But sometimes, it feels like I’m not here. I get caught-up in mechanical motions, and it feels like I’ve ceased to exist at all.
Simple things, even ones with heart, become so routine that I begin missing the point. — Devoid of place. Time. Importance. — I struggle being present half the time, if at all. I am so convinced of my own insignificance, that, I’m sure, everyone else is too. The world, limitless and beautiful, slowly loses all color and meaning.
Things fall by the wayside, and I let them.
But then — a package arrives.
My wily and wacky Aunt has sent me a hand written note accompanied by a small ceramic dish that bears my initial, “S”, and with it, three, small, paper journals. Pink, blue, and green. — All adorned with their own, ridiculous llama. Each batting their bright eyes, flashing chiclet teeth, wielding unruly, pink tongues, and carrying colorful, tiered packs on their ridiculous, llama backs.
I squint as I read each line of her perfectly penned greeting. Cursive. Tiny. Black and inky. She writes, “Hey, you can’t always have your laptop handy when inspiration strikes.” And, apparently, the llamas are meant to help in these situations.
“Here.” I imagine her saying. “A llama for your thoughts.”
In the kitchen, I feel tears creep into the corners of my eyes. It’s nice. I suddenly have this — an unexpected note from my Aunt. And, with it, ridiculous llamas that make me feel visible again. Something light in all this heaviness.
Most days, I resign myself to feeling forever lost — misplaced among God’s little things. But, here, somehow, my Aunt managed to find me, even in this place where, I’m sure, I don’t belong.
Love’s little notes, — Cursive. Tiny. Black and inky. — are the paper proof that I’m actually here.
Without my laptop handy, I turn to the first page in my little, pink-llama notebook.
I scrawl a bunch of words on little slips of paper. Names. Places. Feelings. Each small note, something I want to leave behind. This year, along with the previous 7 years, are folded among them. I’ll burn them up before the year is out.
I’m not one for New Year’s celebrations or resolutions. However well intentioned, they are always laced with disappointment.
But, this year something is different. Tectonic plates have shifted. My position has been compromised and something needs to change. I’ve made mistakes — big ones — on a number of fronts. And, everything has culminated in a literal and figurative move — away from myself. I’ve failed myself. 2015 marks an algorithm I cannot decipher. An un-crackable code. A failure I cannot correct. There is no bandaging this. I can no longer reassemble my pieces and make some new, refurbished mosaic. — There is only leaving it behind.
“Goodbye” is much harder than “We’ll fix this.” It’s why I fight it. I stay in relationships, at jobs, in the company of toxic people — too long. Always avoiding goodbye. Harsh. Permanent. A boundary that cannot be breached. Cold turkey. The difference between resolve and resolution. It’s devastating.
I moved to Oregon in 2009 with incredible spirit and the promise of more to come. My love. My dreams. I became a pioneer of myself. Free. I moved in and out of my own independence with trepidation and joy. I was fearless in my own creation of myself. — I was to become the woman I had dreamed up on the floor of a railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while I was 25, sitting on a mattress without a box spring. And, it was a thrill.
But Oregon, with all it’s beauty and freedom — took everything back. Piece by piece. My spirit. My love. My dreams. First, untethered and so sure of myself, then, suddenly, a captive of something I could not see. With each passing year, I found myself battling new ghosts.
Lost there, in my beautiful city of beautiful bridges, I was a quiet wind that blew in-between the pines that wrap around Reed College. But, the rain and damp sank so far into my my bones, they began to rot. So, I took what I could salvage and I fled. Back to Brooklyn — a place I hardly recognize, save for these same ghosts who, now, haunt me on street corners and in subway cars.
I watch seasons bleed into one another from the window of my parent’s house. I try to remember what it was that girl sitting on the mattress wanted. I think of little else. But, the more I look for her — her dreams — the more bereft I become. She is lost.
Resolve is this — I am done looking for someone who is gone.
