Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve made an event out of my birthday. It was a time for me. For me being chauffeured, for me eating meals other people would pay for, for me being filled up with the expectation that this one birthday, right here, would be my most epic birthday ever. After I turned 21, it was a time for gratuitous drinks I’d never finish and an excuse to lie in bed most of the next morning, drinking straight out of a coffee pot, picking at my leftover birthday cake.
But last year, friends held their wedding celebration on my birthday, and instead of pouting over not having a Day About Me, I was relieved. I wouldn’t have to plan anything or be the happiest girl in the room or rally past “just one more.” And then when this year’s birthday rolled around, I again felt both under- and overwhelmed at the thought of a forced get-together. So I blew off all of my friends.
At first I believed this was a sign of age – not that I dreaded getting older, but that I’d matured past my attention-whoring days. But then I realized, nah, that wasn’t it. My change of tune had everything to do with getting married.
Nothing will take the fun out of a “look at me!” celebration like your own wedding can. I know there are people who say, and may actually believe, that their wedding day is the best day of their lives, and, yeah, when will you ever have all the people you love in the same room like that again, unless you remarry or die. But after you polish all the bells and whistles, and watch everyone watch you in your silly white dress that you would never pick out under any other circumstance, and then stand there and nod and say thank you to guests telling you the ceremony was lovely, beautiful, perfect, when you and your friends aren’t people who normally speak in cliches, you can’t help but walk away from the whole thing feeling like it was the greatest pony-show garbage you will ever put on. And you made people succumb to it. It feels obnoxious.
Now this isn’t to say that I still don’t like free stuff. My husband took me to sushi, and I milked favors from him all birthday weekend. And if anyone wants to buy me a belated birthday drink next time we’re hanging out, please be my guest. I’d probably totally be into a surprise shindig. I just now feel like an asshole planning my own party.
Water, so you don’t hate wine later
A stoop for stoop-e-ques
An extra weekend day to lie on the couch and scroll through Netflix indecisively, so you don’t feel like a chump for wasting Saturday and Sunday by not being outside
A pair of shorts that doesn’t cut off your circulation mid-thigh but still makes your legs look like Heidi Klum’s, not Storybook Heidi’s in knee-length lederhosen (unless this becomes some new Williamsburg trend, then more power to you)
A beach bag large enough for a puffy, standard-issue rainbow towel; the back issues of The New Yorker you’ve deluded yourself into thinking you’ll catch up on; that bag of Funyuns from the bodega that reminded you of your young summers beach camping/wine-cooler drinking with those boys you weren’t supposed be hanging out with; a bottle opener because you never know; a tube of seven-year-old sunscreen that may or may not have expired because it only barely crosses your mind that sunscreen can do such a thing and, really, who are you kidding, your legs need some serious color anyway; and your fabulous kaftan-wrap for when you decide to take it off
A filter for Facebook/Instagram that blocks people’s glorious vacation photos of places that are farther than 10 miles from your 300-square-foot apartment
A skimpy tank top that looks casual and effortless, not slutty and ill-fitting
A stockpile of affordable but compliment-worthy dresses for all the weddings you have to go to
A foot bath upon entry of your apartment, with electric power brushes to scrub city dirt off your feet
A crew of manmaidens to fan all angles of your face and body so you don’t have to deal with boob sweat while you wait for the train
Osmosis to make good on your summer reading list
(Above: A former stoop-e-que, because when googling “men fanning woman” zero accurate images come up.)
For the first time in 14 years, I was home in Hawaii for Father’s Day. I imagined treating my dad to an ocean-view brunch – champagne cocktails, lobster benedict and, why not, throw in some truffle home fries, too. I am an adult now, who can not only pay, but who wants to pay. But my dad nixed my idea. He’d rather go to church, he said. A Mormon church.
Quick backstory, so this doesn’t seem entirely left-field: My stepmom grew up Mormon, spent the last 30 years not Mormon, but recently returned to the church and my father’s been tagging along – it’s down the road from their house. Let me also add that I am not religious, not into church or doing things I don’t like to do, but I’m not sanctimonious about this stuff either; to each her own. When my dad made his preference known, I first thought: Ugh. Then I thought like a writer: This will make for good material.
