Carlee, Carlee, Carlee Chameleon

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Carlee, the beauty school director, tells me that she loves my glasses.

“Those are fabulous. I have a pair just like them! I love them!” She squealed. She is thin and wiry and impeccably dressed. A button-less, coral cardigan is draped around her sinewy, sculpted arms. Her white-hot-blonde curls dangle like tight springs at the tops of her shoulders. She was complimenting me, of course, because it is her job. But, I don’t mind. And, she’s right, my glasses are fabulous.

In the true spirit of chameleon-ism, I’m touring an aesthetics institute because, I’m thinking about changing color — again. I’ve been chided, warned, and scoffed at for entertaining this idea, but, I’ve also been patted on the back and encouraged. And, in managing other people’s responses to what I’m thinking about doing, I begin to realize just how much I’ve learned in this past year. And, not just about me.

When you’re a chameleon, color bleeds. You step on one leaf and your leg turns a waxy green, and then, in your next step, your webbed toe turns a bark-y brown. Then, you’re standing on a yellow blossom and your whole torso blooms along with it, igniting like a burst of sunlight. — Our surroundings change us. People. Places. Circumstances. Situations. Everyday, we step onto a new palate of incredible color. And, I can’t help but think, for so many years, all I wanted was to remain in one place. To understand myself in one color. — But, try as I may, it can’t be done.

Carlee holds the grey door open for me as we walk into a stairway of floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is our new space,” she says, “we just moved into this building, only a few months ago.” — I figured as much, because I made it to my interview on time only because I saw the shiny, new building, with it’s giant windows and inviting sign, as I drove by it on route to the old location — the location Google maps still deems accurate. At the top of the stairs, we walked onto a floor filled with classrooms. White, dry-erase boards lined the walls and book bags sat in chairs at empty desks. “The students are taking clients in the clinic today,” Carlee told me, pulling her cardigan tightly around her tiny frame. “And, it’s a good thing! It’s darn chilly up here!”

Carlee is the type of woman you’d expect to say “Darn chilly.” She is peppy, and, her breed of chameleon is chipper and bright. She is wiry, I suspect, because she is designed to pounce on you with unsolicited positivity and cheer at well-timed intervals. Her eyes are an icy blue, and they actually look at you, really look at you, when she is talking. “I hope I’m not going too fast,” she said, “I get kinda excited to show people around the new building. I graduated in 2008. And, I still can’t get over this new space!” Her tiny, one-inch heels click-clacked across the the top of the linoleum stairwell. “Let’s head back down to the clinic. Then, we can chat in my office.” Her eyes sparkled when they met mine, as if to hypnotize me, before she ushered me, with her twiggy arm, toward the stairs.

I watched the students in the clinic. Some were much younger than me, some, much older. They wore scrub-like uniforms with white, slip-on shoes. It was very clean and quiet. I found the whole scene very calming, custom-made for my OCD-like tendencies, tending toward cleanliness and the minimalist. I thought about one of the instructors from the the beauty school I worked for in Portland — Erica. — I recall her flawless skin and her immaculate attention to detail. For Erica, aesthetics were about so much more than appearances. They were about order. Beauty was her way of commanding the universe. And, there, standing beside Carlee, I felt bad for having thought Erica was an emotionless stickler. I see now, this kind of order, this clean and untouched universe, kept her sane.

Back in Carlee’s office, she sat behind her desk gathering materials to place in a white folder for my consideration. Tuition information. Financial aid applications. Course outlines. Scheduling options. And, should I decide to apply, a form to be completed by the person of my choice, serving as my letter of recommendation. She handed me the folder, closed, and looked at me, I mean, really looked. She was like a beautiful, delicately styled, praying mantis. I was not sure if she was going to hop across the desk and eat me, or gaze upon me with her big, icy eyes until I said something. And, then, I felt my color change right in front of her — I became, suddenly, a deep, peaceful, navy blue — a perfect match to the freshly painted, silky walls of her tiny office.

“Carlee, can I be honest with you about something?” Carlee tilted her head to the right, looking at me as if the answer to my question was obvious. “Of course,” she said.

“I’m thirty-two. And, I’m not sure if I’m going to apply for this program. But, I can tell you, I really like it here. The thing is, I’m a NYU graduate. And, that probably sounds like a snobby thing for me to say. But, when I think about investing in attending this program, I think, maybe, I’m too old or too something — like this is a non-sequitur — I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think I am. But, it would be a huge shift for me. And, I just wonder if you’ve had a student or students here that, maybe, sound like me. Because, I’d like to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about doing this. And, it’d be nice to hear it from someone who isn’t, you know, related to me.”

Carlee paused. She laced her manicured fingers together over a stack of manila folders that sat in front of her on the desk. She leaned in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret, but, instead of talking, her eyes met mine and softened. Now, she appeared more like a lean giraffe than an insect, her neck craning, gracefully toward me. Her swooping curls, tumbled forward from behind her ears and fluttered gracefully at the sides of her cheeks.

“Sarah, I know you probably think I’m here to sell you a seat in this class. And, technically, I am. But, the truth is, whether you apply or not, whether you enroll or not, or whether you walk out this door never to return again — or not — this class will be filled. And, I want you to be here because you want to be here. And, that’s up to you. You’ve got lots of time to think about that. But, here’s my answer to your question. I graduated from this institute in 2008. I was thirty-four. And, when I got here, all I knew was — it sounded good. It sounded like something different. It sounded like something fun. And, it sounded like changing. Changing my life. And, since then, I’ve worked in this amazing industry, and now, I’m the director of this school. I love it here. I enroll girls who are eighteen and I enroll women in their sixties. And, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: You’re never too old to want something new, to do something new, to be someone new. It’s great that you have an undergraduate degree. Really, I think that’s great. But, do you think it’s great? Because, if not, you’re never too old to learn something new. — And, if you want to do that here, we’d love to have you.”

