Fourth of July has become a reflective holiday for me. Not on purpose. I’m usually alone, by design, and have the house to myself. No work, no Chris, just me and my brain rolling around in a can. I decided to look through my old site, and so here I am writing on it. I’m glad this stuff is still here. My last post claimed I would come back around for a yearly post, but that was three years ago. I’ve had the site redirected to Tumblr for a while, where I wasn’t putting content either.
I can’t believe an internet existed once where I wrote freely about my personal life and didn’t care who read it. I can’t believe a me existed who did that, even though I wrote for more years than I haven’t. I can’t imagine it, though I get my intentions: for many years, most of my life, I wanted to be known and I felt writing was how I could get that done. I don’t want to be known anymore. Rather, I think I’m way past the island of being known or caring about that sort of thing. “Being known” is an obsession for younger me, I think, but I try not to condescend myself too much.
But here’s a yearly post. The power’s out. A transformer blew for the second time in two weeks. Short power outages aren’t what they used to be. I remember a famously long power outage in 7th grade. Christmas Eve. There was nothing to do – no 4G, no smartphones, no nothing — so we went to the police station where my mom worked and listened to the dispatchers. I cooked cold french fries over a candle. This was so exciting to me that I wrote a play about it and produced it at school. Today I sit in a Starbucks, charging my electronics, but not worrying about it too much. It’s a hot day, but I like hot days (I did not used to like hot days, no sir).
I don’t even know how to write anymore. I’m rusty and stiff and half stupid. I don’t mind my writing in these past entries – I thought I would cringe more. I tried too hard, but I like that I tried. I like that I have the record. There are scraps of records in private journals for the past 5 years, but nothing as complete as here. That’s too bad – so much happened. Or didn’t happen. I’m in the same place, married to the same person, working a different job, but settled into a routine that unnerves me.
Most of my writing here hit on my other obsession: my dual personality…the comfort-seeker and the risk-taker. Many times in those entries I have this vision of hitting an age (usually 30? well, we’ve flown past that one), and my two halves getting neatly stitched together. Well, they are not. I’m still both, but it’s not romantic any more, is the only change. And I’ve made some peace with it: I still shrug on the dresses and the hair and drink whiskey at my favorite bars. In fact, I do this more often than I did in my 20s, which makes the whole routine much more relaxed. But after a few nights of that, I come home and hermit until I’m filled up again. It’s not that big of a thing. It becomes a thing when I dream of bigger adventures that I’m too scared to go after and after 30, this becomes sharper, more dire. So I substitute weekday evenings in Minneapolis, MN at my version of Cheers. It helps, a little, until I can’t sleep at night because I feel like I should be doing more. More what, though?
Here we are, July 5, 2013. I’ll probably redirect the site again soon, but it was fun to revisit. Maybe I’ll keep writing. But probably not. I don’t have much of a heart any more, something I didn’t want to happen as I got older, but I don’t know how you avoid it. I am all steel gut. But there’s an advantage to this.
Here lies zosiablue.com, a website journal born 1996. Since the advent of micro-blogging and a growing need to keep private, I haven’t written anything here in ages. My writing these days – what there is of it – is under lock & key — my last, desperate attempt to pretend that internet is its own lonely, murmery planet at the end of a very loud galaxy.
The internet has since moved to flashier things, but my internet needs have stayed simple. I’m sure I’ll still write here once a year. I’m going to keep a public blog for professional reasons at myrealname.com. (You need to know my real name to go there. It’s OK if you don’t know it. I don’t have many interesting professional things to say.)
Anyway, I was setting up my other website & felt like checking in here. It reminds me of where I started & all that crap, though knowing where I started is far less useful than I thought it would be. I’m not sure I care I was a 16-year-old who wrote a bunch online once and that I’m now a 29-year-old who can barely spit out a one-liner for Twitter.
The technology has gotten cooler, but I haven’t. But as many times as I try to flee the internet, I can’t. So…
I loved winter as a kid. I grew up in Germany, where there was occasional snow and Virginia, where there was a dusting every few years. I picked exotic places like North Dakota and Alaska for history reports, and I had a silly video program called “Snow Watch” I staged every Christmas with my old camera and an unused door across cement planks for a news desk. Snow was the thing to hope for; the thing that made everything different.
Weather of my childhood was plain and mild, with no real blips and the idea of living somewhere where CRAZY SHIT fell from the SKY thrilled me.
I’m going on my tenth winter in Minnesota, where it snows four months out of the year. I didn’t move here because of the snow; in fact, I don’t think Minnesota’s snow registered when I bought my plane ticket.
But here I am, land of snow. I just spent 25 minutes in the windy, sub-zero temperatures brushing off my car. I can never reach the roof, so my car is mohawked until the sun dries it up. I started my car, then ran back in the house, my boots soaked, my once-pink coat white and brown, and I wished for sun and heat. Sun watch!
I want to love winter like I used to. Of course I do. I loved the idea of snow, Christmas Eve, being pulled in a sled by my best friend’s father (now dead 17 years of pancreatic cancer), searching half-heartedly for gloves lost in a drift and drinking cheap vodka in a dorm room in Duluth.
(Those people I drank cheap vodka with — they’re married off and their kids run around now, which is how it goes and I don’t care about nostalgia like I used to.)
But ————- this Christmas morning, I made a list of my friends’ children. Just the names. We went from just each other, then we had babies, and these babies have names, and I listed the names and connected them with lines to their parents. Left blank spaces for the kids to come. One next to my name! (This isn’t an announcement. It’s a what-if.)
I’d been looking at photos of one of the kids, a daughter, who looked so much like her father, that I felt uncomfortable. A clumsy spacewoman, unobserved.
On my first day in Minnesota, my mom and I ate in the top floor of a downtown hotel. The restaurant was posh and rotated in a lazy circle. The snow was heavy because it was January and we were high above the equator. It was the Year 2000. Nothing exploded. I’d convinced myself we would will into being the meltdowns and explosions and apocalypse just by believing it would happen. I did not stockpile water or vitamins or whatever it is you stockpile in emergencies. I’d just bought a ticket to Minnesota and stepped on a plane and landed there. It was my 19th birthday, and my mom bought me a glass of white wine and we twirled in this crazy restaurant while the snow piled below us.
Imagine all those things to come! All the things I didn’t know about! Nothing special.
Snow watch! Breaking news! This is Zosia Blue reporting live. Willed into existence.
It had only been a few days since Chris had cut off contact for good. I remember the smells. The smells! The ammonia in my hair from the brown dye, the hospital smell of the ointment I had to put on my tattoos, the copper nervousness of my anxious German Shepherd who drove us both crazy with her pacing and her constant whimpering. She would circle the house at night, moaning and neither of us slept. In the mornings I sat at a table at Ginkgo and wrote letters on a yellow legal pad, and there were smells there, too – dusty ancient shop smells, the sweet cream of the Thai coffee, the buttery old croissant I ordered each day and ate exactly half of. I did not eat then and my bones were everywhere.
I remember the not eating: I drank coffee and I ate the stale croissant and then I would eat a piece of bread before bed. I had no interest in food, which I understood was a sign of depression, but I’d been depressed before and had never lost my appetite. It fascinated me, and the part of me that wasn’t destroyed examined this scientifically. I recorded my calories on a program on my computer. 500 in every day. Much more out because I walked miles with my dog, in circles around the neighborhood in the cold. It was fall and the air was cold and clean, like white sheets just slept in.