I can report on the first-hand sexism of the “women’s group”! Maybe infiltrate the men’s group after Mormon Mass! I can jot down testimonies about the holding of the priesthood and the calling of the patriarchs! But it was also Father’s Day and I wasn’t into making my dad look like a chump. And, in all honestly, nothing too-out-of-the-Jesus-loving-church-ordinary happened – songs were sung, a nibble of bland carbs and a sip of liquid was ingested in an act of sacredness, and men stood at the front of the room, talking for too damn long. I didn’t even get to be part of any gender-segregated reading group because my dad, brother and I were first out the door at the end of the longer-than-Catholic-long Mass. But what I did learn, or was lovingly reminded of, was that my brother and I are complete embittered, smug assholes.
We spent an hour and half like this:
Dude, it smells like old people and Old Spice in here. / More like a spice that fermented and died in your kitchen.
Did I just testify to something? / Don’t interrupt my zoning.
At least the crying children break up the awkward silence of Mass. / Or they could shut up and I could fall asleep easier.
Who knew a man could talk for 40 minutes straight?
Only 25 minutes left. / Unless another dude decides to filibuster again.
At one point, I looked over at my brother and watched him shift in various “I’m paying attention” positions with his eyes closed. It was impressive. I was about to nudge my dad so he could also check out this marvelous feat, only to notice he was nodding off, too.
Later, when we were finally having our ocean-view dinner, I asked my dad if he had a good Father’s Day. “Yeah,” he said. “I got you two pissed off and I got a free meal, didn’t I?” Then he let out his signature devilish chuckle.
He beats us at our own game every time. Which is probably why he is worthy of a free meal.
(Above: Proof to show my stepmom that we did indeed go to church.)
Daughter: What is this? [Points to a hardback iPhoto book with her parents’ dopey mugs on the cover.]
Me: It’s your parents’ wedding album, dear.
Daughter: But why is it in here?
Me: Well, we liked to have physical things back then. We kinda liked touching stuff.
Daughter: That’s not true. Didn’t, like, digital cameras already exist in the last century?
Me: Yes, but sometimes we just did things because we thought we were supposed to. Like getting married in the first place.
Daughter: [Touches one of the photo-paper-like pages]. It’s kinda chintzy, Mom.
Me: We were efficient, time-strapped New Yorkers back then, honey. We couldn’t be bothered to spend more than 15 minutes and our douching-off between-time at work putting it together – and it took us about a year to get around to even caring about it that much.
Daughter: You could’ve just saved it on that computer-laptop thingie, or whatever you called it.
Me: The book was something we could show people when they came over.
Daughter: No one ever came over, Mom. You spent all your time in your room teleporting to the land where no one talked, and pretty pictures of attractive people flashed before your eyes.
Me: Okay, fine, your parents are lazy assholes. Happy?
Daughter: You also looked kinda old when you got married.
Me: Yes, that’s how it works. Every generation rebels from the last, and Grandma’s generation was equal parts prudish and impulsive like yours.
Daughter: Your hair looks good, though.
Me: Thanks. Look, sweetie, I really did this album for you. Nothing was ever more fascnating to me than seeing evidence that my own parents were once real individuals who looked happy and uncorrupted.
Daughter: But Mom, you’re a sentimentalist….And you were totally into writing about yourself and your parents a lot when you were my age.
[Beep, beep, beep, beep]
Daughter: Mom, are you teleporting out of this conversation right now?
I’m conflicted about chivalry. Or, I should say, as a feminist, I’m conflicted about how to defend the argument that I am absolutely, 100 percent into the ancient art of chivalry. I not only love chivalry, I think chivalry should be the rule. Men, be fucking chivalrous.
I’m not talking about showing up with flowers or opening a car door; everyone can set their own dating preferences (though you can always light a woman’s cigarette––that shit is hot). I’m talking about the everyday, getting-from-A-to-B basics of navigating public spaces. Of course, all people should be courteous to one another. All people should hold the door open for the next person walking through it. All people should close their legs like considerate human beings, and not sit in a sumo-breadth stance, taking up a seat and a half on the train. All people (midtown, I’m looking at you) should stop walking side by side, two-to-five-people wide like a game of Red Rover, obliviously chatting away down a busy sidewalk, instead of getting into a single-file line so another person walking in the opposite direction doesn’t have to stop or go around them just to keep walking. I get upset when anyone acts like a unaware jackass, but I get reeeeally upset when a man does not step aside for a woman to pass down a narrow walkway. I presume that his parents didn’t teach him any manners, and I judge that this is the type of guy who, when fooling around, presses his palm on top of a woman’s head, toward his crotch, because to him that is the whole point of fooling around. But I just think these things. Maybe give stink eye. Then I move out of the way.