In the parking lot, I sat in the idling car and I drank the cold, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I’d left in cup-holder to the left of the wheel. The little, plastic, Oregon license-plate-key-chain that reads “SARAH” dangled from the rear-view mirror where I’d hung it the day I drove out of Oregon for the last time. My eyes welled up with tears as I stared down at my shiny, white folder. Filled with clean, white pages, begging for navy blue ink.

The truth is, we can’t know what color we’ll turn next. We can only know that we’re changing. Learning. Painting legs and toes and torsos — with every, beautiful step.

ARTWORK: “Chameleon 2” By Tilen Ti

(www.etsy.com/shop/tilentiart)

All The Women We’re Not

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The women who hold the most sacred places in my life, all love old things.

Antique tables, lacquered armoires, oak inlay, varnished sterling silver spoons, and sets of fine china passed down from their mothers and their grandmothers before that.

Me — I prefer IKEA.

Clean lines. Black. White. Wood. Unfinished. Disposable. Too rudimentary to overthink. Bare walls and sharp edges. I have always hesitated when it’s come time to decorate. In Portland, I lived in my last apartment for almost three years and never hung one thing on the walls. That kind of commitment was too much for me. — Monuments to the past always left holes in my walls.

I spent, and sometimes still spend, much of my time wondering how to pay homage to these women and thier antique sensibility when I have no desire to inherit or admire their aged tables, hang my clothes in their finely-crafted dressers, or eat off their chipped, precious plates.

In a recent, somewhat morbid, conversation with my mother, I told her that when the time comes, there was only one piece from her carefully curated furniture collection that I want to keep — the rest, I intend sell to the highest bidder.

She sat across from me, smiling, in her reupholstered, cream-colored, living-room chair, with her feet elevated on a mismatched hassock that belonged to the couch that I sat on across the room. I could tell, a part of her was sad to hear this news, but, there was a flicker of something else in her eyes, too. — As I’ve aged, I have become so incredibly different than her, and, for the first time, I saw that my deviance has managed to bring her some kind of joy.

As women, we so often find ourselves attempting to recreate the lives our mothers have led. We are chameleons that so desperately want to re-live the lives that have given us our own. Secretly hoping that, somehow, it will help us to better understand ourselves. In a curious way, it is a sort of thanks. And, sometimes, we rebel against it. We try to become anything other than what our mothers have been or would have us be. We ford new, wide rivers, just to say we did. But, in time, we learn that the nature of every river is the same.

As I walk through the last few months in my Year of Happiness, I look for themes. At the onset of this project, I was so sure that by its end, I would know the woman I am. But, in a strange twist of fate, I’ve been surprised to discover that, more than anything else, I’m discovering all the women I’m not.

My cousin, roommate, and best friend has furniture pieces from her parent’s log cabin, her childhood summer home, placed throughout her house (which, it bears mentioning, was built in 1885). Many of them are in disrepair and, these pieces, are some of her most treasured. Weathered, and laced with meaning I’ll never quite understand, her collection is a map of who she was and who she has become. She scoffs at my need for stark, assemble-it-yourself, Swedish simplicity. — “Cheap shit.” She says.

The older I get, the more I’ve felt myself retaliate against the need for things. The need for people. Forfeiting all that space can be dangerous.

But still, I collect all these women I’m not, in my own, quiet menagerie. The woman I’ve become in this past year is not nearly as significant as the women I’ve let go or the women I’ve chosen to keep in my company.

In the last year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be my mother. — An impressive career-driven woman with a laundry list of professional accolades that she’ll never share with you unless she’s pressed. The silent fortitude of a Japanese soldier. Caretaker to a feral cat colony in Brooklyn. Collector of snow globes. A woman who believes that the wrong rug can completely devastate a room. And, a beautiful mother who has, without knowing it, in her unique way, raised a daughter to mirror herself in the most unexpected ways.

In my quest to uncover myself, I’ve found it most useful to cast parts of myself aside. To become the like the old, weathered pieces my mother has carefully placed in every room of her house. For me, this process is different from my mother’s. — I had birds tattooed on my heel for my deceased grandparents, and, to me, this is far better than scraping my fork across their old china plates at Thanksgiving. And, while news of this development disappoints my mother, I know that the more often I let pieces of her go, the more like her I become. — Plates we’ve broken can be just as, if not more, beautiful when we glue what’s left of them back together.

When I move out on my own again, in the Spring, I look forward to sitting in my new space. My mother will help me move my cat up from Brooklyn and, then, she will likely spend the day cleaning my bathroom and kitchen voraciously, even though I’ll insist that there’s no need. — That is her way, and, I expect nothing less of her. She will begrudgingly agree to help me shop at IKEA for a MALM dresser (a piece that I have now assembled several times with expert skill) and she’ll weigh in on the various $20 area rugs, no doubt. And then, I will sit alone in my room, a beautiful canvas of barren walls, on a mattress with no box spring, beside my cat, who will stare up at me, as if to ask me — what comes next? A question for which I will have no answer.

But, in this mild Winter, I remain, sitting happily at the counter in my cousin’s kitchen, laughing along with her and her husband. Murray, their dog, has destroyed four chairs, and counting, from their hand-me-down dining room set. These foam-less, gnawed trophies now sit at the sills of the dining room windows, where Betsy, Murray’s Chihuahua/Shiba Inu-mix sister, sits gazing out into the Albany yonder, barking viciously at any and all invisible intruders who threaten us. And, I think, this is a fitting end for these chairs, these family heirlooms. Unsightly, perhaps, but, fixtures of the house in their own right. — Old things, destroyed by those of us who can never, truly appreciate their past. — Yet, there the pups sit, upon thier shredded thrones and, suddenly, the chair’s purpose and past matter little.