She was anxious, jumpy and prone to whining if she didn’t get a walk, so we walked through the leaves, past the houses with the Obama signs, past the elementary school with the loud kids, through the park that had stone tablets informing you of all the tree and flowers names in the garden and back to my house, which was empty and boxed up in anticipation of a move. My coat was blue and from the thrift store and the zipper was broken. My mouth smelled like old tears because I was crying a lot, and I smelled like my dad (flannel shirts and Listerine), who was visiting because he was worried about me. I don’t remember what I was doing during the day besides going to Ginkgo and walking my dog and crying. I was working, but I worked from home and my life had narrowed to a very dark tunnel of events
My bed was stuffed in a corner. I’d rearranged the room when he left, had moved furniture eight times my size out of sheer will. Everything was a mess; cleaning up seemed stupid when it wasn’t my home anymore. I don’t remember what I wore to bed. I don’t remember how I slept. But I did, sometimes. I slept a lot. Or I didn’t sleep at all…
At one point my dad made a burgundy beef stew – from scratch, no recipe – and it lingered on the stove all day. He was a wonderful cook, though he didn’t cook much. I came home from a meeting and sat at the dining room table, and he put the stew in front of me and I ate it all. It was the best thing I’d ever tasted and it swirled around in my mouth hot and salty and I swallowed every single bite. And the next day I looked for apartments.
What I thought I would remember from this would be my interactions with Chris, how insane they were – truly twisted and chaotic and permanently damaging to us. But I only remember the times when I was alone and gritty, not the times when I was panicked and hysterical. I remember the times when I was stone, steeling myself as if holding a coat closed against a cold wind. The nights when I walked the dog in circles, when I drank that coffee, when I wrote those letters, when I sat in the same coffee shop at closing, ordering soup I didn’t eat, applying for jobs in California. The baristas knew me by name, they were used to the bony brunette with the yellow paper half-weeping in the corner over her Thai coffee. I still go to that coffee shop, though I’ve long since moved away. My hair is long and naturally red again, and I’ve put on more weight than I lost before. My order is the same, but they don’t recognize me and I’m grateful.
Cathedral Hill in St. Paul is where F. Scott wrote his novels, and where he and Zelda smashed up shit like rich hoodlums. The buildings are antique, bronzed, and not much taller than the trees. There’s lot of trees. And there’s the cathedral which sits sideways, watching over the city like a benevolent monster. Depending on the luster of your soul, it inspires comfort or terror, and for us half-breeds, both.
I parked my car at the top of the hill, got out, still shaky from not eating for a week. It’s amazing that I survived on coffee, bread and broth for so long, but it’s all my stomach would take. You might be the same way, but my stomach’s an emotional barometer, and nothing was going in or coming out that week. I had 10 minutes before my appointment, so I walked around, dizzy to the point where I thought I might pass out on the street. There were enough people around to witness my fall, and this is Minnesota, people call ambulances for strangers. And maybe I wouldn’t be a stranger, for long. Maybe this would be my new digs: a place to write my novels, to recover. How beautiful the first snow would be on the cathedral; I’d walk there each day. I’d light a candle. I’d start smoking, and track the streets like a ropey beast. Romantic!
Romantic on paper. Not in real life. There is nothing romantic about a broken heart; there’s really, really not. It’s romantic after it’s done, and it’s romantic when it happens to other people, fictional other people, but in the end, it’s about as romantic as a broken toe, and just as fixable.
The property manager was what we called a Wayzata Housewife: rich blonde highlights, starched shirts, caked make-up, sparkly ears. She was on the phone and motioned for me to come over. The office was sparse, and decorated like the Moulin Rouge, which I tried to take as a good sign, ah, yes, HOME!, but instead I slumped in a chair. She had two senior portraits of her equally blonde daughter facing out. The daughter had a horsey-smile and what we would call a softball-player face, and I looked away.
I knew exactly what I looked like, but didn’t have the energy to apologize: dull auburn hair (dyed last week), chipped black nail polish, untied sneakers with no socks and jeans that were falling off my hips. My face, Halloween-colored. There might’ve been a time when I wanted to look like this, when I would’ve cultivated the look of a kidnapped child locked in a closet for seventeen years, but that morning I’d spent more minutes that I wanted to admit spackling my face in a desperate hopefulness.
We were on the street, walking into the sun, talking about the weather. She walked fast; I did not. I didn’t know everything slowed down, you know? And soon we were in an apartment, and it was quaint and small and pretty, and I nodded and made tiny bird noises about it, and then suddenly we were in the laundry room, which was cemented and spidery and had rows and rows of industrial machines, and my stomach took this moment to thump against whatever inner wall surrounds it: OH HELL NO, said my stomach, and I put my face into my coat to keep from gagging.
There was an idea, of course, that if I left our house, if I moved into my own place, some cute, sparse studio with the cats – where I would write! I’d write like Scott and wail like Zelda! – that I’d feel better. Just get out of that house, everyone said. That house is suffocating you! You can’t live there alone like the last pea in the can. And of course, because I am this person, this imaginative, deathly hopeful ingenue, I thought – well, if there’s a change of venue, if he sees Writer Me in my adorable apartment overlooking the church, well, maybe then he’ll…
The next apartment was fine. Then we got in a car and drove down the street and she asked in a distracted, bright voice, “Doing anything fun today?” And I blurted out why I was looking at apartments, which was not the correct answer to her question, and she, like any stranger who’s had a three-ton unsolicited confidence hoisted on her, mumbled something, and kept driving. And the next apartment was fine, too, next door to the cathedral, really beautiful, actually, but then she showed me the “fitness room” which was a treadmill stuffed in a basement corner, lit by a single bulb swaying on a chain, and I could not shake the idea of, this is where lonely people live, this where single people live, this is where ____ people live. And I thought of our home, my home, which was sticky with memory, every corner, every inch of wall, but there was the noun of it: home.
She knew I wasn’t going to take it. Didn’t even hand me a card. Driving down the hill, my ribs aching, I called my dad, who’s been visiting for the week. He was at my home, watching the football game. “Let’s get pie,” I said, and told him I’d be there in 10 minutes. I stopped on the side of the road to cry a little, because I do this lately, this crying thing and I wondered how Chris was doing, and where he was, and what he was thinking, and I remembered that Zelda died in a fire and Scott died of a heart attack, and thought, OK, maybe we’re better off, maybe this is all for the best. But we aren’t fiction, which has always been the problem.
We go one by one to see the psychic. It’s a hot Sunday, and the seven of us sit fanning ourselves on the back porch, eating strawberries and cucumber sandwiches. I am curled in a corner of the couch, observing, which they’re letting me do, and I’m grateful for the stillness. I’ve been talking too much lately. I’ve been giving too much of myself away. It’s made me sensitive as hell.
This house is Maggie’s – dramatic Maggie the Cat, in rivers of fabric, who switches accents every few sentences. Her hands fly around her face like she’s lifting a veil. She leans into you when you speak. She says she’s practicing her empathy. Her shirt drifts towards her navel, and her teenage daughter hands her a sweater.
The psychic is Della. When it’s my turn, I creep into the porch and Della takes my hands. Della has short red hair and the stretched white forehead of a woman who always remembers to wash her face before bed. I am not that woman. Is she going to know this? I’ve taken off my wedding ring, walked gracefully into the room like someone whose inner life resembles a temple. I want to throw her off.
I ask Della my question. I realize later it wasn’t the question I really wanted to ask, but maybe she knew that. (Psychic, right?) She says, so simple! We’ll fix you now! She kneels and puts her hands on my feet. I admit it: I feel something. There’s a sizzling in her fingers, and my entire body feels like a bruised funnybone. She tames me. She finishes with jazz hands. Flair! I am saved. Is this what religion feels like? She says I’ll feel a fullness in my stomach now that schism in my – soul? – is repaired. Well, OK. I go back. I eat cake and mint tea and I slowly burn my shoulders in the afternoon heat. Maggie the Cat talks about Buddhists, astrology, facials, fucking.