A while back, I was out getting lunch with a friend. He opened the restaurant door for the two of us to walk through. But before we could take a step, two women walked out of the open doorway that he had provided. My friend flipped out. Like screaming-YOU-ARE-WELCOME!!!-all-the-way-down-the-street-at-them flipped out. He later felt a little embarrassed for getting so upset. I told him I agreed that people can be rude, selfish assholes, but perhaps because they were women they felt entitled, as though they assumed his gesture was chivalrous. My friend, who is older and black, did not agree. “No, they feel entitled because they’re white,” he said. “This is how this shit has been my entire life.”
Hmmm. Fair enough, I thought.
It made me think about my own seemingly overreactive, overgeneralized pet peeve of dudes and sidewalks. More than half of the guys in the cities I’ve lived in do step aside. And, of course, not every one who doesn’t is a misogynist, but he is a reminder of the way I’ve seen guys posture around campuses, around bars, around downtowns, and the way women innately know to turn their shoulders and contort their bodies to get around them; or how at a few offices I’ve worked at, the males would tromp down the corridor together in a ’80s movie cliche because they could, because they were indeed the ones in power in 2014. It’s not that I believe these men are consciously thinking, “She is a woman and thus inferior, so I refuse to get out of her way.” It’s more like, “I do not stop because no one ever stops me. I keep on trudgin’.”
Perhaps the next time a guy heads for me on the sidewalk, we can play chicken. We can dance. I can check ‘em. I’m all about trudgin’, too.
White baby hairs.
Also, that one thick, black bristle sprouting from my arm.
Refusing to believe that my 16-year-old niece lumps me into the parental-type category, instead of seeing me as an ultra-hip wearer of clothes she’d like to borrow.
Walking past a herd of twentysomething dudes without a single one of them glancing in my direction.
Hangovers that start while you’re drinking.
Not changing the music on my iPhone in a year, even though I listen to music on my iPhone daily.
Spending the past two Saturday nights burping on my couch, trying to figure out what could be giving me gas.
Realizing if I had a kid half my age, she’d be a legal adult.
Not attending or entering any place or event that doesn’t have seating.
More of that Al Bundy-hand-resting-in-pants thing.
Considering buying an office chair, out of pocket, that supports my lower lumbar.
Excited for all the Jeopardy!, not just the kids tournament.
Finding new things to moisturize.
Having to Shazam a Lady Gaga song.
A long text thread with my stepmom about frozen spinach.
Being in denial of aging; calling it pre-aging.
Peddling a single-speed to eat farm-to-table tacos at Rockaway Beach. Running across the Brooklyn Bridge to brush elbow-to-rib with fellow anxiety-ridden procrastinators dying to get out of their apartments. Backpacking upstate with the hundreds of others who have fled the city to enjoy trees without those others. These are ways the cool, urban kids exercise – by pretending not to live urbanly. The cool, urban kids do not pay money to a corporation to use their loud, clunky machines in a sterile room.
Or so I’ve learned.
One Friday evening over drinks, the topic amongst a group of us, all within one creative field or another, had turned to what we were doing tomorrow. I answered, “Lie around, watch shitty TV, and try to get the gym by noon.” “The gym?” one pal asked. “What do you do there? Lift weights?” He laughed and turned to another friend and they gave each other agreeingly snarky high-five faces, as if gyms were only for meatheads or had gone extinct with Olivia Newton John and leg warmers in the ’80s. “Yup, I pump iron and then just stand around flexing for 20 minutes,” I told them, giving them a complementary “Are you fucking serious?” face of my own. This went on for a while, the dumb questions and answers – let’s not even begin to talk about the flack I received for admitting, proudly, that I watch a full shift of television on the weekend.
But as I walked home that night, I was perplexed about why this had even been a conversation at all. When did the gym become not just a dreaded chore but dreadful? Even more weird, when did its relevance become a topic we even cared to form an opinion about?
At first I chalked up anti-gym sentiments to being a hipster-city/borough thing – in Manhattan, no one would bother hating on a person for getting their exercise done in a building (first of all, no one should hate on someone getting their exercise on at all – because HEALTH, guys), just in Brooklyn, which shares the same philosophy as Portland, where someone would be more apt to admit owning a unicycle than a gym membership. And it is definitely a lifestyle/image/place thing: Outdoors + wind in your face = cool. Indoors + corporate = uncool. But it’s also deeper than that. It’s about being generic. My friends were essentially calling me a lame-o, a sell out.
