Thoughts Provoked by a Cardboard New York City

I’ve learned mine can’t be filled,
only alchemized.

— Stephen Dunn, “Emptiness”

 

The other night I was at a comedy show in a church basement with walls covered by cardboard cut-outs of the New York City skyline. Little white Christmas lights were peeking out from behind, creating the illusion of twinkling windows at night.

What,” began the sarcasm of the final comic, gesturing at the cardboard skyline, “you mean none of these buildings are in Jamestown?”

And I laughed harder than I had all night.

It was a relief, to have the delusion acknowledged. It made me feel better about how I’d been staring at the whole set up, all night, wanting to throw up due to some unearned feeling of homesickness.

The twinkling Christmas lights: they reminded me of all the nights I refused to sleep as a little kid. How I’d insert cassette after cassette into my Fisher-Price boombox—the one with the microphone and color coded buttons—trying to stave off my dread of public school, and dumb-kid jokes, and being unable to read through key-rings of word-cards at what the state deemed an “appropriate” pace. (I’d often hide in the bathroom and pretend I was Sailor Moon as I tried to come up with an argument that’d convince my mother I needed to be home-schooled.)

Thinking of those lost cassettes, the Oliver and Company soundtrack came to mind.

More specifically, Huey Davis’s opening song, “Once Upon a Time in New York City”, which—having mild OCD—stayed, that night, lodged in my mind, on a loop, until bed. Where I dreamed that my little niece came to me with a picture book, flipped to the very last page, depicting New York City in different shades of blue, twinkling like Christmas Eve.

It made me consider how a lot of the novels I like to read are about suburban life and its inescapable triviality; about characters who settle and try to pretend like they’re not mentally ill, or terribly addicted, or irreversibly repressed.

In season seven of American Horror Story one character, Meadow—a very pathetic and desperate person who wears big hats—says, “I wanted to be a painter, but I was too drawn to the normalcy of a middle class lifestyle.”

And I felt that to an extent; to a point where I at least didn’t forget about it.

Every time a person says, “Come to New York!” — “You belong in New York!” A small part of me is quietly objecting: But what about cul de sacs that smell like fabric softener? Crate and Barrel? Squishy blankets? Familiar faces? Empty movie theatres? It’s not “me” exactly, but still it’s there. This dull enduring self-rejection. What do I do with it?

Of course Meadow, who should’ve been a painter, chooses to drown herself in white wine and joins a murderous cult. Is that who I am, deep down? Or am I a brave little cartoon kitten with luck on her side; fate combined with a series of mishaps that ultimately lead to all the right things: adventure, friendship, purpose, home… (What I’d like to boast about having from my apartment walls.)

I once wrote a short story in which a young woman, drawing on a paper napkin, suddenly looks up, struck by clarity, and says, “Sometimes I can’t even imagine my world as the same one where little children go missing.” And the guy she’s talking to suddenly gets an overwhelming urge to break her hand.

I am both characters, is what I’m trying to say.

My many selves are in constant conflict, as if identity were a Rubik’s cube only the very, very, self-assured can solve.

Lately, I’ve been worrying: do we ever really get over our adolescent insecurities, or are we all just some variation of our sixteen year old selves? (I’ve been admitting a lot of weird things to myself, like: Yes, Nicole Richie’s anorexic body had a lasting effect on me. Yes, I am depressed in a way that only medication can fix. No, I am never going to have a “group” of friends like St. Elmo’s Fire. Yes, I have been caught in a cycle of denying these things since adolescence.)

Answering my own question, as I am wont to do, with the words of somebody else, Joan Rivers popped into my head: “It doesn’t get better. You get better.” So, yes, maybe our adolescent insecurities never really go away—our learned anxieties and aversions; our social and interpersonal hang-ups. Maybe all one can really do is accept these things as a part of herself. Try to get better. Learn how to deal.

I read my friend a letter, which I gave to my ex best friend. In it I explained why I couldn’t be friends with her anymore; how the position I was in completely inhibited me from being a good and supportive person to her. How my initial inclination—to be fucking pissed—was totally eclipsed by the fact that I wanted her to be happy. That, I felt, the best thing for me to do was remove myself.

I finished reading, and my friend asked, “Why did you blame yourself that whole time?”

Looking back, if I could have answered her with more clarity, I’d say: Because I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of people think I don’t blame myself enough. (There it is, that prevailing adolescent phantom: What Other People Think. I know, it doesn’t really exist—nobody really thinks about anybody that much. Not as much as they think about themselves. Harsh judgments are short and fleeting. Most people say nasty things they don’t even mean, just to make conversation. A majority of the time, they don’t even know what they’re talking about.)

But it’s a good thing I couldn’t. Because, even with my clarity-driven response, I know I’d still spiral into self-doubt. My answer would become a game of Mad Libs. (I blame myself because I am stupid; because I am annoying; because I am boring, bitter, ugly, empty. Because I deserve it. Because I can take it. Because I don’t need it. Because she can have it. Because I wanted to be egalitarian, and/or civil. Because I am terrified of all the things I cannot see, and therefore, change, about myself.)

Self doubt. What Other People Think. Two things I’ll always carry. Things that won’t get better, but require my getting better. Like a bonsai; how a tree still finds a way to be what it is, however small and subdued—

“It doesn’t feel fair,” I texted.

“Because it isn’t,” my friend texted back.

Again with Joan Rivers: “It doesn’t get better. You get better.”

If we go backward in time, twenty-one years, little-me is lying in bed with her cassette player, listening to “Once Upon a Time in New York City”. Shocked by the carelessness of other little kids; totally dreading it; wishing she didn’t have to deal with it; not knowing that she was listening to a song about a place, just as sleepless as her.

Remember. She gets better.

But, for now, the twinkling Christmas lights will have to do.

Your insides, always fighting for you, even when you aren’t, will have to do.

Remember. People often misunderstand each other because they don’t understand themselves. Some will count up all the things you don’t have, in comparison to themselves, as a means of maintaining some imagined order. It’s okay. Let them have it. They’re trying to get better too. And even if there’s a hole you’ll never fill—some lack you can’t atone for—there is the melting ice—waiting outside the church basement that is posing as someplace else—speckled from being eaten through by salt. It’ll understand you when no one else will.

A friend is a friend is a friend.

There is a city that never sleeps, just like you.

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The Death of a Brontosaurus has Everything and Nothing to do with the End of a Friendship

Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.

— Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps”

____

Mildly disgusted with my own sentimentality, I turned my head so my boyfriend wouldn’t see me cry, as a brontosaurus swayed and tumbled to her death, after a volcanic eruption, in the new Jurassic World movie. (She was so helpless and gentle. I hated how all I could do was watch, as this CGI projection, so reminiscent of glossy pages, and pop-up books, suffered from such despair.)

Why did it make me feel as if someone had suddenly snapped all the kids books, in the world, shut?

I thought about it.

How the image of this long-necked dino exists in our collective imagination as a symbol of hope, and benevolence. (Earlier that week, watching Jurassic Park III, my boyfriend made a joke reminiscent of “not all men”. He said, “Not all dinosaurs!” as the scene cut, from vengeant raptors, to the familiar John Williams theme, playing over triumphant shots of herbivores—the brontosaurus, most notable, among them.)

When she groaned, and her knees—eventually—buckled; when she disappeared, among the dirt and ash, I had a flashback to Jay Gatsby, face down in his unused swimming pool. (This is a partial Leonardo DiCaprio reference. His face has always appeared, to me, as an unrealized dream. And, I guess, now the brontosaurus does too.)

I chose my muses, and re-imagined them as a personal trinity. (Leo D., Jay Gatsby, and the brontosaurus: What if I could climb up the tail of a brontosaurus—over its back, and onto some idyllic planet? One where Leo is more like Jay. Less womanizing, and more one-woman obsessed—but not to the point of death. Never like that. A more balanced place with a smiling brontosaurus in the sky…)

I Googled about brontosauruses.

Apparently this particular dinosaur’s existence has often been called into question, having gotten caught in the crossfire of a feud known as “The Bone Wars”. (These excavationist battles involved two paleontologists—Edward Cope and Othneil Marsh—who were so focused on one-upping each other, in terms of discovering new species of dinosaur, that they eventually forgot the importance of scientific accuracy altogether. It was believed—up until 2015—that the brontosaurus was actually just a camarasaurus wearing an apatosaurus’s skull. That the petty distraction, of Cope and Marsh’s feuding, had caused some explosive bone mix-up.)

Now, let’s just say, for my narrative’s sake, that these paleontologists started off as the best of friends. That their feud didn’t begin with dinosaur bones, but a woman. (An empty woman who was alluring the way a fixer-upper is alluring. In that “what could be” sort of way.)

Let’s say Cope saw her first. Fucked her first. (Ripped up her floorboards, and found the mold growing underneath.) Let’s say he tried to repair her—love her—first. That, every time—with every solved problem—yet another problem was revealed. Until, finally, he couldn’t take it anymore—he had to confide in someone.

Let’s say he confided in Marsh.

As they dusted the dirt off of a yet-to-be christened brontosaurus, he said, “I keep trying to make it work, but no matter what I do, it never comes together.”

Let’s say Marsh took a break from his brushing, and looked pensive. That he gave the kind of brutal honesty true friendship was wont to reveal. He said, “You’re just another tool in her shed. No woman wastes anytime thinking about a hammer until she needs one.”

Let’s say Cope wasn’t offended. In fact, let’s say he loved, and valued, Marsh, unwaveringly, for his honesty. Until—some while later—Marsh admitted that he’d been seeing this woman too. That he’d never seen any reason to stop.

Let’s say, after that, Cope couldn’t un-hear what Marsh had said. That it played, round and round, on a loop, inside his head: You’re just another tool in her shed…

Let’s say this has nothing to do with Cope and Marsh, or whether or not the brontosaurus ever existed. This is about me and a friend.

How I’d always considered her the “strong” one. So much so that, the first, and only, time I ever saw her break down, I felt shaken. (She shattered like the finest champagne glass. Her face contorted, right before she began to cry, and I felt like I’d just gazed into a mirror, right before it cracked.)

“I feel so used by him, all the time,” she said.

(And I tried to collect the pieces.)

I said, “I wish I could show you…”

But I never found the words to describe her worth. At least not adequately. And all the time, I sat on the sidelines, an idle friend. Watched as her relationship with cocaine formed, and never said a word. Just read about its effects on the body, and imagined her brain like a building with shotty wiring. Imagined the lights in her prefrontal lobe, flickering, with her will to live trapped inside—debating whether the electric bill was even worth paying.

When she told me she was sleeping with my ex—one who was unkind to me—I felt like I’d just noticed a shard of glass, stuck in the tip of my finger. (A small splinter from that day she shattered like a champagne glass; a reminder of how my friendship would always fall short, because what I wanted to give depended on something so abstract. A feeling that could only be internally realized, and never externally given: “I wish— I wish—”)

Does Leonardo DiCaprio ever get lonely?

I Googled this and the results were soul-crushing.

The first article that popped up was for Daily Mail, titled, “Leonardo DiCaprio will end up Miserable and Alone”. (Images of his alleged “misery” were presented alongside images of his womanizing—everyone seemed to presume the two existed in tandem. Like there was some eternal version of Leo, planted on a private island. Where his mega-yacht was forever docking, and long-legged blondes were slathering tanning oil on one another, all around him—perpetually. And still: He couldn’t stop scowling.)

Eventually I found a statement Leonardo DiCaprio made himself.

He admitted that, sometimes, he feels so lonely it’s like someone has just “punched” him in the gut. And I imagined—on that distant beach—the scowl of his eternal self, deepening. (That’s the trouble, with lonely people. We fail to understand loneliness as a state of mind, opposed to a state of being. Every failure at communication, every failed human connection, feels like a father’s blessing to marry the idea that one’s problems are unique.)