We are all here, now, together, in this old house.

ARTWORK: Daniel Blagg, “Ms. Wright’s Chair” (2013), Watercolor on paper.

 

 

A Hopelessly Romantic Mess

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Here’s the thing about Happiness — if you find any of it for yourself, there’s a line of people queued up beside you looking to get thier fair share.

In some ways, finding peace of mind is like winning the lottery. It’s liberating, and frankly, almost magical. But, we don’t live in a vacuum. Life is about connecting. So, finding love, or at the very least, a little romance, has commanded much of my attention of late. And, along with le romance, a few of my old messes have managed to boil over after bubbling on the back burner for a long, long time.

Dating at 32, is the pits. But, living in a new place makes it even worse. I feel like I’ve been walking on the surface of Mars, trying to keep my eyes fixed on what’s right in front of me while constantly tripping over my own feet, distracted by my phone, deciding whether or not to swipe right.

I’ve stopped counting all the bad dates I’ve been on. One bad date, sometimes, turns into two or three bad dates, because I’m still hesitant to throw up my hands and call a spade, a spade. I believe in giving people second chances, often to my own detriment. But, I’m learning quickly that, my best bet, usually, is to trust my gut — cut and run.

Sure, I’ve been some good dates too, but, nothing that’s stuck. Some weeks, it’s almost clinical. I’m juggling my coffee meet-ups like client meetings. I wonder what the fuck it is I’m missing here. I’ve got all this happiness, confidence, a new job, and amazing friends and family — all rooting me on. Yet, this weekend, I found myself sitting alone in my favorite, Albany coffee shop, staring forlornly out the big, glass window, wondering if I even believe in love anymore.

I’ve recently implemented a phone-free half-hour while I enjoy my daily Americano. Even my quest for romance has become hopelessly un-romantic. So, I take my break, gazing out onto Lark Street, watching people walk their big dogs, warm up their cars, and smoke cigarettes on the corner, waiting for the bus, while I sit very still and breathe deeply, managing my varying existential crises.

When you’re constantly in transition and somehow manage to find a rhythm, it’s jarring. You start wondering how and why you’ve become so comfortable. In my case, I start looking for new and better ways to make myself uncomfortable. — And, love is a sure-fire way to fuck your shit up. Especially when you realize that every bad date is just a huge mirror for your own insecurities. I thought that my happiness would draw positive, like-minded people to me like a magnet. But, I’m discovering, the exact opposite is true. Every date has been a reflection of who I used to be. — A bevy of men who want fixing and freedom. — And, suddenly, happiness has turned into a complicated dance where I’m managing my own crap and trying to manage other people’s crap too.

Being a chameleon is a beneficial trait when you’re playing the dating game. Trying on new skins can lead to new, interesting, and exciting experiences. Morphing into different versions of myself has given me the uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable. And, I can tell you from experience, it is far better to be on a date with a comfortable wet blanket than it is to be on a date with an anxious one. But, one lesson from my Year of Happiness has served as a backdrop for all of these new encounters, and has proved to be one of my most valuable dating tools yet. And, that lesson is: I’m not here to fix anyone.

Everyone is a mess, this — I know. I’m cool with messes. I can live in a mess. Heck, I can even make a mess appear neat and tidy. But, I’m done with cleaning messes, especially messes that aren’t my own. So, do I just keep moving from room to room? Do I take a breather and hang out in my bedroom, the one that I just Marie Kondo-ed? Or, do I level with myself and accept that, at 32, I’m not likely to find a room that isn’t totally filthy?

As an obvious hopeless romantic and an admittedly unrealistic, cinema-fed, true love, happily-ever-after kind of girl — this real-love in the real-world thing feels like eating rocks.

A friend of mine, who met her fiancé on an app, gave me this advice: “Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, like, when you are ready to put a gun in your mouth and end it all — book another date. Get out there and fucking go, go, go girl. Do it. Get it. Coffee. Drinks. Walk together somewhere awful. Anything. Go on 20 more bad dates. 30. 50. Because, you can’t give up! Even when you want to die, especially when you want to die — Sarah, you have to keep on swiping!”

So, I do. For better or worse. I keep on swiping, Goddammit. And, when my roommate makes fun of me for not knowing my date’s name as I run out the door to meet him, I laugh it off. Even if it is mildly depressing. Because, Happiness is about Believing. — There’s only so much joy you can spark organizing your own underwear drawer.

Though, I will say this about tidying up — sometimes amidst the mess, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

This weekend, searching for an old sweater, I opened a Rubbermaid bin that I had shipped back East when I moved home from Portland. It had been sitting, duct taped shut, in a corner for over a year. When I pulled back the dusty, plastic lid, sitting at the very top, neatly folded, I found my “I Believe” shirt. A navy tee that features, a unicorn, a jackalope, and a narwhal. And, I was reminded that, beyond our cynicism, inside all of our sealed up boxes, and buried under our filthy piles, in the messiest of our rooms, everyone of us has some forgotten treasure.

Those bits and pieces from our past lives — they don’t need fixing. They’ll always be there, boxed up or buried. Our old heart fragments, lost and forgotten, will always remain among the mess. They need discovering. So, it’s worth a little bit of poking around, even if you have to get your hands dirty.

In all honesty, I’ll never stop believing. — In love or in magic. — Because, I know, when you seek them out, you find them. It’s just, sometimes, we have to remind ourselves how important it is that we keep on searching, never stopping, until we find what we’re looking for.

So, I continue to take my friend’s advice, I bite the side of my cheek, and I swipe right.

Because, at the end of the day, I’m an addict — and, really, what’s one more cup of coffee?

 

 

 

Maybe I’ll Be Her For Awhile

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The last time I remember knowing exactly who I was, I was seventeen years old, sitting at my parent’s dining room table.

