leggings. While my dad grills hot dogs I wander around, alone. There is a large beach and the ocean is freezing. I climb the rocks and let sea anemones climb over my palms; poke at starfish in tidal pools. A couple in their early twenties sit on the farthest rock. I amble over to them, my feet slipping over the stones. They are British and fishing. They show me their fishing pole, which they have made themselves. It is made of a long, skinny twig about as tall as my body. They have tied a clear piece of line to the wood in a messy knot. At the bottom rests a curved metal hook which looks like the back of my mom's earrings. The man pokes his index finger with the hook to show me how sharp the metal is, and a tiny speck of blood pops up from the skin of his fingertip. I ask if I can fish too and they let me try my luck. We don't catch any fish. I ask them if they've ever met the King of England and if they're going to get married. They laugh and kiss. My dad calls me from the shore and I wave goodbye to my new friends. They pat me on the back, grin, tousle my hair and let me keep the fishing pole.
Submission to the 2005 Vanity Fair Essay Contest: “What’s on the minds of America’s youth today?”
A snowflake just melted on Martin Luther King Jr.’s eyelash.
A cool droplet of water falls down over his eyelid skin, curves around his cheekbone and finally dissolves into his corduroy blazer. He doesn’t move. His dissonant gaze remains, resolute over the heads of the crowd. His fingers hang, clenched, against a chalky wooden podium. He is frozen.
The radiator jangles. The room is too cold. My Professor pushes himself out gently from behind the Harkness table and stands. He has long, wispy gray hair and strings of different colored yarn knotted around his wrist. He brings the glass window down. It thuds lightly; the storm can no longer come inside.
We are tucked inside a room and the seasons are changing. We are surrounded by images of: Bob Marley inhaling his one love, sinuously hand-painted nudes on canvases and Malcolm X with an o-shaped, angry mouth.
Today we are a watching a movie. MLK is speaking and my classmates are leaning forward over the table, their heads resting on backpacks with fawn-like eyes. One boy notices our Professor shed a handful of soft, loose tears and looks away, beginning to etch his initials into the underside of the table. The video clip becomes static and we become silent.
Our Professor turns on a Dylan record. A boy with unkempt locks nods his head, as if he agrees with something. All of us are feeling something great in the depths of our stomachs – our blood is rushing around, invigorated and shaken. All suddenly at once we talk over each other, making grand, overzealous statements about generation gaps and amending the world. We admire Luther greatly, we exude. We liked the excerpt about democracy on page 304, paragraph 4, we agree. And the man in the photo in Chapter 5 has killer dreads, one remarks. We might join the Peace Corps after University, if our parents allow us to defer Graduate School for a while. We wish we could have been at Woodstock. We want to protest the upcoming election because we’re young, so we’re Liberals. We want to get a bus and chant and do other cool, noteworthy shit. We want to be the movers and shakers. We talk about change. We all decide we want to make it. Then the bell rings.
Two months later it is a cool February evening, and my classmates and I are lined in a zig-zag across the Quad. We extend from the Chapel to an ivy-covered brick building. Girls’ high heels are sinking into the patchy, bitten snow in spots. Boys dig their hands into uniform navy blue blazers with iridescent gold buttons. We steal quick glances at each other, unsure of what to say. Silence must be right. A girl in pigtails laughs, and heads with condoning eyes spin around quickly. Tepid girls huddle close to taller boyfriends; girlfriends link arms, clutching the sleeves of each other’s velour jackets. The air is hard and quick, but fresh.
Outside of the reception hall stand a family: a father, son, and daughter. The eldest, our Professor, is dressed in worn tweed. He is crying again, but this time his eyes are redder, and he’s trying really hard to smile but he can’t. The boy, twenty one, has dewy dreadlocks and is holding the hand of his younger sister, who is dressed awkwardly in black which is too formal for her. Their mother just died.
We all process up the stairs, hugging our Professor as he quietly sobs, heaving onto our chests. We walk inside and again we feel something immense, although we can’t identify or do anything with our sentiment.
A few of us sit above on a balcony, sinking into leather chairs, silently eating; watching below. My writing Professor touches my shoulder and half-smiles. A girl in my art class tells me she likes my sweater and offers me a cookie. The headmistress looks up towards us, nodding and then lowering her eyes. As the fire below crackles, we realize: this is love.
We come together when are forced, inextricably, by a greater force to touch. Like gravity, we magnetize towards one another when the force becomes too strong – we aren’t allowed to release until one of us is okay. This moment comes when we both pull away. This moment is something, and that is all we know. We need each other like: campfire circles on the first night of sleep away camp, hiding under your parents sheets during a thunderstorm, pinkie swears.
We’re human. We can’t help it. Many times, we don’t feel things until they hit us. Tragedy brings people together, and that is a selfishly tragic fact. Maybe this means we’re tragically flawed. Or we’re just a tragic generation trying to avoid – ignore – tragedy as much as we can.