I write my own name on a scrap of paper and place it with the others. She’s not here anymore. And now, there is enough paper for a nice, slow burn. When it’s all ash, I’ll scatter it like the dead. Carbon for the Earth.
For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to it — The New Year. — One where I let go. Where I find the courage to say goodbye to that which anchors me in the past. Where I light the way of new dreams with the lessons learned in pursuit of old ones. Where I release the ghost of the girl I was and make room for the real woman I have become.
A New Year, where we find ourselves, always — alive — in the here and now.
It’s the Monday before Christmas and I’m walking down 3rd Avenue. I have a chesty cough and my chapped hand clings to a prescription for antibiotics.
“Bronchitis,” the doctor told me matter-of-factly after listening to one, heavy breath with his cold stethoscope pressed to my back. He wished me a “Merry Christmas” as he ushered me out of the exam room and into the hallway where he pulled another chart from the cracked, plastic bracket on the wall. — They’re running out of room at the inn.
On the avenue, I let out a good, phlegm-y cough. My lungs loosen up, and suddenly, a good energy closes in on me. Bay Ridge shoppers scatter in every direction, colorful tubes of wrapping paper poking out from the tops of their over-sized shopping bags. A man in a JETS sweatshirt yells into his cellphone in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Whatddya mean, yous got the fuckin’ Star Wars pajamas? I just waited in line a fuckin’ hour for these fuckin’ things! Jesus Christ Lorraine.” He lets out a sigh, and then, he laughs and raises his right thumb and forefinger to his lips, taking a final pull off his cigarette before flicking it to the curb in an explosion of sparks. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”
An Arab kid holds the door for me as I walk into Rite Aid on 78th Street, and, when I thank him, he tells me, “No problem lady. Don’t worry about it,” like he’s a member of the Rat Pack. In the line to pick up my prescription, there’s a toddler in a two-tiered stroller shoving Fruit Loops wildly into his face. He smiles at me, rainbow sludge oozing out of the corners of his mouth. I wave at him covertly and when he laughs his mother turns around to look at me suspiciously.
“What’s your last name, honey?” the pharmacy cashier asks me when I finally get to the front of the line. I tell her and she lets out a laugh like tires on gravel. “You Irish, you’ve got the craziest names! What’s your first name honey?” I don’t bother telling her it’s Scottish. “Sarah.” She hands me a white paper bag with a yellow sticker. “Feel better honey. Happy Holidays. Next in line, come on over honey!”
At the produce place on the corner of Ovington Avenue, I’m in line behind a Greek lady who buys four pints of peeled garlic cloves from the Chinese woman wearing blue, latex gloves. They both laugh, sharing some sort of inside joke. — And, I wonder what the fuck she’s planning on cooking, because whatever it is — I want some.
Suddenly, all these little things feel like something big. And, that’s how I know love is edging it’s way back into my life. It always begins with small, innocuous moments. Joy hidden in the bits and pieces of our humanity. I step back and observe it — my Brooklyn. I remind myself that I don’t have to be anything. I’ll just watch this beauty fall around me. And, it doesn’t mean I have to stay here, it just means I have to be here now.
Look. Customers sipping their coffee. My cat curled up on top of my feet. Listen. The murmur of my parent’s conversation downstairs. Sirens wailing out on their way to a fire. Breathe. Someone’s making pasta sauce and its aroma drifts through the window, out onto the street. The clean scent of the pine wreath my mother has fastened to the front door.
I haven’t bought a single gift. Depressed and bed ridden does not a good Christmas-shopper make. But, on the walk home, I convince myself that three days will be plenty of time. I don’t mind waiting in lines. Would you believe I like standing there, watching everyone else’s story unfold? Because, I do. — Especially when I am tired of replaying my own.
I arrive home and I find my mother has left apples out for me on the kitchen counter. She’s placed them neatly on a paper towel in front of the coffee pot.
Love isn’t always wrapped up under the tree.