NYU had made an error. They’d sent out an email, congratulating recent early decision applicants on their acceptance to the university before the applicants had actually received their official acceptance letters in the mail. And, the evening I got my email, I sat in front of my PC, staring at my AOL home page, elated.

That night, long before becoming a drunk, sniffing, snorting, or smoking a drug — my whole body buzzed. I was more of an energetic mass than I was a person. And, for the first time, in maybe my entire life, I felt worthy. The vision of myself, one that I had carefully cultivated and constructed, had not only been validated, but, better still, handsomely rewarded.

I’d bust my ass in high school, and, with one click of my mouse, the Universe — and the the university of my dreams — had granted me my every wish. Suddenly I had become the one thing I had always dreamed I would be. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care that I had no one to tell.

I sat at the dining room table, my arms folded on my mother’s textured, green tablecloth, the day’s mail piled beside my right elbow and the large, white, water-pitcher-vase, that served as the table’s centerpiece, beside my left. My parents were still at work. I had two, maybe three hours before they’d arrive back home. Shaking, the news bottled up inside me like lightning, news that I knew was to good to relay over the phone, I didn’t quite know how to contain myself. So, I cried. I cried for a really long time. It felt like hours. Sitting quietly at the table, just feeling. Feeling everything. I felt the possibility in my future. I felt the satisfaction of having been rewarded for performing the hard work — work that I was never really sure would pay off. And, I felt like, maybe, having accomplished this one thing — I could be easier on myself.

Just one email in my AOL inbox, sent in error, suddenly gave me express permission to believe in myself and my ability — wholeheartedly. I felt solid, a beacon of myself, and, I cried because I’d been holding onto all that emotion for years. I’d been waiting. Waiting to be actualized or noticed or forgiven. And, there I sat, and — I didn’t have to wait anymore. At that table, I became everything all at once.

I let it enter me and exit my lungs in loud, lonely sobs. I was everything I had set out to be. And, in that moment, I was the most grateful I had ever been. I thanked God. I whispered promises into the air — promises that were meant to assure the powers that be:

I would hold up my end of the bargain.

***          ***          ***

Six months later, only one semester into my dream program at NYU — I dropped out. Promptly changing schools within the university.

Ever since then, I have waited for a night like the one I spent sitting at my parent’s dining room table. I’ve waited for the moment where I’ll feel  sure about who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve moved from job to job, relationship to relationship, city to city. But, I’ve never sat so still as I did that night, waiting for my parents to come home. Never since that night have I had a moment where I have been so proud to share something with them — with anyone. And, I have never had the Universe so perfectly deliver me my true heart’s desire the way that email delivered me my childhood dream.

Breaking into 2017, I think about the three months that remain in my Year of Happiness. I think about how, in one of the Christmas cards my father gave me this year, he told me that his wish for me is that my Year of Happiness extends into forever. And, I think about what it really means to know who I am and what direction I’m about to move in next.

As someone who was always the “good girl” — an exemplary student, a well behaved daughter, and a loyal friend and family member — it still baffles me that I ended up being the fuck-up with so little direction. It still surprises me when I remember that, there isn’t anything that lights me up today the way getting into NYU lit me up back then. And, I still feel it in my gut every time I change gears — the ambiguity of my purpose here. Where can I begin to find meaning when I don’t have the slightest idea where to look?

In a way, my Year of Happiness has given me something back, even if it is just a fraction of what it was — not purpose, but, a renewed sense of meaning. So far, these nine months and, I expect, the three that remain, have shown me that purpose isn’t always something specific. And, meaning is relative. Maybe it was always the Universe’s intention that I be an entirely new woman every few months. Maybe the God I thanked, those now fifteen years ago, always intended me to be lost and found and then lost again. Maybe it was never about the goals I set and failed to meet. — Maybe it was always about being the chameleon. — Changing with ease.

New skin is easier to grow into and slip out of these days. And, while I may have dropped out of the acting program at NYU, I am still a master performer. I’ve played many strange and tragic roles. I change casts and costumes whenever I like. I see someone I want to be, and, I don’t think about it — I become her. I move in and out of my own scenes, project new heroines, and think: “Maybe I’ll be her for awhile.”

This January, the tenth month in my Year of Happiness, I intend to celebrate my Chameleon — the actress I became without ever really becoming. Things I have always hated — the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the disappointment — maybe these are all functions of my greatest role. The one I have played so well, that the lines separating us are hardly blurred any longer. Her stage is set, and, I know my mark.

The truth is, you can’t know anything at seventeen. You can’t know who you’ll be or what you’ll do. You can’t know if your dream today is the dream you’ll have in six months or sixteen years. You can’t thank God for something that you delivered to yourself. And, it should be obvious, that you can’t expect anything that arrived in your AOL inbox back in 2001 to be worth a damn in 2017.

But, you can always sit at the dining room table.

Change color.

And, feel it out.

A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

Going Postal: Christmas Edition

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Before pulling into the parking lot of Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Center on Powell Boulevard, I stopped at the liquor store and got a big bottle of Jim Beam White Label.

It was a Tuesday. I was going to put up my Christmas tree. And, Goddammit, I was going to be drunk.

I threw the bottle, in it’s slim, brown, paper bag onto the passenger seat and drove down the road blasting a Nat King Cole Christmas album with the windows down. It was cold and my windshield was dirty. The Winter sun glinted in my eyes and I pulled down the sun visor as I turned off the road and into Dennis’ lot where three Mexican men were tying a tree to the top of a forest green Subaru.