A sell-out is employed by the Man, buys specific clothes to work out in – a uniform – and drops a hundo a month to a chain gym to have skeletal biceps like Madonna’s. A non-sell-out looks for alternatives, something possibly spiritual and individualistic like a yoga class, probably taught by an old roommate in the middle of a park, or she runs in the rain because it feels refreshing and freeing and doesn’t dig into her beer funds. I get it. I was (and still can be) one of these people, too.
At various points of my life, I was a creative person™ who didn’t have a full-time office job, who had the random Tuesday (or Tuesday through Friday) off to write or agonize over not writing. Or to walk to the park so I could run around the park, and then come home and eat peanut butter. It wasn’t a bad life.
But a year and a half ago, I was offered a full-time job, and curious as to what structure was like, I took it. I enjoy it, mostly, but working long hours leaves me to do my “musts” conveniently (grocery shop at the crappy store by my train stop, exercise at the gym a block away from my house) and exhausted. I don’t want to think or read anymore at the end of my day – I just want to have a talking box feed me bright, shiny pictures before I fall asleep on the couch. Neither lifestyle choice is necessarily better than the other, but if my new one makes me generic, so be it.
But really, I’ve always had lame in me. I was just broke and embarrassed about being lame: In grad school, I told myself getting rid of cable would allot me more time to read Literature, but actually, I just couldn’t afford it any longer. I’ve often preferred the gym to running outside because it’s more comfortable to sweat in steady 72-degree temps than in the snowfalls of winter or in the stifling humidity of summer. I just didn’t go out of my way to admit these things before – because why would I have needed to?!
The defining feature of selling out is profiting in some way for something you morally/spiritually shouldn’t sell. I think what I’ve sold most is my time. And in return, I now have a few more dollars, and with those dollars, I buy convenience because the most important way I can spend my free time is with people I adore or indulging in some necessary me-chillin’-out minutes or by giving into my creative person™. So I splurge on cabs instead of trains (fuck waiting). I get my nails did (fuck repainting ganky smudges). I call my liquor instead of drink from the well (fuck hangovers, don’t have time for those, either). It isn’t the worst trade off.
But the gym itself a sell-out thing? Whatevs. If your single-speed came with a tag in the triple or quadruple digits, you had to sell something to get that piece too.
Here is the one anxiety you have the night before your wedding: Can you hang out in a bar with everyone you love for a six-hour rehearsal party and not get drunk tonight? **
Luckily, you are not new to your “but we gotta keep the party going!” ways. You anticipated this conundrum and make a plan. You are now the designated driver for the evening, ensuring you won’t get wrapped up in the excitement of seeing all your friends and family from across the country while mindlessly throwing back cocktails, putting your very-soon-to-be husband’s life at risk hours before your wedding. And it works. Both you and your man are alive and healthy and fresh-faced in the morning. This is your idea of maturity. This is what sacrifice looks like, you tell yourself.
But really, these lessons have come at a price. There are things, no matter how well you know you, you don’t anticipate. Like your coworkers throwing you a surprise party the night before you’re to get on a plane to your wedding destination, and instead of just one token bottle of champagne that these office parties often have, there are several, plus a random bottle of gin, about which your coworker-bro says, “Dude, let’s open it,” and then it’s just you and him and another coworker pal in the conference room, fishing for change for vending-machine mixers to stomach a fifth of Tanqueray, which you haven’t drank since that phase in the summer of your 23rd year, before coming up with the genius idea of next heading to the bar across the street, then the one back in your neighborhood, before heading home. And you wake up at 5 a.m. feeling holy-moly fabulous, but at 7 a.m. you realize you were just still euphorically drunk and at 9 a.m. the thought of peeling off your clothes and taking steps toward the shower beats like a death drum and at 10 a.m. you’re doing anything not to open your mouth in the cab on the way to the airport because if you say a single word, vomit might slip out between your lips, and you sit there wondering, “I thought I vowed years ago to never get on a plane hungover again, wtf??!!” but then you erase that from your mind because you’re concentrating too hard on not barfing, not at least until after pulling up to the curb at JFK, upon which you leave your soon-to-be-hubs with all the luggage and the cab fare and run toward what could maybe be the direction of the bathroom in the terminal and let it all out. You return to your betrothed with bile breath, your wedding-dress bag sweeping the dirt off the airport floor in the TSA line. “Is this a bad sign?” you ask him. He shakes his head, partly resigned, partly somehow still amused by the person you are. “No. It’s better than you caring too much about that dress.”
