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Some kind of thick black smoke is pouring into the atmosphere some ten miles away from where I sit right now. It’s only news because we all heard about it on social media, managed to read something of a headline in our slack-jawed scrolling.

Now I’m thinking about the smog in China, wondering if I’ll see or breathe anything like it in the next few months of my life. I don’t know if they have smog in South Korea; I’m guessing they do, it’s everywhere. Even here, ten miles away, in the form of black smoke you shouldn’t breathe or look at for too long.

I’ve spent most of this morning re-reading things I wrote when I was with you. It wasn’t much, I was too busy living to write anything down, which is disappointing. How am I supposed to live now?

It’s 2014, and I wasn’t very surprised when it happened, for once. A new year. It only took me 22 years to get used to the fact that time keeps slipping by. I’ve made friends with time, unlike most people, who are shocked when they look at a calendar and find it’s already Tuesday or March.

Is it Tuesday yet? I like Tuesdays. I was born on a Tuesday. Just because I like time doesn’t mean I keep track of it. Sometimes I don’t even believe in it.

The internet tells me the black smoke is all gone, the world ten miles away is no longer burning. This is good news. I wonder how long it would take me to walk ten miles. A long time, I bet. I can’t even walk to South Korea. Think of all the technology that time’s brought along with it.

The other day I was slack-jaw scrolling, having forgotten temporarily how to live, and I thought of you, in some tiny spark in my hibernating brain. I looked to see how you’re doing, and you’re doing the same as always. That was good news. I still have a few memories of you up here in my brain. I even remember what your voice sounds like and the color of those jeans you wear all the time including the day I met you.

 

watsky

He was singing and lovely and every time he got close enough to the mass of people they rushed forward in a sudden attempt to touch him.

Hands reached up like they were stretching for the very last hanging apple in a starving world. But they weren’t really starving. Or were they? They didn’t know why they wanted to touch him. Or maybe they did.

The crowd surged forward in front of me, but I stood still in my tiny concert space, my hand still raised and waving in the air. The eight feet between me and the front of the stage, once spread thick with people, suddenly emptied; the twelve or fourteen inches at the front, the “front row”, suddenly full of all of those bodies who had once taken up much more space. Had needed more space. Had been people dancing and waving their arms. Not hungry apple grabbers. Not humans stretching for something they couldn’t quite reach.

I understood what was happening. I was a part of it too, am a part of it, I won’t pretend not to be. If anyone else had spit water into the crowd, a drop of it landing on my forehead like holy water, well, I wouldn’t be referring to it as holy water, now would I?

I’ve seen this so many times, I’ve experienced this so often, but I still go back. I still put myself in crowds of hungry people. I still am them.

“I touched him!” someone squeals after the wave of people returns to resting position. They grin, eyes wild, laughing at their own excitement, unsure.

Religion will always exist, even after all the gods are killed by man. Putting people on pedestals, whether or not they deserve it, whether or not anyone can ever deserve it, will always happen.

It’s ok, it’s fine. Isn’t it?

I see two women walking together on the side of the road as I drive past, and I wonder if the woman waving her hands is talking and talking and talking too much, and if the other woman is regretting inviting her friend to exercise with her on this chilly late summer afternoon, since that’s what she really wanted to do, exercise, not walk slower than she normally would and listen to all of her friend’s  updated life struggles. “My cat just won’t stop staring out the window,” I imagine her saying, waving her arms as she walks, pretending that she wants to exercise, too.

And now the women are in my rearview mirror, I can look back and see them, and see the leaves turning orange or brown on the trees they walk under.

People are already complaining about the cold, about how it’s almost fall and the weather is colder than it was a month ago, and I think about how this always happens, every year, everything. Hot in the summer, cool in the fall, cold in the winter, with snow, and the same fetching of the dusty snow shovel from the basement.

I look in my rearview mirror at the beautiful orange leaves and I think about how I’ve seen this all before, seen those women before, or women like them, had those same experiences, talked about that same cat, seen those same leaves change from green to orange to brown, raked them into piles and jumped in them, or left the piles to rot. Again and again, year after year.

“It’s so cold!” she says, another faceless woman in my mind, pulling on the sweater she hasn’t worn in nine months.

Winter will come. Snow will fall. Salt trucks will melt it away, or try, or make ice patches that are worse than the snow was.

Again, again, of course. And of course the people will go on, dealing with seeing their breath in the air on cold winter mornings, plowing through snow drifts and piles of paperwork and gallons of hot coffee. What else can they do?

Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth. My little brother learned this word when he was like ten and went around for the next six years of his life (he’s currently sixteen) saying, “Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth.”

