I have lived alone for one week of the past two hundred and thirty-nine weeks, starting April 15, 2020, which was to be the first day back to “normal” in Oregon — a long, but not too long, awaited release from holding all of the bad feelings that the COVID-19 lockdown brought up for the both of us; from the nightmares that the dreamcatcher above our bed failed to catch, at least on my side (which is a phenomenon that had started some time before) — and then it wasn’t.
Yesterday, I hung a string on the empty nail, and weighted it down with a stained glass pendant shaped like a rain drop. The symbol of my city. My city. I can’t remember having ever said that term aloud, neither in reference to this place where I am living now, nor the three others before it. In fact, I have lacked the sense of belonging to a place, and it reciprocally belonging to me, since leaving my hometown in 2010.
I believe this stems more from abandonment trauma and guilt than the romantic longing for small town life that I often speak and write about. I was passively separated from my place and people of origin at 17, due to my family’s choice to move to the South, and mine to attend a residential college in New England. As now, I was precocious; unlike now, I was not intimidated by “adulting,” because it hadn’t come into the lexicon yet.
I expected and was prepared to attend to my basic needs, pay my bills, and stay in school, but not for the shock of coming into consciousness of how much bigger everything was. There were bigger institutions than Fall Mountain Regional High School, bigger wealth than the family that owned the local pizza place, bigger people than “that one famous guy. . .What’s his name again?”
And so I felt small. Uncool. Uncultured. Unattractive. Unoriginal. If the Enneagram had been mainstream at the time, I might have seen what was coming. The Key Motivations of my Type, The Individualist, are:
to express themselves and their individuality, to create and surround themselves with beauty, to maintain certain moods and feelings, to withdraw to protect their self-image, to take care of emotional needs before attending to anything else, to attract a “rescuer.”
I was drawn to people who thought they would be somebody someday, because they had a leg up on exposure to their options, and more options generally because privilege. People who grew up in cities, in homes filled with art, music, books, and two white professional class parents. I fell in love with them and the lifestyle they represented. My lifestyle improved, and so too my quality of life, but I was not happier. The problem was that it didn’t go both ways.
My partners held stereotypes and judgments about rural life that made it impossible for me to integrate my new self with the old, without the threat of abandonment. I felt pressure to keep up with their pace of life, which seemed to be set by an arbitrary array of virtue and status signals. But, I didn’t have the confidence that I could yet survive in an urban environment without a “rescuer.” And, rather, I should say don’t — because I am in the process of developing that confidence even now.
How’s it going? I have been sweating the small stuff all day and the big stuff all night. I have moved every object just enough from its former position to see it differently, flipped the reversible rug from the blue side to the tan, wheeled the kitchen cart from the edge to the center, and finally got a goddamn (free) couch. Unfortunately, there is one exception. The bed is literally too big to move myself, and wouldn’t fit any other way regardless.
So, I must plainly see its bigness relative to before. I wake in a humidity unfit for this region or season, with a natural curl in my hair, lost and returned from girlhood. Maybe I am new again. Maybe I dreamt that I crashed into the sea and was reborn an island. I cannot remember my dreams. It takes the first ten minutes after I awake just to remember that this is real.
When the pencil skirt fits, but doesn’t sit at the hips, as does the cyclist, who would rather be caught dead than with a bulge, even if it’s just an extra bunch of fabric; and so she walks, in measured steps, passing where the sidewalk ends, and then, drops off into dirt, until the final block, where precision goes to posture, and so go the toes – over the lip – and then, the heals, and then, one palm, one knee, and the stack of crepes planned to be for everyone.
When the rice is simmering, and asks for stirring, just occasionally, and so she drops the wooden spoon, takes up the sword, and decides, right then, and there, to prepare kimchi for winter, which is yet months away, unlike the hand on the timer, which begets a ten-second countdown, “Oh shit,” and the other on the blade, “Oh shit,” there is salt in a wound, and it is time to move back to the pot, with rice searing to its bottom.
When the appetite, stirs the night, she slips to the cupboard, looks in, up, top, middle, bottom, but sees nothing with nearsighted eyes,
which is why, her past self put out the one-half cocoa-carob energy bar, on the counter,
where apparently it is heir apparent for ants play, because something tastes like plus two grams of protein, and feels like
soda, “Fizz, boom,
on her tongue.
When she arrives, at last, not merely late
but also hungry,
like a band aid,
a courtesy call,
a chance to sit,
it might be
a sign of immaturity,
or being irresponsible,
or at the end
of a misguided hike,
but more likely,
of the universal struggle,
of learning to live
outside the bubble,
are new types
on the air,
in the floor,
to tune out
the sink of dirty dishes,
empty the mind,
get back to work.