Inside, twinkling lights were strung up under a white, plastic canopy that housed flocked, white Christmas trees, lined up by size, in tidy rows, as far as the eye could see. Red, glass ornaments reflected the glare of silver tinsel. Life-size Santas stood guard in every doorway. And, the woman who stood at the cashier’s counter wore a green sweater laced with cheap, golden threads and had glittery silver snowflakes dangling from her ear lobes. “Can you tell me where the Fraser firs are?” She looked up at me smiling her big, toothy, smoker’s smile, “How tall, hun?” She croaked. Unsure how to answer, I considered inquiring what height she thought might fill the loveless void my living room had become.

“I don’t know. Six feet?” I asked her, not really concerned with height, only with getting something to convince myself that the holiday season of 2011 was not, in fact, the fifth ring of hell. “Carlos!” she shouted across the store, “Can you take this little lady over to the Frasers? — Go over there with Carlos hun. He’ll help you.”

Carlos stood behind me while I pushed my way through branches and needles in an aisle at the far end of the lot. “You like that one? I can open it for you, so you can see it,” he said stepping forward. “That’s ok. I’ll take it. It’s fine.” He looked at me as if he understood why I was there — a look that acknowledged both my indifference and his pity for me. “Ok. No problem. Which car is yours?” He picked up the tree before I could answer. “Black Honda Civic. The one with the busted tail light.” He nodded, leading me down the aisle and back under the heated canopy. “Ok. You pay inside.” I handed him my car keys and walked back to the cashier with the white ticket Carlos had ripped from the top of the tree and handed to me.

I paid Sissy Snowflake sixty-five bucks for the tree and another twenty for my impulse buy: A big, red, light-globe that sat on the edge of her counter. “Happy Holidays, Hun,” she said handing me my change.

Carlos saw the bottle of Jim Beam poking out from the brown bag on the passenger seat. “You throwing a Christmas party?” He asked, smiling, as he tied the twine taunt around the roof of my car. “Yeah,” I said, “something like that,” handing him a ten dollar tip.

Back home, I pulled into our driveway which, now, was just my driveway. I looked at the tree strapped to the roof like a dead body and did everything I could to stop myself from breaking all the car’s windows. I held my bottle of bourbon, like the baby Jesus himself, and left the tree atop the Honda. — First things first.

In the kitchen, I didn’t even bother to pull down a glass. I opened the bottle, letting the click of the breaking, plastic seal sound the coming of my lord and savior: Jim Beam. I drank from the bottle in gulps. It burned the back of my throat and sent a shiver up my back that started in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, and, the warm liquid sloshed in my empty stomach like an angry sea. I felt my cheeks flush red and, after a minute, I could breathe again.

I put on Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Songs By Sinatra” and sat on the arm of the couch with my open bottle and my green, Rubbermaid Christmas bin at my feet. Inside the bin were smaller boxes of ornaments my mother had packed up for us before we moved, a tree skirt, old lights, stockings, and a Glade cinnamon-apple scented candle that we hadn’t finished burning the year before. I dug out the plush snowman with a hook at his feet and placed him on the fireplace mantle and hung my cat’s Christmas stocking. She sat watching me from her window perch in the sun, nonplussed.

When I was drunk enough, I decided to get the tree. Carlos had already put it in the stand, so, I just had to cut the twine and get the thing from the driveway, through the garage, and into the living room. It seemed easy enough, but when I got out to the car, the tree seemed bigger than when I had poked at it’s branches on the lot. I stood there for moment with my scissors, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver the sappy beast into the house. And, as I walked around the side of the car, snipping at the twine on the back, passenger side, the mailman turned the corner.

I’d seen him many times before. He’d always waved to me as he wheeled by during the Summer, while I sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. He was a fit, older guy with salt and pepper hair in a tight, military cut. Tall and lean, he walked quickly, and that day the dusty blue of his Postal Service uniform contrasted his red cheeks in the cold. He watched me fumble as he counted out my neighbor’s holiday cards and placed them in her slot. I struggled, sliding the tree off the driver’s side, almost falling. The plastic stand hit the asphalt, hard. It didn’t break, but, it startled me. “Godfuckingdamnit,” I spat out in frustration under my bourbon breath.

“Need a hand there?” The mailman asked in a warm, kind voice, as I dragged the stand over the gravel toward the garage. “No. That’s ok.” I said, tripping over the cement lip where the garage met the driveway. “Jesus. Fuck.”

“Here.” He said, walking toward me. “Let me help you there. You really need two people to do that job.”

“I’ve got it! Jesus.” I shouted. The sound of my voice reverberated off the walls of the garage and out onto Cora Drive, hitting the street like a piece of metal. “I’ve fucking got it.”

“Alright lady. Fine.” He said, putting his hands up, conceding. “Just trying to help you. Jeez.” He walked back to his cart at my neighbor’s front door and wheeled it up to his little truck around the other side of the circle. And, I stood at the garage door, wondering who I’d become.

***          ***          ***

Later that night, after the sun had gone, the apartment was dark, save for the lights on the tree. After the mailman left, I’d struggled for another ten minutes, but managed to get the tree up the single step and into the living room where it sat, undecorated, while I wept between swigs of bourbon.

As my Sinatra album repeated for the fifth time, I strung up the lights. I hung my favorite childhood ornaments. And, as tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled out the little angel my mother had wrapped for me, specially, in paper towels, and placed her at the top. — She looked down on me softly as I sunk to the floor where I grabbed at the blue carpet beside my now near-empty bottle. Even in that, the saddest and most desperate of moments, my tree was absolutely beautiful. — A light in my darkest season.

Completely blotto, I held myself up at the kitchen counter and pulled out a notepad and a pen from the junk drawer and wrote a note to the mailman. I stumbled to the front door and clipped it to my mailbox outside.

THANKS FOR TRYING TO HELP ME WITH THE TREE. I’M SORRY. IT REALLY WAS A TWO PERSON JOB. BUT, IT’S BEEN A CRAP YEAR, AND I REALLY NEEDED TO DO IT MYSELF.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

SARAH

Tripping Across A Lonely Planet

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The first time we tripped on magic mushrooms, we sprinkled them on top of Stoffer’s french bread pizza.

