But I always thought that I’d see you again

It’s hot and bright in Brooklyn and early enough in the season that it doesn’t aggravate me. My dress is insubstantial, equally valid as a fancy top or a beach cover-up. It looks kind of trashy in a way I realize would keep me from going onto the subway, into Manhattan. “Brooklyn is technically a beach town,” I joked, but it’s true. Actual beach aside, the blanket of Prospect Park is pinned down on most corners by traffic circles. It feels like a vacation spot standing at a red light in the middle of one. The first time I ever saw a traffic circle was on Hilton Head Island and “traffic circles are for beach towns” is one of those childhood truths that won’t quite leave me. They seemed to have a sort of power back then – round and round and the traffic circle itself is what spits you out from the normal world into Vacation. Looking kind of trashy is also for beach towns. In adulthood I managed to love the beach a few times a year, turning into a calmer, languid version of myself content to read and drape my limbs and drink stupid drinks. Certain summer days here can bring that back. Brooklyn is my home, the first place in New York where it doesn’t feel like a lie to call it that. I wonder if it’s because I needed to feel connected to an earlier home, an earlier me.

Home – my embarrassing longing for it and how often I feel without it – haunts me more than almost any other idea. I was always planning to write about my home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. There was always a reason to put it off: I needed to visit and be fully immersed in it to do it justice, or I needed to learn to write better first. I treated writing about it like going there – something that seemed inappropriate to approach with less than my best self. But I waited too long and now this is an elegy.

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Other People’s Windows

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New York City rarely gets the worst of any major weather event, but we love to make a huge thing of what we do get. I was on the street when the fifteen or so minutes of whiteout snow and gale force winds swept through. It seemed briefly possible that I might get blown backwards and away and I found begrudging humor in how in-sync the weather and my emotional state was.

The snow was gone as quickly as it came. Steam puffed upwards into a stunning and unfair sunset. From the huge windows of the Park Slope living room I’m in, snugly tucked among patterned carpets, blankets, and velvet chairs, any wind and single digit temperatures seemed small and quaint. I am the person who lives in the tiny, candlelit house in a snow globe – never in real danger from the dream-of-a-dream of bad weather.

It’s not the first time I’ve been in this room, but it is the first time I’ve been alone, in a crisis, in this room. This beautiful apartment on the top floor of a historic townhouse is inherently comforting. It’s not just because it belongs to dear friends who are absurdly good to me. The warm wall paint, the rich wood – it’s made entirely of things that signify security. It’s a very straightforward version of not-my-home-but-feels-like-home. Other places in my life that feel like home are so because they were built through time and joy and trauma. The things that forged those places can also make them unstable. There’s something easy and soothing about inhabiting a fireplace and sweater catalog image of home instead.

There’s no easy way to short-circuit the worst of human pain, but there are weird and laser-specific moods you discover. The tautness of everything you are as you walk knowingly into an unbearably shitty thing. The rush and melodrama of explaining your sadness to someone when it’s still an Event. And I’ve found the shape of another packaged, artisanal emotional experience in the past few days.

The sun is setting again and I can see nothing but those puffs of smoke and this Brooklyn that feels like it can’t be the same one I live in. In a way it’s a reverse “other people’s windows” feeling. Right now I’m afraid of that feeling. Up here, I’m safe behind a window other people can’t look into. Even the annoying sobs I let out last night felt a step removed; the appropriate crying of a girl in a TV show about wealthy people. Part of me thinks the gutting won’t come if I stay suspended figuratively and actually up here, padding around (in borrowed clothes, which somehow adds to it all) in this version of Myself in Pain that’s edited and polished.

You learn something new every day. I’ll go back down eventually.

On Liking My Middle Name

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My grandmother’s middle name is Christine. My mom’s middle name is Christine. My middle name is Anne. Growing up, I hated that – to me pointless – choice to break tradition. “Molly Christine” was more interesting, more romantic. It could have been a small comfort to me in all the years I hated both my names and longed for something feminine and flowery like Rose or Violet. My mom always said that she wanted to name me something that worked in all stages of life. She wasn’t fond of the popular choices of my era like Katie or Brittany. If not Molly, might have been Anne Elizabeth or Elizabeth Anne (called Liza).

Molly is perky, clipped, and short. It wasn’t common, but it didn’t feel special. The one or two others at school were always sportier or cheerier than I was. Famous examples real and fictional (Malone, Brown, Bloom, Ringwald, et al.) likewise seemed cut from a different cloth entirely. And Anne…well I often prefaced it with “and the most boring middle name ever.”