Besides all that romance, you’re glad you made another one of these asshole moves, because, hey, now you’re reminded how you don’t want to feel on your wedding day.
** Apparently, your real anxieties are eyebags, nausea and a thumping, unpresent mind.
1. Everyone will ask you, “How’s the wedding planning going?” but there is no possible way any of these people really want to know. On the surface, it seems like it’s akin to asking “How’s work going?” which most people don’t really want to know either, but at least with this, the inquisitor is prepared to possibly hear some information, maybe even a brief, throwaway bit about the time you called Skrillex “the ass of bass” instead of “the ace of bass” and it almost went to print in a national magazine. But with wedding planning, it’s even more mundane than that. Truly answering this question would be the equivalent of explaining how you watched a tea kettle come to boil.
2. And yet however stale this topic is, the person planning her damn wedding still needs to vent and hopes a bloggy list can be forgiven.
3. Mullet dresses are my jam.
4. The E! channel has a brand of evening sandals and none of them deserve an exclamation point.
5. Business owners in Hawaii treat email in the same regard I treat color in my wardrobe—like an unnecessary fad. I’m pretty lackadaisical about wearing a pop of anything that’s not gray or navy and local vendors take anywhere from three weeks to never to reply to an email offering to give them money.
6. The Internet is a terrible place to look for daddy-daughter dance songs. I’m not even sure how “Butterfly Kisses” and “Daughters” by John Mayer became standards. I couldn’t think of worse way to explain my love for my father than through an orafice of John Mayer’s.
7. Which friends like to ask questions. And those friends ask 95% of all the questions.
8. Strapless wedding dress? Plan for side-boob.
9. When the other parts of your life stress you out more than usual, the wedding planning takes the blame.
10. After years of no success, I am apparently capable of remembering all my REM dreams, especially if they feature people I haven’t thought about in years mingling with characters on TV shows watched right before bed, all of us in a madcap foreign adventure and/or in a chase with evil doers. I have no idea what any of these dreams mean or why I can suddenly remember them or what this has to do with the wedding, but it makes me anxious, so see #9.
11. There is nothing more thrilling than the promise of getting dolled up, telling my man how much I love him and being surrounded by all the hugs and happy tears from all the people, from all parts of the country, who mean something to me.
12. How excited I can get for this day.
13. I can still surprise myself. (See #12.)
I remember talking to a guy friend once about a new woman he was dating. “It’s at that best part,” he said, “you know, when you haven’t heard all of her stories ten times yet.” Ah, yes, that part. When tales told are still unpredictable and interesting.
I’ve been with my man now for almost four years. He’s heard—boy, has he heard!—all of my stories. Every once in a while, I’ll start in on a glory yarn that I’ve probably told him at least six times and he reacts like it’s the first, and it doesn’t bother me that he hadn’t listened the other five times because it just means I get to tell it again—now with added vigor! But it can be easy to forget after you’ve been with someone so long, someone you’re so comfortable with, that not every story is one he wants to hear, or one you need to write about for all the world to read.
Like sex. Most current boyfriends don’t want to hear about that one time you slept with that one guy a dozen years ago and geez were you an asshole about it. Keep that one to yourself. Or if you want to write about something that indirectly implicates him, something he’d reasonably like to keep private, you might want to rethink retelling that story for the world to read, too.
When I was in grad school for creative-nonfiction writing, many of my fellow students had reservations about writing about their lives, because it meant they were usually also writing about their addict moms, negligent dads and abusive exes, and they worried about hurt feelings and repercussions. I never had any of those qualms. My mom, the co-star of many of pieces back then, was dead; my stepmom and dad were ridiculously supportive and selectively ignorant (like my stepmom once noted, “Good thing your dad doesn’t read”). About a year into my program, I also became single, enabling me to be more honest, on paper and in reality, about that last relationship and my part in it, too. As long as the stakes rested on me—the good, the bad, the dark, the ugly—then I thought (and I still think) my writing was on the right path, holding myself accountable above all else.
But these days, I’m not an unattached student. I have a man who expects a fair amount of privacy, and a full-time job I would like to keep. Recently, I’ve started to question what is and isn’t appropriate to share in a piece of personal narrative (i.e., something with an arc and a purpose, not simply a confession), the type of writing I love and find most challenging.