I stood with Colleen* and  Anna at the forest-green island counter in my tiny, East Village studio apartment where the three of us looked down curiously at the plate Anna pulled from my microwave, hot cheese and mushrooms, still bubbling.

“Is this supposed to taste like shit?” Colleen asked, her jaw moving sharply as she chewed in uncomfortable, contorted movements.

“I think so,” Anna said, washing back her first bite with a bottle of cheap, Belgian-style beer. “Maybe we should have made tea with them instead.”

We were all so young, each of us twenty-two or twenty-three. All of us beautiful, rebellious, and lost. Recent NYU graduates with squeaky-clean slates and deep, unfulfilled desires to feel and experience everything. All our dreams were far too large to fit with us in that tiny kitchen. Dreams that, on that particular day, I don’t think any of us knew how we’d move toward. And so, we told ourselves until we found the way, we would just live.

In those days, living meant smoking bongs in the afternoon, writing music on our guitars, and drinking Gatorade in the place of solid meals. Naive, open, and misguided as we all were that afternoon, we still laughed in my tiny apartment with the girlish wisdom of sages. I think about us now and I feel truly  happy to have been the girls we were back then, and, for the women we had no idea we would become.

Even now, I envy our lack of knowing. How our lives, then, so intricately connected, would soon be divided by a decade and the span of an entire country. In the more than ten years since I’ve seen or spoken to those girls, I have aged thirty, maybe more. I have lost more than I thought I’d ever be capable of losing. I have seen and felt great beauty and love that, then, I had no idea could ever be available to me. But, on that Wednesday, in my tiny kitchen, we started alone, with nothing — just each other and our dreams of adventure. — And, of course, our Stoffer’s french bread pizza, topped with psychedelic mushrooms.

*           *          *

It took awhile for the walls to move.

I sat on the huge, red couch my mother bought me, sinking into the soft, doughy seat. Colleen and Anna sat cross-legged on the hard-wood floor. We sipped our beer and waited. Colleen and I chain-smoked Camel Lights, flicking our ashes into a near-empty beer can that already sat in a halo of ash from the night before. The Summer humidity hung in the air and our smoke hung there with it, like a canopy above us.

I was taken off guard when I felt myself shift. Weightless and free, I didn’t even notice that I had stopped worrying about my mounting fear of entering adulthood without any real idea of who I was. But, fear somehow slipped away. And, with each moment that passed, I felt that I had somehow discovered something deeper. — Deep in the moment. Deep in the city. Deep in my own wild and unpredictable heart. — And then, the walls started moving.

At first, spacial shifts occurred slowly and subtly, like water lapping softly on a shore, and then, more forcefully, in bigger, more violent waves. And, before long, I saw Jesus’ face appear on my white wall, like a silhouette pressed into a white sheet. He pressed through the very same wall I had stared at, pure and undecorated, for two years while writing my papers and reading my tomes on Irish history. “Jesus is here.” I whispered to the girls, who were still seated on the floor. And, when he disappeared, I stared for a long time at the spot where he had been, wishing he would come back.

“I miss Pete,” Colleen said, rolling onto her stomach, holding her cigarette in her left hand. “I miss Pete too,” Anna echoed. — Both of their boyfriends at the time were named Pete.

Then, Anna started to cry. Both girls wanted their respective Pete more than any drug induced experience they were having. And, in a surreal and sentimental moment, they embraced on my floor, both acknowledging that, in their altered state, they had somehow managed to fly on the same wavelength. And then, they both reached simultaneously for their phones.

I, however, felt like I had stepped into Alice’s wonderland. I didn’t miss or have any desire to call my boyfriend at all. — I wanted to call my Dad. I wanted to tell him that Lewis Carroll’s world was far better than anything we’d imagined while we waxed poetic on the subject of our shared love of Alice and her magical rabbithole. But, even in suspended reality, I knew it was ill advised to call my Father while tripping on mushrooms.

I left the girls on the floor, walked into my bathroom and shut the door. The pastel tips of my yellow terrycloth towels moved, writhing like tiny earthworms or soft ribbons of seaweed beneath gentle, ocean waves. The lines of my Martha Stewart K-Mart collection shower curtain blurred and tangled like jungle vines, dancing gracefully without having been moved at all. And, I sat alone on the cold floor and watched the black and white tiles slide in and out of box-like formations, a child’s puzzle in motion.

In a moment of unparalleled uncertainty, everything was beautiful. Every movement, simple and intricate. I believed in everything and nothing at all.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Colleen and Anna were still crying about Pete and Pete, both of whom, they’d been unable to reach. I stood over the girls, a giant Alice — the one who grows incredibly tall after she’s sipped from the bottle that reads Drink Me, — and I told them, “I’m going into the garden. Don’t leave this room.” They looked up, barely acknowledging me, lost in their Pete-less grief, and I turned on my heels, walking across my floor, which felt trampoline-like under my feet, bowing beneath my weight, to my apartment door.

In my building’s garden courtyard, the superintendent’s wife had planted wildflowers around the various benches that were placed throughout. Their petal’s perfume crept up into my nose and the sun warmed my skin and the sky opened up like an infinite, blue canvas. Clouds passed overhead, and I watched them, as they swirled in unusual shapes — I could no longer tell what was real and what was imagined. And then, a tiny purple bloom turned into a butterfly and batted away into the sunlight.

   *          *          *

Later, we all came to. We walked in slow motion to a sports pub on Second Avenue where we waited for Pete and Pete to arrive. Colleen and Anna had bonded without me that afternoon, and I sat sipping my Guinness at the long-lacquered, wooden bar feeling like my own lonely planet.

