12×3

12×3

First, listen.

It seems unfair that anything concerning you should be so easy for me to remember. Had it been another month, another day, another year, I can guarantee it would not have stuck to the walls of my brain the way it has. But as it so happens, we both showed up late for dinner on a Wednesday, a date that made the entire evening electric similar in the way that kismet might, if you choose to believe in that sort of thing. And here’s where I’ll let you in on a little secret: I choose to believe in that sort of thing. I’m something akin to the Grinch when it comes to romance. But put on a romantic comedy and my heart grows three sizes every time. As does the goofy grin on my face as I watch the inevitable and probably cliche meet-cute unfold before me.

So perhaps I had set myself up for failure from the outset. Perhaps the cards had been stacked against you from the moment we agreed to have dinner on December 12th, 2012. Who can stand up to destiny and meet-cutes and kisses set to the perfect song? Who did I think you were, after all? Someone who made me laugh, who fawned over Springsteen the same way I did, who had my ideal balance of controlled mess, and a dog, too? These were all things I had learned to be true about you before the 12th of December, of course. They were the things flying around my brain in the interim between our first and second date. They were also the things that remained in my brain as the little pieces that continued to endear me to you long after you had ceased to deserve any endearment from me at all.

You met me at a strange time in my life. I was a late-blooming 25 year old, and at 25, I had no idea how to fall for someone. So I began making charts and diagrams in my head. A breakdown of our dates, their locations, the lighting, tracking the hours we spent together, who texted first, the songs you hummed along to in the car, how many times you said my name, the jittery feeling in my stomach when our hands touched, if we spent the night together and where we had breakfast the next morning. It might sound crazy to you (and it sounds crazy to me, too) but for however literary- and creative-minded I am, I am quite a fan of being able to break down and analyze things, too. I thought I had been helping myself, drawing out a topographic map of our relationship for all its mountaintop highs and valley lows, giving me something to measure the current against. But in the end, it only constructed a detailed history of flickering giddiness, glimmers of love, and omnipresent self-doubt.

The difference between today and two, three years ago, is the feeling. The feeling of the day as a whole. In the past, I felt as if I’d failed at something, I felt a loss. But I could never name the loss, I never quite knew what it was. It has been a while now that I’ve been able to look at the situation objectively, to realize there was nothing for me there. All right, that might be overstating things. There was something. It was a sapling of something that was ill-advised and planted in the throes of the frosty winter months. It never stood a chance. But from that sapling, I learned what it was to fall for someone. I mean, to be smitten with someone. And I learned what it was to be blinded by feelings of love and intimacy. I learned that my radar for bullshit should always be trusted and I also learned that letting my guard down and running the risk of hurting myself is worth it, sometimes. Because the hurt can go away. And it has.

It’s no longer about the romance, or the feelings I once had. They’ve gone and disappeared with the bar we first met at, which no longer exists as the place it once was. To me, the marvellous thing about the situation is how two people who crammed so much something into so little time can look back after four years and find nothing at all.

Header photo by Anders Røkkum
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On Sadness

On Sadness

First, listen.

Here’s the thing: sadness is crippling.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sadness you’ve got. It could be clinical depression, it could have come in with a colder season, it could be because of a nasty break-up. Whatever shape or size it comes in, it has the ability to cripple you, to force you onto a crutch, to curl you up into the shape of a fetus. Sadness has this insane ability to change everything about you; the way you hold yourself while riding the subway, whether or not you hug your jacket to your body, if you stare down at your feet, if you scowl or frown or pout or do nothing with your mouth. It brings down the number of true, genuine laughs in your day. Sometimes it can make the sound of your own amusement sound foreign, when it finally creeps out from the shadows.

Sadness has this way of hiding tears right there at the surface of your eyelids, skimming the top of your tear ducts, waiting to pour down the slope of your cheeks, to the chin, and (sometimes) onto the collar of a perfectly clean shirt. There’s that choking feeling in the back of the throat, that one that almost feels like a burn because the body is trying to fight off that crying yelp that one might be familiar with due to drunken nights in college, after that boy never texted or called and ignored you in the dining hall. You know the one. You know it exactly. And you fight it. You fight it because you’re sitting at your desk at work and someone says that one little thing, even if it’s comforting like ‘I want to call you and hear your voice, I miss you,’ but it’s that thing that’s going to make you cry. But you’re in public and none of these people have ever seen you cry. And they probably never should because your cry face is quite an ugly fucking thing. So you save it all. You stock it on the highest shelves in your mind, all that crying, all that sadness. You hide it behind your smile and the self-deprecating jokes and you file it away to remind yourself to figure out why you’re feeling sad in the first place. What that aching space in your chest is all about.

You go for more than 12 hours pushing the sadness to the back burner, even through the sad song on the subway that has you staring down at your folded hands, willing the tears to go away. But you’re almost home! Just a few minutes away! And you finally get in and it’s like you’ve got a full bladder, the way your foot is tapping, the way your hand fights to get the keys into the lock. Except, when you get inside and you drop your bag on the floor and you throw your jacket off to the side, you’re not releasing your pee. The tears start flowing, the breathing is labored. It’s more an hysterical hyperventilation than anything else.