I’m not saying that is what happened to me, a sudden realization of great truth, but, the truth snuck up on me, at least.  Or I was ignoring it, as it approached, attempting to wish it away, the fact that I’m missing something. You can tell yourself that you’re happy and whole, and do everything possible to keep up the ploy, but eventually, if you’re honest with yourself at least part of the time, you’ll find the truth for yourself, or someone else will accidentally shove it in your face, and, bam. Epiphany. Maybe.

This is about friendship. This is about people. This is about life.

This is about me, and relationships and reciprocation and a lack of both. Something missing, or everything.

This is also a little about heart-break, or -ache, feeling a little of the magic of other people disappearing, feeling that that will never come back.

This is about love, and not understanding what love is, and loving someone who loves someone else, and loving a few people who don’t love back. Missing all of that.

This is about place, location. Wondering if I’d find this somewhere else, with a different city and a different group of people. Wondering if this is just another aspect of life, that this happens everywhere to everyone, wondering if I should feel wise instead of foolish.

This is about choices, about choosing people. Choosing to hang out with those who make you feel happy with yourself, or at least feel something, not like something’s missing; not empty. This is about choosing the right people, about letting go those who make you lose your people magic, even though you don’t want to, even though you wish you could keep them.

This is also about personhood. Being a person, being independent. But missing something. Being a person but not feeling like a person, not being treated like a person.

This is about life, of course, because everything is. This is about learning. And this is about truth, if it even exists.

Nothing like an epiphany, not quite. But, at least, understanding.

 

 

 

1. Take what you can get. Something is definitely better than nothing.

2. It all depends on proximity and timing.

3. People are never going to act the way you assume they will. If you stop expecting people to live up to your expectations, you’ll be a lot happier, and live a better life.

4. Nothing lasts forever. Including friendships/relationships. People leave, or move on, and it’s ok. Even if you KNOW that the person you’re spending time with won’t be in your life for too long, you should still be happy and be with them and treat them like a great human being who you’re happy to be with, for however long you’ll be in each other’s lives.

5. Do something today you’ve never done before.

6. Seriously, I am super funny. I just wish you could understand how funny I am. I am so funny.

7. “Smile! Don’t look so depressed, it’ll be OK!” – guy outside the drug store, to my retreating self. Uh, two things. First of all, no one smiles all the time, so why should I be smiling as I walk out of a rite aid? Second, rite aid does not carry muffins, so why the hell would I be smiling/not looking depressed as I walk out of my local rite aid at nine in the morning, muffin-less?!

8. I’m (re-)learning French on this super cool app I just got on my phone (Duolingo). Je suis une femme blancheSo useful! I’m off to France!

9. Do people really listen to the radio these days? I don’t believe it. Who are you?

10. The closest anyone can come these days to visiting another planet is to go to any Home Depot late at night. Just try it. This sort of thing you just have to experience first-hand.

There is a very specific conversation I’ve had before with people I loved or cared about at the time, or with people I had wanted to love or care about in the future, when they were leaving, or when I was leaving (but usually the former), leaving for good, and I’d have this conversation knowing I’d never see them again or speak to them again, etc. It’s only happened a few times, this conversation, maybe only twice that I can remember clearly. Once was in second grade, when the girl I called my best friend moved to West Virginia, and I knew I would never see her again, even though I wrote down her new address on a scrap of paper I then proceeded to lose, and now I’ve lost everything of her: her name, her face, and her address.

The second time was many years later, in High School, with the boy I (secretly) called my boyfriend, that someone else would call my crush; a strange friend-like-but-not-friend-like relationship. Relationships get more complicated as you get older, but the simple moments of leaving stay simple and stay with you. He was just changing schools, but I knew that our strange fragile relationship wouldn’t last, wouldn’t survive the separation. I knew I would never see him again, and I told him so in our very last conversation, and though he denied it, though he said we’d see each other again, hang out, talk, go places, we didn’t, we never did, we never have, we never will.

I feel another of these conversations approaching, but I feel like the next one will be different, possibly won’t include a conversation at all, and it might be directed at or include the city I live in, was born in, have spent most of my life in, as well as all of the people I’ve ever met, or seen, or spoken to on the streets of my childhood neighborhood, in the state and region and road I grew up in and on and around. I’m leaving, moving, growing up and taking off, and saying goodbye to people and places, or maybe not saying goodbye at all, maybe just thinking back, reflecting, taking it all in once more as someone drives me to the airport, or as I cross the state line in my little black sports car, trunk full of belongings which will be my material memories of this place I’ve been in for so long. And maybe it’ll be different this time, this goodbye will be different than all the rest, won’t be for forever; we’ll still have holidays, and funerals, and maybe a couple months in a few years if I lose my job and my apartment and move back home for a while. I won’t lose everything from this relationship, although the faces will fade, and I might get lost on the side streets next time I drive on them.