I keep trying to divorce this idea from myself. Because, I understand: I’m not the first person to feel betrayed by a best friend. But the way relationships seem to end, with me—it’s like a Big Bang in reverse. I recognize my inability to experience human connection in moderation. To this point where I’d just assume pulling up a towel next to Leo, on his miserable beach.

Casting my rose-tinted glasses to the wind, and replacing them with some dark shades, “Fuck him, fuck her, fuck everyone,” I’d say. And we’d share a loneliness, like only being able to comprehend the insides of our own eyelids.

Eventually, he’d try to make conversation—some small talk about the weather—and I’d say, “I wish you were Jay Gatsby.” Shut down his attempts at positive interaction because it just wasn’t meant to be that kind of beach date.

Why did the brontosaurus’s death make me so upset?

It symbolized the death of something noble—good intention run amuck. Like watching a good friend crash and burn and feeling as if you’ve always been hopelessly inadequate to stop it. Like, being Nick Carraway. The sole witness of Gatsby’s isolation. Realizing that, you were the only one who ever showed up for him. That there was always a whole system, rigged against him. And now you’re calling, and calling… Hoping he’ll pick up, and listen long enough for you to save him from—something, whatever it is.

This is about how The Great Gatsby was about friendship, just as much as it was about love.

It’s about how I recently listened to an episode of This American Life that was all about break-ups. It featured a girl who quoted Phil Collins, as her boyfriend broke up with her—on New Years Eve—because it was the only thing she could think to say at the time. And all I could think about was how I’d like to re-write mine and my ex best friend’s story to have an ending like a 90’s teen movie. (I’d chase her down—in lieu of Freddie Prinze Junior—and quote “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)

It’s about what a shallow, best-friend-stealing, asshole “the way things are” can be.

How, the reality of the situation is this: The moment I found the words to describe her worth, I’d been disqualified as a credible source. And, I just couldn’t watch, as her priorities got fed through a siphon, the scope of which kept closing in, until there was only this: Cocaine. Like, the Daisy to her Gatsby. A promise that’d never materialize into anything other than the need for more.

It’s about how, in the meantime, I can be found watching the sunset, overlooking the water, from a lawn chair. Planted between my boyfriend, and my other best friend—twin fire signs, my two favorite Leos. Laughing at the past, and pointing out Great Blue Herons. The sounds of crickets, absolutely vivid. Realizing the emptiness I’ve carried inside, since birth, isn’t there.

And I think of her.

And, I wish—

It’s Miserable and Magical: Our Twenties are Too Short to Hate Taylor Swift and Female Friendship (or Anything for that Matter)

“The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

 —Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Do you ever feel like certain people just sit around brainstorming new and interesting ways to break your heart? Because…

Same.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system: I’ve been listening to a lot of old school T-Swift lately, like, “Long Live” and “Dear John” and “Mean”. And I can’t lie, there’s something about every album prior to Red and 1989 that’s really endearing. Like, every track on Speak Now has this undertone that sounds a lot like: Na-na na-na boo boo. Just. I love how Taylor Swift seemed to have this quiet joke with herself, how I get this secret satisfaction whenever I listen to her play the banjo and sing: Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. It’s like she totally knew she was going to be on the cover of Time magazine one day—becoming the Yin to Lorde’s Yang, learning the definition of feminism from Lena Dunham, telling Apple how to write contracts, blowing shit up with super models…Just, girl knew what she was doing.

I imagine her being 20 when she first started saying it to herself: Fuck it. I don’t care whether or not you think I’m talented. I don’t care if you think I’m corny, or petty, or dumb. At least I say what I mean, and there are girls in the world who need that. So fuck it. I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for the ones who get it. Until finally, at age 26, she was saying it out loud to Chuck Klosterman, for GQ, “If you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.”

I love her because there’s something about her spirit that’s totally indestructible and still, she’s sincere. I mean, I know she’s not perfect, or some kind of god, but I have a hard time believing a total bitch wrote the line, “your string of lights are still bright to me”, about Kanye West, and that’s that…

Anyway, I’m writing this because it’s been a rough couple of months and the number of times “Shake It Off” has stopped a crying spell dead in it’s tracks is an infinite one. And that kind of makes me want to write Taylor Swift a letter—that she’ll probably never read—expressing my insane gratitude like: Thank you for being a person. Because, driving around, listening to “Mean”, and just thinking, thinking, thinking…God. Just, so much has happened recently that has made me feel insane and kind of desperate, like I’m walking around with a limp, like everyone can see straight to the heart of all my weaknesses. And just, driving around, listening to Taylor Swift, it dawned on me: This past month I’ve felt invaded and used and a little broken, but the one thing I haven’t felt is lonely.

And the moment that clicked for me, I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t even be sad. All I felt was grateful, just, this relentless appreciation for all the people who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life, like: Thank you. Thank you so much for being a person.

☁︎

“Guys, I just, really need to know that tomorrow is going to happen. Just tell me tomorrow is going to be a thing that happens to us all…” I’m clinging to the sofa, ripped out of my mind (sorry mom, sorry dad) and in the midst of an existential crisis—that I will later learn only lasted ten minutes and not ten hours—because, I’m an idiot who ate two squares of weed-chocolate that my friend brought back from Colorado. Like: Oh. Okay. I smoke weed, never. Guess I’ll stuff my face with it. Completely disregard all the times it’s convinced me that I’m a sociopath whose life is one giant rationalization. Forget all the times it’s made me worry about maybe wanting to stab my friends to death. It’ll be fine. Ttyl, Logic…

Reader, it was not fine.

What happened was not fine at all because what happened was my personality got turned inside out and I became the world’s most extrovert-iest extrovert. My every thought and anxiety was out in the open, totally against my will. Like, my mental system of checks and balances was all impaired, so I never got the private memo: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t admit that you’re worried about murdering these people that you love right now. Maybe you’re just kind of paranoid and need to keep that thought to yourself, save it for never…

“Just tell me that tomorrow is real and I’m not going to wake up with you guys’ blood on my hands.”

Of course, neither of my guy friends could stop laughing because they are both levelheaded people who don’t turn schizophrenic the moment marijuana hits their systems. However, they contained themselves long enough to give those affirmations that friends are supposed to give in moments of choco-pot meltdown:

“Cat, you’re fine. This is real, we’re real, tomorrow’s a thing…” one says, as the other adds, “You’re not about to be the first person to die from weed, and I’m pretty sure I could restrain you very easily if I had to. So. There’s no way you’re going to kill us.”

“I know, I’m just, I’m in a very dark place right now,” I say, as I slump sideways and tell myself lies that make me feel better, like: You’re not in hell.

“Edibles can be a hallucinatory experience,” chimes in the anonymous know-it-all who, earlier, I banished to outer space by deeming him: “Blue-Planet.” My explanation for the title being, “Because all the blue planets are far away, and that’s what I need you to be.” (See, I don’t know if it was because I was high or what, but he spoke in this aggressive tone of voice that sounded like an assault on my personal space. Every time he opened his mouth all I heard was: I think I know everything or I take myself very seriously, and I was not having it.)

The moment he speaks I sit up to shun him once more, “Blue-Planet.” (Mature, I know. But, like I said, my personality was inside out.)

My need to say every little thing that pops into my head is getting so bad that, eventually, I just start typing my every thought into the notepad on my iPhone: You don’t have to make everything you’re thinking right now show up on your mouth, like, what the fuck, stop. Stop looking like the Grinch when he decides to steal Christmas. Wow. Maybe you’re dumber than you thought, Catherine—yes; high-me calls me by my full name—but that’s okay, you’re still funny. Wow. Listen to you, rationalizing. You are a fucking crazy person. Calm yourself. Calllllllllllm yourself. Is this hell? Is this forever? Hell to me would be like that story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, with all the phallic symbols…I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where you look at people and all you see is something ugly…

I throw down my phone and start to express this sentiment out loud, “Guys, in my world…

“Here we go,” says my friend, biting down on his fist to keep from laughing.

“Like, everyone is beautiful, I mean, maybe not in the conventional sense but…I’m just wondering…do you think everyone who’s kind of nasty and cold and ultra critical without thinking—do you think those people just look at everyone and only see something ugly? Like everyone looks human to me at the very least, I feel bad for everyone…what’s it like to—”

“Cat, get the fuck out of here with your hippy-dippy bullshit.”

And like, for real though, this is why I hate pot: I become every cliché in the book, talking about planets, making myself the center of the galaxy, saying things like: God, I just love humanity.

We laugh and I roll back onto my side and close my eyes because—not to be anymore cliché than I already am—I feel like the room is melting, or, I’m convinced I’m on some kind of downward elevator tour, if that’s a thing, watching all my contradictions slide up past me, if that even makes sense. Thinking: Being this introverted makes me feel like I’m always sinking inside myself…I want to love but I don’t always love the best that I can. Just, everything in this world feels too connected for me—are other people actually comforted by their cellphones, and wifi signals, and Facebook pages? It all just makes me anxious; making a fucking phone call makes me anxious. And more than anything, I don’t like the idea of being known. I like corners, and personas, and—I think I’m terrified of being fully known and understood…maybe that’s why I gravitate toward people who are even more difficult to know and understand…

I sit back up and Blue-Planet asks,

“Did you expand your mind?”

I laugh because: How fucking predictable.

“No,” I say, my head spinning.

“You mean, you actually compressed?

“Yes. No. Leave me alone. I’m not doing this with you, Blue-Planet,” I say, as I lie back down again because: I’m not ready to deal with that know-it-all just yet. Even though he got to me, even though, now, I’m thinking: Ugh, fine. I’ll “expand”.

I think: God, I need to get better about letting things go. I need to understand that, in a lot of ways, I’m someone who is very much in love with the unknown and aloneness and, for this reason, my life is always going to be kind of sad—but not bad. It’s not bad. It’s never as bad as I think. Most of the time, the silver linings are real and so, it’s okay. Who I am is okay, and I should spend more time validating things outside of myself, and less time searching for validation inside myself…I can be an egomaniac. I want to be less of an egomaniac. Maybe all the rejection I deal with is less about me, and more about everything else and the way things are supposed to be; maybe I need to start looking at all the ones who understand…

I sit back up. Blue-Planet and a girl with a Bo-Peep voice are in an earnest conversation about tax policies, and “Fuck Donald Trump”, and I’m thinking: HOW ARE YOU BOTH SO NORMAL?! Right before I look beside me, at my friend, like: Shoot me. He looks back with a knowing smirk as he nods his head at Blue-Planet and the girl—they’re sitting directly across from us, mirroring us—before he says,

“Two complete opposite worlds are playing out right now.”

And I smile at him with all my teeth because he just read my fucking mind.

☁︎

I’m a really intense person, and I know that. I mean, in general, I’m pretty easygoing. But when it comes to my attachments to other people, and my will to get to know them, I’m really intense. And I understand that some people don’t understand this level of feeling, and for this reason they don’t accept me. I also understand that these people have every right to neither understand, nor accept me. Not everyone is for everyone, and that might be a jagged pill to swallow, but it’s reality. Like, the world is not here to accommodate anyone, and if I were to interpret this reality as: The world must hate me, then that’s a faulty outlook, and maybe I need to start sucking it the fuck up and start looking around at all the things left to love. Like, I just feel like we all get so caught up in getting attention, that we forget how to actually pay attention. And, ultimately, the former makes for a really unfulfilling life, while the latter means actually being present and appreciating our experiences for what they are.