The world had ceased moving in strange, new ways and I had returned to a reality that felt uneven and unsure. I still remember how that glass of stout, with its beveled curve, felt like a handle I needed to hold in order to keep myself from floating away into the Universe. Even on a day when the only notable event was having taken psychedelic drugs, it was still the drink that held me fast, a dear friend on my lonely planet — a planet now filled with drunken men shouting at television screens.

It has always been a blessing and a curse to know more. To have seen all the things that shape us and disappoint us and hurt us. But, still, after all this time, all these years clean and sober, there is something beautiful in remembering that, no matter how far I’ve come, there are pieces of that lost girl, her solitary planet, still within me. I recognize her, curious at her kitchen counter, free in the courtyard sunlight, and lonely at the long-lacquered bar.

All the change that molded us contains, within it, those core parts of us that will never cease to be. The DNA chains that, no matter what we do, remain unbroken.

And, I sometimes when I stare up at the golden sun, flanked by a host of swirling clouds, I wonder if Colleen and Anna feel the exact, same way.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The Rotten Fruit

2ripeand1rootenapple I was taking big breaths. In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

That’s what you’re supposed to do when you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I don’t usually leave the house before having my coffee, but, on Sunday, I did.

I slipped into my sneakers, pulled my green sweatshirt over my head, and I walked out of the house into the cold. I stood in the center of  the overpass at the highway crossing and let the sound and smell engulf me. Moving air and gasoline. People, all flying forward at sixty-five miles an hour, and me, standing perfectly still. I allowed all the noise to surround me, humming as it rose up from underneath me. And, in that beautiful mess of movement and sound, I let my fingers feel cold and my ears feel numb. I melted. Into place. Into Albany. Into the fence that stops people who are about to lose it from leaping into the traffic below. And, every thought I had, just one more car on the thruway — I allowed a final chance to make its noise.

Thoughts. This past month, I wrote them. Spoke them. But mostly, I thought them. I’ve carried some of them around with me for what feels like centuries, luggage I’d never opened. Because I knew that, if I did,  I’d have to shove every unruly thought back into that damn suitcase. And, they’d never all fit back inside the way they had before. All my thoughts, old and overripe. — All rotting fruit.

I wrote the stories that had been permanent residents in my head, for years. And suddenly, they were all outside me. My bag of fruit, strewn across the highway. And, out of nowhere, came waves of forgiveness. Everywhere I looked, I had been forgiven. Crazier still, I was able to forgive. Finally. I forgave. — The people. The places. The circumstances. — All of us, redeemed. Drenched in blessed water, burst from my leaking pipes in some holy absolution.

When I woke up with a start Sunday morning, I felt them. — New thoughts. New weight. So, I walked out onto New Scotland Road and I stood on that overpass and dumped everything I had, the old and the new, my suitcase of rotting apples, onto the highway below.

Vibrating along with a thousand engines, I let the person I’ve pretended to be fall into the traffic below, with the rest of my trash. And then, I started walking.

I learned to walk in Portland, after my first, traumatic event in sobriety. Miles and miles. Every morning, before I went to work. Every night, when I got home. I walked, dragging my fruit-filled baggage around Reed College campus so many times, I swear to God, there are still grooves in the sidewalk from my worn out Brooks running sneakers. I walked because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to be done. My therapist at the time told me to stop walking. Both my Achilles had severe tendonitis. She was worried about me. But, I kept on walking. — Because, I knew, medical advice be damned, that I had marathons to trot before I’d feel any better.

And, that’s just it. As the old adage goes: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Sometimes, you have to carry the rotten fruit. Walk with it. Walk to China and back. It’s only after you’ve dragged your bag behind you long enough that you truly know which stories will truly eat you alive. And then, you have to tell them. In your head first, and then, to everyone. You have to let go of the projects you were never meant to have. You have to be the crazy girl who changes her mind about everything ten thousand times before settling on the right thing, which will, inevitably, end up being wrong. You have to forgive. Don’t forget, because, the whole point is learning. But, forgive. Please. Forgive everyone. And then, forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being: Stupid. Selfish. In over your head. A punk. A liar. A child. A cheat. A recluse. A thief. And a fraud. — You have to remember that everyone on this planet is just as fucked as you are, and, you have to learn to like that about humanity.

You have to stand over the fucking highway and drop all of your rotten fruit over the edge, because none of it is going to save or serve you. Not one thought or person or memory is going to save you. It’s you who’s going to save you. Your story — however you tell it — is the thing that sets you free. It can be sad or funny or desperate. It can be humiliating or humbling or hammy. But, the thing it can’t be is: Silent. So, scream it. Your stories aren’t meant to be thoughts that bounce around like a pinballs between your ears. It has to be messy. Rotten fruit on the highway.

Sunday, I didn’t end up losing it. I started walking. New Scotland Road to Whitehall to Delaware Avenue. Mascara running. And then, I walked some more, to a coffee shop in Center Square, Albany.

I stood in line with my raccoon eyes, and got an Americano brewed from beans that, as it happened, were from a boutique, Oregon coffee roaster that I used to frequent when I lived in Portland. The barista thought I was cool because I’d heard of them. I fought the urge to tell him how decidedly uncool I am. But, I didn’t. Because, some thoughts — are trash. And trash doesn’t make good banter, but, it does make a good story.

This month, the ninth in my Year of Happiness, and the last in the year of 2016, is about the Stories. All the stories. My stories. Pent-up stories. Maudlin, sad stories. Trash stories. Every story that’s fit to print, and even better, those that are completely unfit. Because, when this year is over, I’m starting over again. And, likely, again after that. I need room. Room for new stories. All the room I can find.

So, if your going to lose it, start with the old thoughts, the old stories — all of them.

Start fresh. Empty your bags onto the highway.

And, when you’re left with the stories you can’t lift high enough to toss over the edge — tell them.