It’s the kid who’s getting two pairs of Star Wars pajamas this year. It’s an Arab boy with the swagger of Frank Sinatra. It’s macerated Fruit Loops staining the corners of a shrewd toddler’s mouth — and it’s the mother who’ll fiercely protect him. It’s a cashier who calls everyone “Honey.” It’s a Greek lady with a fuck-ton of garlic and it’s a Chinese lady with blue gloves who knows something I don’t.
It’s making my way back home.
And, it’s finding apples waiting for me on the kitchen counter.
I want a cigarette so fuckin’ bad, I can taste it.
In the coffee shop, I stand at my post in the window, watching passers-by stroll down the avenue, little breaths of smoke trailing behind them. Their mouths, happy, little chimneys.
Camel. American Spirit. Marlboro. Kool. Newport. And, my old brand, Parliament. — The bodega across the street, with bright signs flashing, taunts me in the morning darkness.
But, I allow myself to be distracted by holiday joy. Inside our coffee-fueled-snow-palace-workshop, the scent of java wafts magically about as my coworkers pour the new, limited-time-lattés — Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread, and Maple Spice — into tall, white paper cups. We stand at attention, turbo-caffeinated elves, under a cascade of twinkling lights and dangling crochet snowflakes.
From open to close, our soundtrack is Michael Bublé’s Holiday Pandora Station. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” he croons, as a man jogs by wearing shorts and hoodie. Yes, it’s 60 fucking degrees outside, and — if we’re being honest — it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. But, I’m trying here.
During my break, I want nothing more than to stand at the back door, sipping a plain-old-soy-latte, sucking down three glorious Parliaments in quick succession.
‘Tis the season! — And really, that’s the thing I try to remember. — It’s just seasonal stress. Holidays make hard things harder. And, I remind myself when I can think of nothing but nicotine’s sweet kiss — cravings are just a chemical warning. — Ease up. Relax. Breathe.
Some days, I think I may as well have a cigarette — because breathing isn’t easy either way. It’s hard to be patient, waiting on change. Placing one foot in front of the other. It’s slow. And, the holidays are a pine-scented reminder that time is passing far more quickly than I’d like. — I’m not sure I’m ready for 2016 just yet. Not sure that I want to concede to another disappointing year. — “Come on Sarah, it’s nothing a latté can’t fix,” my favorite coworker tells me, steaming soy milk with an elfish grin painted across her face.
As Michael Bublé, fondly known in the coffee shop as “The Bubés,” really leans in to the chorus of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town”, I am reminded that — other than a nice, long smoke break — there’s not much I need this Christmas. I got my wish — I’m back home. And, I’ve got it pretty good here. Depressed, sure, a bit. But, I’m lucky. — And, I know it.
Things will fall into place. Somehow. Eventually. Hopefully.
In the meantime, I remind myself to be grateful. — To be a good girl.
This year, my list is short. All I want is my spark back.
Until this past week, I’ve never been truly weary before. I’ve been exhausted, tired, drained, tapped out, and spent. Not weary.
Goodbyes are tiring. Traveling is tiring. Road trips, while they are the experience of a lifetime, are tiring. Sitting in a car at a ninety degree angle for sixteen hours at pop is tiring. Yes — even trail mix — is tiring. And, some combination of these things, at random or in succession, leads to extreme weariness.
So, I sit here in a fog. Waiting. Waiting for the moment to hit. The moment when I’ll begin processing all this change and movement I’ve been barreling through at warp speed. But, now, I allow myself the time to rest.
I try to write about home and place. The two things that have always fascinated me the most. They are synonyms and antonyms simultaneously. And, my search for home never started by going to a place, but, instead, by searching within. You must use caution. Home and place will deceive you. I’ve learned too well how familiar things can, very quickly, become foreign.