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A Very Enchanting Christmas

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December 22nd

I’m huddled in an airport bar at JFK, more than three hours before my flight to Albuquerque. Even with the wide margin of error, my anxiety spiked in the car on the way over. This trip has been a fixed mark for months and now, as it’s happening, part of my mind is bracing for something to make it impossible. The giddy, exciting side of anticipation has always been basically inaccessible for me until I cross some threshold that confirms the awaited thing will actually come. This confirmation can be superstitious. It just has to feel safe. There is a point where waiting can feel good. It’s the feeling of sitting in a restaurant when you know someone is meeting you or a theater when you’re seated but the curtain hasn’t gone up. Getting through security at the airport does this, too, even though things could still go wrong.

Besides, I have a soft spot for airport bars. Drinking alone in them still makes me feel special and like an adult in a way that isn’t depressing like most other things about feeling adult. Maybe it’s because they’re so often places where I experience that rare high of waiting. Most forms of travel are romantic, even down to the subway, so it could be that a little of that train station anything can happen aura rubbed off onto the overpriced restaurants at JFK. Airport bars are not glamorous. Look even a little closely and it falls apart, but the illusion persists for me.

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I used to think that this kind of waiting was the happiest a person could be in life; when against our better judgment we let the optimism and potential get to us without the edge and disappointment of reality. I was sort of right. It wasn’t safe to believe you’d arrive or could rest in anything. Maybe I didn’t realize that it’s possible to take it too far and never remember to stop and take inventory of everything. This is the second time I’ve flown to ABQ. This time I’m alone. But I’m going towards (and back) to something. The other day my boyfriend said “you’ll be home soon,” referring to this flight, this day. I don’t know if it was a slip on his part. Either way, it feels true.

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A Thanksgiving Post

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I’m coming up on my third anniversary of living in New York. New York still seems fake, sometimes. It’s probably a common enough experience for the transplants, this feeling that we can’t possibly be allowed to just live here; that it’s going to kick us out any second,  doomed thereafter to try and fail to get back as if New York were actually bound by a Brigadoonesque enchantment. It’s hard to accept that I live here because my life has gone a bunch of ways that no child dreams about and moving to New York is the one thing I said I would do as a unforged young person that I followed through on.

It is, in almost every way, different than I imagined it. The New York I was supposed to move to some day was meant to be the big threshold crossing, tadaima-ass moment. The person who stepped across that threshold was not just me but the best version of me. For a while, that seemed possible, as if the two suitcases I packed and brought with me on that one way flight in 2016 were all there was to it – no looming depression, no eating disorder (at least not in a cool, manageable way), no ill-advised and already dead marriage.

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The Clocks Don’t Sync Up

Next month I’ll be 27. This isn’t a number I’m too thrilled about. Plenty of older people rush to call me young if I verbalize my discomfort, but not as many as in past years. It’s too close to 30 to have many excuses anymore, but I feel like I only stopped being a child in the last, oh, two or three years. It wasn’t marriage, divorce, or physical aging that finally caused the break. It was a slow realization, the remolding and hardening of a series of decisions – not all of them bad but all of them difficult and messy – that I had set into motion on my own. I played with real narrative weight in my own life long enough that the distance between my emotional reality and the ability to go home again became too great. The grief of losing touch with the pre-adult me and the comfort it brought is a brutal amputation. I see other people my age (and much older for that matter) shambling through the same mourning process. The world is bad and we all know it. My generation grew into something far more bleak and doomed than we were ever prepared for. It’s not a world that my friends and I want to be in most days, and the thought of bringning anything else into it seems irresponsible at best and cruel at worst. My body doesn’t care about this at all.

I’ve spent most of my life treating childlessness as a foregone conclusion; an internal imperative so strong that pregnant women and mothers seemed fundamentally apart from whatever I am on a source level. They have different boundaries, as if the lines around them were pleasantly fuzzy. And there’s me, so hardwired to be self-contained within the limits of my own body. I’m sharp; a set unit you would never think to add to or subtract from. If I try to imagine myself pregnant, or with small children, my brain short circuits like the blue screen of death. The mythology of motherhood as a sacred and primordial mystery, the deepest source of feminine power, is not something I’m interested in contributing to. Really, it’s only strange inasmuch as any experience we find ourselves utterly locked off from is.

And yet, after over 26 years of bullheaded confidence, something is wavering. I pass couples with young children in Prospect Park and I try to project onto them, but not because I want it. A snapshot moment of a happy family is of course not the whole picture. Those couples fight and get too tired to fuck and those children throw tantrums. It’s still a slice of something I’ll never know. These moments didn’t use to register as anything, but now seeing parents with a stroller feels like peeking in people’s windows at night. TV plot lines about couples strained over whether to have kids make me sad now, but not because I want it. “We’re pregnant,” announced my brother’s friends at Easter brunch, and I looked away and excused myself. I started crying in the bathroom, but not because I want it. I’ve become consumed by what not wanting it means.