Recently, a man told me the story of his son who lives in New York City. This boy/man, named John, rides the subway to college every morning. One day, John, who is twenty-one, was re-reading Salinger. His class was going to be lead around the city that morning, to see the "actual" places Holden Caulfield spoke of in his story. As John sat down, cramped, his gloved hand lost grip on the coffee he was cupping, and a few steamy drops seeped into the pages. He cursed and looked downwards. When he did, John noticed a young woman next to him. The woman had curly red hair and thin, black rimmed glasses. She also looked like a student. John averted his eyes away from the woman's face, so as not to appear frightening. How odd, he thought, that although his shoulders were touching this woman, although he could practically feel her warm thighs beside his, he couldn't look her in the face. When John looked downwards again, he noticed the woman also reading a book. It was Salinger: same edition of Catcher in the Rye, same page. John looked at the woman again, wanting to comment on the coincidence. He could smell her perfume. It was too strong, but he found that endearing. John felt as if he should ask her to marry him at that very moment. Instead, he wiped the coffee off the page with his glove and continued reading. The woman got off at the next stop.
We don’t want to be alone, ever (even though we are desperately and pathetically lonely). But we can’t come together of our own will. So we push our breasts together and sneak home during lunch to fuck and whisper dirty words that we don’t understand into each others ears. We dance in our underwear too loudly to and we stay out too late chasing stars and sipping from each others cups. We like smoke because it seems mysterious when it mixes into the air. We know it will kill us. We’ll stop in a few years. We’re not James Dean. (Although we try to be, when we’re 13, and again 18.) We strive to be somebody; to live in the moment. But we can’t even enjoy the physical, visceral joys in life: the feeling of warm water in the ocean washing upon the back, laying next to another after making love, the taste of coffee or cigarettes – because we want to know what they mean. We always think about the future – never the present. We do not change. We cry, secretly, in our rooms when watching video clips on the news wire of: dead bodies in sludgy hurricane water, dusty bricks strewn across Iraqi streets, and gaunt dark faced children with protruding bellies. We feel guilty when we: leave the water running, when we still don’t finish eating our peas, when we avert our eyes from the donation box, when we buy $400 pumps instead. We feel helpless and young and stupid. We want to do something. We promise you, we do. Really.
Maybe we believe we’ll grow up in a new place one day – opening our eyes like Dorothy in Oz to a loose, stilted reality. We want to emulate the change of the past but can’t, and won’t come together again until we are forced together – until things become desperate. Delusion, in its many forms, is readily accessible. We even use the past to delude ourselves. One day they will have to write something, inevitably, about us in the history books. Change will come, we hope, and someone will make it. Dreams of the future wash over our eyes – a legacy in the making. But why would anyone need to make statues of us, when we are already immobile?
Later in the semester, after the funeral, our Professor will take down the now stained poster of King. Too many snowflakes had encapsulated his face, forming the paper into a wavy pattern. He was frozen.
We, too, are crystallizing. But we are unlike King; unlike the movers and shakers. We have yet to change.
After they made love, she started to cry.
"What's wrong, baby?" he whispered into her ear, wisping her bangs away from her eyes.
"Nothing," she smiled, "I'm just happy."
She was almost sixteen; in love.
He had been her best friend since he'd moved to America when he was twelve. They'd climbed on top of roofs together and poked at each others lips. When her parents got divorced, she ran over to his house in the middle of the night. He pulled his grey sailing sweatshirt over his head and placed it onto her trembling shoulders. She left mixed CDs in his stereo with songs that reminded her of him on them. During the summer, he wrote her letters in messy handwriting from New Zealand. He missed her, he said.
"He told everyone," she told me a few weeks ago.
"What did he tell?" I coaxed.
She paused. I could hear her sigh hitting the mouthpiece of the telephone.
"What I said to him. After I lost my virginity."
They were always fighting. Sometimes she'd gone months without talking to him. But that was just the way they were. I understood them as fate, or something like it: rocks thrown into the ocean that always get washed back up on shore.
He is twenty, now, and shabbily handsome with long, brown hair and pastel colored button-ups. She, newly nineteen and maturing; fiercely independent. Only a year ago he had followed her to the mountains, to college. Late one night, he'd admitted it to her: "I came here to be with you," he slurred, half-drunk in the middle of the street.
It's autumn now, and the seasons are changing. They haven't talked for eight months. She doesn't know why they're fighting, really, but she knows this time it's for good. He's dating a new girl - a promiscuous one, of course, with beaty little eyes. When he gets high, he tells his roommates intimate stories about the two of them. Most recently, he told them what she'd admitted to him after they'd first made love as she curled inside his arms. Only yesterday, he left a framed photograph outside on her door-step. "I don't want this," a note read above plated glass and their two faces floating together. He was trying to erase the memory. He couldn't.
She is one of my closest friends. We spend hours, always past midnight, discussing love. And always I tell her, I am fascinated by his behavior: how can someone who was once so good, so pure, and so in love -- suddenly become bad, malicious, hurtful? He had always been the boy we'd dreamed of for ourselves: he promised he'd take her to Senior Prom on the first day of high school, skipped Algebra class to go to the beach with her, and he was the first to say he loved her. I knew he wasn't a bad person. So why was he fucking with her? How could he throw away all of these pretty moments which had been real, which had once existed, and which still lived?