On the last leg of our trip, as my mother and I crossed over the Pennsylvania border, she said, “This is the East coast landscape I’m used to. It’s so green and lush. It’s beautiful. And, maybe it’s not as dramatic as the West coast, but, this is my home.” Those few, short sentences, summed up everything. My hopes and expectations for this move, the place I hold and have always held for myself in NYC, the sense of myself that I’ve left behind and — the one I’m returning to.
Sometimes, in those TV shows where famous actors or athletes return to their childhood hometowns the host will say, “Stay tuned, and watch as So-and-So returns to the place that made him!” I keep thinking about that. Because, I returned to my childhood home, and, in doing so, I left the place that made me behind. But, having been re-made somewhere else, and returning back home, has its advantages. — It makes everything here look new. Better. Or, at the very least, different.
It’s an unknown feeling. An exciting one. And, when I’m less weary, it’s one I look forward to exploring.
It’s like crossing a state line into something unexpected, but, still familiar. A life that’s green and lush. And, maybe not as dramatic as the one I left behind out on the West coast. But, here I am. And I won’t look back.
Because this — this is my home. And, weary or not, I’ve arrived.
My sweet, 14+ pound kitty and I had quite the traumatic flight. But, we survived, and we pulled up to my childhood home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn very much alive. I returned home to find that, despite the fatigue, stress, and moving-related nostalgia, I had been gifted an unusual and, somehow, special sense of place and peace upon my arrival. My cat, however — hid under my bed.
Just days later, my mother and I embarked on our epic cross-country journey BACK to Oregon. (We’re still on the road.) In Portland, we’ll be packing up the last of my things and saying final goodbyes to the people and places I have cherished for the past six years before driving back East. For good.
It’s a strange feeling. Moving — shuttling around. A friend of mine recently moved from Portland to Richmond, Virginia. We’ve been talking about the highs and lows of leaving one home behind for another. The excitement and the sadness. The stress and the satisfaction. One night, after expressing my mild panic about one thing or another, he sent me a text from the road: “The drive across country helped soften the change.”
I thought about his words. Digested them. That’s really what I’ve needed all along. — Something to soften things. All my things. — To make my places safe and comfortable. Graceful transitions have never been my forte.
But, in the car with my mother these past few days, between our laughter, obsessive podcast listening, eclectic music selections, and the obvious we’re-in-a-car-together-for-several-weeks frustrations…I’ve all but forgotten the sadness that my Portland-loss had brought. And, while there’s still packing to do and goodbyes to make, I think that confusing my sense of place has — softened things.
So, this week, and next, I celebrate. I celebrate myself. I celebrate my mother. And we celebrate our place — together and in the world. — Wherever that may be.
I learn that place will never define us. It cannot define us. It only builds and informs us — it transforms us. But, it is us who will do the defining. And, with each step I take away from, and back toward, Portland — I write myself. — My place. — I discover that I am my own home.
And, I allow myself to live — here — in my own heart.
And with that knowledge, I soften with every passing day.
As I pack, I find stories strewn about everywhere. Stacks of old papers. Pictures. Books. Dresses and socks. Keychains and candles. Molskines and mugs.
I can hardly breathe. — So, bear with me, there won’t be bonafide essays for a few weeks. Just travelogues. Notes on a transient life — which has spilled out in front of me like a bag of rice on the kitchen floor.
One thing is certain — we can tell who we were by the things we carry. Tim O’Brien once wrote a beautiful book that captured those feelings I’m only now beginning to understand.
What follows here are snapshots. Truly. There is so much more. Boxing up my life. Leaving this place I love. I sit with it. I look at it. All of it. I lay it all out on the cutting board. And, I cut away the pieces. Choosing the ones I will throw in my pot — and tossing the rest to the side.
I acknowledge these. These that were. These that shall remain.
His photos are all in one box. I put them there — years ago. A coffin at the top of a closet. The lid was covered with dust. We used to take photo-booth-photos everywhere we went. I still have all of them. The strip above was from our friend’s wedding. He loved me on that day — I remember — and I loved him back. We danced. We sat on cement steps with plates of food in our laps and we laughed. I have tried to throw everything of ours away before. No matter what I trash, I will forever keep this photo strip. Always. Because he was my first love. And, I will never love that way again. And this. — This is what that looked like.
