Love is Leaving the Light On: 2017, In Retrospect

what stops things for a moment
are the words you’ve found for the last bit of light
you think there is

—Stephen Dunn, “What”

 Will the waters be rising soon?
The waters will be rising soon.
Find something or someone to cling to.

—Kim Addonizio, “Storm Catechism”

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Donald Trump was inaugurated and that’s when the countdown really started. 10. So a blonde walks into a bar… 9. A guy looks up and decides to stay… Did you know, the second day of this year 31 twisters touched down in the south? This one-day total was higher than the whole month of January 2016. Would it be fair to say that this is the most accurate way to describe 2017: Concentrated. Loaded emotion and knowledge, packed into the smallest increments of time: Moments, like DMT. Doesn’t it feel like half of us are rewinding, while the other half is trying to fast-forward? Personally, I think the film is going to rip. (I saw a picture of a house torn in half by a tornado, and thought aloud: “Isn’t it crazy how nature can cut through your living room when you least expect it?”)

Anyway—let’s not talk about politics.

He said, “Hey, I think you’re really pretty.” And I laughed, hysterically. I’m on the latter end of 25 now. Plucking away at the keyboard of a MacBook that I can tell is crashing, slowly. It creaks like a haunted house. I swear to god… I’m typing this now, and a major part of me believes the girl I was seven years ago—the girl I was when this MacBook was new—is alive and well, rolling with the back roads. It’s 3 AM and Kid Cudi is still relevant somewhere. She believed a full tank of gas, combined with the beat of something melancholy, was how modern witches flew: Is it weird that I feel so much closer to her now than whoever I was this time last year?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be,” and I think about it all the time. (How youth is a warm blanket, and time is a rubber band, holding you like a hammock. The view is nothing but stars when you’re in your twenties; this brief moment in history when your reflection actually matches an idea you had of yourself.) I’m only saying this because of what a middle-aged woman told me in passing, “I still feel young. Whenever I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.”

Once, for a fiction-writing assignment in college, I had to kill off one of my favorite characters. I decided to write about death as a reversal of time and the transcendence of space: Shattered vases pieced themselves back together and floated back to their allotted shelves. She looked out the kitchen window, and found her house had drowned over night. Sperm whales were floating by, casually as birds. She looked down and realized her hands were no longer knotted from arthritis. Having untwisted themselves, and flattened out their own wrinkles in the night.

When my best friend and I were teenagers, we’d talk about heaven all the time. She’d ask, “How old do you think people are in heaven?” And I’d say, “Young, probably.” She’d say, “Really? I bet they’re ageless.” And I’d think about that for a moment. How, in my head, “ageless” implied youth—at least a hint of it. It was then that I first understood “ageless” as a word for when one feels the most herself. Which varies, depending on who and what your experiences are. (The damage of trauma can leave one frozen at the age of 2.) Imagine: Navigating a majority of your life without feeling like yourself—being unable to experience joy without distrust. I asked my friend, “What’s better, wisdom or innocence?”

She said, “Wisdom.” She was certain.

But I gave innocence a little more credit: Without innocence, is wisdom even possible? Isn’t new wisdom only acquired by experiencing something, through fresh eyes—and then, somehow, managing to restore innocence? In February, new evidence was discovered supporting the theory of intermediate black holes. Though most scientists still poo-poo the idea of these masses actually existing. Mostly because, if they were to find an intermediate black hole—one that was for sure “intermediate”—it would force science to rethink the development of the universe as we’ve always understood it. (Apparently the rate at which black holes form, makes the possibility of moderately sized ones unlikely—at least on this plane of reality.)

Have you ever looked at a picture of a black hole?
It has the terrifying resemblance of a human eye. Making me wonder: What if a black hole is just a retina, taking in light and generating new memories in the mind of a beholder? “There’s a whole universe inside you!” At least, that’s what the inspirational quotes say. And isn’t that the theory behind black holes—that there’s a whole other reality on the other side. Is it possible that the earth—the entire solar system—has already been swallowed? Black holes are massive. I bet we’ve been swallowed thousands of times, and none of us even felt it. What if that’s all a new iPhone release is?