Start with the fruit.

Artwork: “Two Ripe and One Rotten Apple,”  Daniel Worth;

http://danielworthart.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-ripe-and-one-rotten-apple.html

 

 

 

 

Not like a cut. Not any more.

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He didn’t love me. Not enough.

The first time I had the thought, and really acknowledged it, I was laying on the bed in his brother’s guest room.

I’d had that thought before. And, I’d had it many times after. But, that day, I remember, it was raining. I left the living room in tears, though, now, I can’t remember why. And, alone in that quiet room, I lay in our bed and I cried. I knew he wouldn’t come in to comfort me. I knew that for sure.

I have a vague recollection of the blanket being a blue plaid. Though, if I’m honest, I can’t really remember now. It’s funny what we’ll retain and what we’ll let go and what we’ll just overlook. Little details — and big ones. But, it had that smell. The smell that other people’s guest rooms have. Like the sheets have been washed, but, maybe a few weeks ago, an evening or two after the last occupant climbed out of them. It smelled like home, but, someone else’s home.

And that, I think, could sum Adam up. He was home. But, never my home.

On that rainy afternoon we were only two days into our cross-country trip, at our first stop on the way to our new hometown: Portland, Oregon. We’d packed up our Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment furiously the night before and left my mother and father standing at the curb of Nassau Avenue with boxes and bags to save for us and ship to us. We’d stuffed the car so full of our possessions, it literally burst at the seams. Weeks later, in California, we would blow a head gasket due to pulling all that weight, but, we’d driven on anyway, thinking it was a busted radiator cap until we took it in to the Honda dealership in Gresham, Oregon, the day after we checked in to our extended stay hotel.

Just two days into our trip, and only 6 hours from Brooklyn, I felt like we’d driven across the world. And, I knew. — I knew I’d made a mistake. But, there are some mistakes you have to keep a secret. There are some errors where you must hold your tongue. You must let them play out because — Maybe. Maybe it will be different than what you know it to be. Maybe it can all work out. Maybe.

He’d tried to leave me once before, back in New York City. But, I told him he had to stay. We’d figure it out. And he did. He stayed. He let the comfortable love we’d fallen into carry us across the distance that the love we’d lacked for ourselves couldn’t. We allowed something wrong to pose as if it were right, because, maybe we didn’t want to be alone and maybe we didn’t think we’d find anyone better. And still, even after all this time, I haven’t. I haven’t found anyone better.

Different, but, never better.

On his brother’s guest bed, I hugged a pillow to my chest. I could hear laughter in the living room, beer cans cracking open, the clink-clink-clink of the refrigerator door swinging shut. I remember hearing all that and wondering if he’d heard me crying.

He can’t blame me for wanting him to stay. And, I can’t blame him for wanting to leave. Time and space and everything that happened after him made blame useless. Now, it’s just hurt. Not like a cut, not any more. Like a bruise. Old, but tender to the touch. It still stains my arm a dark purple, and, I press it, hard, with the tips of my fingers, more often than I should. I know. — I know.

I think about it now, and, long before I’m sad or angry, I’m sorry. Sorry I didn’t let him go the first time, when we’d stood arguing on 1st Avenue in the East Village. I just couldn’t let him go. And so, we got back on the L train and we made it work. Stupid love. But, the biggest I have ever known. The kind you know so well, you can remember every detail. — Each, like one of his socks strewn across our bedroom floor. After he left me, I found his socks for months. Under the bed, in the closet, beside the couch at the lip of the electric heater, and fallen between the washer and the dryer. I washed them all again and I wore them as if they were my own.

I’m sorry for things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing him into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing him in every one of my blackouts. And I am sorry, most of all, for the things I couldn’t remember. The words I said that he would speak with his eyes the next morning while he sat on the black couch, head in his hands. I knelt on the blue carpet and begged him to stay. And, all I could think while I was on my knees was how my mother once told me: “Never beg a man to do anything.” But, I did. And, I still don’t regret it.

Before he left, I drank to forget. To forget that he didn’t love me. Not enough. I drank to forget the words he never said, but, I wished he had. And, I drank to forget that I’d let it all happen. I drank to forget that rainy afternoon in his brother’s guest room. To forget that moment of knowing it was too late for us, but, knowing it was too late to turn back, too.

After he left, I drank to forget. To forget how much it hurt. To forget how empty everything felt. The living room, the kitchen, the bed, the car. I drank to forget the way I knew every piece of him. The curve of his wrist. The beds of his nails. The blue pools of his eyes. I drank to forget all that, and more still. But, it didn’t work. Even with a different man laying beside me, he always lay there with us. Like a ghost. And, eventually, I stopped wishing he would go. Sometimes I drank hoping that, maybe, he’d stay forever.

4 years sober, and, he still hasn’t left. The last time I saw his face it was February, 2012. But, in a strange way, I still see him everyday. I press the bruise and watch as it whitens at the edges. I still  feel it. So old. But, it still aches.

People tell me that — it’s over. That it isn’t worth the pain or the time or the regret. But, with all my wits about me now, for better or for worse, I’ll decide. I’ll decide what I want to keep and I’ll decide what I want to let go. And I’ll decide if when I told him that he would never find someone that could love him as much I as did, do, did, do, did, that I was right. Because, as cruel as it sounds, even now, it still feels true. It feels as true as the sickness that swells in the pit of my stomach when I wash my hands at my mother’s kitchen sink because the smell of her soap is the same smell that lingered in our kitchen the day he walked out of it.

I am so sorry.

I’m sorry for the things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing you into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing you in every one of my blackouts. And, I am sorry, most of all, for the things I can’t remember. The words I said, that you would speak with your eyes the next morning while you sat on the black couch, head in your hands.

But, I will never be sorry for how I knelt on the blue carpet and how I begged you to stay.

The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”