My maternal grandmother died before I was born, but I’m told that we are a lot alike. My mother says that she was no-frills. That she said what she had to say when she felt like saying it. That she insisted on eating salad with every meal. — And, that she was a fox. People see my fair skin and know that I’m Irish. But, they forget that her Mediterranean blood courses through my veins too. In the Summer, my shoulders turn her Italian, olive brown.
I knew my grandfather well. And, I knew he loved her real bad. — Even years after she died. — He’s gone now too. But, every time I consider settling on some guy — I think about them. And, I know, there’s some dude out there who’s gonna love me, real bad, even when I’m dead. And, I’m waiting for him.
When I see the picture above, the one with my mother sitting in Grandma T’s lap, I think to myself — we all look alike. And, we’re beautiful. Three generations of beautiful. Theresa’s dead, but she sees me. — I’ve known that since I was a kid. It’s weird. — I keep her pictures in every room so she can watch me. So she knows — her daughter did a really good thing.
My dad is, and always will be, a strange bird. But, there’s no guy in the world who will ever love me more. Growing up, he used to listen to a lot of classical music. Opera, symphony, choral — all that stuff. He had bookcases full of classical recordings. One day, he was just over it. Suddenly — it was all Bob Dylan — all the time. He used to pick me up at play rehearsal in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and blast Blood On The Tracks like it had been released that day — every day. If we’re being honest, I’d rather not admit I know every track by heart — but, I do. My dad gives me Bob Dylan postcards and books. It’s like, he’s telling me — subliminally — if I get Bob, then, I’ll get him. That alone is enough to keep my interest. I don’t always acknowledge it, but, I love that my Dad is weird as fuck. Because, I am too. And, it’s nice not being so alone in my weirdness. He’ll watch an entire season of any HBO show I want — in 1-2 days. When I sold my complete series of OZ DVDs on Hawthorne yesterday, it kinda broke my heart. But, my Dad knows what’s up. He’s got HBO GO. And, I know, we’ll get back into it. And now, while we’re in the car — I get to pick the album. — I paid some dues getting through, Tangled Up In Blue.
My mom sends me a card for everything. They arrive so frequently, I forget how amazing they are. Now, I’m finding them everywhere. Sometimes, she’ll throw in some cash and tell me to grab a bite, or to do something nice for myself, or to buy the cat a treat. She wants me to be happy — always. In good, motherly fashion, she has always wanted me to have, feel, and be the best. I find her heart scribbled on tiny cards everywhere. Maybe she doesn’t know — I save them all. When I was little, she emphasized the art and necessity of the “Thank You” card. — How it will “never go out of style to have class.” How, to appreciate people and things is important. It occurs to me as I pour over her notes — crying like a child, because it’s uncanny how she always knew exactly when I needed saving — that I should send her more cards. There is no one in my life more deserving of thanks and kindness. She deserves nothing less than 100%class. And, there’s no one who needs more reminding to do kind things for herself. Someone needs to give her permission to feel good. Maybe that person is me.
The card above was sent to me at Christmastime — the year that my heart was first brutally slaughtered. Whenever I come across this note — I’m reminded of who I’m supposed to be. And, that’s a woman who’s a lot like my Mom. — Gracious, brave, strong, and impossibly classy.
5. Me, Myself & Eye
I took this photo yesterday in my kitchen.
I wanted to share a vulnerable moment with you this week because, well, that’s how I’m feeling. I wanted to show you the vulnerability. But, I don’t have to. I’ve been showing you for months and months. These things I’m packing up aren’t me. They’re my archives. All this crap I’m putting into bags and boxes — those aren’t the moments — they’re the evidence. Proof. My tears are like that too. All that outside stuff.