Getting swallowed by a black hole, and nobody noticing.

Domestic Violence was decriminalized in Russia this year. The bill was co-authored by two women. (Forgive me: I can’t seem to wrap my head around this idea where there’s any room for tolerance when it comes to women getting hit by men they love.) Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in American women ages 15-24, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those women were killed by a boyfriend or father-figure. Did you know—though women are just as capable of domestic violence as men—statistically speaking, only male to female violence ends in death or serious injury? Which is another way of saying: I went to the Women’s March in Seneca Falls and cried, because it was the least hated I’d felt in a long time.

This year, I fell in love.

8. He pulled a bouquet of flowers out, from behind the couch… 7. So a blonde burst into tears, out in the parking lot… My best friend said my anxiety was only natural. “Last year was horrible for you, and you’re terrified… Being in love with a real person is terrifying.” And I thought: Why is “real” love so rude and intrusive? Like: I was perfectly happy in pseudo-relationships with guys who’d never even try to love me properly. Why’d he have to come along and wreck a good thing? Sometimes I wonder if I have that same problem Dr. Phil is always accusing anorexics of: Do I want to be alone with my disease? (A high school boyfriend once said, “I don’t get it, it’s like you enjoy being sad.”)

I didn’t know what to do! My life had turned to a Taylor Swift song in a matter of weeks. We were dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of our own voices, with the shades drawn and the TV turned off. Our cell phones were on silent—tucked away and lighting up elsewhere. Free of judgment—among the bottle caps and half-drunk coffee mugs—I found my hand floating to his forearm, without much thought. Heard myself describing him as “too good to be real”. When is it okay to let go and trust someone? (I think of my mom, over coffee, giving advice about love: “You’re never going to know for sure.”)

I had this dream where a brunette, lawyer-type, woman led me to a tunnel. The tunnel was covered in blue pool tiles, and water reflected in golden squiggles on the ceiling. It was unclear where the tunnel led. The woman explained that the ability to see things as they really are was on the other side, objectivity in its purest form. Then everything blurred and fell sideways in that vertigo-way dreams do—

Back to black holes.

What if being swallowed by a black hole is all a New Year is? The same old reality, with a few variations: A 69th moon is orbiting Jupiter; Time Crystals are a physical certainty; Another mass shooting, and another mass shooting, and another, is cemented in history; Mass extinction is deemed a possibility; A Total Solar Eclipse has come and gone; Girl Scouts can be Boy Scouts; Some stars have exploded and some people have just started existing…

I read this list of words for complex emotions on Thought Catalog. One that resonated in particular was “Sonder”, defined as: “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…”

Sonder used to overwhelm me, used to make me believe I should be doing more than I was—made me hopeless with the thought that I would never be big enough. It sharpened my awareness: Everything is a mere particle to something else; an ant is to a human, as the earth is to the sun, as the sun is to the universe and everything else… But this year, I decided: Even particles can stand out. I re-thought of all my favorite artists as tiny crumbs: Lady Gaga is a fleck of silver glitter, on a piece of pink construction paper; Virginia Woolf is a water molecule in a Cumulus cloud, reincarnated as a blue eye contact… (I have often described myself as Cheeto dust, though it’d be cool if I turned out to be plain dirt. Dirt can be mud, and mud can be elephant sun block. Which, as dirt, is what I would aspire to be.)

6. Out of nowhere, he decides to fold… 5. So a blonde screams across what feels like a decade of lost love: YOU DON’T JUST LEAVE PEOPLE AT THE FIRST PANG OF DOUBT… You know, just because the earth’s dirt doesn’t mean we should treat her that way. Still: Earth Day came and went. Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement—after already signing an executive order that would revoke or negate numerous policies that dealt with climate change. (President Obama initially made the agreement with Paris and administered the revoked orders.)

Is it just me or is Donald Trump, like, insanely jealous of Obama?