I want to be someone who always does the latter, but I’ve been caught up in the former many, many, times. Because—it’s hard to be appreciative of a bad experience, to find the good in something that seems like a monumental waste of time. It’s hard to not be like: I know I learned a lot about the world and myself, but I really wish this had never fucking happened. It’s hard not to be bitter, like: What I wanted didn’t happen; the world didn’t pay attention to me like I imagined it would. And, confessedly, this mode of thinking has turned me into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch, more times than I can remember.

More specifically: When I feel very attached to a person who either has no desire to, or doesn’t have the ability to, match my intense feelings—I turn into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch.

For example, let’s get allegorical: A guy who I was seeing briefly, who I was 100% infatuated with, was teaching me how to long board. He held my hand and told me where to place my feet, he told me how to lean as a means of steering, and the moment I got the gist, I pounded the pavement and let go of his hand. I had the whole technique down for a few minutes, before I got nervous and hopped off.

I remember the first thing he said as he came running after me, “I didn’t expect you to go that fast on the first try.” And I remember feeling kind of pissed about it, like: What did you expect?! Me to keep holding your hand? To just hang around, leaning on you, pretending like I wanted to learn less than I did?

The night him and I stopped seeing each other for good, he said, “It’s impossible to not like you,” and I remember it ringing in my head like an insult, for months, because: Then why don’t you?

That weekend my mom found me all leaky-eyed in my room, furiously coloring in pictures of fish until they looked like fire. And knowing about my current heartbreak she said, “I want you to know something—you’re special, something about you has always been different, and sometimes—these guys—they just don’t want to be with someone who overshadows them; you have a very complicated personality…that’s hard for some people to accept, and you have to let it go. You have to remember how many people love you.”

And instead of appreciating the magnitude of what she’d said, instead of appreciating that I have a mother who contemplates the state of my heart enough to form judgments and conclusions about it, I felt bitter and angry for a long time. I kept wondering: Why? Why didn’t this one person want me? I ignored the most important thing:

Remember how many people love you.

☁︎

“Our minds are like Velcro to the bad things that get said to us,” is what a therapist said for three consecutive weeks before I stopped showing up. Every time she said it, I thought: Yeah, I know that. That’s not the point. Because, I was foolish enough to believe, at the time, I had a mind like Velcro to only the good things. And now, only in recent weeks, have I realized, I don’t; I don’t have a mind like Velcro to only the good things.

I realized this in its entirety, this weekend, when Satan (hyperbole, okay, relax) showed up in a backwards hat and tried to steal one of my best friends from me—like I said earlier: New and interesting ways to break a girl’s heart? Go for her friends! It felt like it took forever, but when I finally pried my friend away from him she said, “Cat, he says you’re jealous of me,” and the moment I heard that, I stopped listening, I said, “Really, I don’t care,” but she kept talking, “Actually, he said something kind of nice about you…”

But before she could finish, I booked it down the road because: I’m tired of knowing about him, and I’ve mastered the art of flight, I’m like, the best ever; I can literally run away from my problems. She kept calling my name, and I did not look back, because when I’m done, I’m done. He says you’re jealous of me: it was enough of a bad-thing to trump anything good, it was bad enough to stick to my mind like Velcro, because: No I’m fucking not…

Eventually, one of my guy-friends found me hiding in my car where I cried off my eyelashes and listed every bad thing I ever suspected someone had said about me, “I know, I’m probably actually crazy, and not the hot-kind, but the real-kind,” I sniffled, “And I can be obsessive, and I look into everything too much, to a point that’s paralyzing and kind of icky; annoying. But, really, I really love people, and I feel disappointed by the ones I choose to love, so often, because I don’t think I fake anything with them, or at least, I really hope not,” I sniffled again, “And then shit like this happens, and it’s like: What the fuck is wrong with me? I mean, I know I’m too sensitive, but it’s hard not to be when nine times out of ten, you feel taken advantage of. No one seems trustworthy, and still, I’m throwing that shit around all the time.”

He plucked my fallen eyelash from my cheek and flicked it out the car window before he said, “Cat, that’s what makes you so precious—in like, a rare way, not a condescending way.”

Then he said, “A lot of people are really fucking selfish, and I’m sure you’re selfish too, but, you’re one of the only people I know who makes any conscious effort not to be. Like, even when we were teenagers—I remember—you were never cruel in the immature and calculated ways a lot of us could be. I hope you know that.”

And when someone tells you something that validating about yourself, you hold onto it, you stop crying, you shut up about your petty problems, and you listen to “Shake It Off”.

☁︎

I think the times when I’ve felt driven to change some fundamental part of who I am were always when I felt so lonely that I had no choice other than to start asking myself: Why? Like, if I ever felt isolated from a group, or person, I’d eventually have no choice other than to start saying to myself: I’m not perfect. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. What have I done that might’ve made this happen? And, I think the most dramatic change I’ve ever made in myself was un-learning the preconceived notion that other women are threats to my individuality.

See, it pains me to admit this, but I used to be one of those assholes who said things like: “I like guys better than girls because girls are catty and jealous; they’re mean.”

Reader, I want you to understand something very important, statements like these always translate as: I hate myself for being a girl. Truly. That’s what it means, and that’s what I meant whenever I said it. And yes: the conception that girls are fucking catty and ruthless in the name of jealousy, or because of careless, uneducated, assumptions, has a world of truth to it. I know. I’ve experienced it. I think every girl, at one point or another, has experienced it. But that’s no excuse. That’s no excuse to be mean and unsympathetic to, or blindly judgmental of, other women—especially when you don’t know those other women on a personal level. It’s no excuse to make self-righteous generalizations that separate you from your gender, because like it or not, at the end of the day: You are a girl. And you probably have a lot of the same experiences as other girls. And you probably feel a little weird, and like something isn’t quite right, about some of those experiences—just. like. other. girls. And, honestly, it sucks to navigate this sexist world alone, so get off your high horse. The idea that this exception to the rule—that the “cool-happy-go-lucky-will-eat-dirt-for-the-guys” girl—exists is a myth, and you’re just as oppressed as the rest of us: Now, sit with us.

And I swear, the moment I understood this, the moment I made a conscious effort to understand my gender on a collective level: I was never as lonely as I used to be, ever again. I was open and not guarded with other girls. Female friendships happened like magic because: I finally understood what it meant to be a good friend to other women.

So, a word of advice: Always sacrifice male-attention for a friend’s emotions, always, always, always…

Because there has never been a time when I prioritized male-attention over a friend’s emotions that didn’t leave me lonely.

☁︎

So this really funny thing happened, where me and that friend—the one I ran away from—didn’t end up getting mad at each other. We actually wound up laughing because: the guy she used to like decided to be into me for a minute, and the guy I used to like decided to be into her for a minute, and we both wound up kind of betraying each other by mistake. Like: Whoops—that was stupid—sorry, girl.

The whole thing resulted in a conversation that went like this:

Her: I’m so sorry, I really thought I was doing you a solid by talking to him, and honestly—I can turn into the biggest asshole when I drink—I’m so, so, sorry. I know you’re really sensitive, and you have every right to feel hurt anyway. It’s unhealthy for you to know anything about him at this point; I shouldn’t of done that. Why did I do that?

Me: I’m so sorry, honestly, I just wasn’t thinking. I can be really oblivious to guys and their intentions, and I just, I really didn’t think—because you and I are friends—he would ever even consider pursuing something with me in a thousand years. I’m just stupid, because it was super obvious, and the whole time I was just thinking: Oh look, a new friend! I’m sorry; I don’t know why I didn’t realize what was happening.

Basically, we said “sorry” and “honestly” a shit ton, and then we both rejected those guys out-right in favor of laughing with each other because: Really, they believe our friendship is that fragile and frivolous?

☁︎

In Taylor Swift’s interview with GQ she said, “I honestly think my lack of female friendships in high school and middle school is why my female friendships are so important now…because I always wanted them.” And I remember thinking in response: Saaaaaame, girl. Just, I’m at this point in my life where I finally have the female friendships that I always dreamed of; female friends who say things like I love you, and I’m sorry, and are sincere.

Truly.

My. friends. are. so. special.

Mystical enchantresses of everything.

They all show me things about the world and myself that I know I would never be able to recognize on my own; they’re all better than me—emotionally generous in a way that I can never appreciate enough. You see, they protect my heart as if it were their own, and even more importantly, they tell me when I’m being an unappreciative bitch—they force me to have fun, even when it seems like everything’s falling apart.

Like, it’s just true: being a girl in her twenties feels exactly like the song “22”: Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical… And when I was 22, and still naïve to just how cruel some guys can be, I remember, one night Emily A.—who hardly knew me at the time—saw tears welling up in my eyes (I cry a lot, in case you haven’t noticed) and she immediately snapped at me, “STOP IT,” the verbal equivalent to a slap in the face, “YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW! I’M NOT DOING THAT WITH YOU TONIGHT! HE’S A PUSSY BITCH AND YOU’RE THE HOTTEST EVER! YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY AND SMILE LIKE YOU’RE HAVING FUN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND EVERYBODY LOVES YOU!”

Then she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into a taxi full of dudes who were impressed by my Sriracha to grilled cheese ratio and didn’t bother me when I fell asleep on their wet-dog and spaghetti scented couch. That night, I dreamt I was best friends with Lumpy Space Princess, until morning, when Emily woke me up by strumming on a guitar and singing, “WHOSE PANTS ARE THESE?” in a French accent. We both laughed so hard I couldn’t be sad anymore. And that’s just it—if there’s one thing Emily A. has taught me, it’s the art of not caring.

And then there’s Keri…

I am convinced that Keri singlehandedly kept me alive when I was 19, the year I was the most depressed and anxious I’ve ever been. She took aimless walks with me at three in the morning, she got me hot n’ spicies during a tornado warning, she watched me cry into a plate of eggs over absolutely nothing. And, for a time, she was the only person who made me genuinely happy, because, with her, nothing was ever boring—she was always ready to go, go go…to go stargazing, to smoke hookah after hours in a T-shirt shop, to walk on ice, to kick vodka bottles into the woods and scream, “I WANT TO BELIEVE!!!!!” after a weird green light appeared in the sky…

And, yes, we’ve gotten into ruthless fights before, fights like Marnie and Hannah from Girls. The kinds of fights where we both totally wanted to scream at each other, back and forth, “You’re the wound!” — “No, you’re the wound!” *chucks tooth brush* — *slams door* Until, finally, we’d get so envious of each other that we’d have to set each other free, because that’s the rule: If you love something… And then all the time we’d spend apart, we’d spend idealizing each other, until finally we wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, until finally someone would wind up saying: I’m sorry, I love you. And the other would respond: I’m so glad you said that…

Keri has taught me that it’s okay to be both happy and depressed; she’s taught me that it’s okay to be complicated, and to not apologize for it; to be a walking contradiction with no defined edges. She’s taught me how to say no to people who aren’t good for me, to say no to people who are only an insult to the strange and neurotic person that I am. And I love her, I love her for sharing a unique sadness with me, a sadness that left us laughing in her bed after a long night out, taking turns reciting Lorde lyrics in a vain attempt to cure our hangovers: You’re the only friend I need — Sharing beds like little kids — We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough — But that will never be enough…

Or there’s Emily B., who I woke up next to on a twin bed between a kitten and a Hot Wheels track, and when I looked over she was staring at the ceiling, musing about the latest dickhead, “Pretty sure he was conceived anally…” I buried my face into the pillow because, “REALLY THAT’S YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IN THE MORNING?!” and we laughed for ten minutes straight. We laughed down the hallway because, Why is there a toilet in the hallway? And we kept laughing through the doorway because, Why do I feel like we’re in an insane asylum? We laughed as we opened our eyes to a street that was too bright, and we giggled as I put the key into the ignition and said it once more, “Conceived anally. What the fuck is wrong with you?” Then we listened to “New Romantics” the whole way home and sang along to every word because we get it, we are the new romantics, we’re free and that’s what the best people in life are: The best people in life are free, goddammit. It’s so true! Emily B. has taught me to love recklessly in spite of being recklessly rejected, to wake up everyday and replace heartache with a punch line like: “Tell him you changed your number back to 1-800-YOU WISH…”

And Rachel, Rachel who I do basic bitch shit with, like going to Fredonia and realizing how jaded by life we are, because: QUAD NIGHT IS MAGICAL! *takes four shots of fireball* Rachel, who for Christmas, I gave one of those annoying home décor signs that says something cheesy like: Best friends are like stars…except, the one I gave her said something a little more applicable, it said: A good friend knows all your stories, but a best friend helps you write them. I swear, the moment I saw it I knew it belonged to her, because ever since we awkwardly got coffee together: This feels like a date. — I know, right? — How do girls make friends without being weird? — There should be an app for girl gangs, she has been present in all my essays, some smart thing she said always being the turning point…

Our conversations are the kind that last so long my mouth goes dry, and every time I walk away from her, I walk away enlightened. There’s so much I never would have realized without her, but I think the number one thing she’s taught me is this:

It’s not all in your head. I feel it, too.