I keep asking myself — What am I really looking for in New York City?
I’ve never really sat down and thought about all the things I need in an analytical way. I usually just go with the flow, and, as things change — I make the necessary edits.
I was raised by two lawyers. So, I was editing myself before I even knew writing was a thing. And, when I did learn to write, because my folks had been coaching me, both consciously and unconsciously, to eliminate every unnecessary word, I never did beat around the bush. I always got right to the heart of the matter. Brevity. Was. King.
And, it’s true, frankness is all well and good — in expository writing. Brief writing. Law making. Compliance. Lawyer-y stuff. But, the trouble is — and always has been — I turned out to be more of a hippy-dippy spirit than my parents bargained for. I don’t mind if a sentence ends in a preposition. I won’t obsess about how my sentences begin — so long as I still have your attention when they end.
I see this pattern reflected everywhere. Especially in my sobriety. — I began the process of getting clean and sober, almost 3 years ago, in a completely analytical way. I made a checklist of all the things I could and could not do. I followed strict and specific rules. After all, brevity, I believed, would save me, so — I kept it short and sweet. And now, it’s all become second nature. As it happened, my own strict rules did not end up serving me in the way I had initially envisioned. So, I made edits. — My own, beautiful edits.
In the course of my life, I have edited everything. My love. My words. My body. My thoughts. I’ve tried so hard to squeeze all my things into a very precise framework. And, I truly believed, if I could just make everything fit, this plan of mine would produce some unblemished, polished, finished product. The perfect outcome.
On one of my epic walkabouts around Reed College campus, it hit me. — THE LESSON. — The thing that trumps all things I have learned here, and maybe, that I’ve learned in my entire life.
Scrap the edits.
It’s funny, because when I texted my father, the editor extraordinaire, in a panic about my big move, he texted me back with the great words of Julius Caesar before crossing the River Rubicon: Alea Iacta Est. — The Die Is Cast.
And, I see it now, when I look in the mirror. My face. My frame. My heart.
I see myself. Unedited. — And, my father was right. It is written. I am written.
I have put myself back together. All the things I have built — I have built from nothing. It took the better part of 6 years, but now, I am here. And, it’s too late for edits. — The trouble I could have saved myself. The heartache I could have been spared. The run-on sentences. The extra adverbs. The sentences that end in fucking prepositions. The EVERYTHING. — It’s all right here. She’s right here — staring back at me.
I tell my reflection: We won’t edit our love anymore. We get to own the heart we stitched back together. We won’t settle for less than we deserve. Our words, fair or foul — are ours. And, we speak for ourselves. We are our words — and sometimes — we’re dirty. Our body, it’s imperfect. We acknowledge our flaws. — Sometimes they’re all we have. We listen to our own quiet noise. You and I, we’re a team. The team.
* * * * *
Editing is for lawyers. And, I, I am a woo-woo-hippy-dippy-rule-breaker — with a semi-structured, somewhat-fool-proof plan. — An imperfect and beautiful representative of an unstable and curious humanity.
Alea Iacta Est. So, I scrap my practical edits and I ask myself again — What am I really looking for in New York City?
But, I think, the better question may be: What’s there, in New York City, looking for me? — The flawed, wounded, empowered and amazing — Unedited Me.
Before you leave a place, it’s important that you commit it to memory.
Later, you’ll return to it like a dusty book on your shelf. You’ll run your fingers over its edges, and, you’ll remember something you didn’t realize you’d forgotten. It’s hard to visualize — the passage of all that time. Our memories, warping, fit in tightly-packed-cranial-crevices. But, it’s all right there waiting for us, on the dog-eared pages. We open up to that brittle spot, where the spine is cracked. We revisit our oldest secrets. For me, it’s always a story that begins in the Summer — when things were hot and uncomfortable.
* * *
Standing on the corner of Lombardy Street, where Williamsburg and Greenpoint are divided by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in front of the sports-dive, The Callbox Lounge — Adam and I invented Portland.
