I’m at my dining room table. It’s 7:30 p.m., on the Monday night after Labor Day and the sun is gone. When I look to my left I see headlights zapping by as if deer galloping through grass, the same grass I was laying upon yesterday as my daughters were running around the silhouette of my limber, bronze limbs spread out to submit themselves to the earth that supported me like a warm, made-up bed on a cold winter night. I forgot to see the stars. I mean, I looked at them, but I didn’t see them.
My daughters brought me back to life.
There’s a navy blue vase full of Trader Joe’s carnations straight ahead of me. I bought it this morning, the first live thing I’ve acquired since June, when I started leaving the city every four days to take long weekends. The vase matches the color of the sky. Last month at 7:30 p.m. it wasn’t this dark.
I chose these carnations. Where did I learn they’re bad flowers? That they indicate terrible taste, a tacky courter coming to get you. They’re alive and they’re blooming and soon they will die, but before they do, they’ll begin decomposing. I’ll see merits of their lifespan scattered in an organized, almost artful display across the charcoal gray table just the beneath the vase, where they’ve lived for a week, maybe a little bit longer.
Those petals will live separated, like newborns out from their mothers’ wombs, adult children well-adjusted, having completed the cycle of learning from their parents—separated from their stems, telling of what has been a life lived honestly, and therefore spectacularly. Is there anything better?
Sometimes I wonder, would I rather die abruptly or with notice?
When there’s notice, do I decompose like a flower, watching my own life fall slowly but methodically from the root of my whole, still capable of insight, conscious, but from a birds-eye view, and therefore with the capacity to celebrate, to galvanize; to think damn those days were good, remember?
I do this all the time—look back and think that was nice. If that wasn’t nice, what was? But when I try to do it now, today, while I’m sitting at a dining-room table, staring at a navy blue vase and wondering how it is possible that the sky outside the window to my left is showing me a darkness I’d have never seen last month at this time, at this very hour, can I see it too?
The darkness, I mean. How long will it take until I can only see darkness again?
Summer was great. It was the best I’ve ever had. I did nothing but everything, and that’s all I wanted: to know that—without bells and whistles, not a single flight, or fight, or shiny new thing, while flip-flopping between the homes of my parents and my other parents, those chosen, but adopted, with the force and sum of an exploding heart through marriage, with brief interludes to play adult in my own rented nest—that I could feel this way. I don’t need much, just for my heart to explode. It takes is so little! A cackle, a meal, a new thought I didn’t see coming.
I recently decided to stop hating everything else. Summer used to represent a suspension of belief, a sort of role-playing or vacuum that somehow tricked me into believing that perhaps I was not me.
But who did I want to be? Who did I want to become? Why did summer do this? Was it the tan, the carefreeness? The present reminder that I need so little, and therefore, too, an absence of oppressive ambition? In summer, I am satisfied.
But an attitude’s not seasonal. Or it doesn’t have to be, and this is it—life. What more is there? What more, what less, what equal part is there? This is it. I am me. Are we not all the sum of our experiences, rolled up into chosen principles that we dispel both as fact and The Most Important? The things that make us think: I am me! What more is there?
God, I love my kids.
They demand such an intense focus. Being with them is like writing a book. When I emerge from the hole of focus — and it is a hole, but this hole looks a lot like a bright tunnel, decorated to reflect the parts of me that I can’t even measure—I am lightheaded and exhausted but fuck I feel good. Like I’ve just proven the odds wrong. But what are these odds? Who made them? How could they be “right”?
I’m ashamed that I’m not ashamed of this, but I can most viscerally see how I have changed through my clothes. And the speed with which I can get dressed. And the eagerness I feel to confront the box, my closet—a small but mighty amalgam of people I think I was, people I wanted to be, and the person I am. That portion, the latter third, is becoming more dense. Maybe that’s why it’s getting so easy. Why I feel more eager.
We’re always going to be wobbly. Maybe I say that for sympathy. I’m always going to be wobbly. I feel sure of that. If I’m not—if I’m too—strict, I might become rigid. And when I think of myself, I see water. Water entering a maze, filling every crevice, refusing to leave any single stone unturned. I want to know, and feel, and experience the full range. It’s not all for me, but the choice of what is—that’s mine.
A lack of wobbliness worries me. And that worry turns me into a block of steel. Steel can get close to the maze, but never too deeply into it. And what a tragedy that would be! To get bigger and bigger, to do it so rapidly that no water could penetrate. It would dehydrate, it would die! And that would be the steel’s fault. But then again, I’m water. Just water. If there is too much of me, won’t I drown the maze?
The maze is life.
My people are steel. I need them. They need me just as much.
Is this what growing up feels like?
Graphics by Dasha Faires.