Perhaps it seems that (too) many things I read or experience move me to tears — I mention it often here. I guess I spent the first 29 years of my life around people who chastised me for my tears, and I’m too old for that shit now. It’s healthy to let your breath out and feel something in this life.
I am sitting on the N train and it’s dark outside. Funny how the color of humid summer evenings never really seems to be as dark, relatively. I don’t mind anymore if strangers watch me curiously wondering what I’m reading that causes tears. I’ve had a lot of exposure to (practice, you could call it) being emotional while in midair.
I found Sejal Shah’s writing in the Kenyon Review yesterday. I put it in my Pocket. I meandered through some of her linked works earlier today. I skimmed this one, at first somewhat disengaged, and guiltily indulged in my secret bad habit of skipping to the end of things (hah! in so many ways). It’s listed as fiction, but really, fiction is the reality and truth we attempt to disguise I suppose. As García Marquez taught me, the most magical and surreal stories we call fiction can actually be the most representative of things we feel. Kind of like the things that move me while sitting on subway trains.
Anyway, Sejal’s last paragraphs left me raw, and her words opened up about all the things I am never willing to admit. Excerpts (not necessarily in written order) from The Half King.
And so I moved. If you had any ambition (and I had enough) you had to leave. The easiest way to break up (for example: with the Irish kid I kissed occasionally then) is to move away. I spent the second half of my twenties single, waiting for I don’t know what. Some sort of sign to bring me back. I couldn’t take New York seriously—haircuts more expensive than most clothes I owned, interns with interesting glasses working for no pay, strivers. I just assumed that I would circle back to find a boy about my age from my previous life, waiting for me. The whole point was to recognize him.
Emerson says: “When the half-gods go, the gods arrive.” Even the wrong ones: I didn’t want to let them go.
This isn’t what I thought thirty was going to look like. Everyone always reaching for something else. Almost none of us wear rings—that kind of ring.
The only way to end this conversation is to drink more, or to leave, or to kiss someone. All the usual and customary ways of dealing with boredom or anxiety.
Now I was leaving again, another program, another state, another degree, so every place, everything I did, had that clarity—I wanted to remember, to fix things into place. That is what leaving does. That is what I’ve become addicted to.
Carrie and her boyfriend have known each other since high school. I’m jealous of that. It’s what I always wanted. But I also can’t imagine it. What’s the point of paying the rent to live in New York if you’ve already met someone? New York is about looking around. New York for me was about looking around. Mark slides back into the booth. I ask Carrie’s boyfriend if I can buy him another drink. He says no, I elbow my way to the bar, push in front of the frat boy wall, and come back holding two Coronas. I was always a shy person hiding behind a loud person’s mannerisms. The people from my high school I would long for if I let myself long are long married. That’s what people in my town did—replicate and duplicate and procreate. I have done none of the above. I want to wear something so bright and so tiny that the wall of people will part. I bring back one Corona to push across the table, one for me to clasp my fingers around. I ease my way back into the booth and look at all of them—the ones I know and the ones I’ve just met. The roommate dragged along, another friend of a friend, whose name I don’t remember five minutes after we were introduced. Chris, who looks like a nice guy, a guy my mother might like, and who looks at me as though he might be interested, if I were to look back.
I can already tell I will remember this moment. I can’t stay here at thirty, stay living in a room with an airshaft window, stay living in a place where the boys who ask me out will never help me move when I am actually moving. Carrie says: Why do you waste your time with the kind of guy who won’t help you move? What about one who will pack up his crummy car and move with you? The kind of guy I should want probably has a nicer car than that. And he probably has a better job than me, a good job even, so I am the one who would have to move. Or maybe it’s not about jobs at all; maybe it’s about being willing to stay.
It’s not like I have someone like you do, I say. A Boyfriend. Most of the time, I can’t even say the word. I can say: this guy. I can say The DJ, The Nice Guy, The 7th Grade Teacher. The Pot Dealer, The Assistant Professor, The ER Doctor. Someone is driving Carrie home. And he, her boyfriend, is the tallest and the best-looking guy there. I didn’t say it before, but it’s true. The only people who have ever helped me move share a last name and some amount of genetic material with me. Mark has a girlfriend, Carrie says. I know, I tell her. We were just talking.
When I leave The Half King tonight, it will be just me on the sidewalk, flagging down a taxi. After thirty—I can see it—the world is Noah’s Ark. And even if Carrie walks outside with me, I will be the only one getting into the car. I have no idea what kinds of deals have been brokered between the people who sit here, grinning and shit-faced, who live with each other, whether or not there are rings or merely the promise of them, or no promise at all.
I know it’s hard sometimes, she says. It would be for me, too. It’s not so bad, I say, to sleep diagonal on the bed. I get the whole thing. Anyway, I have you, I tell her. And that’s not a small thing.
I want to believe Carrie, who is across from me, absently rubbing a turquoise pendant and leaning into her boyfriend’s shoulder. She thinks I can be like her. That I could have chosen differently, that I could choose differently. I want to be more than someone’s cigarette break. I want to have a friend where it’s not necessary to lie.
I tell myself I can move back, that New York isn’t a river rushing. And none of this lasts anyway—not Carrie and me in a twin-way, not Mark and me, not twenty-one, not the possibility of Chris or any other nice guy smiling at me across the booth. Not what I want most of all: a bouquet of possibilities, the ship, which was once something else, choosing to return. This time he would choose differently—and I tell myself after thirty so will I.
Now I’m sitting in my room in a shared apartment, 30 years old, alone (in a content way), and listening to New York City’s lullaby outside. The trains, the air that is never silent, the clattering of tires over pavement at 10pm, the darkness. The lights on the ground that become our twisted and backwards sky of stars. My half-gods taking my hand in the anticipatory pause before the gods arrive.
Tonight, I’ll sleep diagonally on the bed. I get the whole thing.
This life, these loves, it’s all a bouquet in the end. I tend pick the wild ones. Maybe one day one will take root — the black swan, the Little Prince’s persistent rose. Until then, don’t we still see their beauty, sitting in the sun?