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You wake up and you feel it almost immediately. You try to shake it off, brush your teeth, eat breakfast; it’s still there. Maybe it’s in your house, along with all the good and terrible memories. You get in your car, drive away toward somewhere. Where can you go? Shopping? Maybe that’s how people become shopaholics. Addicts. Maybe they’re all the same. Maybe we could all easily become like them; we were just born into different circumstances — found ourselves in a better place when we popped out into the world, and now we all struggle to stay upright where our mothers left us.

You pull into the mall parking lot. You turn off your car, but you know you’re not going in, so you roll down your window and sit still for a few minutes. It feels a little better. But running away doesn’t solve anything. What you’re looking for can’t be purchased at any store. Time is the only thing that helps. Time passes you by out the car window; people march in and out of the store, lugging out bags full of things they may or may not need. You put your seatbelt back on; you’ve sat there long enough, let enough time go by, and it’s still the same and it still will be the same for quite some time.

You could call someone. A friend. But it seems that these days all of your old friends are busy living their own completely different lives. It just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe you need to meet new people. Maybe you need to move. Anything to avoid staying here and falling slightly down, becoming something else. What were you born to be? This? Maybe new friends can’t help you. Maybe a new city can’t help you, either. Maybe nothing can. Maybe everything is just a cover-up, just a distraction. Just like sleep. That’s why you feel it the most in the early mornings, when you can still hear the birds chirping in the dying trees across the street, before the motors start and don’t stop until well after nightfall. That’s why some days, when you don’t have a calendar full of tasks to complete before you head back to bed, when you wake up and look at the clock and realize how many hours are going to stretch out in front of you, you feel it. Life. Just living. What the birds and the squirrels would feel if they had brains like we do. Emptiness. Or, rather, not emptiness. A lack of something that is full of something else. An empty fullness we try to cover up with the society we’ve created. With the laws, the stop signs, the uniforms of employees and school children. With religion. With purpose; an easy purpose, one-size-fits-all, that can be found in several different very old books. And, of course, with shopping.

Bang. A gun shot. Don’t worry, we’re in the country, they must be hunting. Hunting what?

The phone rings. You answer. Bang. Another gun shot, this time through the phone in the form of bad news. Your heart drops again. You hang up, wondering, what’s that Mat Kearney song? “I guess were all one phone call from our knees.”

Bang. Another gun shot, hours later. What’s he after? What am I after? What are we all hunting? Did that phone call stop my search or start it?

If today is a bad day, how do all the other days compare? What about the great days? What about those?

Bang. Not a gun shot anymore, just memories; coping, comparing the heart breaks: Your arm put in a cast on your eighth birthday. The crushed front bumper of your sports car. The end of something before it began. A false friend. An empty room.

A phone call. A gun shot. It’s really all the same.

Of course the one person I want to be around is always nowhere to be found. Of course we can’t be together. Of course there’s never any time to say anything. It’s never been like this before. These new   experiences are fun and interesting and overwhelming. And I can’t even say that; there’s no time. There’s never enough time. It’s never been like this before. There’s always been silences, breathing room, space to think. No longer. Days move by, solid chunks of time filled with work, with doing things, with emails, with phone calls, with brisk walks across bricked streets. Days blur together: is it still Wednesday? Isn’t this what a Saturday feels like? How many days has been since we were in that room together? How many days since we last spoke? Too many. Too many days altogether. Too much living. Too much life.

And yet at other times there’s entirely too much emptiness. You sit across the table from me but that space between us might as well be stretched across an entire continent. It doesn’t matter how much time there is if there’s nothing to say, if no one is willing to say it. It’s never been like this before. It’s always been easy or it’s always been nothing. This is a combination of something and nothing and difficulty. I’m struggling against something I can’t quite see and there’s too much time to wage this war. It never ends. Nothing changes. It’s always you and me and silence. And no one wins.

It’s always the same thoughts in different situations:

 
“He’s so close, yet so far away.”

“It’s going to happen.”

“It’s never going to happen.”

I hate feeling this way, this deep-down bubbly terrified feeling that seems to be a product of either evolution or of thinking too much. Maybe both.

I wish it were easy. I wish you could know me, without the awkward pauses or silliness, without the socially-agreed-upon acquaintance behavior.

I wish words worked better for me, wish I could tell you about how a few nights ago I sat in the dark grinning to myself, thinking about how wonderful and horrible it all is. I wish that would flow out smoothly from my mouth, make you understand that I’m a creature just like you, with dreams and plans and more than just an empty swivel chair figure taking up too much elbow space.

“It’s going to happen.”

“It’s never going to happen.”

But it’s always the same: always too much bravery or not enough at all the wrong times. Always too much contact or not enough; You’re either always there or never there and it doesn’t matter which because nothing ever happens anyway.

“It’s never going to happen.”

Always the same: a lot of laughing and smiling and refusing to cry over something so silly, over something so nothing.

“It’s never going to happen.”

And it ends the same, too: me, alone, grinning in the dark at how horrible and wonderful it all is.