I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
He was the kind of man who had been through war but dressed his wounds years after the fact. He was a heart worth beating for, a man who buried his face in my hair and let it rest there. We were in a restaurant in Utah and I rushed to the table and whispered, Britney Spears is in the bathroom! Back then, I wore a red wool hat the size of a small child. I don’t know what your plans are, but mine don’t include children. On our first date we took a good meal in a bad restaurant. When he asked, do you always drink like this?, gesturing to a wine glass that was never empty, I laughed and said, do you know of any other way? That night we fell asleep to the sound of a woman singing Chinese arias in the courtyard. Back then I lived in an apartment above a restaurant where tourists paid Italian men of a certain age and breed to play The Godfather on a weathered violin. When the halls smelled of bleach and the carousel of lights flickered and faded to dark, a woman would sing, always, as if her sad song could eclipse all the ones that had come before. You have to know that it was tragic to fall asleep to The Godfather night after night. Because there’s heartbreak in repetition, in a heart that never quickens, but only slumbers its way home. Part of me wondered about a man who fell in love with a woman who was intent to remain at war with herself, who felt shelter only by picking at healing wounds. Just to see if she could still bleed. Just because she could. Just because she knew of no other way.
We spent the holidays in Boston with a family that measured your self-worth by the accumulation of degrees. I’d pass muster because, you know, Columbia. I’d never lived in a house with two floors, much less a mudroom (What’s a mud room? I whispered as we removed our coats. A room before the others, he said), so when we arrived that night I crept up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down, again. I did find it strange that one needed a room to ready oneself for the rest of the house.
Over the next two days there was a fire, a brawl, a father who thought it funny to call me felatio, a battle waged against a sister who got rhinoplasty and changed her name because she was so tired of being Jewish, thickened mashed potatoes and tears (mostly his, some of my own), and I understood that a mudroom was a way out. Back then I slept on top of the sheets, never between them, with one leg off the bed, ready to run. Who knew that a room would be a leg, an escape clause, a get out of dodge kind of plan? I never thought I’d say this but your family is more fucked up than mine, I said. Let’s just leave, he said. He had this habit of removing his glasses and cleaning them, even after they were clean. He’d remove, wipe, wear, and remove, wipe and wear all over again. They’re clean, I snapped once, to which he replied, that’s not the point.
I realized then that I was dating a man whose last name meant screamer in German.
Who gives away their slow-beating heart? Who does this? Who lets someone in, all the way? I was nothing if not a collection of bones broken in all the wrong places, and as one year eclipsed another, as people stood beneath a storm of snow-mixed confetti–reports warned of thundersnow–as couples hastily and sloppily kissed, as children wore cone-shaped hats and raised valiant fists in the air, I removed my lips from his and said, this year I don’t want this. I couldn’t love another version of me. Back then I was impenetrable, incapable of love because I’d equated it to bloodletting, and who knew then that he knew this all along. That he made a game of seeing if he could break me because he was the gambling kind.
A month later I discovered that although my heart wasn’t capable of complete love, it was completely breaking. Men took me and my things to a small apartment in Chelsea where a man blasted jazz into the gloaming.
I thought about of this when I spent New Year’s Eve with a dear friend, and we talked about how we started each year, if we had been alone, if that meant something. Four years of thirty-nine I’d spent it with a significant other, and it occurred to me, a day later, that those others weren’t significant, I was alone, and all of it did mean something. Until now I hadn’t been the gambling kind. I hadn’t flung open the doors to the light just beyond the dark (had you been there, all this time? Just beyond my reach? Or had I been busy dressing all those open wounds?); I hadn’t run all the way out and in. I was running in circles, exhausted from chasing all the wrong things, and I was tired. So tired.
Because I don’t want to live in a house with a mudroom. Because I’m finally able to rest between the sheets. Because I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones. Because being anesthetized isn’t a way to live, rather it’s a way to affix bandages over a dam about to break, it’s a way to slowly and cowardly die. Because writing one-line axioms in a book isn’t really the same thing as living a life. Because there is a difference between being uncomfortably comfortable in the familiar versus feeling disquiet in the unknown. Because I’m 39, and I no longer want to feel the tic of a list but rather the rush of a life.
I don’t believe in resolutions. I don’t believe in resolving to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t believe in being inspired by someone and letting that light, that whisper to do, fall to blight. Every year until now has felt like a photocopy of a bland original, but I woke yesterday thinking about all the possibility. I’m going to write without fear of not being published. I’m going to move to four states. I’m going to stop hiding behind my graduate loan debt, using that as an excuse to live in a house of no. I’m going to create. I’m going to break ranks. I’m going to sit in discomfort and disquiet because I know there’s a better place. And I’ve already booked my first AirBNB for my move to New Mexico.
And I know all of this will lead me back to a greater self, a self made whole, and then, possibly then, I will find something that resembles love.
Because this year I don’t want this.
Recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower and Dates, because this is what you eat after three slices of vegan coffee cake on New Year’s Eve.