Inside the bar, five Hasidic Jews draped their heavy, black coats over the backs of tall chairs. Their tzitzit dangled from their hips and their faces, framed in curls, sweat profusely while they watched the Yankees game. Some of them drank beer, some of them, Coca-Cola. This place was their secret. — And, Portland was ours.
We sat at the bar, bathing ourselves in the intermittent breeze of the sputtering air conditioner. We were so different then. Young. In some kind of love. Complicated, even before cracking. We didn’t care. And, we sat there without any real concept of time. We hardly knew the things that stood before us. Our world spanned the length of the bar — and that was enough. Adam’s face was radiant in a blue glow as Keeno numbers popped up on the grid of an old TV screen and, even now — I want to kiss him. Back then, we had plans. We were getting out of that city. Soon. Maybe a year. Maybe less. And beneath the highway, under a starless sky, the night was humming a song with its passing cars and rattling metal. We drank Budwieser and smoked cigarettes and we planned our escape.
Back then, I wanted anything but Brooklyn. I wanted open sky and long, wide roads. And, green. Lots of green. I dreamed of places where no one knew me. Us. Lost together. Anywhere. Winding through some unknown place. And so, we imagined Portland. I imagined Portland. — I imagined we’d be the opposite of what we were. — And together, we would draw our maps.
* * *
The day we left, I stood at the window of our third floor walk-up. I looked down over Nassau Avenue. It was starting to feel like Fall and my screen was thrown wide open. I remember seeing a woman down below with a baby carriage drop her scarf and an old man leaned down and picked it up for her in front of the deli with the blue awning. The scarf was red. — I was going to miss that place.
My mother was in our living room putting things into boxes. We had overestimated the amount of room in our car and my father walked up and down, up and down, up and down our steps taking bins, boxes, and bags back to my childhood home in Bay Ridge. “Don’t worry Dabba,” he said, “we’ll ship them out to you when you’re settled.” Dabba is my family’s nickname for me.
It occurred to me, as I stared down at my dirty, Brooklyn street — no one would call me Dabba where we were going.
Adam came up behind me and held my shoulders. I only remember this because it was unlike him. He was reserved. He didn’t hold my shoulders often. So, I leaned in, because, when you are scared and lonely and at the precipice of something imagined becoming real — you want Adam to hold you.
“Are we really going to leave today?” I asked, fat tears pooling in my eyes. The apartment still had too many things in it. My mother looked more perplexed with every passing hour. “Sarah,” Adam said, turning me around from the window to face him, “I don’t care if we leave everything we own on this street corner. We are leaving tonight.”
And, we did, that night, around 5 or 6 PM — I can’t remember. We left to find something we both had lost. Though, now, I know that our lost things were not the same. They had never been the same. But, he had been biding his time and I had ignored the facts. So, we invented a place that already existed. We assigned it meaning. And, we drove. We placed ourselves here, in the City of Roses. We walked along rivers we’d read about in books. We learned the names of mountains that, eventually, would rise up from our backyard into a sky that turned strange colors which we did not know how to name.
At the curb, I cried in my mother’s arms. There is no feeling comparable to leaving your mother when you are scared and she wants you to stay. My father’s arms held me a little too tight, and they spoke the words that he couldn’t. Adam turned the key. Ignition. That was the last time I saw Nassau Avenue — my mother becoming smaller and smaller in the side-view mirror.
As we crossed the Verrazano Bridge, our Polish landlord called my cell phone from Nassau Avenue. “You can’t leave mattress on street like this! I get fine! Garbage pick-up not ’til Thursday. Fifty dollars I going to have to pay!”
I looked at the side of Adam’s face. His silhouette sketched a thin line against a darkening sky that met the edges of Brooklyn’s shadows below. The bridge’s wires held us up. I was seat-belted in with our scotch-taped love and some kind of freedom and an emptiness that I will never be able to describe.