☁︎

I have the line: You will never know why, tattooed on my rib. It’s from a Deerhunter song that’s all about letting go, which, I know, it’s ironic that I got a tattoo about letting go—

What hangs on longer than a tattoo?

Not a whole lot.

I know.

But, regardless, I got it because I want to remember to embrace what I can’t change, and what I don’t understand; to accept that not everyone will come with an explanation for why they are the way they are, and that’s okay. They don’t owe me that; the world doesn’t owe me that…

Getting to know someone is a gift; someone letting you into his or her life is a gift. And sometimes, you don’t get it from the people you want, or you don’t get to keep it, and more often than not, you never find out why, which is painful.

It always is.

I’ve always believed that: I want to know you, is the most vulnerable and romantic thing you can say to anyone, so, it’s painful when that desire isn’t matched. It’s painful when your OPEN sign’s flashing and someone chooses to walk right past you like: Nah, that place just isn’t for me. It’s painful, and it’s sad, but eventually—

You’ve got to let it go and remember how many people love you; you’ve got to remember how many people walk into your life and do more than just visit; you have to remember the ones who stay.

And my female friends (and some of the guy ones, too) are the ones who stay. They are the ones who accept me, even when I’m depressed, and angry, and eyebrow-less. They are the ones who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life because; they love me for what makes me foolish. They love me because my life is one vicious cycle of heartache and laughter, of kissing strangers and crying my eyelashes off. They love me for the ways that I love because it’s similar to all the ways that they love—recklessly and stupidly and hilariously…

They are the ones who keep my spirit indestructible; all the reasons I look like a love-struck emoji in pictures.

They are the ones who remind me, constantly: Never settle, unless you meet someone who walks in the room and knocks you the fuck out.

They’re the ones who, when I arrive morose and tired from the latest rejection, slap me in the face with the reality of what I deserve and don’t deserve, and then, all at once, make me laugh.

Just,

being close to them makes me remember who I am,

and when I look at them,

I don’t know how to feel anything but grateful,

like:

Thank you; thank you so much for never making me pretend to be less than I am.

IMG_5693 (1)

Wanna Play a Game With My Dignity? (A Personal Essay for Girls Who Are Always Waiting for Guys They’d Hate if They Could)

“Was I not guilty of letting a boy be drawn to self-hatred?”

 —Sylvia Plath

 “She was steadfast and loyal, and she did not know it.
She thought she was just a lovesick bitch.”

 —Mary Gaitskill

About a month ago, my friend and I went out in Fredonia and the whole night we kept having this epiphany like: We are old. Well, okay, not old, but: Too old for this. Which was both liberating and unsettling for a number of reasons, but before I go any further, let me back track for a second and summarize the context of the situation: My friend was going to Fredonia to meet up with a guy that she knew and kind of liked in college. However, she didn’t want to go alone. So when she asked me to come with I was like, Cool, whatever. Something to do, totally forgetting that I hate “party-school” environments and that every experience I have ever had in Fredonia has always been really bad and a little sexist. But—

“Sure, cool, I’ll come with.”

The night that followed gave me that everyone-in-the-world-is-upside-down-but-me vibe—kind of like the feeling you get when you go to the county fair for some bizarre reason that you can’t totally justify. (Um, alligator jerky?) Something about everything and everyone was just, sort of, one dimensional and kind of tacky, and I was failing to connect to anything. I felt like, all night, I was floating around in a state of disassociation, trying to comprehend everything that was happening without getting pissed off. It was just, the most overtly aggressive and sexist environment I have ever been in, and on top of all that, we had to embark on this ridiculous boy-chase that made me want to stab everyone in the face. (I wish I could use my words a little better for that one, but nope. I wanted to stab everyone in the face and start the whole world over.)

Ultimately, it was a weird night of epiphanies, the big one being: We are too old for this.

This realization eventually led me to consider an infinite number of sexist everyday things that happen and how other girls and myself, condone them or don’t condone them; how we navigate the single world in our twenties and how we succeed and fail to value ourselves; the allure of dudes we hate and this bizarre game we play with our dignity; why it can be fun and why it can hurt; what girls “want” or expect when they say they have a “crush” on someone…Basically, that one stupid night in Fredonia made my thoughts about modern girls and their romantic pursuits scatter all over the place. And then the whole thing was followed by a “romantic” encounter that, if someone had told me was going to happen one year ago, I would’ve laughed in their face and said: Fuck no! But before I get to all that, here is a summarized list of everything that happened in Fredonia that inspired me and my friend to say: We are too old for this.

☂ 1 ☂

It was a cold night and my friend initially got out of the car without her jacket. When she realized how cold it was she, self-consciously, asked, “Should I wear my jacket?” and I said, “Girl, you’ll be more comfortable. Wear your jacket.” However, once we started walking around we realized none of the other girls were operating under the same logic, because none of them were wearing pants—no tights, no leggings, nothing! Just strapless cocktail dresses with the very rare appearance of a cardigan. At one point in the night two girls in dark lipstick and slouchy beanies walked by and I think I gasped as I said it, “EVEN THE GOTH GIRLS AREN’T WEARING PANTS!” And then we went on to have a conversation about how, it wasn’t that we were judging them, or thought they were dressed “skanky”, or something mean and catty. It was just—they weren’t dressed appropriately for the weather and they looked really uncomfortable. Like you would have thought they were all in Miami and not western New York on a cold November night. Bottom line, we just knew all those girls were sacrificing their comfort to look “hot” from the male perspective, like, it wasn’t even a sacrifice for fashion’s sake. And we both just kind of looked at each other like: I’m so glad we are past that. Girl, you look comfortable as hell in your damn jacket. We are too old for this.

☂ 2 ☂

We made the bartender explain the concept of “quad-night” to us at least three times because we thought she was lying, like the notion of four shots for four dollars was just too good to be true. We laughed so hard at ourselves as my friend said, “Are we really that jaded by life?! We can’t even accept that a bar has a drink special?!?!?”

☂ 3 ☂

We went to Sunny’s—a safe haven for underage drinkers—which, should’ve been an automatic: We are too old for this. But anyway, we went to Sunny’s because my friend was trying to track down the guy she was supposed to meet up with, all night. He never texted her when he said he would. He never told her where he was. And this was frustrating because he invited her there. Like, in these situations, there’s a fine line between “communication error” and just being fucking rude, and he was being fucking rude. She went out of her way to go to place where she doesn’t live, because he said he wanted her to. He said he wanted to have drinks with her, and she made the effort to show up because she likes him. And then what? No response to any of her texts until 1 fucking AM—we got there at 9—and all his text said was: At Sunny’s. Something my ex-boyfriend from high school—who was there for some reason?—would comment on like, “He’s at Sunny’s? Catherine, you’re smarter than that. Tell your friend if he’s at Sunny’s he’s not a man.” And I shrugged like, I have to do this for her, as I thought over and over again: We are too old for this. Too old to be dragged around like this. She’s too cool and refined to have a crush on someone who doesn’t value her time.

☂ 4 ☂

When we walked into Sunny’s, we walked into an environment that my friend would later describe as, “very aggressive.” It was like everyone was on some gross combination of Adderall and Fireball, except us, which was probably exactly what was happening. At least twenty bro-dudes rammed their broad ass shoulders into me as they walked by, and all I could think was: Are we even people? There’s enough room in this place to be considerate, be fucking considerate. Then I overheard one guy talking to a group of his friends, saying, “She’s different though, like, sometimes she says things, and they’re… funny.” And I felt like asking him: Do you feel like you’ve been unplugged from the matrix? But then I didn’t because I have a genuine fear of bro-dudes. I knew being sassy with one would probably provoke some kind of self-conscious backlash, like, “shut the fuck up you ugly hyena laughing bitch”, because that is exactly what happened the last time I got sassy with a bro-dude. However, it wasn’t until I became conscious of how I was standing in a corner, clinging to my drink and sheltering the top of it from roofies, that it occurred to me again: I am too old for this—too damn smart for this.

☂ 5 ☂

When my friend finally found the guy she had been looking for, he was bopping around on the dance floor in a suit and tie, and something about his ignorance to just how rude he was being really, really, made me not like him. But I let it go. He came up to my friend and acted like they were just running into each other out of some spontaneous twist of events and still I resisted the urge to be like: Dude, you orchestrated this whole thing! Take some responsibility! Explain your rude ass behavior! See, I let it go, and it was fine. They did their thing and I tried conning some bro-dude into giving me his bomber hat. It was fine! But then 1:50 rolled around, and my friend was buying shots when her guy suddenly vanished. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Is this weird? I just feel like he should be a little more attentive, but, I guess it’s possible that I misinterpreted something or…” Everything she said about the situation was addled with so much self-doubt and all I was thinking was: No, you are not misinterpreting anything. He’s a fucking douche. But I didn’t say that because I understand that, in these situations, it’s really easy when you’re on the outside looking in to just call it like you see it: DOUCHEBAG! Unfortunately, when you’re the one with the crush on the douche it’s always easier to question yourself than it is to accept that someone really is that inconsiderate. You’ve got your love-lenses on and you’re not mentally prepared to accept that this person, who you admire, is actually really careless. So I kept reassuring her for her sake. But then I watched him reemerge behind her back. I watched him take the shot that she bought without saying a word to her. And then I watched him disappear again. I don’t think he thought either of us noticed. But I noticed, and that was enough. Sometimes you watch a person do a tiny thing like that, and you realize it’s a summary of their entire character. After that, I couldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. I immediately thought: You’re a sneaky asshole. You’re old enough to know that you’re being inconsiderate. That’s all I need to know about you before I say—you don’t deserve my friend. She was considerate enough to come here. Considerate enough to wait. Considerate enough to not tell you just how inconsiderate you are. She’s too good for you and you’re a coward.

☂ 6 ☂

After we went outside. I didn’t say anything to her about what he did because I was trying my best to be sensitive to her love-lenses. I watched her text him feverishly, and all I could think was: Shit. I would have been so done a long time ago. How is she still texting him? We could be guzzling quads and laughing at bro-dudes right now. It was just obvious that she liked him more than she was willing to admit because that is the only possible explanation for why she never said: Fuck you. Anyway, we watched him run away across the street and into a house with a posse of girls on the verge of hypothermia in their cocktail dresses. “I just want you to know that we just watched that happen,” I emphasized, “he really just did that.” But it was no use. She waited until he finally texted her back like “Oops, lol, *winky face*, you can come upstairs.” And I wanted to stab myself and her and him and everyone, like let’s just end this whole thing like a Shakespearean tragedy. I. Am. Done. It was killing me to watch her, let him, make her wait. I wanted to pry her phone from her fingers and text him back in a fury: I think you take advantage of the fact that a lot of girls will question their own behavior and perceptions a thousand times before they will ever question yours—YOU HAVE THE PERSONALITY OF AN ADDIDAS SANDAL! WE’RE TOO YOUNG AND RESTLESS FOR THIS!!!

