As the date gets closer, my voice becomes more shrill—at least in my head—and the entire world starts to blur together—sorta like when you’re driving on the highway with the windows down…90 mph. The patient noise of motion. Until you resist red slams to breaking points and rear-ended muses. And then there is so much quiet, you’re sure you’ve been buried alive. People are talking, but someone turned down the volume. And what you say is inconsequential because you are asleep. Dead. Maybe mute. You’re not sure.
You awake to another you—a different you than the one that existed yesterday or in 1986 or in 1992 or maybe even 2001. You can’t say if she is more or less you—just different and odd—and worth diving into…but you’re not sure if you’ll stay.
I roll the window down and then begin to breathe in the darkest country road and the strong scent of evergreen from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.
It’s impossibly old. I suppose, in my childish heart, thirty-three is, too.
I wonder how it is those numbers are right. I double-check with my calculator and flip lenses—jumping hastily between 16 and 31 and finally 26.
These numbers mean nothing—as much as dates on calendars. This is what I tell myself, but I quickly know I’m full of shit when I say it.
I have a plan.
I always do, and sometimes, I even engage it. Sometimes, it saves me. Sometimes, I drown in it. Flip a switch, and I am not here. And you are not gone. And it’s only 1993. And I am arguing with you—insisting that is NOT me in that embarrassing sweater.
And I wonder which one of us is really 14.
Thirty-three year old me wants to take it back.
Thirty-three year old me wonders how you’ve been gone 21% of my life.
Then looking upwards, I strain my eyes and try to tell the difference between shooting stars and satellites from the passenger seat as you are driving me home.
It was a day full of growling. I flitted around like an awkward hummingbird reaching toward sky, but only getting tree branches. Time propelled me forward, and it was time to choose something else.
Today was less about choices and more about the I shoulds I observe each day. Tit for tat, pleasepleaseplease, drop everything, why nots. I acted so nothing would spoil—even though I wanted to stay in bed and pretend it wasn’t almost that day. The noise was my friend, though—I decided as much as I tried not to think the thoughts that have been bouncing around for days—months—years, maybe. I told them to go away.
I cooked. I don’t do it enough, and truthfully, I prefer my meals mine. I miss my flavors. I miss how I can make my taste buds jump—how I sweat while making some spectacular something—and how proud I am when all my experimenting—and that pipedream in my head turns out better than I thought it would.
I used to always cook. When I lived alone. But especially, when she existed in this world. I would get books and choose the most ridiculous things—just to see how badly I could mess it up or to prove that I was still his daughter—even after his long nothing. I did it because I could settle into myself and not have to say a single word to prove who I was and what I was about.
I stopped when he came here. Because, suddenly, the kitchen wasn’t mine. The whole thing just wasn’t mine. And I let him own me.
And then, he didn’t anymore…and I didn’t know how to own myself anymore. And I spent a long time just trying to find my keys.
I don’t know why I do that. Why I hand over things to others. Because I never used to. I used to hold on to everything so tightly—used to shrug anyone off who wanted to matter.
While cooking today, I didn’t love it like I used to. I felt the strain of it against my achy muscles. I got tired of standing and sat down to watch television. For just a minute. And ended up burning a carrot. I am good in a crisis—good at saving things before they ruin everything.
I realized why I was fighting it—why I’ve been fighting it. Some part of me cooks for them and the person I used to be. Some part of me pouts because they no longer exist here, and I can’t do things the way I’ve always done them. I can’t cook giant vats of onions and peppers. I will be the only one who devours them, and there is no satisfaction in just me. But I still throw them in the bowl—without realizing it’s wrong. I find blankets to keep out the cold in my attempts to please everyone and make myself worthy. And that’s not what I need anymore.
“Do they collide?” I ask, and you smile—with my feet on the dash, the world doesn’t matter.
I have been reminded lately of the kindness of strangers. I use the term stranger relatively loosely nowadays because almost everyone lately feels rather strange to me. Not strange in that foreign—you’re so different from me—kind of way…but, rather, in that you’re not me sort of way. And, I suppose, that’s a good way to feel because I’ve—honestly—mostly always preferred the company of strangers. I find them comforting.
I’ve been rather astonished by the random things that have happened to me lately—how certain people have gone out of their way to connect—how easily connections have happened—and how grateful I am for the small things people have sent my way.
I’ve had a lot of these things happen throughout my life, but it has been especially abundant this year—especially on days that are inexplicably hard for me. I am not always graceful in the ways I accept them or acknowledge them. What seems so easy is often just some halfhearted whimper. I feel the noise overtake me some days, and no matter how loudly I shout, no one can hear what’s in my heart.
I have been alone so long—have come to expect certain things for so long—that I get lost in the noise too easily. I get frustrated when people can’t seem to hear me. And I long for the people who used to know without me having to explain. I long for the days when I belonged to someone and something. And I wish people would understand that I still do—and I still want to—even if it crushes me—even if I seem lost in the blur of cities passing by.
I was thinking that tonight as I sank into my bath water. I looked at our nearly-dead poinsettia—and saw a single leaf perched precariously on another. From my angle, I could see what I couldn’t see while standing—that it wasn’t connected. It was close enough to touch—to appear like all the others—but its ties had been severed. Probably accidentally, by me. I do that, too.
It reminded me of me—in some weird, small way—how I’ve appeared like everyone else for so long, but in reality, I am just existing without any tether—supported on what I happen to fall on. Only from certain angles can you tell I’m not quite the same.
I still want to belong—even though I’m not always sure I deserve to belong—or what belonging even means. I want to be remembered the way I used to be—and I want people to know I want that instead of just assuming I’m okay because I always seem to be just like you. I want someone to really look at me and know it’s nice to be considered—even if I really can’t belong. Even if I don’t want to.
When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride. When you need directions, then I’ll be your guide. For all time. For all time.
*Song lyrics courtesy of Death Cab for Cutie