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Archive for the ‘old stuff’ Category

Three in Ten

I wrote this for a story contest (write about your high school reunion). Names changed, some details too, to protect those who can no longer speak for themselves. Advance apologies if it seems I’m romanticizing anything here or capitalizing on the horror. My intention was just to tell the truth as I felt it.

June 2009

The class of ’99 files into the room. Ten years earlier, we’d graduated from high school. Now we meet in a rental hall and eat chicken and green beans almandine, like we did at prom. I’ve driven in from my apartment in the city, and I’ve chosen an outfit that meets my goals for our reunion: to show everyone that (1) I have confidence now and (2) I have boobs now. The fuchsia halter dress is far from the choir robe and unfortunate bib overalls of high school me.

The popular girls are all here, beautiful still and pleasantly uniform in their life paths: teaching certificate, businessman husband, a baby at home or in the works with another planned in the next few years. I sit with my choir nerd friends, happy to see how they’ve bloomed and hear who still sings.

I crack prepackaged jokes about my job (“I put commas in junk mail!”) and tell tales about my big-city life. It’s all nice and generally uneventful, which, for our class, is a wonderful relief.

November 2005

The class of ’99 files into the room. Well, the honors crowd, at least, and the hippie kids, and the artists. I’ve driven in from my apartment in Oak Park, my very first real-world apartment, paid for with real money scraped together from my real assistant editor job. My outfit is thrown together, dark: later I’ll learn that in a fluster, I had put my shirt on backward.

Adam has come in from upstate New York, where he’s working on his PhD. Jon was on tour with his almost-famous band and canceled a few shows to come home. All our teachers are here, happy to hear of our small successes. We were an especially strong class.

No one has said exactly what happened to Brian, but it seems that it wasn’t an accident. A quarterlife crisis of the worst sort—an extreme version of that drift we all felt after college, the feeling that you’re the only one trapped in your hometown while your brilliant friends have set sail.

Until the month before, I’d been in the same situation, but too shy and sullen to reach out and see if anyone else was still around. I sign my name on the acoustic guitar they’re burying with him.

Later that night we unite at a bar and toast to Brian’s poetry and engineer-brilliance and dry, perfect humor. We drink and dance, manic, the end-of-the-world sad and boundless feeling of mourning young death, watching towers fall, of being as alive as we can because it is our duty.

October 2004

The class of ’99 files into the room. We’ve only been out of college for a little over a year. I’ve driven the short distance from my parents’ house, where I have been living with my liberal arts degree. I’ve been on a couple of interviews lately, so luckily I have a suit. But it’s not a lucky day.

Sarah is at the front of the room. Small, sweet, athletic Sarah, popular but genuine, just didn’t wake up one morning last week. Her heart just stopped. She just stopped, right when we’re all beginning.

She was nice to me every time I got the guts to speak to her in high school, but mostly I’d watched Sarah from afar, wishing I could be that vivacious. At the reception afterward, I’m awkward around her friends, but I summon up the courage to at least say hi: today there is no in-crowd. I have no clue who I am or how I’ll make my way out of this town, but I am alive.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Remembering forgetting

An old but beloved essay to start off with. From April 29, 2009.

One Year Ago Tomorrow

One year ago tomorrow, I returned to my apartment after seeing a play, and life as I knew it changed.
I walked in the door and The Boyfriend was sitting in the dark. “I think I want to buy a snake,” he said. That was our code: I’m terrified of snakes, so we joked that if he ever wanted to break up with me, he wouldn’t have to say it, he would just need to buy a snake and I’d be good as gone.
I took it calmly. I’d already persuaded him twice in our 2.5 years together not to leave me, that he was just going through a phase, that we belonged together. After the second successful persuasion (and some time in therapy) I regretted the begging, and I decided that if he ever flipped out again, I would calmly, boldly let him go.
He was the strong one in our relationship. He was older, had been married before. He had lived in the city for years, while I was a newbie, having moved to the city for him. I trusted everything he said. I took his word on what public transportation to take, which restaurants were good and which were crap. When his friends didn’t like me, I trusted that there was something wrong with me, not with them, even though in the rest of my 25ish years I’d been well-liked and made friends easily.
He told me not to wear bright colors, not to be seen in the monkey-patterned pajama pants that were so me that they’d been my nickname in college. Once he even told me that the way I vomited was incorrect. (A long story. He was wrong.)
Of course he wasn’t all bad. First of all, his looks. So charming they’d redeem even the most catastrophic of don’t-wear-your-monkeypants nonsense arguments. The curly black hair, the bright blue eyes, the height, the dimples. He was smart, too. (Unfortunately, he knew it.) And he was so good on paper. Well-educated, good family, great job, promising future. And our dates were fun, and we aspired to the same social class, and we liked the same bands and restaurants.