Deep down, are we all decisively as capable of hating another as we are of loving them?
It is often said that it's easiest to hurt someone we love. But I've never understood that. I've always been too naive, too simple for my own good -- giving all of myself to another when I feel strongly for them. I'm not trying to say I'm not capable of doing mean things. Fuck knows I can be shockingly spiteful. But if I loved someone, I don't think I could ever be so malicious to someone...the way he has been to her, and as others have been to me. If your hurt comes from a need for someone else, why does it always seem that those who need us are pushing us away?
I've become so disillusioned about the idea of love. At moments, to my core, I want to think that I am capable of believing someone will one day love me, only me, and always stay true to that. And most others, I feel like it's all shit we keep telling ourselves to get by. We fall and we get up and we keep the scars as our war paint. We become tougher and harder and our eyes don't shine as much as they used to.
And I hate that, because I have really beautiful eyes.
I miss the way it felt before I knew that people could let you down. I miss the innocence in belief: in stupidly thinking that if you love someone, they will love you back.
“I loved him,” she said to me today. Her breath was stilted. It came in quick, sharp juts and then shaky, long inhalations. I knew he had broken her heart.
I can’t breathe.
Will anyone ever learn where my shoulders dip, how many sugars I put in my tea; how off key I sound when I sing in the shower?
I often wonder at what point in life being alone becomes scary. In youth, at least for me, there is something magical and freeing in spending time alone. After hours spent in solitude I feel pride, almost. It's a fuck-you to all of the dependent nobodies flipping through their cell phone address books, as if they had a call: hey, you exude, I don't need anyone around to affirm my worthiness as a human being. I'm perfectly content sitting in the local coffee shop, scribbling into a notebook once in a while. In fact, I feel downright near quixotic when I do so. Other times, of course, being lonely isn't so fun -- sitting in a dorm room instead of going out to a frat party, having no one to go to dinner with, all of that adolescent, needy shit. Luckily, these times are often rare. Loneliness only feels justified when it's something we choose -- if we're the ones who have created the distance, we can just as easily reach out to pull ourselves close to another again.
But when does being alone start feeling hard? I imagine true, painful loneliness comes in quick, desperate pangs: sitting alone in your high rise apartment past midnight and staring out at lit, square blocks stacked upon each other and wondering who lives in each one. Hoping someone is looking out their window too, but then seeing no one, and feeling your toes cold against the floor. Feeling the disconnect.
In class this morning, a Professor told the story of his friend who lives in New York City. This man, named John, rides the subway to work every morning. One day, John, who is an English teacher twice-divorced, was re-reading Salinger. He was leading his class around the city that morning, to show them the "actual" places Holden Caulfield spoke of in his story. As he sat down, cramped, his gloved hand lost grip on the Starbucks he was cupping, and a few steamy drops seeped into the pages. He cursed and looked downwards. When he did, John noticed a young woman next to him. The woman had curly red hair and thin, black rimmed glasses. She also looked like a teacher. John averted his eyes away from the woman's face, so as not to appear frightening. How odd, he thought, that although his shoulders were touching this woman, although he could practically feel her warm thighs beside his, he couldn't look her in the face. When John looked downwards again, he noticed the woman also reading a book. It was Salinger: same edition of Catcher in the Rye, same page. John looked at the woman again, wanting to comment on the coincidence. He could smell her perfume. It was too strong, but he found that endearing. John felt as if he should ask her to marry him at that very moment. Instead, he wiped the coffee off the page with his glove and continued reading. The woman got off at the next stop.
Whether or not this is a bunch of sappy shit isn't the point: when does it become so difficult to connect to another human being? Are we all, at some point, desperately and pathetically lonely? When, I wonder, do we decide that we can't be alone any more? When do we need someone?
It's funny: when I think about my life, I always imagine myself as "that girl." You know the one. You see her in the corner booth of a dimly lit Italian restaurant, huddled into the arms of her tall boyfriend. She twirls spaghetti onto her fork as he kisses her neck. She whispers something dirty into his ear, and ten minutes later, he asks for the check. He opens the door for her and places his hand on the small of her back. You see her next to you in the car at the stoplight, with her window half-down, singing at the top of her lungs to some shitty Top 40 song by Alanis Morisette. You see her in the middle row of the movie theatre with three best friends. Her feet are up on the seat in front of hers and she's passing tissues to her friend. She curses whenever something bad happens to the protagonist. You see her on the bus, wearing wobbly heels. She almost falls, but a business man palms her shoulders before she can. You see her passing an old friend on a street and waving. She smiles for another block as she reminisces about the last time she spent a night with this friend. You see her walking home, half-drunk, with a handsome man. His hand is locked with hers; buried inside of a long, winter coat. You see her in the fancy, downtown department store with her older mother, shopping for a dress for her parents’ 25th anniversary party. She looks beautiful and mature. You see her and she's never alone. (For even when she is alone, she is not.) She can never be wholly afraid of being left alone because there are too many people who love her. She is able to live because she's not scared -- she has already embedded parts of herself into others. These pieces are irremovable and sticky: like pacemakers in the heart or warning tags on hair dryers. They stay; they just are.