☂ 7 ☂

When we got into the apartment, we walked into a room full of dudes talking over each other, and girls—probably because they liked a guy—lying around and looking bored as hell, waiting. Just waiting. All of them were sitting next to their “chosen” guys with this look of expectation on their faces like something more was supposed to be happening. And I felt like forming some kind of union with them where I sat them all down and explained: What’s going to happen is he’s going to ignore you all night. And then he is going to try to have bad sex with you when no one is looking. I think I actually cringed when one girl tried to contribute to the guys’ conversation and they all just ignored her like: Oh, that must have been the wind. I was half-asleep when one guy finally asked me who I was, and I’m pretty sure he only did it because I had resting bitch face. “Who are you? You’re like, up here right now.” He made an upward gesture with his hand when he said “up here” and what he was trying to imply was that I was being an uppity bitch—I get that a lot from bro-dudes. It’s a defense mechanism: Be as unapproachable as possible and you won’t even have to entertain his bullshit. God! It was just something about all those bored girls, lying around in their cocktail dresses and covered in goose bumps, waiting; something about my friend, waiting, all night—for a text, for a glance, for a conversation—that was either not going to happen, or, would ultimately be unsatisfying, that made me want to pick every girl in the room up by the scruff of her neck and say: We are leaving! This is rude! We are going to drink quads and laugh at everything and then over-tip the female bartender like a bad Dane Cook joke and it’s going to be more fulfilling than this. We are too old to be wasting our youth, waiting for our dumb “crushes” to want to get to know us.

☁︎

A few days after the Fredonia boy-chase, my friend asked me to get a drink with her because she finally comprehended everything that had happened and wanted to talk about it. She said, “I just don’t know what to do. I’m glad the whole thing happened because now it’s like: Okay, now I know what to expect from you. Fine. But I also kind of think he should know that what he did wasn’t okay. I want to ask those rhetorical questions, like: Do you think that was good? You really feel okay about how you acted?

And I told her that I understood the feeling, and then I told her, “Don’t even bother.” I said, “From what I’ve learned, you can’t teach an adult how to be considerate…or self-aware. You just can’t. You can’t control people, and you hurt yourself more when you try and you don’t get the response you want. I know it’s driving you crazy, but just don’t even talk to him. It’ll probably just give him some displaced ego boost, and he’ll make you feel guilty for confronting him.”

Then I added, “I think what really bugged me is like, he is twenty fucking four—take some control over the situation you created! He invited you, what if you had gone there on your own?! He should have felt some obligation to actually follow through and have one drink with you—one real conversation—because he said he would.” Then I started to say: BE A MAN! But I stopped myself, and thought for a moment, because I hate that phrase. I think a man can be whatever he wants to be as long as he’s a good person. So I re-tracked the statement, and replaced it with, “You know, fucking grow up. Be decent.”

☁︎

I initially decided to write this essay because, recently, I caught some feelings. (Welcome to the millennial generation, where we “catch” feelings instead of having them in the first place.) But I caught some feelings for someone who I thought I hated, but apparently I don’t, and now a major topic of discussion between me and my friends is how we hate having crushes because they make us feel gross.

So, so, so, gross.

Being a girl with a crush is like, having a really nasty scab that you can’t quit picking at. Like you just sit around all day examining your nasty scab until you can’t take it anymore, so you start making all your friends look at your nasty scab as you ask an onslaught of self-conscious questions about it like, “Does this shit look infected?”

Or at least, that’s how it feels when you have a crush on someone you hate, which is my current dilemma. He fucking tricked me okay! Dude was persistent. I can’t even remember why I used to hate him, I think he called one of my friends a ditz or something, and after that, he just took the form of everything I don’t like about men—something that made me face-blind to him for an entire year. Seriously. One time, I called him a “that” to his face. I looked at him, and said it like a bad taste in my mouth, “Oh…that.” Another time, he said my name, and I just threw him the Jenna Marbles “face” like:tumblr_m0oo8567xt1rq8xcoo1_500

and then I ran away. Recently he texted my friend for my number, and she replied with “1-800-YOU-WISH”. Then he added me on Snapchat and even the little ghost next to his name looked like it knew how much I hated him:image-5

Basically, I dragged this guy through the mud all because he called my friend a ditz once—and I’m pretty sure he was the mastermind behind an infamous string of eggplant emojis that triggered a psychotic break in me like, “WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?!”…but he has a selective memory and he’ll never admit to any of it. So…I’m in a sixth grade romance and my name is Helga Pataki.

Anyway, after the 1-800-YOU-WISH incident, he finally just came up to me like a human—the last time he tried to communicate feelings he did it by hitting me in the face with a coaster—and, with a little bit of humiliation, said, “I just think you’re cute, and I wanted to talk to you.” And all I could think was: Oh, fuck you. Don’t make me empathize with you. But I did, and with that I thought: Okay you’ve earned it, I’ll entertain this. And the moment I let my guard down he became the first person I’ve laughed with for a stupid amount of time in ages, and then I heard myself saying it out loud, “Gross, I fucking like you.”

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Genuinely, I’m annoyed that it happened—see the scab analogy—because it was a lot easier to hate him than it is to like him. Like, now I have romantic feelings for someone who I’d always suspected was a “bad” person, or more specifically, a type of man that I don’t naturally trust, and this leaves a lot of room for confusion: Does this shit look infected?

I should probably elaborate on the whole calling-my-friend-a-ditz story if this is going to make any sense. But the night I met him, which was probably about a year and a half ago, he called my friend a ditz after what had been a horrible night to begin with—so I want to emphasize that I was more irritable than usual. Anyway, he called her a ditz behind her back after she rejected him, and it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed like he was only insulting her to compensate for his disappointment. Like you can’t aggressively pursue a girl and then the moment she’s like, Nah, be like: Whatever, you’re kind of a ditz anyway. It’s a very elementary sort of logic, and it was especially annoying to me after an onslaught of annoying things had already happened. So I got a little confrontational and said, “You do realize she graduated from college with a 4.0, she’s a thousand times smarter than you’ll ever be and you’re just bitter. You don’t know her, so please, shut the fuck up.” And he looked really taken aback before he responded, “Wow, you’re really mean.”

And in retrospect, I agree.

I can be pretty mean…

to certain men.

With certain men, I just can’t hold back. When you’re someone like me, someone who reads about social issues, especially feminism, you’re very aware of those tiny subconscious everyday prejudices that certain men exercise against women, and it’s hard not to be angry, and yes, a little mean. It’s hard to not to write a mean essay about a guy who gave your really kind and smart friend the run-around when all she did was exactly what he asked her to do; it’s hard not to have mean thoughts about a guy who is genuinely shocked to have met a girl who says “funny things”; it’s hard not to place a presumptuous hand over your drink in a club full of guys who must understand that they have a natural physical advantage over you, and still, ram into you as hard as they can because they want you to move; it’s hard not to put your resting bitch face on when you’re in a room full of guys who ignore the only girl who tries to contribute to what should be a fun conversation among peers; it’s hard not to put an ultra negative vibe up against those same guys when you notice all those bored girls who admire them, just waiting for them, in uncomfortable dresses they wouldn’t be wearing if it wasn’t for them. Bottom line: It’s hard not to be mean—to not hold a grudge against—a guy who calls your wicked intelligent friend a ditz just because she won’t hook up with him.

It’s hard to trust this type of man, and it’s even harder when you can’t control the fact that some confused part of you kind of likes him.

Hence: 1-800-YOU-WISH…

Or not.

Or yes.

Or maybe.

So call me maybe.

No!

Yes.

 No!

☁︎

I think some people think I hate men. Which is very, very, untrue. I wouldn’t spend this much time analyzing and criticizing them if I didn’t admire them a shit ton—which, I do. I’m like, one of those annoying doe-eyed girls who says stupid cliché things like, “I have many soul mates.” I write about and for men, constantly. Basically, I think most men are majestic creatures who smell really good and create the noise I find fascinating. But what I don’t like is that—some men—make me feel small and insignificant, like my having a brain and depth is something to be ashamed of. Or like I’m foolish to believe I possess these things in the first place. See, not all men, but enough men, have made me feel this way and so, it’s not that I hate men, it’s just that—I’ve learned to distrust them in everyday exchanges and relationships. For example:

I don’t trust them to not take advantage of me.

I don’t trust them to not treat me like a novelty; to not use me as an ego boost, or a pawn, or a prop, or some blank template to project whatever they think I’m supposed to be onto.

I don’t trust them to withhold cruel judgments in the moments when I’m primal and not ideal.

I don’t trust them to not underestimate me.

I don’t trust them to say what they mean—to be honest, even at the expense of my feelings; to not be manipulative in conversations about emotions and expectations.

I don’t trust them to respect my time, to fully comprehend that I have a very real life, and very real goals, and very real things to do, too.

I don’t trust them to not minimize, or make a joke of, what I’ve been through, to not use what I believe in, and what matters to me, as some “fun” topic for debate.

I don’t trust them to wonder who I am when they’re not around the same way I wonder who they are when I’m not around.

And I don’t trust them to understand why this makes me act bitter and jealous in a way that I can’t always explain.

☁︎

“Honestly, I used to think you were a joke who was fucked up all the time,” says my Hate-Crush. I resist the urge to respond like, Well that perception is a two-way fucking street, and instead I surrender, “I am fucked up all the time.” Because, honestly, we could do this all night:

You’re the joke.

No. You’re the joke.

And, anyway, I know I’m not a joke. I know there’s more to me than that. I don’t need to waste time convincing him to change his perspective by saying things like, Really? Am I a joke? Or is it that you couldn’t figure me out so you just put an unflattering label on it and called it a night?

Because earlier in the week, before this conversation, I walked out on him and I think it blindsided him a little bit. It was one of those situations where I thought: Okay, I had a good time with you once; I would like to do it again. So I met up with him for drinks and it wasn’t like he did anything overtly terrible, it was just, those subtle inconsiderate things that some guys do that I know all too well. Those subtle things that imply: I do not value your time. This doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to you.

First of all, I kind of got the vibe that he’d initially come there with another girl and then just sort of, nudged her off the face of his earth to hang out with me. Which is pretty uncool. I don’t find guys ditching other girls for me flattering. It just makes me wonder: What am I doing with a person who would do that to someone? I’m not special. He’ll eventually do it to me too. Bottom line: It makes me question the integrity of my character. So. That was one cryptic situation that had my intuition nudging me to go. Then it was fine for a little bit, we talked…until he was abruptly like, “Be right back, watch my cell phone,” and then he ran off to play a game of pool which is not a “be right back” kind of hiatus. And ultimately, it’s just rude. Like: Hey, I know you came out to see me, but please do me a favor and watch my things while I go do what I’d rather be doing.

Anyway, I remember waiting with his cellphone and thinking about how me and my friend ran around Fredonia all night looking for that idiot when we could have had a way better time hanging out without him. I started to consider how I was waiting for something I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted. Then I thought something really nerdy like: I could be reading a really good book right now. Until finally, after five minutes of staring at his cellphone, I thought: I am too old for this. I’ve done the pretty girl in the corner thing and I’m bored with it. Getting to know someone should be fun, it shouldn’t make you feel like shit. This is making me feel like shit. Stop waiting for him to want to get to know you. Quit picking at your nasty scab and wondering why it hurts.

