This is the year I got so very lost but was found again. This is the year where I watched a slow breath shuddering out and then saw the scamper of fast feet and the quick pant of a new breath. My kingdom, my kingdom, had fallen to rubble and dust, and I had to lay brick and bone to rebuild again. You took my Sophie and gave me my Felix, and we must go on. I can’t go on, I’ll go on, a dead writer wrote. It used to be that I thought the words love and loss were a mirror held up to a face, the stuff of hard work — always a mopping down and a sweeping up, always with the tears and soft-knuckling on locked doors — until a wise friend observed that all these years I’d gotten it all wrong (screwed it up, kid. You think you know, but you don’t). Love is a constant, loss is an event, and losing someone you love doesn’t erase the enormity of that affection, only the physical embodiment of it. But still I read Eliot: I had not thought death had undone so many, because this was the year of the unraveling.
I came undone. Double helix to broken line. This is how it has to be done. You can’t erect walls around pain, confining it, you have to walk through it. You’d be surprised how much you can bear.
This was the year I fixated on the barnacles. The waves rushed up the stairs, took them two by two and then receded, leaving a little puddle, rocks and gravel at my feet. Come morning I watched a boy throw rocks into the ocean and imagined him full-grown, face full of stubble, voice of ash, and I wrote a story about divisions that were not purely mathematical. The horizon drew a line and I wondered what was the other side. So I went back to my room and dreamt of water, but wrote about fire. Add, replace, divide, multiply — hand me my protractor and compass and I’ll tell you about the maths, about the lines we draw and erase. While writing a book from the point of view of a gentle psychopath, I read an article about Charlie Manson and a story collection by a wonderful writer who may or may not be his daughter, and all I can think of are wild eyes, the way that the words fist fuck make me sick, and the Summer of Love.
Charlie Manson is worried about the environment.
We carted our collection of the heads of rams and hurled them into the ocean. We duct-taped the clocks and…look at that sharp bone making a mess of the waves! Massacres of our own making. I watch videos of barnacles, witness their spindly legs bind and attach, and a man on a boat guffaws, his lips all blistered and bovine when he says, A knife won’t get them. You need tools. You need a saw. They’re like women who’ll never leave.
For two months I was under anesthesia and I lost time. Over a telephone line I said, Would you mind coming by? Can you come get me? Because I need help. I need you. I’m not one to ever need. I’m not one to make inquiries. I’m not one to phone. But once the ground gives way, the fall feels seemingly bottomless, and it should not be on you alone where the dark patches fall. This was the year where a collection of women held my hand and asked, What do you need? There’s a slice of light under the door. I gesture to it, make a show of it, and they say open wider, and I open my mouth and all the mothballs hurtle out.
Over another phone line my father says, This must be killing you. To which I respond, Asking for help or the drink? He says, Both, I imagine. And this is true too.
I worry about Charlie Manson getting old. Kids mistake Jim Jones for a rapper who bears the cult leader’s name. People will forget the blood on the walls and the medicine poured into Dixie cups. We’re making our own Helter Skelter in 140 characters or less.
It’s nice for a change, I think, letting people in. I should do this more often. Under a blanket of white stars, I tell my father I wish I could stop time. Remain like this, walking around on a farm, in the dark, and we laugh because time is the one thing I can’t control.
This was the year when I had to travel to another country to realize my worth. You are what you go after, and for a time I was after all the wrong things. I cartographed my possessions, tabulated my miles and negotiated my equity for a life that was slowly being stolen from me. We scratch and claw at the air, at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch. Four years in passing and I felt as if I had less than with what I started. Can I tell you that while I was in France I wanted to touch those barnacles — gruesome things — simply because I knew they were dangerous? Finally, I retreated because I was tired of pursuing the things that would invariably make me sick, be my ruin.
I came home and took stock of all the things I’d acquired and the void they so desperately tried to fill, and I filled bags and bins, and threw that former life into the street.
You can’t buy your way to fine.
This is the year where I feel as if I’ve back to square one. I bake, I write, I market, but where’s all this going? Where’s that great love? Where’s that little postmark of a house that is enclosed in quiet? In two weeks time, I’m another year old, slightly wiser, and now I’m boarding another plane to a place halfway around the world to ask myself:
What is it that you want?
This one thing I do know: I’ve changed.