At home I read an article about an undiscovered Amazon tribe. Well, they’re discovered now. Of course I draw an analogy. Here is what I think I want: I want to be a lost tribe. I want to be left alone for a while, but only with the knowledge that I’ll eventually be found. It’s the finding I want. Oh, that finding. I chase it. To be sitting on the edge of some dingy river, singing songs in a language only I understand, and then to see the anthropologist’s face in the brush. We will fall in love, this anthropologist and I! What a great love it will be, me the undiscovered tribe and he who discovered. But I bet it’s exhausting being discovered all the time. And I bet the novelty wears off for the finder. Still…
I believed it, you know. I believed that all it took was for a woman with beautiful skin to put her electric hands on my feet.
I spent an hour trying to write this. I know what I want to say, and it’s not all that different from what I always say, but I’m stuttering tonight. Here was my introduction:
“I like those moments where everything converges, and suddenly you’re OK. Maybe you were not OK that morning: your neighbor chainsawed the shit out of something at 6 AM, and then you tripped down the porch stairs and broke your face. And, fuck, you’ve been crabby this week. No one’s been immune. And you know that habit you have of losing your wallet and spilling your drink? Somehow you did that to your entire life these past few months, though the chaos didn’t come from an unhappy place.
But while you’re saner and healthier than you’ve been in your entire life, everything still isn’t OK. Growing pains. Disorganization. Something. So you spend a lot evenings feeling like you have a concussion, or like you stepped on the wrong train and didn’t realize until you were halfway to Delaware. It’s not the deep terror and despair of evenings past; it’s a subtle confusion. Like waking up from surgery. You’re safe. You’re fine. But what just happened?”
But then I got stuck. I mean, I didn’t get stuck. I knew exactly what I was going to say, but I got embarrassed. I sensed misinterpretation. It’s just this: I was going to tell you about a moment where I felt that OK-convergence, and how it was a little like being in love, but not the type of love you’re thinking of. Not a romantic love, though close. Not platonic. What to call it?
It’s the type of love I feel when I get dizzy with OKness and I’m not afraid to die. When my blood runs faster, and my eyes focus, and I want to kiss you, but I don’t want things to get weird. Won’t things get weird? You don’t have to do anything with my love. It’s not a chain. It’s me saying: I’ve seen you to the bones, into the marrow, past all the gross pathology we don’t understand, excavated that place the skeleton protects. It’s my way of telling you that I’ll hold that place; that you don’t need to be embarrassed. You don’t have to call me. You don’t have to hold me back. I’m not asking for your fidelity, here.
It’s when I asked for the last bite of his cupcake, and he gave it to me, shoved it in my mouth after we ran down the steep hill at the Witch Hat Tower. When she and I had to walk around the building in the rain because we were laughing too loudly to be in the office. When I drank too much good bourbon and she got me a glass of water. When he turned bright red when we teased him about how funny his voice would sound if he said “I love you” to a girl. When he stood awkwardly over me by the jukebox at the show, trying to say to hello but failing. All these things! More things. Endless things.
I see you across the room, shifting inside yourself, preparing layer upon layer of body and face, and I want to take you to a quiet room. I have always loved too much; it’s made me awkward and cold because I have to play it cool. But sometimes they can tell. I want you to be able to tell. I’m old enough where I’m not as afraid of exposure. Just let me do this one thing, this reaching into your soft and spoiled parts so I can feel less afraid about my own.
You’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to link to a song to go with this post. You’ve probably heard it. And it’s not going to be cool. But it describes what I’m saying, you know? Here.
I wanted to give you the truest thing I could say about you. I wanted to grind your essence into a single substance, like sediment into countries. You are off walking somewhere tonight, smoking. You – smoking! One time, when we were babies (21), I smoked outside with your roommate on the porch. You caught me, chased me inside, tackled me on the carpet to rub detergent into my mouth. (Later, we made awful food – pizza rolls dipped in peanut sauce? – and then nearly broke your bed frame.)
There are many true things about you: you are kind. You are thin. You are strong with ropey muscles. You have a beautiful singing voice. A stunning ear for melody. For a bony guy, you give great hugs. You don’t speak badly of anyone. You laugh loudly with your head thrown back, and you never laugh if you don’t mean it. You are particular about your clothes: if they stay in the dryer past three minutes, you re-dry them and wait in the room for the buzzer.
You always wear socks. Your feet are baby-soft, but your fingertips are so calloused you could stick syringes straight though. (But I won’t, because this would make you squeamish. A lot of things make you squeamish.) You love chocolate, romantic comedies, your cat Phoebe and baby animals. (I tease you about being a teenage girl.)
These are not the truest things. I keep searching for an anecdote, a memory to illustrate what I know about you. Maybe when you get to a certain point, there aren’t words for what you know about a person. You like black coffee. Your favorite number is 25. You like stars. You like the way the back of my neck smells. When you wash your hair and then sleep on it, you call yourself a Lego Man. When you drink too much coffee, you say you’re getting loony. When you have one beer, you lean into me and tell me you love me. You love red wine and good cheese and watching movies at 2 AM. You stay up too late. Nothing about morning appeals to you. And that smile! The smile.
You are the most fragile person I know, and yet you’re Antarctica. Far-away and locked. I can never get to you. I’ve never been there.
I’ve written about you so much and here we are, at the end, on your 27th birthday, and I can’t think of anything else to say. I feel it, of course. I feel whatever that thing is you feel, that angioplastic sensation below my sternum. Those weepy tectonic plates coming to confrontation under the fault lines of my ribs.
It’s funny: everyone I meet, who hasn’t met you, loves you. They root for you. I must talk about you a certain way; I must say your name in a revealing tone that describes what I’m trying to say here. You’re lovable, to even the people who only know you, through me.
This morning I heard you talking on the phone. I was half-asleep, sick with a cold, in the other room. Your voice was deep and lilting and I didn’t recognize it.
You are the type of person who makes all risks worth it. And I don’t mean just my risks. Everyone who meets you wants to risk something for you. Is that the truest thing I can say about you? I doubt it. But the truest thing I can say to you is: it was all worth it, every bit, every fucking second, every baby step and fall-behind.
You are the most interesting person I’ve ever met. There it is, the truth. My favorite truth to give. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the best one I have. And I want to give you my best. We all do.
I wish I could reach you. Instead I’ll just continue to fly by your continent, dropping this letter (my heart) in the storm, hoping one day you’ll look up and see it fluttering towards you.
Happy birthday. You make me write corny shit like this.
There’s two of me. Never been a secret. Along with my dippy nostalgia and my overattention to detail, this is what I write about. What I can say differently, by now? I’m told it’s OK to be divided, that everyone’s divided, but listen: rarely are the divisions so equal. Rarely do they refuse reconciliation.
I’m a hedonist. Selectively. (See? We start already.) I want scotch, and I want it now, in a cold lowball. I want to drink until it’s OK to be me. Then I want to disappear into the crowd. Stalk a warm body. But not anyone. I don’t want strangers. Unappealing. I want someone I’ve studied, but don’t understand, and I want carnal research. I want it so badly that I will drop my entire life for the moment.