I know a lot of people (specifically, web commenters) think memoir is an exercise in narcissism or navel-gazing—and some of it is, and some of it needs to be before it gets any good, or even great. But for me, writing memoir is about not apologizing for a life—in this case, my life—and, when the writing is doing all the right work, it’s about letting others know it’s okay not to apologize for theirs, either. We all have breakdowns, questions, revelations, self-doubts and acceptances. We should have no shame in our game.
I’m trying not to. But part of that life-learning curve is realizing I’m not all alone in this anymore—it’s not just me, my words and my ambitions taking on the world. As a partner, I do have to consider the feelings of the person I sleep next to every night and create boundaries and find balance in what I share. I may (or may not) end up being pickier about which stories I won’t tell, but it doesn’t mean I’ll sacrifice honesty in the ones I will. You can be empathic, considerate, without going soft.
Aloneness is an affliction I’ve spent many words on. I’m not talking about loneliness, or being unable to seek invites, or a lack of motivation to leave your apartment (though that can be a symptom too). I’m talking about feeling all alone, even when you’re in a room full of bodies and warmth and voices. I’ve felt aloneness in big and small ways after my mom died and when I moved to a new city and when I was lying next to an old boyfriend, filled with a stirring that the two of us weren’t really in this, whatever it is, together. Much like anxiety and depression, aloneness isn’t cured; it hibernates. Even though you grow up, make better choices, find ways to cope, it’ll sneak out in the littlest instances. In fact, if you’re prone to aloneness, you’re probably a highly sensitive human being in the first place and can sniff out when the teeniest aloneness bits are rising up from the hallows of your stomach. It can suck.
Hence, I bring you to my apartment on a Sunday morning, my boyfriend departing for California for a two-week work trip. I already had a hunch his lack of presence was going to be weird but, I mean, it couldn’t be that weird because I did enjoy living by myself, and I still look forward to weekend mornings when he goes surfing and I get to watch Project Runway on my laptop from bed.
But as soon as he took off, I immediately felt a tingle of “now what?” anxiety. The pressure was on—not just to go on with my normal relaxing Sunday, but to do better than normal. It almost felt like I was being watched, like I had an audience that would judge me (did an audience make me feel less alone?) to make sure that I was doing productive things while my boyfriend gallivanted around a city he’d never been to before (was I competing against him for self-sufficient awesomeness?). I’ll actually write some words! I’ll finish the book that’s in my purse and not search the Internet for new episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker! I’ll start a pattern of unlaziness that I will follow every weekend hereafter, you know, like before, when I was single and anxious!
But each effort I made to get myself to my desk or to the coffee shop or to catch up on all my long-distance phone calls was heavy with the recognition that I was doing these activities because I was both lonely and alone. As in, my solitary position would not have been my first option. And yet I didn’t really want to hang out with people for the sole purpose of not being by myself, because, like I said, I’ve already learned the emptiness in those forced exchanges too. I missed my boyfriend and best friend, but all this aloneness wasn’t about being a pathetic, codependent woman who only felt complete when her man was around, right? Or was it?
It seems I had lost my alone groove. The pace and posture created from any pride (and uncomfortableness) a person gets from knowing that they have only themselves to count on. The un-security—i.e., without the security of one other person who gives a shit about your needs as much as you do—that used to cause me to actually think about what I wanted to do with my time and my mind, and not just space out through my partner-filled days.
In the depths of my aloneness—not just my loneliness—when I’d finally tune into my heart and mind, what I’d usually find I needed to do was give in to however it was I was afraid of feeling. This usually began and ended with a messy, long cry. In this particular instance of my man being simply out of town, tears weren’t necessary. If I was mourning anything, it was my former gumption. The plucky woman who’d turn lemons into a garnish for her vodka soda after she ran around the park, checked out a museum and spent a few hours typing away at her computer.
But getting mad at myself for not being who I once I thought I was or acting like a teenager girl who couldn’t live without her boyfriend—the type of person in high school I would’ve gagged at—would only make the aloneness throb harder. So I just let me be me.
And then time happened. After a slow first week, I started writing a bit after dinner and before I went to bed. I took myself to the movies. I bought some cute jewelry. I caught up with friends I liked catching up with. I was still conscious I was lonely, but I didn’t feel as alone.
I believe time is the most fascinating mental and emotional healer the natural world can offer. And for those of us who’ve counted aloneness hours, we also know that time can be our biggest foe. But you just gotta ride the aloneness, even when it wants to buck you off and stampede across you, repeatedly, numbing you to a pulp, if you want to get to other side.
(Above: The Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl, for when you’re lonely, possibly sad, but not necessarily alone.)