You’ve held it in for so long that it’s almost hard to just let them all go, all those tears. They had become such permanent fixtures, gathering cobwebs on those high shelves somewhere in your mind. But they’re leaving, now. And the sobs are shaking you. And you hide under your covers and feel the eye make-up burning but you can’t stop. All while asking yourself why: Why am I sad? Why am I crying? Why do I want to stay under these covers for at least the next week? And maybe you don’t know the exact answer, maybe you are keenly aware that things aren’t terrible. Of course they’re not terrible! You have a job, you have a roof to live under, you have a bank account that (sort of!!!) has money in it. You could probably write a longer list of the things that are going well. Plenty to be happy about. The air in your lungs, an able body. Yes, you are equipped with all of your senses. But there’s a cloud. You don’t want to relate yourself to Eeyore so maybe it’s a fog.

You’ve been through this before feeling that nagging, terrible word: lonely. And with a little closer examination: Alone.  And you don’t want to go back there.

Suddenly, the intercom rings – a delivery guy – and you realize your roommate has been home the entire time you’ve had a panic attack by yourself in your room.

“I have so much I want to tell you, and nowhere to begin.”

“I have so much I want to tell you, and nowhere to begin.”

First, listen.

I woke up on January 27, 2010 to learn that J.D. Salinger had died. I was 22 years old.

Throughout the course of the day, I received messages from family and friends checking in to see how I was doing, if I was okay. I guess you can say I was the walking cliche who had read The Catcher in the Rye in high school and felt forever changed by it. But it wasn’t because I connected with Holden Caulfield. In fact, a lot of his ideas of the world bored me and made me roll my eyes. I have my cynical moments but I’d like to think I see the world with even just the thinnest veil of optimism. It was deeper than the main character, deeper than this beautiful setting of New York City, a place I hadn’t truly tapped into yet as a teenager in the suburbs of Long Island. There was something in the way that Salinger wrote that grabbed me by the metaphoric lapels and shook me. Perhaps it was the conversational way that he told his story through Holden’s narrating that made me feel like maybe he was talking directly to me. Or, to be less dreamy-eyed and naive about it, maybe I felt as if we might have a nice chat, J.D. and I, if ever he stopped being a recluse in Cornish, New Hampshire. (I held out hope for this very scenario until the day he died.)

I constantly wondered what it might be like to live inside his head, to have written these characters who are just a step or two outside of being mentally and/or emotionally stable. I liked it, loved it as a young person dealing with her own imperfect mind and emotions, with a family that was coming apart at the seams. The Caulfields weren’t perfect. And, with further reading, I learned that the Glass family was even less perfect than them.

I have this story I always tell of when I was 11 years old and my parents had just begun their trial separation. One of my teachers asked the class if our parents were divorced and I don’t know why she did this, I really do not. Maybe she was making some point about statistics? She was a math teacher. Or… maybe she was going through her own stuff? She was a bit weird. But I saw a number of kids raise their hands. Two, at first. Then three, four, five. I sat there with my hands under my thighs, as if to fight the inherent urge my 6th grade body had to be honest about my life. These jokers were all lying. There was no way the most popular girl in our grade had divorced parents! How could she have ever gotten to be so cool? You know? Because my parents fought and I didn’t sleep very well and I was nervous around boys and sometimes I cried for no real reason. Those were not the makings of a popular girl. Not that my lack of popularity was the fault of my parents’ impending divorce, but I assumed, at the time, that it certainly would not help. And so I had no other choice but to assume everyone else was lying and looking to embarrass the sole person (me) who really did have divorced parents and admitted it in front of the class.

The point is, it took me a long time to realize that the strange badness that I dealt with wasn’t just mine. It wasn’t just me. And figures like Salinger were able to help me realize it.

Plus, his writing. His writing. It’s so good in that it’s not overwrought with pretension and yet you feel like you’ve gained something new; perspective, amusement, sadness, introspection.

Senior year of high school, I was writing college admission essays and one of the schools asked for the applicant to write an extra chapter for the book of the applicant’s choosing. It could have been anything in the world. I chose, of course, to tack a chapter on to the end of The Catcher in the Rye. Post-revelation that Holden had been in a mental hospital since Page One. (I digress here but I feel I have to tell you about the chapter: Holden sitting on a bench in the hospital’s courtyard beside Jane Gallagher who had surprised him with a visit. They talked about Allie and Phoebe and their old days of playing chess, and then a light rain started to fall, and everyone else scattered inside, but not Holden, and not Jane. They sat in the rain with Holden’s hand clamped onto hers and he closed his eyes and leaned his head back and felt a little sliver of peace for once in his goddamn life.) This was an ungraded assignment but I went to my AP English teacher and asked for feedback. It was over ten years ago but I’m assuming I’ll never forget her lilting cursive in red ink telling me that my extra chapter sounded eerily identical to something Salinger himself could have written.

(Though, I imagine Salinger might have ended it with a suicide attempt, if you want to know the truth.)

Maybe that’s the proof of how he helped me. He didn’t grow up with this book like I had. I saw Holden finding peace, much like the way I, at seventeen years old, was hoping I would find it. And somehow, between the lines of phonies and prostitutes and children running through a field of rye, I was able to see the glimmer of possibility.

Anyway… Thank you.