The Moment. You know what I mean. Before the scotch and the low-cut dresses and perfumey hair, there’s sitting in an office, sorting mail. In a classroom, taking notes. In an apartment, across a room. I time it well. It’s an art, the affair. I will wait it out as long it takes. I will wait until he believes it’s his idea. I’ll make him come to me. Then -
This doesn’t describe it. I can’t describe it. I’m trying to explain a wildness that isn’t genuine. I don’t want drugs. I don’t want much drunk. I don’t want blind sex. I don’t want to go to Argentina. I don’t want to smash things or people. I want it quiet. I want it suppressed. I want it to converge explosively, then go away.
Let me describe the other part. This is simple: I want someone to come home to. The same person. I want an orderly home, the same home. I want to be an island, with one other inhabitant. I want to see no one except my husband and lock ourselves away with the animals, watch sixteen episodes of a trashy TV show. I want to plant my vegetable garden.
Wake up slowly each morning, open a window, brew coffee, walk the dog around the trainyard, putter, go to work, come home, light a candle, make dinner, slouch into each other on the couch, make lazy weekend plans and then break them, go for Sunday walks, spend weekends at the cabin, love only each other. Love only him. I want this. I want this! Not boring. Interesting in its own right. Fulfilling with a grown-up depth.
Doesn’t describe it, either! Help me out here. I assume everyone has these parts – the spinster noir, the comfortable rock. When you’re young, you try both. Or one. Then you settle into another. The point is, you choose. You make camp or you keep moving. But I can’t do either. Oh, I’ve tried. Tried, tried, tried. Other people and the whiskey burn and the way I feel in a short dress with my hair over my eyes is too interesting to give up. Too vital for my heart. Keeps the horrible existential desperation on its leash.
Without it, I’d go mad. I know this, because I have. Gone mad. The only way to never go there again is to keep moving, and find zen within the movement. But what about the camp? What about the end of the day when all I want is to rest my head? People want too much, sometimes. Sometimes the interestingness turns cheap. What then?
There is a moment before I leave the house when I’m at the bottom of the stairs. My shoes are half-on. I smell like a woman in a dress like this smells. There are things in my hand: cellphone, purse, keys, money, directions. Upstairs there’s a light on in the bedroom, and a bed with a white blanket. Each time – each time! – I have to decide. Sometimes I kick off the heels and go upstairs. Sometimes I lock the door and start the car. But I always, always want both. There has never been a moment where I haven’t. I want life to love me, and I want it to leave me alone.
The older I get, the more I realize I have to choose. It’s easy to choose when you don’t already have camp, but I do. I stay stagnant between the tent and the fields, waiting to be kicked out or called in. I don’t resist the call. But I stay close enough so I can see home.
We live in nomadic times. No more metaphors. I’ve said enough. I want, I want, I want. But only on my terms. Sometimes I meet people like me. Uneasy adventurers. We know each other immediately. We acknowledge the signs. We’re usually terrible for each other. No comfort at all except recognition: we are screwed, this lot. We will never be happy. We will never fit into our skin. But we will have stories. Ask Bukowksi. Ask Fitzgerald. Dead writers. Unhappy and alone. But engaged, and conscious, and interested, I think. Was it worth it? Is it worth it? What a risk, all this. All this, and you.
I last drove on a highway in June 2002.
I was in Hopkins that summer. I’d run away from Duluth for a few months to get my head together after a bruisy spring in which I managed to destroy my relationship and my theatre career in one punch. I was falling in love with Chris, but my old relationship (Erik) was still around, and I vacillated between the two for a while. I lived in the muggy basement of a house owned by a sweet new-agey woman I’d met through Erik. She was loyal to him. She didn’t like Chris coming over, so he crawled through the storm window. (I’ve talked about this before.) I was taking sedatives, but my freckles were out for the summer and I went places. Everything was OK, until it wasn’t.
Anyway, I was driving back from seeing Erik in Duluth. I was racing a dude in sunglasses from Florida when I reached over to grab my directions. My car went across three lanes of traffic – during rush hour! – and ended tilted in a ditch. I lived, somehow. Thirty minutes later, still shaky, a girl slammed into me under the 11th Street bridge. Then another girl slammed into her. When I opened my door, my knees were water and I fell. The highway did not cause these accidents, but combined with the heat and disorientation of the summer, a phobia developed: I drove on the highway once more, to move back, but I never drove on it again.
I learned backroads, or I didn’t go at all. Embarrassed, I made up excuses about my car, or my health, and I canceled plans because I didn’t want to ask my friends for one more ride, especially since I lived out in the suburbs (Richfield, then Saint Louis Park). I missed concerts, parties, weddings, work meetings, school events, dates and fantastic adventures. I trapped myself, for a while, though I never knew if the driving got me, or if I used it as a crutch. Either way, I did not drive on a highway. Not once, for six years.
So this Saturday it was raining and dark and late. I was tired and maybe a little weepy. I felt defeated and brave because of life’s latest fluctuations (self-caused, really), and so I took a turn and I was on the highway. I did not die. My car did not explode. My brain did not immediately morph into one of those plasma balls you see at the science museum. I just drove. I did it because I had to, and I did it out of a kind of love, or what I thought was the end of love. And then the next day, I did it again. And then again.
We know how I make decisions: they seem impulsive, but I’ve been quietly planning for months. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m planning. My bravery follows the same line. I am afraid, for years. I am afraid, for minutes. And then I’m not afraid at all, and I step into the road. Easy enough.
My brother finds a newborn kitten in my parents’ shed, so young it still has the umbilical cord attached. He takes it inside, places it in a basket over a heating pad and calls the vet. For two days, every few hours, he feeds it kitten formula through a syringe. I ask my mom if they’re going to keep it – the house is, as always, full of crazy dogs. Of course, is the answer. It was in our backyard, wasn’t it? Like mother like daughter. They name it Skipper, after a cat my brother had as teenager. On the third morning, it doesn’t wake up. My brother – who tries so hard and earnestly for a better life – is devastated. They don’t know if it was a boy or girl.
At the party in the penthouse suite, Coco and I are in the bathtub. No water. Guys drift in and out, staring at us like we’re caged, shouting to friends about the two chicks in the tub. There’s a TV next to the toilet playing some crime show. A tall blonde woman walks in, looks at us. Disapproves.
There’s an AA meeting at the table next to us at the Mexican restaurant. It’s 2 AM and they’re arguing loudly about who’s the most legitimate alcoholic. At the chain restaurant on Grand days later, a pastor across the room lectures his daughter about “how the universe works.” At brunch on the weekend we’re bookended by strange-looking people holding babies. We start to feel like actors are following us everywhere we go.
In the lobby we’re eating pizza by a gas fireplace. I’m wearing a blue dress and I’m not in the mood to be there. There’s a video on the wall that looks like a still picture but just turns out to be actors holding very still on film. Ken comes out of the elevator, bounces over to say goodbye to us. The party must be over. His friends tug on his coat. He’s been hard to wrangle all night. He shakes our hands, allows his friends to take him. On the way out, he shoves a cigarette in his mouth and leans over into the fire to light it.
He guides my back as we walk a series of staircases and hallways. It’s an apartment building that looks and smells like a hotel (sterile). I intuitively turn the wrong direction each time, but he manipulates me like a magician performing a coin trick. I’m suddenly turned around, and dizzy on the staircase. But this has always been my life: spatially disorienting. But I’ll go where you tell me, if you catch me in the time of year when I’m ready to be taken: in between seasons, half-asleep and sweet.
Photo by Coco
1. A flask of blackstrap rum spilling down my face and black dress in the fancy bathroom of an upscale restaurant as I wait for Coco to take the photo.
2. Singing obnoxiously in a whiskey bluster with Chris as Rick belts out Hey, Jude on stage. Abbey, seven months pregnant, feels her baby kick when her husband, the drummer, starts the na na na na nas into the mic.