A few weeks ago I was at lunch with coworkers, talking about where we’re from. I made the comment that even though I moved to LA in my twenties and only lived there six years, sometimes it feels like I grew up there (because in many ways I had). This was met with unanimous head nods and a resounding, “Yeah, you’re verrry California,” followed by a knife to my soul: “Dude, you are sooooooo LA.”
I was shocked and, more so, embarrassed. My face got warm, as though I’d just been caught doing the one terrible thing I thought maybe I did in my sleep but had convinced myself I hadn’t. This was not how I thought others saw me: a vapid, airy-fairy type obsessed with $300 jeans and faddish exercise classes. “You’re lucky I don’t reach across there and slap you,” I told my loudmouth homeboy who made the comment. But the more I persisted, the more he did, too. “Dude, you’re so LA. Yup. Totally. L-fucking-A.”
As we walked back from lunch, I was still thinking about his assessment, even though I’d learned from having endured (and participated in) enough LA bashing that the people who usually make generalizations about LA are the ones who’ve never been even there, like my coworker. I chalked up my perceived LA-ness to my sunniness—i.e., the fact that I smile a lot, laugh loud and touch human beings when I talk to them—and possibly that I do enjoy a pair of good jeans. But what was most bothersome was a “so LA” implication had made me suddenly less New York. If someone had said I was such a New Yorker, I’d sit a little taller in my seat, brush off my shoulders and self-deprecatingly act smug, because there’s something much cooler about a dark and cynical stereotype than a perky and positive one (which, I admit, is kinda absurd). The comment had exposed me as an outsider, a concept I’d hadn’t given much thought to in a dozen years. A you vs. us divider that I wasn’t in on, that could be a distinction all New Yorkers make but I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t one of them.
Then I thought, fuck that. Fuck being a type. I am LA because I do like warm weather and I am kinda vain, just like how I am the other places I’ve lived like Portland because I’m a fan of accessibility, fresh air and trees, or Hawaii because I value genuine people and chill vibes, or New York because there’s such a thing as too much chillin’ and efficiency needs to step in and wrap things up. It’s called balance, friends. And oddly enough, LA was where I learned balance.
In my twenties, I was like most Angeleno transplants in that I had no desire to grow up—no day job, no place to be at 2 in the afternoon—only an interest in the never-ending excesses that the late-night hours could promise. All the people I knew who lived in my building or worked with me at a restaurant had California dreams of being whatever their parents and civilized adults said we couldn’t—screenwriters, music writers, actors, hip-hop dancers—total Melrose Place shit. And when things grew gnarly and scary and over-our-heads, we remained optimistic, because of, yes, sunshine, youth and the mythology of those California dreams. And then we didn’t. Then we got real or we got sucked the fuck under.
A merry-go-round of booze and avoidance left me scrambled with the dry-heaves, and I had to find a healthy out—a restorative place or two. I learned to hike, to eat vegetables, to find the joy in mariachi music and to stand still, staring at the skyline, even if it was heavy with smog. I met some of the greatest friends that I still have to this day and I drew boundaries against those who dragged me down. I did some of my hardest living and recognizing in LA and I’m better for it.
So, yeah, I don’t really wanna live up in you again, Los Angeles, but I’ll try not to be too ashamed of you from now on, either. I’m trying to stay sunny.
March 2000, Dallas. I was standing in line, waiting to get into a ’80s club. Everyone was wearing their best smiles and coolest pair of shoes, laughing, chatting, probably half-drunk on flasks of cheap liquor. There was a buzz about the crowd, which there always seemed to be whenever the night was just getting underway at the age of 22—the air crinkling with hope that things would only get more exciting from here. I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t imagine when this would ever get old.”
I was referring to going out, partying, being where some crazy shit was going down. When I was 19 and studying in London, I learned the wonders of having a few drinks, wandering around a city and landing where it was loud and fabulously dizzying. I came back to the States, got a fake ID and started going to bars and clubs nearly every night. I thought partying regularly would, if not end, die down quite a bit after college, but here I was, paying $10 to drunkenly dance to Morrissey in the cowboy-conservative Land of Bush, unsure if I’d ever shake this need for a good thrill out of my system. My question to my friend was sincere, but there was also a tinge of panic in what seemed to be the answer. Was it bad if this never got old?