I mean, whatever; humans are jealous creatures by nature. We steal from nature, out of jealousy, all the time. Ivory, tortoise shell, endless varieties of fur, the heads and tails and hides of “exotic” beasts… I Googled a picture of a harvested sea turtle, his shell was cracked with bits of sore-red peeking out. It looked how a hangnail feels—if the hangnail were hopeless and all over someone’s back. When I see stuff like that, I wish I could turn to someone and say: It’s narcissistic to assume an admirable quality belonging to something else would be of better use to you and, therefore, is yours for the taking. (This sentiment extends to everything, and jealousy constructs nothing, so I’m considering this as a resolution: To always tell the truth about the good that isn’t mine, maybe.)

Anyway, let’s keep talking about politics.

Donald Trump lifted the ban prohibiting elephant products from being imported into the U.S. This, predictably, made people upset—more upset than how he treats minorities and women… But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t almost cry. Why do humans have to own everything? My friend told me, “Elephants can get Stockholm syndrome.” She said, “When I went to Thailand, they explained it at this elephant refuge—the only way to get an elephant to do what you want is to break their spirit.” (America, I know your spirit has been wrung, and possibly broken. Please, don’t surrender to your captor; nothing rekindles hope like justified anger.) Did you know, there are reports of elephants showing compassion for other species, at considerable costs to themselves—that their care extends beyond their own kin?

Suggested Resolution: Be more like elephants.

4. He goes home to his apartment, alone… 3. So a blonde recedes, back into her imagination… Over the summer, when I was alone, I wrote about green lights. I played Lorde’s “Green Light” in a cyclical fever and read about the biology of fireflies. I revisited The Great Gatsby, the green light having always been a symbol that evaded me. (Though, I suppose, that was the whole point—it can be whatever you need it to be. Never Land… Or whatever.) The closing lines of The Great Gatsby have always been beautiful, but it took a sudden shift in awareness to fully comprehend what they mean: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

We experience time in a forward moving direction, but all we know for certain is what has already passed us by. In this way, getting older is like being in a room that’s slowly filling with water; it’s easier to live in the past, the certainty of water, than it is to live for all the open space left around you. (Right now, the water’s merely up to my shins; just enough to wade and splash in.) With age, it’ll get easier and easier to float on; to sit back and watch the world fill up with the stuff of my life. I’ve accepted that time will eventually step in and complete my imperfect aquarium…

My uncle drowned this year.

His face was right there in my mind’s eye, and I didn’t expect to—but I cried. And my grief felt like it’d been hi-jacked from somebody else, like it wasn’t my place to feel. But on car rides, between work and back, my mind kept taking an inventory of all the facts: It was sunny, but the wind was strong; he’d just sold his sail boat and wanted to take it out for one more go; he was notorious for taking risks; people heard someone crying for help…

I asked myself existential questions: What does it feel like when a body betrays the soul inside it, realizes help is not coming? Is it a slow caving? Does it break your heart? Is it okay? Does it start out cold and then get warm? Do you wake up in a house underwater and find your mother, ageless and gazing out the kitchen window… Do you stand beside her and watch the whales float by…

November 11, 2017: My sister’s baby is born.

As a writer, I have learned that things can come together just as quickly as they fall apart. And to hope that, in spite of the world falling apart at large, each individual life has found some refuge in the squares of his or her calendar year. Did you know, a couple survived the California wildfires by wading in a neighbor’s swimming pool?

(Thinking back to my dream, about the tunnel, I like to imagine a swimming pool was on the other side—a swimming pool surrounded by fire.) This is how it feels to be present—to be in love—at this point in history: The water might be freezing, but everything else is burning. Bless the wet T-shirts protecting our faces from the embers, these moments we spend above water…

I may, or may not, have felt inclined to listen to Rent throughout the month of December. And I may, or may not, have the opening song stuck in my head: “How do you measure a year?” Last year I measured in lessons, so this year I’ve measured in moments of clarity: Is there a word for the complex emotion that comes upon realizing, your heart will never break that easily again; that you’re not a silly girl anymore?

Though I’ll miss the 2 AM texts and all the conversations that led to nowhere, though there are still some toxic attachments I’ve failed to cut: All I really want when the day is over, and our government has traded us in, is pizza, wine, and him; swapping memes and watching the snow fall; net neutrality on my busted lap top—

Clarity.