3. Half-sleeping in the backseat of the car after lunch, the sun hot on my face, the guitar solo from Freebird blasting.
4. Ravenously eating string cheese as we – the office girls – walk back from the gas station, giggling about the weekend and swearing we need to get our lives together before it’s too late. But not really meaning it.
5. Running across the backyard with my dog in shoes that give me blisters, a warm rain running down my arms, feeling an achy type of joy unheard of sober.
I’ve never mastered the art of belonging. As I see it, to be a good friend or partner or daughter, you have to let people own you a little. Your sister has her own idea of who you are, and what your obligations are to her, and it’s OK because she’s family. The box she’s got you in and the things she wants from you don’t seem like a burden because it’s just what you do: you change, a little, around each person who has a stake in you, and sometimes you do boring or difficult tasks because there’s a love there. We’re all supposed to do it, and mostly we don’t notice – the obligations are a low, everyday hum that only annoy when they get too loud or uneven.
My problem is that I’ve never been able to let people own me, even in this completely acceptable, necessary, everyday way. It is not a rebellion and it’s not all that interesting, but it’s a truth I thought would fade as I aged. I’ve been wrong: the older I get, the more I pull and resist, and I cause cold wars. Some friendships suffer; the ones that don’t are those people who have made peace with my solitary brattiness, but at a cost. I want to love you and comfort you and care for you, but only in emergencies. When it comes to daily friendships – coffee, shopping, movies, dinner – I drag my feet, make excuses. Cancel. Hope you understand.
Of course, it’s more than just this weird Almasy ownership issue – I’m awkward; I’m shy; I’ve taken that junior high gut-wrenching longing for you to like me, and buried it so deep that I turn silent and flighty when sober; into an oversharer when drunk who goes home and vows not to see anyone for two weeks, a vow I usually keep. After a four-drink night, I feel like I’ve given too much away or allowed people to believe they have a control or authority over me that they don’t. I want to call them up in the morning and say, you don’t know anything about me! You only know what I give to you! I have complete control over my own spin!
I want control over my own spin, is the issue. If I own my news cycle, then no one owns me. But this only applies to people I only half-know.
For the people I know-know – husband, best friend, parents – the righteousness I feel with strangers turns to guilt. Why do I always want to do what I want? Why don’t I defer? Why don’t I just do what I’m supposed to do, what people expect and desire? I compromise, a lot. I think those compromises keep me from falling off the edge of the world, and I’ve made peace with them. But I compromise less than most people.
There’s a way to romanticize this – free spirit! path less traveled? marching to my own drummer? But is there anything particularly romantic about letting people down?
I wanted to make a manifesto for myself today, but I couldn’t figure out the purpose in posting it publically. And what it would say? I’m my own person, and no one can claim me? Good for me, right. There were going to be some lines about treating every person I know with dignity, whether they’re in the room or not. Sometimes I feel like I sell out people for entertainment, or to be liked, but that’s an aside. But maybe not – if I don’t want to be owned, does that mean I don’t want to own anyone else, either?
I do. I collect pieces of people like jewels. I get a heat in my stomach like joy or sex when people confide in me; it makes me feel better, more connected, more in love with everyone. But I just want to collect.
Anyway, here’s a poem:
there is always that space there
just before they get to us
that fine relaxer
flopping on a bed
thinking of nothing
pouring a glass of water from the
while entranced by
just to scratch your neck
while looking out the window at
a bare branch
before they get to us
when they do
get it all
I have trouble with ambition and the minutia involved because I’m too interested in sitting in the backyard with my new 80-pound, 8-year-old German Shepherd. She runs along the fence with the neighbor dog, bowing down and barking when Neighbor Dog sticks her nose through the slats.
There’s homework, but first I need to drink this coffee (so good!) and look up what aristolochia means because I heard it on a West Wing episode.
I’m working on a senate campaign and the to-do list is endless, but there’s my old, dear friend drinking a beer on the stairs, taking a break from the poker table running in our dining room. His wife – my best friend! – is almost five months pregnant, and he’s a little drunk, but his giddiness is real.
I have to research for a class, and maybe I should be putting in extra hours at the office so I can fuel any back-end political hopes I might have, but Chris’s favorite hoodie is missing, and I need to excavate the basement to find it. In the basement there’s a drum kit and an organ we found by the dumpster, and I need to play both, just for a few minutes.
Now it’s not like this is ADD, and it’s not like this always makes me happy. I’m a little tortured by the lack of focus and the sensory overload, and it can make me crazy, and it can push me so far in my head that I don’t come out for weeks, but I’m learning to accept something.
I wanted to be president when I was young. Or an astronaut, or actress, or writer. The last two, maybe doable. The first two: I will never be president. There is a pine green house behind my garage I never noticed, and now I’m thinking about its contrast with the snow, and I am not an intentional flake and I’m not some dippy solipsist, but I’m stuck on this house, on its half-open window, on the rusty grill waiting at the back door. Forgotten for winter.
I am a woman who spoils animals, who worries for their care and takes the privilege of sustaining a life seriously, and tenderly. I am a woman who is comforted by the scars on her husband’s face and the smell of the firewood on the front porch. I taste too strongly; I can barely tolerate a hug with bare arms because my nerves are tripled, and constantly singing. I’m annoyed with everything that I don’t feel in my gut, and so I’m rarely annoyed. But this is the main show for me: everything else is done as an afterthought, an “if I must.” And, mostly, I must, and I do. But still…
A friend mused that she was disturbed because she couldn’t figure out her passion – she liked people and their stories and listening to interviews on NPR about people’s stories. What kind of passion is that? she wondered. What do you do with something like this? You chant. It is OK to be who you are; it is OK to be who you are not; it is OK to be nothing at all but a pair of eyes and a sheet of hymnal skin.
Guess I’m going use to Tumblr for the stuff I think about in the shower and the car. Story ideas, maybe. Anyway.
We’re at an antique store. Chris pulls me to a jewelry case and points out a heart-shaped prism on a silver chain, tucked in the back. He loves the colors and thick weight of old jewelry, the way it seems dug-up and haunted. I don’t wear jewelry, so I never think to look for it. The necklace is similar to an Austrian crystal pendant my father gave me as a kid, and I smile. We leave the case, walk through the rest of the store. On the way out, I tell him I’m going to buy the necklace. There’s something about it, and I want it, even if it’ll just sit in a jar on my desk. Chris says, no, no, no, let me buy it for you, and he leaves to find the owner to unlock the case. This is unusual – we rarely give gifts, and he’s never given me jewelry because what would I do with it?
Suddenly, I know I’ll wear this necklace. I won’t stop wearing it. It’ll hang under my shirts, just below the hollow of my neck and my heart will pulse it gently against my sternum, and when I touch it, it’ll be hot and grooved like salt. I won’t even take it off to shower. I leave. I hide behind a rack of clothes. I can’t watch him point to the box. He’ll chatter nervously, because he does, and there’s something too tender about this very casual act of buying a necklace for his wife.
On the sidewalk, I open the case and put it on. It glows, like I thought it would. We hold hands as we walk to the car. I’m not a hand-holder; it makes me feel tethered, but today I’m willing to be taken. He is a lover, an affectionate ingenue who wanted to put the necklace on for me, but knew better.
Our love is over, as we know it. Every day, it’s over as we know it.
I’m taking old entries and re-writing them as I remember them now. What do you think? Good plan? I’m starting with this one, written March 1998.
I was 17 years old, and dating my first love, Nick. He was thin and big-lipped, bi-sexual and flamboyant, loud and vicious and inexplicably popular in my Southern hometown. Geoffrey was our best friend, an ambiguous blonde biology genius, unpredictable and nearly sociopathic in his lack of emotion. He lived in an old haunted house on a set of train tracks, with his Scottish father and short, crass mother. We loved his family and his house and stayed there whenever we could.