I do not want kids for the reasons that we’ve mostly agreed are bad reasons. There’s no legacy I care about passing on, my parents are fine enough that I don’t have a compulsion to fix their mistakes, and I know it’s selfish to create people in hope that they’ll take care of you when you’re old or sick. So what are the right reasons? No, I really want to know. Those happy kids in Prospect Park will probably grow up and mourn the loss of their childhoods in a world that’s even more unforgiving than mine. Even if the future looked better, it’s hard to imagine inflicting womanhood on another person. Are those mothers who express relief at only having sons, who say “boys are just easier,” actually relieved that they don’t have to pass on that particular millstone? It seems like there may not be a reason right enough to justify the risk anymore. And yet.

Maybe it’s that I’m almost 27 and some chemicals in my brain are nudging me to consider things because they’re attuned to rhythms and deadlines unparsable by my rational mind. My body doesn’t care about the doomsday clock any more than the world cares about me. But maybe it’s that I’m so sad and so bad at handling grief that I fantasize about experiencing hope and innocence vicariously; a fairy tale witch lying in wait to leech a sense of security and optimism from another generation. Do people want to have children because the only way to re-experience the veil of real safety and open-endedness is to draw it over someone else’s eyes?

As so many things do, I was reminded of The Age of Innocence. In particular, I thought about the sum of May Welland, the character most invested in and protective of the status quo. ” …the world of her youth had fallen into pieces and rebuilt itself without her ever being conscious of the change. This hard bright blindness had kept her immediate horizon apparently unaltered…she had died thinking the world a good place, full of loving and harmonious households like her own… ” I have always focused on the other main characters, on Newland Archer and his crippling fear and obligation or Ellen Olenska and the price of her unconventionality. The mutant strain of longing for a family is the first thing that has made May truly click with me. There’s an allure in being so naive that you sail right by the painful severance from your pre-adult assumptions. How lucky to raise children in the glow of your own childhood.

I’ve always liked the word weltschmerz and I think my unpackagable sadness over having children is the essence of that feeling. The world of split-second fantasies and lives I’ll never lead isn’t a reality that actually exists. It’s not even that I want children. I want to think about whether or not I want them in a world where the odds wouldn’t be stacked against them from the start.

 

 

Con Pointers

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I’m on a train from Boston to New York after spending the weekend at Readercon, a sci-fi and fantasy literature convention. On this leg, I’m spread out at one of the cafe car’s diner booth tables and I’ve decided this is actually more romantic than the side-by-side seats.

Cons are weird. They are little suspended worlds of textured beige wallpaper and malnutrition where time works differently. Even if you travel across the country to go to one, you end up spending so much time in hotel lobbies and ballrooms, cut off from sunlight, free from rules about when it’s appropriate to drink. This was entirely book-centric and even the small dealer’s room was strictly selling the written word. It tempered the bizarre con effect, but not entirely. I’ve been to Anime Expo and SDCC and D*Con – those are truly flash cities. Unsurprising trivia: I’m a person who is uselessly upset that I wasn’t alive for a World’s Fair.

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Fire Escape

Yesterday was, as swarms of optimistically half-dressed people trying to find space at porch and rooftop bars can confirm, like real spring. It was a similar day two years ago that I moved into a 4th-floor walk up in Hoboken, New Jersey. The 2-bedroom with exposed brick and blessed with in-unit laundry was above a nail salon, down the block from a 24-hour diner, and across the street from the bus stop I would take every day to Manhattan. Some days I didn’t like it; didn’t like the fellow commuters in their 20s who seemed both younger and more put together, didn’t like the yuppie families who never moved their strollers out of the way on the sidewalk. Sometimes I just resented not living in the city, worried my co-workers were thinking less of me as the only non New York State resident or annoyed at myself for falling short of my dream of a cooler Lower East Side life. But it was home. I hesitated to call it that, especially when the relationship that made it home was destabilized, but it was. Though I haven’t lived there in any real way since November, I had to leave it for good yesterday.

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Thoughts and Plans

Becoming a member of the church I spent roughly ages 11-18 going to involved, among other and more bureaucratically complicated things, choosing a “life verse.” I never made it to membership, which turned out to be dodging a bullet, but had come down to two choices for a life verse. My new testament pick was Philippians 1:6 – For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. It had been the focal point of a lesson at my evangelical middle school and I kind of liked it. Over time I cooled on this verse in line with my diminishing confidence that anything, let alone a “good work,” had indeed begun. My alternate choice stuck with me.

Jeremiah 29:11 goes “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. I like the New American Standard translation here. I think it’s the drama of the word calamity. Some versions go with “not for evil” but that’s much less of a mood. The past few years have meant throwing out most of my preconceived notions about how my life would go and what kinds of experiences would be viable for me. There are times when words like calamity don’t seem too far off. Jeremiah 29:11 is appealing on a visceral level because the thought that something, somewhere knows my plan is superstitiously calming. Jeremiah’s “I know” is more reassuring, more solid than Phillippians’ “confident in this.” It’s a verse that is at once soothing and stern, in the way being told to snap out of it can sometimes be a balm.

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