It dawned on me—one night when my parents were out of town, and I came home to a darkened house—like I suddenly remembered I’d left a candle burning: Love is leaving the light on. Though it flickers and it wavers and, when I’m in it, I struggle to forgive myself. I’m just another moth to a flame, surrounding this swimming pool… 2017 has been terrifying. But when the anxiety subsided and the fire dwindled, I realized, someone left a green light on, and—I swear to god—the moment we met beneath it, we were ageless. 2. He says, “I never stopped loving you…” 1. So a blonde decides to try again…

Here’s my written midnight kiss: The second you step back to appreciate anything, it’s gone. Turn all your lights on.

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The Invisible Man is My Doubt: Thoughts Provoked by a Near Death Experience with My Retainer

“I think about the end just way too much
but it’s fun to fantasize.”
—Twenty One Pilots, “Ride”

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A couple years ago, I almost choked on my retainer. Apparently it slipped off at some point in my sleep and, as it teetered on the back of my tongue, I woke up with it seconds away from plummeting into my throat. After spitting it out, I stared at the ceiling for a solid ten minutes and contemplated how close I’d come to having an obituary that would’ve read like a pun on Spike’s, One-Thousand Ways to Die.

I know.

At some point in time, everyone wonders what the conditions of his or her own death will entail.

Often we like to imagine ourselves dying peacefully in a chair, or vegetative and elderly in a hospital bed. Sometimes, when we’re feeling romantic, we picture ourselves taking a bullet for a stranger at Target. Or else, on the flipside, when we’re feeling nihilistic, we come up with dramatic suicide plans that’ll be utilized when we’re “old and useless.” (These plans usually involve a straight jacket and being ejected from a helicopter flying over Russia, while naked.)

But no one ever thinks, “I’m going to die choking on a retainer.”

After my anti-climatic near death experience, I obsessively thought of gory, terribly dramatic, “What if?” scenarios. Like: What if the elevator moves before I get all the way inside and crushes me? What if I catch Ebola from a fuckboy and start rotting from the inside out? What if I go temporarily insane and start gouging my own eyes out with a steak knife?

Or worse: What if I actually choke on my retainer tonight?

I imagined the paramedics finding me in my bed with crusted drool stains around my mouth and a stray post-it stuck to the butt of my pajamas. One of them would trip over a stack of feminist literature, while the other would survey a pile of dried out carrots and ranch dressing on a plate beside my bed. The room would reek of a dead writer’s last effort.

Then, I imagined how people would react once they heard the news. I pictured everyone saying something along the lines of, “That bitch would choke on her retainer.”

And, somehow, I found this worse than the idea of death itself.

I think because it implied that I would’ve died the way I lived: Clumsily, just hoping to preserve straight teeth.

With this realization, I became acutely aware of all the things I own that are decorated in skulls: T-shirts and tights; a poster of a skull formed by crooked tree branches; a glittery holographic skeleton, hanging from my doorknob. It was like I thought staring at my morbid insides long enough would make me more okay with the fact that someday they’d be my reflection.

Which, living in a society that is obsessed with repressing any inkling of death, it only makes sense that I’d start by repressing any evidence of it on my own face.

(Religious retainer wearing included.)

If I think about it long enough, a walk down the CVS cosmetic aisle really has become an anxiety-fueled practice: Am I willing to sacrifice voluminous glamorous lashes for lengthy natural ones? What are the pros and cons of blackest-black vs. very black? And furthermore, what happens when all the different mascaras stop working and I start getting old?

(The small layer of fat that didn’t used to peek over my waistband makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, like a purr from Hannibal Lector. The bags forming beneath my eyes jump out, like boogeyman, whenever I look in the mirror. And Angelina Jolie’s face, more vital at age forty-one than my own at twenty-four, condemns me to a life of desperation: Can I get a Snap Chat filter, in real life?)

I know it’s silly to be afraid of aging when I’m still so young. (Like: Maybe you should worry about getting a real job, asshole.) But, understand, this premature fear is actually just a way of dealing with an even bigger, much more rational, one—

The fear of dying before I can create a life that can’t be summarized with how I died.