Betsy was Geoffrey’s on/off girlfriend. I didn’t like her, and she didn’t like me, though we’ve long since resolved any weirdness between us. She was one of us – dramatic and dark and out of phase. Ryan was my friend, new to the neighborhood – a poet, tortured, prone to sadness and misunderstandings. In fact, I could’ve used the same adjectives to describe all of us, though Nick stood out, of course. We walked in his shadow, stepped carefully because we knew he didn’t need us. We needed him, especially me. I loved him so much I spent nights in anxious sweats, dreaming of him leaving me or dying in a car crash. Mostly him leaving me. I kept a tight grip. I didn’t know any better.
That day, Betsy was shooting a film for her theatre class. We were camped out in Geoffrey’s dusty living room and had costumes from somewhere (stolen from the drama closet at school?). We got dressed in front of each other. Ryan didn’t participate, and sat in a corner, flipping through coffee table books, pouting. Nick and I danced together in front of a sunny picture window, spinning and spinning, my pink skirt flying over my head. We filmed for hours, until the light was gone and Ryan had sequestered himself in a bedroom to undoubtedly write poetry about how much he hated us. Geoffrey was slinking up against Betsy in that way he had, unashamed and dismissive of reaction.
We rushed upstairs to a TV, and put in the tape. Nick and I sat closest. We were vain; we loved pictures of ourselves. We wanted to be Scott and Zelda, but we weren’t bold enough, though Nick was held back by circumstance, not potential. Nick went on to live in Brooklyn and dive unapologetically into a buzzy, hedonistic, druggy lifestyle. I, of course, moved to Duluth, Minnesota.
Betsy’s tape was blank. We rewound it, blew on it, cleaned the VCR and scolded, but the tape stayed erased. Stunned, Betsy cried and then ran out of the door. The whole afternoon, wasted! We found Ryan on the porch, staring at a passing train, notebook in hand. We shrugged, hugged Geoffrey, grabbed Ryan and piled into my old car. It was spring, and I didn’t have allergies yet. I drove home in my pink tutu, with no shoes, the windows open and breezy, the tape already forgotten. We went back to Geoffrey’s later, for dinner and to sit in the rain by the crepe myrtle.
Finally home, my mom didn’t ask what I was wearing or why I was soaked. I didn’t drink and I didn’t sneak out, but I did come in weird clothes, smelling of mud and the massage oils from Geoffrey’s mother’s parlor. This was expected. That night, as was usual, Nick and I talked on the phone until bedtime. I slept hard with my windows open, my tutu crumpled on the floor.
My ex and I meet – coffee shop, his club, my house, once – inexplicably – The Sharper Image – and we talk. Well – I talk. I catch him up on my life, and the best part is how he listens – he’s focused and smiling and kind and engaged. Really kind. Sometimes he touches my arm when I get to an emotional part, and at the end, we always hug and I leave lighter, that cloying ache I carry around temporarily dulled. Nothing else happens – no sex, no making out, no flirting even. I just talk and he listens and I can tell he’s interested and genuinely likes me.
This isn’t the case in real life with the ex. We haven’t spoken in depth in five years and in public, there’s an awkwardness that borders on arctic. I flap at him like a terrible beauty pageant contestant – stiff, fast, jittery, rehearsed. He talks to me like he’s still pissed. Which he is, I think.
But either way – the point is – what I’m saying here, is that when I think of the ex, I think of Duluth, and I begin to need it. That late June sunshine, streaming through the his recording studio, hitting the white flowered teacup I kept on the far window. Touching the back of his red neck and dark hair. The 4:00 sunshine, I called it and I watched for it.
One time, when the ex was out of town (we were almost over, but I missed him, anyway), I woke at 5 AM covered in a blood red sunrise. It reflected off the wall, onto my belly, slashed across my feet. I’d never seen the sunrise, not really and I was shocked into something big.
Later that evening, the ex came home and I hugged his big, reliable frame and we – what? What did we do? And how reliable was he, anyway?
Duluth is white and breezy in my memory, and the dark parts are covered in laughter and liquor and my long red hair (bobbed right before I left). Unreliable, I know. You know how old places work, especially the ones that broke your heart, but Duluth is the extra set of bones I carry around. New skin like algae grew around them but you don’t forget your bones.
And though he doesn’t like it – and who would – and though it’s inconvenient for both of us, the ex – Erik – giant, blue-eyed Erik, former swimmer – holds Duluth for me. You can’t talk to a lake and have it understand, so I talk to him, in dreams. I wake up wanting to see him, thinking we’re friends. I think about calling him. Instead, I call a hotel by the water in Duluth and make a reservation.
Hey, I turn 27 tomorrow. Here’s what I think about when I think of being 27: in the movie The Sweetest Thing, Cameron Diaz is trying on clothes. She cups her breasts and pushes them up. “22,” she says. Then she lets them fall. “27.”
No big speech. Let’s just say I’m better this year than I was the year before. And the year before that, too. Maybe even the year before THAT.
Here’s 27 pictures of me in chronological order. I like to see people age, so maybe you do, too. You can tell exactly when I started to hate my smile, and when I began to shy away from any photos I didn’t take myself. Interesting, those things you notice.
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My ulcer, or something like it, came back over my Christmas vacation. Turns out if you go from being a strict vegetarian who doesn’t eat sugar to a person who eats only cookies and beef, your digestive system is pretty much fucked. 99% of my co-workers are women, so, as stereotypes go, there’s food everywhere, especially chocolate. I’ve never liked chocolate. I’m one of those freaks who doesn’t like sweet stuff in general, but I picked up a nasty sweet tooth this past fall. Basically, if there’s food in front of me, I’ll eat it and there was cake and ice cream and cookies and candy in piles everywhere. Someone’s birthday? Ice cream in the lounge. Someone’s leaving? Cake in the mail room. Random Tuesday? Chocolate fondue in the deli. These are all real-life examples, I swear to God. One day, we had a seriously-for-real ice cream cart parked in the lobby.
So after two months of gluttony, I’m back to my old eating habits. Good while it lasted, and my stomach was only out of commission for a week in recovery. In other news, I’m actually leaving my job this month, for good reason. Look for Ulcer, Round Two at my going-away party.
This again! Might as well. It’s January, where all of my writing gets done because I make a resolution to write. Last January, I wrote nearly 30 unfinished stories, some a whopping two sentences long! This month, more of the same. Maybe. My New Year was spent running around with impending plans in a black dress and blue snake skin cowboy boots, only to exchange it all for pajamas and dancing in the office with Chris at midnight. Each year I try for that super-exciting champagne kissy New Year’s, and end up in my house doing the same old bit. Happy 2008! This year should be different from last year, if only we can hope.
My website is 10 years old this month. I started it on an AOL server when I was 16. Holy crap! I lost a ton of my archives when my parents canceled AOL, but some remain and are better left unread.
I was – is this the best way to put it? – a handful in high school. I was little and redheaded, a drama kid, a crier, shy as hell and horribly in love with my flamboyant boyfriend (who is now gay, working in fashion in New York and, if the sixteen MySpace photos of his ass are any indication, slowly losing his mind). I switched over to my own domain in 2001, but there’s no need to do a quick run-down of now and then. I’ve done that and done that. I can’t even think of anything cute or commemorative to do for this anniversary, so here’s a picture of me when I was 16:
I tried to find a comparable photo taken from this year, but I’ll just settle for a recent picture where I’m sitting on a stone fountain, looking surly:
I guess I don’t look all that different, but here’s what I see: fifteen more pounds, wrinkles between my eyes and on the corners of my nose, bigger pores, a harder mouth, more freckles. Did 16-year-old me anticipate this website still rolling, ten years later? Of course. I was a futurist. No matter how little I write lately, this site has been a constant. It’s been my thing, the one consistent and persistent part of my project-life.