“Tell him to take it out of our security deposit,” he said. “We’re not going back.”
The thing that breaks us, is never the thing that really broke us.
It sounds nonsensical. But — it’s the truth.
Our minds and bodies are magical things. — Beautiful and complicated mechanisms of celestial science and engineering, built to withstand incredible stress. INCREDIBLE stress. Though, I’ll say in earnest, for me, it doesn’t often feel that way. — Especially having been broken recently by an insignificant thing.
I’ve been here — a big-mouthed Brooklyn-girl — in Portland, Oregon. I’ve made my own way for quite some time. I’m not scared. I’m not in any trouble. I’m not facing imminent danger. At least, I’m not anymore. I’m just fine. Though, I hate the word. — Fine.
But, last night, after dropping my mother off at PDX, sending her homeward toward NYC, I swerved in my lane driving back home on I-205, sobbing hysterically. Minutes earlier, back at the terminal, when my mother’s arms broke their lock from around my sunburned shoulders, I felt it. — A sincere desire to be vulnerable again.
It only takes one insignificant thing.
In recent weeks it’s all flooded back. My time. Here. In Oregon. I’ve watched a lover and partner of almost 7 years walk out on me, never returning to say goodbye. I didn’t break. I’ve been arrested. Battled addictions. Marched myself through rehab like a soldier. I never broke. I watched my new lover and partner of almost 2 years get strung out on heroin — again and again and again. Not a crack. I stood, through all this, strong, like an Oregon pine. Dropping my dead needles. Picking up my pieces. Picking up their pieces. I pulled it all back together, my sap, like emotional super glue. — But, leaving my mother at the airport. — That’s what did me in.
The insignificant thing. The moment where you realize that you’ve held your own world together for far too long. Somehow, even after standing in the eye of the storm, it’s in the push and pull of the insignificant things where we find we’re — Tired. Broken. Lost. And still, we find it difficult to let go. The body, in all it’s magical resilience, resists giving way. Finally straining and, eventually, snapping under the weight of this thing that reminds us — We must respect the nature of things.
A friend of mine, who got divorced a few years ago, bravely escaping an abusive relationship, recently told me that she’s tired of being the “strong one.” I know what she means. We send each other notes. We tell each other that we’re better for it. But, in truth, we’d both take happiness over fortitude any day.
Blinking back more tears, I struggle to see this place. — Oregon. — These trees. The Gorge. The Wild West. Open air and unspoiled land. This place, by nature, has made me an adventurer.
It’s not insignificant that, here, I have learned how to be shipwrecked and to wash ashore — wet — but still breathing. What’s more, I’ve learned that I can fall in love again. I can heal myself. And, I can skillfully duct tape my 2001 Honda Civic back together — with expert craftsmanship — and not care what my father has to say about it.
But, the insignificant thing I can’t ignore is this — an unshakeable feeling that, it’s possible, I don’t belong here.
There are only so many storms I want to weather. Only so many loves I will stand to lose. Only so many places where I’m no longer haunted by the person I once was.
A long time ago, in a one-bedroom, railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I held a love bigger than my heart was meant to carry, and I told myself — Dream big. I freed myself up and, for a time, I loved fearlessly.
Those things I told myself back then — they weren’t insignificant. They were my system of road maps. Maps for letting go. Holding on. Surviving. Breaking. Rebuilding. Reviving. Re-starting.
On I-205, a man in a Toyota Tundra watches me sob at the merge. I allow it. I allow my mother’s departure to break me. Suddenly — I care not for strength. I give up on mourning the things I lost. I decide to abandon the dream I was hell bent on living so long ago. I allow myself to want again.
Something else. Someone else. Somewhere else.
And, before I reach the exit for Powell Blvd., I watch the course of my life change in my side-view-mirror — the one that’s duct taped, securely, to the driver’s side door.
And, without anyone else’s permission, I vow to follow it closely — wherever it goes — my insignificant thing.