I’m now nearly twice the age I was when I first started partying (christ!) and it’s been a long time since I went to anything that resembled a nightclub or stood in line for something that wasn’t a show that I really wanted to go to, and even those events are few and in between. But there’s a part of me that will never be completely done with crawling out into the night or in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and letting loose, allowing for the great stories and shenanigans to happen. Even when I have a kid, and I’ll want to spend nearly every moment with the little nug, amused by every gassy face made, wincing at yet another cry yowled, I’ll still have the urge to get the fuck out. To laugh with friends, have one too many glasses of wine and probably a shot of something terrible, then live through the worst hangover in the morning because I need to not feel totally sedentary. Or blase. I haven’t lived this long not to learn that I love me an escape.
But I gotta say that yes, at 35, going out and getting drunk because I’m asked and I’m free and there’s nothing else to do has gotten old. It’s no longer a go-to reflex for when I’m itchy because something—loneliness, perhaps—is urging me to leave the immediate moment. I am a lady with a job and fiance and shit load of crap I look forward to watching on the Internet. I don’t leave Brooklyn, or anything that’s not walking distance, on the weekend, and I look forward to sitting down with my dinner, vegetables included, as the 60 Minutes stopwatch starts ticking away on a Sunday evening. I’ve even taken up Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune because it means I’m home early enough to hang with my man and possibly prove I’ve retained some knowledge. I know that makes me 75, not 35, but I don’t care. That’s where I’m at right now, and I honestly don’t think it’s depression. (I’ll get back to you next month and let you know for sure.)
Maybe these are biology’s little ways of meeting up with my mind and emotions and desires, nudging me into domesticity, or into savoring my downtime now because I want to have a rugrat or two in the next few years. My 22-year-old self might be disappointed, but she can’t say I gave in very easily.
Recently, my boyfriend and I were discussing aging. I asked him if, in the middle of the day, while he’s at his desk at work, he ever gets a shooting fear that one of his parents will call and tell him that something has happened to the other parent. He shook his head. “It’s something I won’t have to worry about for at least 10 years.”
His answer surprised me. “Wow, I guess I’m a crazy person then,” I told him.
He paused for a minute. “No,” he said. “It’s just that you’ve grown up in a way that I haven’t yet.”
This was the first time, in a long time, I felt different because I am one of those people who has lost her mother. Bitter. Jaded. Impaired. When my boyfriend assumed that he had another 10 years with his parents, my first thought was “you’re delusional; you have no idea how long you have with them.” And I hated that I thought that. I hated that this is how my mind works.
There probably isn’t a single day I don’t remember that my mother isn’t on this earth, though it’s usually in some small, barely conscious way. Same goes for remembering that I am one of the few people I know, especially my age, who’ve been affected with the same type of emptiness. When I meet someone who has lost a parent, many times I can sense it. And when it’s affirmed, there is a knowing look of empathy, a telepathical warmth sent to fill our mutual void, an understanding that we are part of a club we wish we didn’t belong to.
However, it’s been ten years since my mother died, and I am not as consumed or defined by that hole as I once was. I’ve found love, I’ve found strength and, on most days, I remain absurdly idealistic about the future I want and believe I will have. When I write about the isolation I feel from losing my mother, I can tap into those feelings easily because they still exist, but they don’t resonate with who I feel like on an everyday basis.
Then conversations like the one I had with my boyfriend happen, and I am reminded of the residual darkness that lives in my heart, in my mind, in my stomach. You could call it fear, damage or realism, but it never lets me forget how fragile and unfair mortality is, how no one is immune from feeling utterly alone. I’ve even had “what if” pangs about losing my healthy, thirtysomething boyfriend. For a second, an uneasiness pierces my gut, and I think about how I’d one day move on from losing the love of my life or the father of my child. Then I whisk those thoughts away. I won’t entertain them for longer than a flash. But they’ll pop up on a Saturday afternoon as my boyfriend kisses me from bed, puts on a T-shirt and leaves to go to his studio, or when I look at my dad and read the tiredness in his face. It mostly happens when I realize how much I love somebody, how lucky I am to have their love and closeness, how it could be all taken away from me at any time. Maybe the flip side is I cherish life more. Maybe I’m more appreciative of what I have because I am living without one of the most important people I have ever loved.
Though I am entirely grateful for all the growing up I had to do in the wake of my mother’s death and how that growth has led me to creativity, stability and a fair amount of recognition of all the shit I bring to all the tables of my life, I’d trade that awareness for innocence any time I think about having to lose a loved one again. I know too much. I envy my boyfriend’s answer.
(Above: My mom at 12 months old. She would’ve been 68 this week.)