Here’s an entry from nine years ago, which ends with the sentence: “I REALLY hope my life works out the way I want it to, because as of now, I have no backup plan. It’s either what I want or the streets, I tell ya.” I guess by “streets,” I meant married in Minnesota with two cats, working in financial aid. Teenage me would’ve equated that with living on the streets, anyway.
Happy birthday, website! Nice endurance, you.
Part One: The Rest, October 2001 – May 2003
Several months later, I fell in love with Chris, and Erik and I broke up for good. No one in the house was happy this, and the easiness from the summer dissipated. My last year at 419 has been well-documented. During a particularly dramatic argument, Erik ripped our bed from the frame and threw it in the basement, where he slept for the next year. I spent most of my time at Chris’s place on the west side, a cozy top duplex next to a Catholic church and a hospital. We fell asleep to bells and helicopters.
I slipped out of my house at 4 AM on weekdays and drove the snowy three miles to the duplex. Chris left the door unlocked for me, and I would pad into his dark room, where he would be asleep with the covers pulled back on my side of the bed. The church bells rang in the distance on the hour. It was the only time I slept. In the mornings, he would pack his schoolbag and guitar, and kiss me goodbye.
I only went to 419 when I had to. Erik and I lived together a year after the break-up, and anything beautiful about the house was gone when we were finished with each other. In my memories, the house that year was orange and overheated. Itchy. I didn’t buy groceries or go in the common areas. I sat in my room with the door closed, listening to music top volume. No one spoke to me. I entered our ratty living room – rattier by the day – and a silence would drop. Dishes piled up in the sink, caked with old food. The bathroom trash overflowed into the hallway. Corina and Jason dropped out of school, and moved out in March, the black cloud too much, even for them. Erik spent nights with his new girlfriend. When we were home together, his studio door was closed, and I didn’t knock.
Sometimes I knocked. It was only then the creeping quiet was broken. We fought loud and ugly, one night so desperate we ended bloody, my blue bedroom trashed. The next evening we met in the hallway between our rooms, and pretended nothing happened. Everything was schizophrenic. I still drank tea and watched the teenage boy across the street. He was big and awkward and spent his nights on his front porch, picking at a guitar. Some nights a group of kids his age raced by on bikes, without looking at him. The boy tried to wave, but they were always too fast.
I moved out in May. I waited until everyone was gone to clean my part. I went to sweep my bedroom and found Erik standing in his coat in the shower, scrubbing the tile. But that’s been documented, too.
I cried that night, but I didn’t linger. I loved that house like a person, despite what happened inside it. I loved the wide landing and the dark wood and my bedroom nook and the way the snow fell at an angle on the hill. I loved the small liquor store next door and our neighbor’s white dog who barked happily when I left those late nights. I loved the light in Erik’s studio, and I loved him – and all of them – for a long time, longer than I should have.
Five years later, I would rent a house in St. Paul because there was something familiar about it. At our housewarming party last night, my old roommates commented on the stairs and the living room and the mud room. They were uncomfortable, but I wasn’t. Here was 419 again, revisited. But this time it was mine, and they were the ones leaving in the dead of night.
I live in St. Paul now, on the edge of Hamline University. My main drag – down and over – is Midway, which is a different sort of place. It’s not rough as rough goes, but it’s rougher than I’ve known.
My new house is tucked away up north, blanketed by cozy Minnesota-style houses and college kids in the streets. Up here – five minutes away – I don’t have to call 911 on drunk men weaving in and out of traffic, but I do on University. (First 911 call, ever.) Down a bit on Fairview, the cityscape turns to lush trees and Whole Foods.
But the first sign of home for me now is the abandoned green Spruce Tree building and blue Midway Books, with its barred windows and shady characters. I grew up around the world, but I grew up in the suburbs. Never considered myself sheltered, but so it is.
We haven’t unpacked anything because we’re waiting to paint. But then things keep getting in the way of painting. We suddenly live closer to everything interesting. I spent Wednesday night at the Turf Club, drinking ginger ale and cold medicine, watching Meg Ashling and some high school bands dressed in plaid and Nirvana hair.
Then last night I went to my first Hootenanny, a gathering of musicians and scenesters and kids and babies and grandparents and minor celebrities. I wore a polka-dotted dress and drank the bourbon that was passed around the couches. Strange people showed up: my old German professor from my last semester at the U. Elvis Perkins. Rabid raccoons. It was hot and wet and I spent a good 30 minutes in the alley with the smokers, gossiping and wondering if I should do something about the Hoot kids, who were screaming around the parking lot, trying to trap the raccoon. But I went back inside instead, where my seat was saved.
When I got home, Chris was in the new music room with his buddies, playing drums. Today it’s 86 degrees in October. Suddenly I’m in a different kind of life, but that’s OK. The other one was getting kind of strained. Have you been in a coma? someone asked the other day. Maybe.
When was the first time you cared what people thought about you?
I got my first pair of glasses in second grade, plastic pink frames that covered half of my face. (They were in vogue in 1988. They’d probably be hip now.) At that age, no one cares if you have glasses. In fact, weird body tricks are fascinating since you’ve basically just learned that you have eyes at all. But I still had those pink square glasses in sixth grade, and in middle school, nothing was cool. Unless you were cool. But you probably weren’t.
And I wasn’t, and the teasing was incessant. I did not have the right hair (waist-length, red, permed) or clothes (I drew my own t-shirt designs with magic markers). I was a teacher’s pet and had David-Sedaris like OCD and, worst of all, I was oblivious. I was in community theatre! I could remember everyone’s names and birthdays without writing them down! I was double-jointed! I was awesome! I approached friends with gusto, inviting them over with an extroversion that has since disappeared.
At one point, I was booed off-stage during my reign as the 6th grade’s Quiz Bowl representative. In the bathroom, an older girl – out of fascination, not compassion – asked if I was going to cry. But it had never occurred to me. It didn’t feel great, the booing, but crying? About what? The people who were booing didn’t even know me, so what did it matter? But I had noticed that my friends hadn’t clapped for me. When asked why, Nicole said her hands hurt that day. Jamie didn’t answer at all. And then I asked for the first time – what was wrong with me?
We moved and I started 7th grade back in the US, after living overseas. I had the same hair, same glasses, but I bought a fabulous black faux-leather backpack with gold buckles. Sleek shit. People would see that backpack and beg me to sit at their lunch table. I had never tried to fit in before, but I figured with something as slick as that backpack, I’d have no worry.
But on the first day, a popular kid in my neighborhood dumped his lunch on my face, his egg-salad sliming all over the pack. At the basketball court during lunch, an greasy older kid said he’d do me, but only if I put a paper bag over my head. One boy, a tall, lanky musician who would serve as my attractiveness-protoype for years, came over to my house after school only to tell me he could see the resemblance between me and my pet dogs. A friend’s sister, who didn’t know I was in the other room, told my friend that she felt sorry for me because I was so ugly.
I had my first panic attack in gym class when a blonde volleyball player laughed at what she called my “horse teeth.” I missed the last two months of 7th grade because I started throwing up each day before class.
That summer, I cut my hair, got contacts and started dressing like my classmates. I grew breasts and hips and the teasing stopped. But something was changed, of course. Boys no longer threw their lunches on my head, but I learned to shrink when necessary. Any vibrancy was hidden. I didn’t approach people; I made them come to me. Years after high school, a friend told me people thought I was an ice queen.
