It was my second day of college ever and classes hadn’t started yet. I woke up in a top bunk bed I’d never slept in before and tried from the moment my eyes flickered open to convince myself that this – that all of this – was simply my new existence and therefore every part of it was completely normal. Yes, I repeated in my head while I stood behind a flimsy curtain in the shower of the communal bathroom, it was normal to live in an L-shaped shoebox with two strangers. It was normal to tote a bathrobe with me into the shower so I would not run the risk of ending up naked in public, not even during a fire drill caused by some drunk person pulling the fire alarm. It was normal that my soap, shampoo, and razor were kept in a turquoise plastic bucket with a handle instead of on a shower shelf that belonged only to me. And it was totally normal that I was showering in flip-flops to avoid getting whatever sort of fungus had surely been left behind by the stranger who had showered before me and then bequeathed me a tangle of her blonde hair in the drain as a disgusting form of souvenir.
There’s this hotel I once stayed at for well over a week in Laguna Beach called The Montage and every aspect of that place is forever imprinted in the happiest folds of my brain. The pillows? They were clearly fashioned by a large group of benevolent angels out of the finest flurry materials available anywhere in the spiritual stratosphere. The loofah placed lovingly next to the enormous bathtub? That wooden-handled scrubby thing gave me the single finest exfoliation of my entire life. The hotel’s bath gel smelled of verbena. The salad served out of white oblong bowls poolside had perfectly grilled shrimp and the creamiest goat cheese I’d ever tasted and the men climbing the bluffs at dusk after a day of surfing the spiky waves looked like the sort of Ken doll Tom Ford might have fashioned just for sport.
You have to give the man credit. He’d performed for two straight hours – just him, a guitar, a piano, and his wits – but then he stood on the tip of the stage and lightly but methodically pounded the wood of his guitar with an open palm. The sound reverberated around the circumference of the theatre mimicking a heartbeat, my heartbeat.
The first time he went up my shirt I was sprawled across a pool table. It was very late – so late it was almost early – and even the crickets were asleep as I arched my back and wondered exactly what it was that I was feeling. I knew two things with absolute certainty as he pressed his mouth on mine, again and again:
1. His teeth tasted like cranberries, his tongue like vodka.
2. I was always so shitty at remaining in the moment.
In the densest layers of the muck-and-scum-filled reality television ecosystem, a few Bravolebrities have risen like deranged phoenixes to the tippy top. They bob there proudly upon the fungus-ridden slimy surface and take comfort in the asinine belief that the only thing that matters is that strangers know their name. The creatures currently crowding that swamp include:
Know what heartbreak feels like? It's a continuous plummeting in the way back of your throat right near where the words usually form, a rhythmic thudding with zero rhythm that also feels like you're being strangled by the hopes you used to have for tomorrow. It's a burning you swallow with every single gulped breath. It's the purest of your dreams ricocheting through the sky like fireworks that never explode or pop – they never sparkle with the kind of fiery light a piece of you thinks might be the one thing that will actually save you.
The snow came down in flakes so large and fluffy that they reminded me instantly of that book I used to love when I was little, the one about the boy who experienced so much delight during a snowy day that he tried to keep a bit of it as something tangible so he shoved a snowball in his pocket to have a memento of the moment. It’s always during the very early mornings or the middle of the nights when the tales I read as a child feel the most present and maybe it’s because I feel then like I am myself part of a waking dream. It’s funny – those mini memories never wind around any of the major memories from that time. I think far more about how I loved Sesame Street and the way I knew every single word of that Blondie album than I ever reflect upon my parents’ divorce or how I went from not even thinking about something like heat to knowing quite well what kerosene smells like.
“Tuffy!” my father called out, and I could hear his voice rebounding against the rolling waves. “Be careful because I won’t be here.”
I was fourteen years old and it was August. I stood in the East Hampton surf, willing myself to ride the next wave that came my way without being caught inside of it like I had been that time last summer when a chaos of funneled water spun me into what I’d been briefly sure was the absolute nothingness of forever. My father was heading down the shore to cast for bluefish. In less than an hour, he’d be dead. Those were the last words he ever spoke to me.
And the thing is, I have been careful. I knew that to fall apart completely in those first terrifying teenage months would only serve to harm me spectacularly in the long run and I guess I’ve always been someone who considered where one moment might fit into the puzzle that was the rest of it. So instead I did the normal sort of rebelling that was so common for a suburban girl growing up in the days when people looked into one another’s faces instead of down at a screen. I sometimes drank cheap beer in basements. I came home from afternoon barbeques held in my friends’ backyards covered in hickeys. I knew the terror of the second when the condom breaks and how difficult it is to pee on a stick when your hand is shaking and you’re not sure if the screaming is inside of your own head or some external horrible audible omen.
I was on the phone with my mother the other night when I broke in and interrupted her while she was midsentence. She was right in the middle of telling me a story about how she’d just been featured in the Style section of a newspaper and that she’d thought it hilarious when a reporter actually stopped her at an event and asked, “Who are you wearing?” as though she was Jennifer Lawrence sauntering down some red carpet while dripping in Dior instead of holding a purse that had once belonged to her own mother. I asked her to please hold on for just a second because I needed to parent my puppy immediately.
“Tallulah,” I said patiently to the white ball of fluff standing in my kitchen, a ball of fluff that is clearly made up of equal parts goodness and demonic intentions. “You must stop leaping high into the air because you think that trick will get you a cookie. I will give you a treat after you show me that you’re a good girl by eating the kibble you’ve ignored all day.”
My Maltipoo cocked her head to the side as I spoke and then she looked me straight in the eye. I stared back at her, my gaze unwavering, and she slowly walked towards her bowl of food and began eating her kibble.
“Had that been Wookie,” I said to my mother who had waited patiently and silently as I bartered with an animal, “that fight would have lasted for three days and would only have ended once I apologized for my behavior.”
When it comes to a bedroom, my general rule is that I slumber far more effectively when I can theoretically see my breath. I’m not entirely sure where this preference comes from or even recall how long it’s been a habit, but my guess is all of those years spent tucked under the covers inside of dank and steamy cabins at sleepaway camp probably contributed to my current hope that I’ll see frost forming on my windowpanes in the height of summer.
Sometimes, though, manmade chilliness does not quite go as planned. It was a few months ago when I crawled into a bed in someone else’s home and fell into what initially was a blissfully heavy sleep. I woke up less than an hour later due to a miserable combination of factors: a puppy exploring a bed she’s not used to, some Netflix show about gangsters blaring at some ungodly volume, and an air conditioner that was apparently made by NASA to approximate what Pluto feels like. I tried snuggling further under the covers. I thought about that Barbados heat wave I’d once sweat straight through. I nestled into the person completely passed out beside me who clearly wasn’t impacted in the least by everything in that room that was causing me total misery. I considered getting up to turn down the air, but I was afraid Tallulah would think it was morning because, while she’s a very wise puppy, she has yet to master distinctions in time when she gets excited. I finally realized my only real option was to undress the guy next to me. I figured the best-case scenario was I could put on his clothing to warm up, but should he misread anything, sex might work to thaw the frostbite, too.
I did not end up putting on his clothing. And my clothing didn’t stay on either.