And with that I got up, walked over to him, said, “This is rude; I’m leaving,” and walked the fuck out.

☁︎

Of course the next day he was all like: Why did you leave me? And I was just like, Why did I leave you? Why did you leave me!! *cue Justin Bieber* WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!

These types of confrontations with guys where the main mystery is: Why are you mad at me? are always kind of comical because there’s always this implication that women and what we want is just SO complicated. When really, I don’t think what we want from our “crushes”, or who we like, is ever actually that complicated. Believe it or not, sometimes we mean it when we say we don’t want a boyfriend—or at least, it’s not our main motive when we’re first getting to know someone.

I honestly believe Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” is just one summary of what girls expect from their “crushes”, like: “Don’t make me sad / Don’t make me cry… / Keep making me laugh… / Let me kiss you” the end. IT’S NOT THAT COMPLICATED! And all I was trying to communicate when I left my Hate-Crush was: I want to waste time with you—not because of you. Life’s too short to spend time pining and losing your sense of self-worth for someone that might not be all that great to begin with: Don’t want no paper gangster!

Basically, this is what I “mean”: All I’m expecting is for you to want to get to know me the way I want to get to know you. I’m not asking you to slit your wrists or anything. My emotions are not that drastic and you are not that great. But you might be—to me—somewhere down the line, and the main point is, I’m not asking for anything I’m not willing to give—but, I think you kind of are. And I’m not cool with being taken advantage of like that. Not anymore. So don’t waste my time, because there’s still so much out there that I could be admiring, and I’m too old to be wasting my youth waiting for someone to see what I see. Now *semi-sarcasm* pay attention to me.

☁︎

“Well…” my friend begins, laughing, “The heart wants what it wants.”

Her response to my recounting of the events leading up to my Hate-Crush has me retaliating like, “Do not compare this to Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber!! GROSS!!!”

“But I’m serious!” she says, “I know you can’t help it, and I’m just saying of all people, I didn’t expect…that.”

I appreciate her allusion to my former sass because, at this point, I’ve temporarily lost that spark. Like, Goddamit, why?! Let me have this one thing!

Hate-crushes never let you have this one thing and that thing is your dignity. Instead they mind-fuck you with apologies that seem sincere and, ultimately, cancel out your initial decision to reject them. “I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention to make you feel like an idiot,” he says, and this shouldn’t be good enough, not if you want to win the game. But you don’t have a proper understanding of the rules, so you fumble and wind up tossing your dignity back in his direction because: The heart wants what it wants.

Now can we just take a minute to talk about how much I hate that song and music video?

The first time I heard / saw Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, I got annoyed because I found the whole thing pathetic and self-indulgent. Like: First of all, Emily Dickinson said ‘The heart wants what it wants’, not you Selena. Second of all, the person you are publicly crying over is Justin Bieber. Stop taking him seriously! Nobody else does…But then my train of thought shifted and I realized that I was harshly judging Selena Gomez’s public display of heartbreak because there wasn’t a naked girl swinging on a wrecking ball to distract me. It was crude and, ultimately, just sad. A sad sob-fest over Justin Bieber, like: “Oh, that.” And I couldn’t stand that a huge part of myself—one that I wasn’t dealing with—could relate to it. I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I, myself, have probably also looked that pathetic, and self-indulgent, and dumb, over a really flakey dude who only ever liked me when it was convenient. Which is a really hard thing for me to accept and an even harder thing for me to watch.

It’s hard to watch someone obsess over and pick at something that looks really gross and like it really hurts. This is why I wanted to rip my friend’s cellphone out of her hands during the Fredonia boy-chase; it’s the only reason I wanted to drag all those cocktail-dress-wearing girls away from their terrible, boring, fuckboys. When I looked at them I felt like I was looking at myself, and all I wanted to do was make them do what I can’t do for myself. I wanted to make them happy; to make them stop; to make them value their own time, to make them value themselves. Because I know how it feels to be unhappy with a “romantic” situation and emotionally incapable of stopping it. I know how it feels to not value my own time by waiting for a guy who would never, in a million years, do the same thing for me. I know how it feels to have a dude—who I admire—push down my pillars of confidence like dominoes and then, to just, not even react; to just let it crush me. And I wouldn’t wish those feelings on my worst enemy. I would look at her and say: Stop doing this to yourself.

☁︎

Maybe I’m just self-conscious, but I’m having a hard time ending this. I’ve rewritten the ending at least three times now, and it’s a struggle, because every single one is mean—beyond reason—to my Hate-Crush.

And I don’t want to be mean beyond reason!

I can’t be mean at the expense of being honest!

It’s my job as a writer to not take advantage of you as a reader and every single ending I’ve written before this one was like that one T-Swift lyric: So casually cruel in the name of being honest. Like, every ending I wrote before this one was manipulative; cruelty under the guise of honesty—just compensation for my own fears and for how I have zero control over those fears; how I have no control over the number of times I rip my nasty scab off and watch it grow back…

Ugh.

Just.

One half of me believes I’m at the point in this game of dignity tossing where I’m starting to value myself less. One half of me believes my Hate-Crush is chiseling away at my confidence the same way he weaseled his way into my life—subtly. One of half of me believes he doesn’t deserve my time and admiration because, when I’m with my friends, I hear myself sayings things like, “He tried to quarantine me in a room—with Fox News on and no remote—because he didn’t want me to hear what him and his friends were saying,” or, “He half-jokingly called me a bitch for walking out on him,” or, “He wouldn’t kiss me in the morning,” or, “There’s always this vibe like: I want you here for now, but you can’t stay,” or, “He tells me he wants to do one thing, but never follows through—hanging out is always spontaneous and never exactly when I want to,” or, “I feel like my existence only occurs to him when I’m standing right in front of him,” out loud, and something about it makes me wonder if I’ve been rationalizing a lot of situations that are very black and white. See, incidents like these, in isolation, never seem that bad, but then you hear them recounted—one after the other—and suddenly it’s like: Oh shit, I’m being played.

Like: Maybe I should’ve done a little more than walk out on him one time. Maybe I should’ve walked out on him every time. Or maybe I should’ve just never let this happen in the first place…

And then that one mean streak in me starts to get defensive and self-conscious like: How could I let this happen? Am I not guilty of letting a boy be drawn to self-hatred? How am I blaming myself for someone else not being all that considerate of a person? It’s fucking backwards! He should be addled with self-doubt right now. He should feel guilty. He should be forced into bouts of unflattering introspection. Not me, someone whose only intention was to get to know someone else—to have fun and give away time and affection. Why should I be ashamed of that? I’m fucking not. I’m not ashamed of having genuine feelings. Like sorry for my fucking pulse, but not really: I am steadfast and I am loyal, but I don’t always know it. Sometimes I think I’m just a lovesick bitch. But I’m not—I’m not a joke! What I am is decent!!!!

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And then the other half of me, the much less judgmental and self-righteous one, is just like: Stop. Cut a dude some fucking slack. Which, everything in me immediately seizes up and retaliates against this notion, like: NO! NEVER! TOO MANY PEOPLE ALREADY CUT MEN SLACK! FJDKHGJKDSHGJKD!!!!!!!!!

But after the first ending of this post was written, one of my friends said, “Maybe when he separated (Earlier I used the word ‘quarantined’ because I’m an asshole who exaggerates, whoops) you from his friends it was his way of respecting you; it’s not the right way at all, but, you are intimidating. He probably just didn’t want you to be around people who were going to upset you. He probably really just doesn’t know what to do with someone like you,” and it helped me reign in some of my judgments, just the tiniest bit. Just enough to make me realize that: Holy shit, maybe I’m the one who’s compensating for something now.

Because, okay, my Hate-Crush isn’t bad. I don’t think he’s a bad person. I don’t even actually hate him—I like him—I think he’s funny. I also think he’s pretty cunning. I think he’s more sociable and likable than me. And I envy that shit. Okay. It’s over. I said it. And I hate that I like him, and I hate how out of control that makes me feel, because: Like me back, dammit. See, my ego is a tricky girl. I can’t quite figure her out. Sometimes she needs to be and should be a raging lunatic, and other times, she needs to just chill. And when it comes to this whole thing, she needs to just chill, like: Chill Felicia. Okay. *Trying to channel my unbiased un-self-righteous side*

It’s just…this other half of me, which is starting to feel like the honest half of me, realizes that the lesson in this whole thing is—my fear of being taken advantage of by men is so great that I actually push men that I really like away, all the time. It gets to this point where I feel so out of control of my emotions that I slap on my ice queen face and turn whoever I’m interested in into a sociological experiment, because: I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to watch my friends hurt. Or other girls hurt. I want to avoid this. All of it. Go the fuck away. *Jenna Marbles Face*

Do guys experience this confusing, very invasive, feeling? Does their sense of autonomy feel that fragile? I just don’t trust that it does. And I know my suspicions are unfair, but I can’t help it. It’s a genuine fear at this point in my life. I have so many firsthand experiences to back it up, and I know that doesn’t make it right…but, damn. I really would stop it if I could.

It’s exhausting being this suspicious of men and this possessive of my autonomy. All. The. Time. And I don’t know how to convey that to anyone without sounding combative. Which is probably why my G.D. mouth always feels like it’s wired shut around men that I really, really, admire. Like, I don’t know how to say: I really, really, really, want to get to know you. But I’m afraid you’ll take advantage of me. So. I get mean. And then I get nice. And then I get mean. And then I get nice. And I don’t speak up when I should. Or I don’t just say what I mean or want or need. Because, I don’t trust you to understand.

Maybe this is why being a girl with a crush feels so gross.

This not trusting happiness when that happiness is related to a guy.

Because guys, so often, won’t let us stay.

Or they don’t text back.

Or they don’t do what they say they will.

And you rarely get an explanation why and that shit stings

every time.

So.

I don’t know how to end this…

Church Camp Misadventures and How I Met My Soul Mate: A Real Love Story

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways that I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and you read this and you know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

 —Frida Kahlo

There she is between two arcade games and I don't know why, but whatever.
Here she is, between two arcade games and I don’t know why, but whatever.

One time, at church camp, Lauren Leman happened and it was one of the best things that
ever happened.

We were both fourteen and I remember she walked into the cabin wearing a Saosin T-shirt (this strange, self-described string bean of a girl who wore a lot of tube socks and always had bee strings). We both remember it distinctly: She took one look at me and my Exploited T-shirt, said, “I like you,” and the rest was history. We were weaving boondoggles and hair-spraying spiders dead together for the next week, and beyond—to the infinity that is our friendship!!!

I’m so lame.

But it’s just true: When you find a forever-person like that, you just know. And suddenly the world makes a little more sense, and being around this person, or simply knowing that this person is walking around somewhere, existing, makes you a little more okay with your own existence; makes you feel a little less alone, and a little more like you than you were before, if you know what I mean—or even if you don’t, Lauren does. And that’s the whole point.

☁︎

This past summer, the last time I saw Lauren, she told me that when she explained to her roommate about how we met at church camp, he responded with, “Church camp? Oh man, that’s for life.” And from the way she described it, it was like he was saying we’d survived Ebola together or something. Like: Church camp? That [bond’s] for life. And either way, hyperbole or not, he’s kind of right: Raging Hormones + Jesus = Friendz4Eva.

It all makes sense now.

Lauren and I have shared cabins with psychos who got their periods and then shot tampons from their bunks like rockets until the camp director was summoned to explain why this was inappropriate behavior. “You’re making the other girls uncomfortable,” she explained. Never mind the paralyzing fear for our immortal souls being programed into our systems every night! FLYING TAMPONS ARE DISCONCERTING!