At parties now, I feel OK. I don’t think I expect to be teased, but there’s something in me that wouldn’t be surprised if I was. I’m friendly. I’m not an ice queen. I’m shy, but you wouldn’t know it. There is an exuberant, flamboyant, nerdy side of me that comes out only in front of Chris or when very, very drunk. But today, I went to the eye doctor and had to pick out frames. I haven’t had glasses in years, partially out of laziness and partially because this happened as I tried on each pair: in the mirror, my shoulders caved in and I shrunk again. I remembered my first contact lens fitting the summer before 8th grade and how I threw my old pink glasses in the bottom of my dresser drawer and buried them under books. How when I broke a contact, I went to school blind rather than wear those glasses again.
I only came back – in public, sober – once. I was at a party at a friend’s house. Twenty-three years old. I’d had a beer, which with my Irish genes is the intoxication equivalent of saying I’d had some oxygen. A drunk art student I didn’t know was running around with a red oven mitt on his head. He smiled at me, took off the mitt and threw it at me. I put it on my own head. He grabbed utensils and dish towels and decorated me until I looked like I belonged on some type of childrens’ cooking show. I was laughing; he was laughing. He took a picture. A pretty girl walked in the kitchen, looked at me. Turned to her friend and said, “Wow, how humiliating.” I stopped laughing.
But so it goes! Growing up is containment. You put it all out there and you take it all back. Nothing more or less. What’s my point? That I’m still 13 with big teeth and a sandwich running down my face? Too cliché. Here’s a poem by Bukowski instead:
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
stay down, do you want to mess
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
I have this tendency to lie dormant for months, and then rise to explode with change. I never plan it this way, but it’s been my modus operandi for years, so I guess I can’t be surprised when I suddenly find myself dropped in an entirely new life.
There’s the new house. The apartment’s a wreck, covered in boxes and debris – once I start packing, I don’t stop. Even it means we have two weeks left until we move and our clothes and dishes are in trunk of my car. Last night we ate spaghetti with chopsticks on paper towels.
There’s the new kitten, Phoebe. Cutest animal I’ve ever seen, but she’s trouble and my older cat, Raja, wants her to die immediately. Every hour on the hour, Raja chases Phoebe under the desk and punches her several times in the face. It would be adorable if it wasn’t so violent.
And then the biggest thing. You know how I’ve gone to school on and off for the past eight years. The first three years were great until stuff happened and I had to take an extended break. But I never got back into it after the break, save for one semester at a community college in Bloomington where I got straight As, was the editor of the literary magazine and had a horribly obvious crush on my philosophy professor.
But after that, I started dreading each semester. And then it went beyond dread, somewhere into the vague, hazy region of a nervous breakdown that kept me out of real life for several months. When I finally returned to my life, and to school, this semester, I found myself knee-deep in the dread. On the second day, I spent thirty minutes wandering in the hot sun, unable to find my classroom. Instead, I found the ancient building that housed my German class from the previous semester.
I liked that building. I spent too much time in the quiet, dark, cool bathroom, pepping myself for classes I didn’t want to go to and writing memorized poetry (T.S. Eliot, Mary Oliver, etc.) on the wall in the third stall from the door. I went up there this time around and caught myself in the mirror, like a cliché. I was a wreck. Crying with a sweaty hot face. I looked out the window a bit, watching a cop talk to a kid on blue scooter. An ambulance came soon after, and the kid climbed in back. I went back into the bathroom and made a decision. I wrote it on the wall. Then I went home, and dropped my classes. For good. This isn’t a break (well, if it is, it’s a LONG break). This is me finally saying fuck it to school, and getting on with my life. It’s tough; there’s the wistful, romantic part of me that loves academia. And does being a college drop-out mean I’m dumb? Undermine my intelligence?
But as I wrote elsewhere, what do I really love about school? I love the details, the thousands of lives on a reel around me. I love the tactile feeling of a pen in my hand. I love the interplay and dramas that can occur only in a school setting. I like getting crushes on professors. I like knowing things. Learning things. But I hate being there. I don’t like sitting in stuffy, chalky classrooms, bored. I hate the crowds and the noise, all the invasive smells and bright colors, elements I can handle in the evenings when I’ve had a few whiskeys, but not in the daylight, where such details assault me. The work has never been difficult. And maybe that’s been part of the problem, too. What’s always preceded my dread and my craziness has been a feeling of uninterestingness. This is different from being bored – I’m a quiet person. A loner. I don’t need action. But I need interesting. School wasn’t interesting anymore, and beyond that, it was ruining me. I’m close to graduating, but it’s not worth it.
So there’s that. I’m job-hunting, packing my stuff, breaking up cat fights, and holding on for the next thing. I knew as a teenager that I wasn’t going to have a steady, one-country life. My life hasn’t been abnormally unsteady, but it’s been rocky and changeable, mostly because I can’t sit still. I went through a phase of being unaware. Then when I recognized this quality, I felt superior. Bohemian, I kept calling it, though it was anything but. Then I wanted desperately to be something – someone – else, something quieter and consistent and less prone to my personal brand of wildness, a wild that is not wild by dramatic standards, but wild, nonetheless. And now I’m beginning to accept this, my little fate. I almost like it, defective brain and all.
So! We’re caught up, then. I’m OK, you’re OK, let’s do it.
So, first of October, we’re moving to a beautiful (rental) house in St. Paul. We went back and forth forever about buying a house, but we finally decided to keep renting for a bit. This house is perfect, bigger than we know what to do with (keep in mind, we’re coming from a 600sq ft apartment) and has an apple tree in the backyard. I’m not sure why I’m so thrilled about the apple tree, but something about my very own fruit tree speaks to me. Like, if the apocalypse were to come and raid my pantry I could still eat apples for a while and not die.
In other news, we’re also getting a kitten tomorrow. Chris’s co-worker found a stray who needed a home, and we’re suckers. Raja, my current cat, hates other animals and turns from a cuddly sweetie into an evil Jack Bauer (in that she is violent, but with complicated planning) in the presence of other cats. So this should be good. We’re holding off on naming until we’ve spent some time with the new cat. I think Raja’s name went from Bean Pie to Pru to Zeda to Raza to Raja over a few weeks. I pity our future (human) kid. We’ll be one of those parents who’ll finally just make the kid name itself. Though if my parents had done this, I’m almost positive I would be Strawberry Shortcake right now.
Here’s this week’s generic Wordpress theme. Let me know what’s crappy or broken. The heading will get changed sometime this week.
Do you love all this rain? Because I love all this rain.
The nerds at a recent wedding
“August rain: the best of summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” – Sylvia Plath
My standard August quotation, though August never feels odd or uneven to me. It feels like a relief.
Almost back from the hiatus. It’s 68 degrees and rainy, so my bones are reanimating. Who are you people that love the hot, tropical weather? I am a small, freckled, ghost-colored girl and summer crushes my spirit. I have lots to tell you: bridges, weddings, pets, new houses.
School’s starting again and I hope against hope that this is my last fall undergrad EVER. I think nine years is long enough. When I first started school all those centuries ago, I remember my parents teasing a friend’s daughter about getting her degree after a decade. Ha, ha, joke’s on them. And, sadly, me.
Time for a hot bath, hot chocolate, candlelight and all those good things you do on a rainy day.
Hiatus, I guess? I’ll be back when summer’s over. Hot weather makes me hibernate.
Also, someday my new design will be up, but let’s become one with the generic Wordpress tree for a while.
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