A few days ago, while my mom was driving, I confessed, “You know, I think I’d like to die around forty-five. I think it’d be best if I just F. Scott Fitzgerald-it.” (My logic behind this sudden epiphany being—Forty-five is old enough to have lived, but not old enough to feel old.) Appropriately, “Closer” by the Chain Smokers was playing on the radio, gleefully proclaiming, over and over: We ain’t ever getting older!!!

And I thought: Fuck, we really might not if Donald Trump is president. Which, the thought of it is terrifying: Will the world end? Will everything be erased? Shakespeare, the pyramids, MY FUTURE?!?!?!?!? Never mind the fact that he’s reminiscent of a genocidal dictator! *Cough* Hitler. I HAVE SHIT TO DO!

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I can’t live in New York someday with that asshole in office. How am I supposed to feel safe, in such a populated space, with a hot-head hovering around the big red button?!

NUCLEAR WAR IS NO JOKE!

I envision the whole world, erased. And then I think of me, erased. In this way, I’m no better than the most bigoted Trump supporter. Only instead of being like: No, don’t take my guns away!! The constitution! Equal rights for minorities and women?! Booooo!!! I’m more like: DON’T TAKE THE POSSIBILITY OF MY BEING REMEMBERED AWAY! I’m not ready. Like. I haven’t met Taylor Swift yet! I still need to read Beloved. How does the last season of Orange is the New Black end?! I’m supposed to write something really, really, good someday. I can feel it! I’M NOT READY TO BE A DEAD GIRL YET!

But. Wait. Let me admit something totally paradoxical, and awful—

There isn’t a single girl alive that I’m jealous of. (No offense, I just like myself.) But, the dead ones? SO JEALOUS! Sylvia Plath had my heart (and envy) the moment she said, “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.” Same thing goes for Amy Winehouse. (My green-eyed monster heard she was known for becoming cutting whenever she felt bored or misunderstood, and it groaned: I want to be known for becoming cutting whenever I feel bored or misunderstood!!!!!) Sometimes I read Marina Keegan’s “Winter Break”, when I’m feeling particularly morose and millennial. And every time I envy her for having written the story equivalent of a knot in my got. How did she craft a world so modern and realistic, and yet—so romantic and irrevocably unsatisfying? Then I cry. Partly because I wish she was still here so we could become friends, but mostly because: WHY CAN’T I DIE IN A TRAGIC CAR ACCIDENT AND GET ALL MY WRITING PUBLISHED?!

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Dead girls. It’s my whitest white-girl complex. Forever young and magnificently angst-y, all preserved in the amber promise of “what could have been”. Like, damn. Can I be too good for this world? I’m pretty fucking sick of it! And still—I understand. All these dead girls died the way I’m afraid of dying: Mid-sentence.

And I know—

In the game of life, you can’t win.

You’re going to lose.

Something is always going to be left unsaid.

Sylvia will never know how it feels to be loved. Amy will never be known for anything more than, “No, no, no…” And Marina didn’t get a say in her first, and only, book.

When I look at the lives of female artists who suicide-ed, and overdosed; whose boyfriends lost control of the vehicle… they all seem so tormented by something they know for sure is going to get them. By some invisible man in the room…

I’ve felt his presence too.

When he whispers into the ear of every artist, every person: What’s the point?

A loaded question that often drives me to type faster, thinking: I’ve got to get to It before It gets to me…

There’s a pain in my right hip, and the alarmist in me whispers: Ovarian cancer.

I think: Don’t consult Web MD. Don’t consult Web MD. Just go to the Doctor…

But I’d rather stay home and write instead.

I’d rather write than pick up the phone.

On the days when my mind feels cloudy with depression, I worry about malaise as a side affect of some pre-existing condition. This makes me type even faster, despite my mind being too fogged up to access the thing I want to say—despite being afraid I’ve never had anything real, or good, to say.

What’s the point?

It’s not death itself that triggers this sense of urgency; it’s the thought of dying and only ever having lived in an unrealized dream.

Drooling and half-choking, with perfect teeth.

Caught between waiting for it to be over and hoping it’ll never end.

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