No one else can say they’ve experienced that with me!

Nobody else can say they experienced, by my side, the trauma that is church camp and that bond’s FOR LIFE!

You see, you just never realize how weird and potentially problematic some childhood experiences are until you’re an adult. But now Lauren and I see church camp for what it was: A vicious cycle of recreational activities followed by the reminder that we’re all going to die someday. WHO WILL SAVE YOUR SOUL?!

Lauren looking all composed and cool and me just looking really sweaty and stressed, the usual. (2008)
Lauren looking all composed and cool and me just looking really sweaty and stressed, typical. (2008)

I remember Lauren and I would sign the 10 commandments and sing: NUMBER TWO’S THE IDOL RULE THOSE GRAVEN IMAGES…AREN’T RIGHT, *waves forefingers back and forth in a ‘no no’ pattern* as we looked at each other, confused. Like: Why do we choose to come here every year? Do you believe this? I don’t think I believe this. Can we go rock climbing now and have an existential crisis because we don’t believe anything anyone is telling us, later?

No two girls were more unfit for church camp, and still, we chose to go every year until we were like, way too old to be subjecting ourselves to that kind of mental torture.

Our very last summer, we were sixteen, and as fully developed women it was our Christian duty to be modest. We had to wear tank tops over our bikinis to ensure that our male peers wouldn’t be overcome with lust. Now, can I just note that our male peers had the maturity and intellect of Patrick Star on a good day? If I recall correctly, one particularly pudgy boy referred to himself as “MacDaddy”. Like, these guys were all asexual freaks who ate worms and had hairless armpits. They didn’t know what lust was, or that girls were even around.

I know this because Lauren, myself, and all the other girls, tried our damnedest to remind the boys that we existed. (Male-Attention-Seeking-Exercises often involved shoving boys into the lake, tipping their canoes, tipping our own canoes, doing intricate backflips off swing sets, stealing baseball caps, putting our arms and legs inside our sweat shirts and waddling around like humanoid chickens, screaming, etc.) However, the boys remained indifferent, and from what Lauren and I observed, the other girls were unshakably unaware of the boys’ unshakable indifference—this general disconnect is the source of all female conflict within church camp culture.

Seriously.

One time a screaming altercation took place between our cabin mates because Sarah-Christian-Singer/Song-Writer held hands with Cute-Butted-Sean who Nascar-Loving-Tiffany cried over (daily) while listening to “Seven Things” by Miley Cyrus on Lauren’s stolen ipod. The fight eventually escalated from verbal to physical, I think somebody hit somebody with a broom. Then one of our counselors came in, broke up the fight, reared her ugly head at Sarah-Christian-Singer/Song-Writer and said, “You know what you did!” The nasty temptress! Everybody started crying. And all the while, Lauren and I were sitting in her bunk, tears of laugher streaming down our faces from the sheer thought of Sarah holding hands with Cute-Butted-Sean who, even then, probably stared dumbly at the sky, totally unaware of the social disrupt about to ensue on account of his touch.

Moral of the story: No one is more devoid of passion than a teenage boy at church camp. Why anyone believed this breed of boy would be driven mad with desire at the sight of a teenage girl in a bikini, Lauren and I will never know. But whatever, we followed the stupid rule and covered our bikinis with the smallest tank tops we could find. Until, one day, merely following the rule just wasn’t enough…

Our time at the waterfront had been cut short due to an impromptu tornado drill. Therefore, when Lauren and I entered the designated safety zone—the rec. room—we were wearing nothing but our tank tops and bikini bottoms. We didn’t think anything of this. We had no choice! And while we were playing foosball, innocently, one crotchety counselor weaseled her way on over with God’s intent at heart.

Lauren's doodle of our butts handing out together. (2008)
Lauren’s doodle of our butts hanging out together. (2008)

“Can you put a towel around your waists or something,” she scoffed, “Your BUTTS are hanging out.”

I remember us looking at her like: Wooooooooow. Way to drain all the fun out of this foosball game and pump some shame in its place, Miss Counselor Who Is Probably Only Two Years Older Than Us. (Literally, she was only two years older than us.)

We complied, but not quietly. Grabbing the only towel we had, we wrapped ourselves up from neck to ankle, and huddled in a corner as we complained loudly, “We’re covering our BUTTS so the BOYS don’t get any IDEAS since THEIR ideas are apparently MORE IMPORTANT than ours.”

It was obnoxiously, and inadvertently, our very first feminist protest.

But on a more serious note, our friendship is and always will always be just like that, like we both occupy the same corner, combating the same obstacles, the same pressures…I mean, every girl wants to know that there’s someone waiting in her corner. And for me, it’s Lauren. It was decided the moment we crossed paths wearing those angsty T-shirts at church camp…

Church camp. That’s for life.

Nobody else shared bunks with me and felt the same exact adolescent fear of hell as I did. Nobody else in the world could provide the profound comfort that Lauren did when we were both fourteen—morbid, confused, religious, frightened—and she said: “It doesn’t matter if there’s a hell, at least we’ll always have each other.”

Anyone else would’ve shamed this religious anxiety as weird, juvenile; incomprehensible due to its irrationality…or, on the flipside, they would’ve just suggested prayer and repentance; “Ask Jesus into your heart [for the thousandth time],”—but not Lauren.

That was a huge sigh of relief.

It’s a huge sigh of relief when you realize you’re not alone in what feels like your own personal fucked up experience. When you find someone who can provide that level of understanding because they’ve lived what you’re feeling too. This is the forever part of Lauren and mine’s friendship—the way we perceive the world; the way we judge it and feel through it is fundamentally the same.

☁︎

Lauren's letter to me (2007)
Lauren’s letter (2007)

I found a letter from Lauren written in the back of one of my old journals, and in it she said: “I love how you don’t care about freaking anything, you always think for yourself.” And I like that I have that—I like having so many of her letters and doodles from when we were teenagers because it reminds me that she was the first person who ever believed in me without question. She took one look at me and said, “I like you,” and nobody else mattered after that, because Lauren doesn’t lie. She’s honest; she’s the most sincere person I have ever met. And I love her endlessly for that because, most of the time, I feel like I’m navigating a very, very, insincere world.

Actually, I know I am.

I think we’re living in one of the most insincere times in history; a time when most people are only ready to take things at face value and will easily zone out and check their phones the moment the conversation goes too deep; a time when people prefer to save face over saying exactly what they mean, or what they want, or think, or believe; a time when comfort is prioritized over necessary change and growth, even at the expense of other people’s very real, very ignored, experiences…

I love Lauren because she’s always changing for the better despite having to navigate this very confusing, very insincere, world. And even though we live on opposite ends of the country, and all the times we have spent together have been limited, I think we’ve grown up together in spirit; we understand each other and know each other better than anyone else. So I can say with confidence that I admire her for remaining a good-humored, sincere person, because people haven’t always been as kind to her as they should’ve been.

I know she’s had friends who couldn’t be her friends anymore because they admitted, more or less, that they couldn’t control their envy around her. And that’s a sucky, lonely, feeling. It sucks when you love a person and they basically tell you: I think you’re an amazing person and I can’t be your friend for this exact reason. It’s the suckiest, loneliest, feeling, because the only way you can fix this problem is to somehow, make yourself be less, and how do you do that when all you’re being is yourself?

In a world so unaccustomed to sincerity, being yourself is often seen as a threat; some alarm for suspicion. Especially when who are is joyful, kind, creative, talented, intelligent, and beautiful—everything that Lauren is. And I’ve seen it happen, people often become suspicious around her. They think she has some ulterior motive, or some tragic flaw, and I think it’s because they just can’t handle that so many good things naturally happened in one person. She can’t be compartmentalized; she’s the real deal. Spend some time with her and your head will explode at how crazy it is that this person exists. She really is that beautiful inside and out. I love her, I love her so much.

And I’ll never forget it, when we were fifteen years old, and sitting on the dock at her lake house, she said, “I think it’s best to judge people by their hearts and not their actions,” and then she said, “I think our souls match.”

And I remember it making me feel less alone, and less weird, and less confined to this stupid life, and this stupid world, and I just hope that every girl has a friend who makes her feel like that.

lb doodle2
Lauren’s doodle of our inside jokes (2007)

Confessions of a Voluntary Misfit: High School and Friendship and that “Left Out” Shit

high school angst2“In adolescents, the need to break away from the past is as powerful as the drive to reproduce the species.” –Joyce Carol Oates, “What Sin to Me Unknown”

I’ve been itching to write about high school and friendship because the signs that say: This. Essay. Needs. To. Happen. Seem to be cropping up everywhere—Poems written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me have surfaced. Last year, a childhood friend simultaneously complimented and insulted me. A few months ago, the guy I pined for my entire freshman year pulled my hair. This time last week, a bitch waved at me…See, I’ve been avoiding this topic because I know it’s going to get ugly—as dealings of the teenage heart often do—and I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to rehash old wounds and put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity”. I want to be what the real housewives call the “bigger” person. I want to rationalize everyone’s shitty behavior and say: It probably wasn’t as bad as I remembered. *phony laughter* We’re so grown up now! Let’s talk like we’re 40 even though we’re actually 23! Let’s pretend like high school wasn’t five minutes ago! *rainbows, butterflies, poop emoji*

But then I came across that poem written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me, titled, “Mom, I’m Fine. Just Leave Alone in My Room to Die.” and I had a rude awakening—it was definitely as bad as I remembered.

The poem was about being alone in my room on a Friday night while everyone else was accumulating the inside jokes that would eventually decorate their AIM profiles and leave me with that nauseating “left out” feeling. At first, Now-Me found the whole thing hilarious. Like: That title is melodramatic as fuck and those closing lines are just tragic. (I wish I was joking, but the closing lines went: “Lie on my bedroom floor / sing to the cat / yeah my life is basically kind of like that.”) However, after laughing, I got this horrible sinking feeling for Thirteen-Year-Old-Me because Now-Me realized that her memories of being left out were real—the evidence was in my hands, straight from the shitty poem writing horse’s pen, circa 2005.

I shoved the notebook back into the dusty bookshelf from whence it came and tried to forget about it.

But I couldn’t forget about it.

All I could think about was high school and friendship and that “left out” shit—imaginary social divisions and random acts of teenage cruelty. Then all these unwanted interactions with people I hoped I would never see again happened, and I thought about it all even more: Leaving dances early, switching lunch tables, faking sick four times a month, loyalty as an endangered principle, critical thinking as the greatest threat, frequency of text messages as validation, everyone deriving false confidence from the misguided certainty that they know more about you than you…I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity” but I’m going to.

I’m going to write about high school and friendship. I’m going to rehash old wounds, and if that makes me the “lesser” person, so be it. I don’t care. The number one rule for writing personal essays—don’t be the hero—says I should be the lesser person anyway. So fuck it. This is my chance to be the exact opposite of the hero, the anti-hero. I’m the Walter White of this essay and I don’t care because what I’m really trying to say is: I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

“You’re really pretty now.” Someone I knew from high school said that shit to my face. And. I. Just. Froze. Like: Excuse me? Now? It’s the kind of compliment that leaves you feeling mugged. One that brings back all the insecurity you felt in the years leading up to it. You ask yourself: If what she said is supposed to be nice then why do I feel like punching her in the face? Oh, because it was actually a really rude thing to say, and this person wasn’t always very nice to you—especially when it came to your appearance and clothes. That’s why.

“You’re really pretty now.”

I smile and say thank you through clenched teeth because I’m as twofaced as everyone said I was in middle school—I can’t wait to turn around and complain about this to my real friends.