But it’s not about Thai food and the Shins. It’s about internals. And after about a year of being together, I knew on the deepest level that on the insides, we didn’t match. He didn’t love people the way I do. He didn’t love life the way I do. I question and mess up and try things and break rules and fall in love over the span of one song. He built walls and made rules and looked for reasons to dismiss everyone and dreamed of one day being a hermit, as he said aloud many a time. I am awkward enough to have broken my arm falling off a couch and have I gotten a concussion picking up a cat, but I love deeply and I give. I’m a Golden Retriever and when I fall in love I want to sit by your side and take care of all your needs and need nothing more than a head pat in return. He was glossy as hell and sarcastic and hilarious, but he didn’t ever let anyone in.

In order to fit into his plan, I had to cut off so much of my most essential self. He liked parts of me, but would always make “helpful suggestions” to guide me into the black-haired, tattooed, skinny and sarcastic Suicide Girl of his dreams. I took the red pen to myself and crossed out everything that didn’t fit. Delete Hello Kitty robe, stet bookishness but only because it works with “Hot Librarian” persona. Delete suburban roots, clinical depression (so inconvenient!), and oh, thirty pounds, okay? Insert ironic eyeglasses that I would never pick out myself, an affected taste for sci-fi and pot, and cold modernist interior design and fauxhemian lifestyle.

Why did I do it? Why did I put up with the fighting and belittling and fear? Why did I edit myself? I thought it was what grownups did. I confused being flexible with being boundaryless. I confused companionship with love and superficial similarity with true understanding. I did it because I thought I’d never get someone better, and because I thought it was what I should want. I convinced myself that this man was my future.
He wanted to “buy a snake” and I said go ahead, and on the inside I was terrified but on the outside I was all action, this former Hamlet of a girl answering To Be and packing box after box and acting to build my future. And every day since that day, I have been different.
I started to talk to people, because I had to. I became friendly toward the people I’d ignored at work until then, and when I lost that job and got another I forced myself to be outgoing there too, to open up and to find some value in everyone. I experienced the city in a way I never had before, through my own eyes, trying places he’d deemed too gauche to grace, seeing sights he would have dismissed as boring, and making an unbelievable number of unbelievably great friends that I never would have even spoken to when I was in the relationship, simply because my gaze was only focused on him.

If this were a movie, we’d see me a happy year later, teamed with a boy-me all monkeypanted up, discodancing silly into the sunset. Well, I haven’t found my boy-me. And I’m not convinced that when I do, I’ll even recognize him. He won’t necessarily look the way I would dream or act the way I’d plan. But he will see me, really see me, monkeypants and all. He might not love it all, and he’ll challenge me when I’m wrong, and he will be flawed and loving and infuriating and alive, and he will let me love him and he will love me in a way that makes me more me instead of less. Stet the monkeypants. Stet my stubbornness and tummy and my sometimes insane love of dogs. Let them stand. Let me stand. Flaws and all. Delete the pretense. Keep the voice.

out of the picture.

A year ago tomorrow, my life changed, and my heart broke, and I pasted it back together and filled in the cracks with the mosaic pieces of real life: concerts in the park that he would’ve skipped (rather stay home high and play video games), conversations with strangers whom he would have ignored (because they were wearing the wrong clothes or seemed too suburban or uneducated or this excuse or that one), a hundred nights at bars and clubs dancing crazy into the morning hours, the beauty of this agonizing real world around us that before I would never have seen because I was staring into his eyes. It’s been a trial, this brave new year. I stopped being The Girlfriend and stepped into my own story, and I’m still writing it, right now.

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