Then she says something mildly surprising, “You know, I feel kind of bad whenever I see you…” I’m about to renew my faith in humanity if the next thing to come out of her mouth is an apology, but it’s not. It’s this:

“I feel kind of bad whenever I see you because everything is so different in high school. You know. There’s just this way of thinking in high school that says: This person is this way, and that person is that way…”

It’s a non-apology just like the first thing she said to me was a non-compliment. It’s saying sorry without actually saying sorry, like being nice without actually being nice. She thinks she’s leveling out the playing field. She’s saying because I was different from her in high school she was never obligated to be decent to me. She’s not saying sorry. She’s saying: That’s just the way things were. No hard feelings, right?

 And. It. Makes. Me. Livid.

I resist the urge to say: No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I resist the urge to ask: Am I really pretty now? Or were you just never looking at me correctly? Have you ever considered that maybe your view of the world has always been majorly fucked up? Have you ever considered any perspective beyond your own? Maybe it’s not your place to decide what beauty is and isn’t. Maybe I don’t need to hear that you think I’m pretty now.

I resist the urge to say anything. I just smile and nod knowingly. I play dumb like I always do. We hug and she walks away with a clear conscience. I let her have that reassurance because I know something that she doesn’t know—How beautiful it is to be misunderstood. Like: Thank you for contributing to the social anxiety that has made me the steadfast, self-aware, and perceptive person that I am. I wish you well, but I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

There’s an episode of HBO’s Girls where Adam takes off into the woods for an impromptu hike and in response Hannah just flops on the ground and says, “It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate. So you go ahead. You live your truth. I’ll be here, living my truth.” I love that scene because, even though it’s just one more example of Hannah’s unwavering laziness, it emphasizes a power that everyone seems to become conscious of in their twenties: The ability to say no to shit you hate.

Want to work a double tonight? Nope. Would you like an Adderall? Not really. Want to engage in a stimulating conversation about music with hipsters? Trick question: Nah. Netflix and chill? [No response.] Are you going to wave back to that girl who was supposed to be your friend but then put your sex life on blast in her AIM profile when you were in 10th grade and, apparently, has the nerve to act like it never happened? Fuck. No.

I see you waving and all I see is, Go suck another fat kid’s dick, written in tiny black Arial font and highlighted in aqua. You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I wasn’t a role model, and I never claimed to be one. I wasn’t some blank template for you and everyone else to project their weird ideals of virtue onto. I wasn’t even a hypocrite. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I was a teenager, just like you—eager, impulsive, confused, human. I was a girl who didn’t deserve what happened because none of us did, or do, and you know it. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. That’s all I see when I see you.

You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. You’re trying to pretend like you didn’t urge anyone to ostracize me six years ago. You’re trying to pretend like we were always friends and it never made you happy to watch me fuck up—like you weren’t always rooting for me to fail.

I see you and I don’t have the energy to wave back to you, not anymore. You have to understand that there are some wounds that are too deep. Too real. A big smile and a friendly wave won’t mend them. It’s as simple as this: I’m sad because you hurt me. I’m angry because you’re trying to act like my pain and what you did to inflict it was never real. I don’t understand your sudden and aggressive acts of kindness, and I won’t respond to them.

I see you waving and I’m going to walk right past you.

It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate.

☁︎

About a week after my college graduation, I went to drink with some guy-friends from high school. The group was small and everyone there was someone that I still consider a friend—people I care about and genuinely like—with the exception of one person…

“Cat Olson?! Where the fuck have you been?”

My brain panicked as it scanned his face and gathered the details: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, 1st Asshole you ever liked, sat at your lunch table freshman year, picked apart your physical characteristics daily, once feigned affection for you just to prove you had a crush on him, constantly used you to make other girls jealous, always smelled really good; thank god his hairline’s receding…

I thought: I can do this. I can be civil. It’s okay. Just don’t smell him.

But it was not okay because twenty minutes later he pulled my hair, like full on grabbed my messy bun and tugged the shit out of it. He pulled so hard I had no choice but to lurch backward. He did it just because. Toddler’s logic, like: I see something I want to touch and not only am I going to touch it, I’m going to wreck it. And I don’t know if it was the beer, or feminism, or the infantile stupidity of his action, but like a reflex I stood up and screamed: “YOU DON’T GET TO TOUCH ME NOW!”

And the look of shock on his face somehow made me angrier, like: Doesn’t this dude understand that when you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts? Didn’t any of us realize in high school that there are people, just as real as ourselves, on the other end of our actions—on the other end of our cell phones and computers and fingers and words? Did anyone realize this before the age of 20?! Because that look of shock on people’s faces whenever somebody gets upset has me wondering if nobody did, and some people never do.

When you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts.

Now face it motherfucker.

☁︎

I should probably say that I was severely depressed in high school—the real kind, the diagnosed kind. And I know it’s unfair to blame that on anyone, or even to say: I just wish someone had noticed. Especially when I didn’t even know I was depressed—at least not until my senior year. It’s unfair. I know it’s so unfair. And I know my anger seems so trite like: Why the fuck are you holding onto this shit? But it’s just—I really wanted and needed friends. Girlfriends. Real friends. The kind that just wanted to do dumb shit and laugh about it; the kind that said I love you and I’m sorry and were sincere.

I didn’t have that.

I didn’t have some band of girlfriends that I’d known since I was twelve validating my existence and reinforcing my every choice and opinion, or even wanting to compare schedules with me. For the most part, I took on everyday alone—my likes and dislikes, my interests, my classes, music, fashion, makeup, boys, heartbreak…I trudged and waded through all that bullshit and figured out who I was on my own.

And on some level, this is my fault: I’m a misfit who chose to be a misfit. But on another level, I also know, I was very earnest in high school—very willing to forgive and love and apologize to anyone who demonstrated some semblance of respect for me.

I have to stand my ground and say: I know I’m not perfect, but I’m a really decent person at heart.

I don’t think my memories of being mistreated are inaccurate.

I don’t think my anger is misguided.

I’m tired of rationalizing everyone else’s shitty behavior.

☁︎

When I was thirteen I wrote: “There’s nothing but outdated earth behind me.” And I find it kind of hilarious, like: Who the fuck did I think I was, Thoreau? But I also find it surprising. I find it surprising that, at that age, I understood that there’s so much more to life than this—Jamestown and its weird social hierarchies, its prejudices and aversions to anything new or honest or real.

Like goddam, life isn’t high school!

Just because you’re in what everyone likes to call “dumb” classes, doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. Just because people make snide comments about your clothes, doesn’t mean you don’t look good. Just because you’re quiet and mousey, doesn’t mean you’re not listening, that you’re not there! People can talk all they want but They. Don’t. Know. They don’t know more about you than you. If they don’t “get” you one day, that doesn’t mean they won’t absolutely want to someday. And when that day comes, don’t kill them with kindness; just totally annihilate them with the truth. You’ll be so far ahead that it won’t even matter, there’ll be nothing to lose, like: Nobody can touch me now…

Confession: I was listening to a lot of My Chemical Romance when I wrote this.

I looked up the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and felt the rage. There’s just something about Gerard Way wailing I’M NOT OKAY!!!!!! in, what appears to be, a steadily increasing fever that makes you want to go back in time and walk the fuck out on every math teacher that had the nerve to publicly underestimate you. (Mr. Salvaggio, what’s good?!) I seriously think, in retrospect, that the greasy kids who shoved paper clips through their earlobes and got kicked out of class constantly were doing something right—God bless them, every single one.

But my point is: Where would all the voluntary misfit girls of the 2000’s be without My Chemical Romance’s honesty?!?! I was fourteen when Gerard Way first said, “I’m not okay,” And. It. Was. So. Vindicating. Enough of that I’m okay bullshit, I’m not okay. I’m not O-fucking-kay. You wear me ouuuuuuuuuut…He said it, and he looked it, and it was awesome. We needed that! Then MCR’s single “Sing” came out in 2010 and I realized that I’m a major sucker for artists who root for the underdog because one of the song’s lyrics are: Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs, and it’s lame, and I’m corny, but I find that shit so inspiring. Be what tomorrow needs.

The voluntary misfit girls of tomorrow don’t need our good vibes-bigger person-I’m so mature now-bullshit. They need the truth. They need what’s real, and what’s weird, and what hurts. They need all that with a little bit of hope at the end. Because when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17… I needed My Chemical Romance. I needed Harry Potter and Sloane Crosley and Lady Gaga and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I needed Taylor Swift to embarrass the fuck out of John Mayer by putting his name in a song. I needed someone to be honest—I’m not okay. I’m not o-fucking-kay. These things and their creators, they were what tomorrow needed! So just:

Sing it for the boys
Sing it for the girls
Every time that you lose it sing it for the world
Sing it from the heart
Sing it til’ you’re nuts
Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
Sing it for the deaf
Sing it for the blind
Sing about everyone that you left behind…

Bottom line: If you have the guts to go above and beyond what Today expects, some people just aren’t going to understand you. Some people are even going to hate you. But that’s okay. All it means is that you’re doing something right. Like Emerson said—To be great is to be misunderstood—you’re doing what it takes to be great.

☁︎

A few days ago I ran into a girl I knew from middle school and high school. This girl and I were never really friends. I mean, we just never knew each other very well. She ran with a clique that wasn’t always the nicest or most inclusive, so I could kind of feel myself approaching the conversation with a level of passive-aggression that I’m not entirely proud of. But whatever.

She was talking about how she’d studied abroad when she said something along the lines of, “You know, I was kind of nervous about going away. About being out of the loop here, for that long.”

And I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I was never really in the loop, so I don’t know what it’s like to worry about that. Like, honestly, I never really felt like I fit in.”

I didn’t mean it maliciously. Of all the run-ins with people from high school that I’ve described, this was the first one where I didn’t mean for anything to be malicious. I said what I said as a matter of fact. I said it because it felt good to say.

“See,” she said, “that’s so sad.”

And in my dream-like, vodka-induced, state I could practically feel the stars aligning in my eyes as I said, “Actually, it’s not. I feel kind of lucky.” *sparkles, glitter, Britney Spears*

I just realized in that moment that this girl is nostalgic for high school in a way that I will never be, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I mean, I think I already knew this. I think I already knew I would never be nostalgic for high school because when I was in high school I was constantly nostalgic for…something more, something else:

I wish I could explain myself.
I wanted to melt into school walls
rather than shed tears on my silk dresses.
I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors
but I liked corners
and feeling nostalgic for the life of someone else.
I count on you all way too much.

Go away.

I wrote that shortly after high school graduation, and it’s pretty clear that I had this dire need to get the fuck out. High school, this place, these people, it was all holding me back from something more. And weirdly, I still wanted so badly to be a part of it: I wanted to melt into school walls…I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors. But it all went completely against my nature—I liked corners, dammit! Gimme that dunce cap and I’ll rock it like a crown. This is my space now, go away. I don’t forgive you!

No. Nostalgia for high school is a nostalgia I’ll never experience because I think, in high school, I was always nostalgic for the life that I’m leading, and the person that I am, right now. I’ve got a healthy sense of humor. I dress like the bad bitch I always knew I was. I have girlfriends who I love because they like to laugh and fuck up and then laugh some more—they give no shits about what anyone thinks and they never laugh behind my back. I have a boyfriend who reads as much as I do and never makes me feel as if my eccentricities are something to be ashamed of—not even my random feminist outbursts. I might not be rich, but I’m getting by. And no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine because I’ll always have writing to come home to. I’ll always have an endless imagination to get me through dark times because, even though I know what it’s like to be hopeless and angry, even though I’m hardwired for depression, at my core there is so much joy.

HASHTAG BLESSED MOTHERBITCHES!