Remember this, I told myself right then.
I memorized the exact location of the paint chip on the wall and filed it into that place in my mind that is sometimes where I sprint to for comfort but, far more often, it comes running towards me as though intending to cause me some harm. I memorized how the cords on the television were somewhat hidden from view. I put it somewhere deep inside of myself that the toilet paper in the bathroom was always put on the roll in the opposite way than how I do it in my house, with the flap on the bottom. He placed his the same way my mother did; I think I found that almost comforting. I leaned over then and felt once again that spot on his head that almost seemed misshapen, the one I’d smiled at quietly the first time I touched it because it reminded me of The Coneheads and because it also made me realize that you only find out those kinds of things about someone sometimes.
The symbolic card cataloguing of variables and quirks was part of my plan, the one so ill-formulated that I didn’t even know then that it was a plan. But I knew enough to know that I should definitely have one.
I used to think that I could make everything okay if I only had a plan in place. The plan became the plan.
If I fail this Physical Science final, I remember saying to myself during the last Tuesday of college, I will not graduate and then maybe I can stay here in Delaware and live in my house next year with my friends and I won’t have to move to the city for the summer and I won’t have to go to Miami for graduate school and I won’t even have to figure out how to get the tiny refrigerator out of my bedroom, though I may very well have to deal with what’s still rotting inside of it before I leave for the summer.
I never said that all my plans were good plans, but in the moment when the thoughts were whirling so fast that I could hear the whistling of the wind as it sailed passed my ears, it all sort of made sense.
This sounds logical, I told myself while closing the Science textbook that still cracked a little bit every time I opened it. I can just stay here.
The truth, of course, is that, had I failed that exam and then the course, I would end up having to take a Science class over the summer at the community college near my house. There was no way that my mother would all but reward me for fucking up an entry-level Science class by permitting me to stay at a school I should have graduated from. We had only a few rules in our family: there was never to be any whining; when you entered and exited the house, you always had to say hello and goodbye; and you had four years to spend in college and that’s it and there was kind of no way to try to weave around that rule because my mother was the Dean of Students at a college and she just knew better.
I passed that Science final and I graduated that Sunday and the next afternoon I packed up my car and drove away from the place that finally felt like my real home. But there was something about that failing-the-test plan that made me feel better in the moment. There was a comfort to knowing that maybe I could be in total control of my own fate.
I type the steps of my new plans now into my phone in much the same way that I used to scrawl them on the kind of loose-leaf paper that had those frayed edges. I know that if I feel stupid as I type something, the plan will never really work. Sometimes I feel nothing but fine – strong even – when I type in a Life To-Do list, but then I will read it back the next day and all I feel is gratitude for the newish iPhone feature that demands that the phone unlock by using only a thumbprint or a numerical password. I delete those lists eventually. And deleting them is all part of the plan.
I am ready to have the absolute best summer of my entire life, I told my best friend. It was a few years ago – maybe four – and she wasn’t used to those kinds of declarations from me. There was actually a time when I didn’t love summer because not working for two straight months left me feeling like I was floundering. It’s not like I felt the urge to be up at dawn and chugging down coffee as quickly as the heat of the beverage would allow, but I liked having a routine. It made me feel like I was on some track that I’d helped to construct.
It was sunny the day I told my friend about how I would fall madly in love that summer and the heat was that perfect dry heat where you can actually feel the color burning lightly into your shoulders and you lift your face towards the sky and you close your eyes just a little bit and you think that maybe the sun is not just helping the flowers to grow. And my friend told me that she just had a feeling that I was ready to meet the right one and I hung up knowing that the upcoming July would be the single finest month of my life because I had mentally thrown the switch that put the plan into motion.
The very next day, I was told that my mother might have cancer and that her surgery would occur on the first week in July. I generated a new plan on the spot and it was about her getting healthy and me trying to stay calm and not freezing up emotionally like I sometimes do in a crisis that involves someone I love. I get cold then. I turn my feelings to mute. I know they’re there because I feel them late at night and when I’m in the shower, but for the rest of the day and through the early parts of the night, I make myself cold so nothing can rip through me.
Even in a real battle, chances are that I wouldn’t need an actual shield.
My mother recovered, but the summer wasn’t like how I’d expected it to be. I felt dead by day and almost too tweaked by night. I had too many questions and hardly any answers sloshing around inside of me so frequently that I couldn’t even eat or drink. I looked pale and thin and my stomach hurt all the time. I should get all new clothes! And that thought became the new plan.
The years of not enjoying summer because of the loss of a routine are so far behind me now that I can’t even see them if I squint. Part of it is that my writing keeps me busy – and very happy – and I have some goals involving it that I know will keep me walking down a path, one I have no idea of where it could end. But part of it is that I’ve also tried to stop the planning and the memorizing and the filing away of moments that don’t really end up mattering.
Hope you got your shit together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather…
I was listening to the radio the other morning and I heard Springsteen covering Bad Moon Rising by Credence Clearwater Revival. I’ve heard the song approximately six zillion times because my camp counselors when I was a little girl listened to a lot of Credence – and a lot of Bob Marley, so you do the counting of the seeds and stems to come to a conclusion about why they were always wearing sunglasses even on the cloudiest of days – but I think I really listened to the lyrics for the first time last week. I know now that nasty weather can roll in from seemingly nowhere. I know that what you once saw blooming under the summer sun can wilt in just an instant. I know how it feels to not have my shit together. I know now that forging a plan is not what will bring more than an instant’s worth of comfort.
Seems like I’ve been sleeping in your bed too long,
and it seems like you’ve been meaning to do me harm.
But I'll teach my eyes to see beyond these walls in front of me...
The thing is, a plan doesn’t really solve anything – and I have always known that. But I was drawn to the quick release of relief that would often come out in a burst and would wash over me and I would nod and think that I could hold all the power. And maybe sometimes that works and I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t examples of how it has worked and that’s why I continued for so long to build those plans like I was an architect who understood shit like dimensions or like I am a person who actually has the ability to draw or cut in a straight line. There came a time, though, when I started to realize that certain things in my life – and certain people – should not have to be part of any kind of planning. There are certain things, certain relationships, that should just evolve organically and not have to be shuffled like a deck of cards that is dealt and redealt and you win maybe one hand out of every three and so you fool yourself into believing that you are awesome at this game.
The very best things in my life have come almost due to a direct lack of planning on my part. That I teach Film is always something I wanted to do, but it’s not like I really thought I’d be able to get a job doing such a thing or land in a district at a time when I was given full creative control over my curriculum. That it all eventually happened was the end result of a frothy blended mess of steps and missteps and wailing on my mother’s kitchen floor one hot evening that I should have just gone to graduate school in Miami. Had I known that I would professionally be completely satisfied in less than a year, I might not have ended up borderline dehydrated on that particular evening. My best friends? I met them by chance and by circumstance. The men I have loved? They literally – every single one – came into my life without any sort of preamble, proving that cliché that you find what you want when you stop looking for it completely accurate.
But see, chance and circumstance can feel frightening. They don’t have defined patterns that can be traced back to the start of it all, but I can also say with total clarity that none of the greatest journeys within my life have been in any way linear. Not one.
There are times when I still feel haunted by the images and the sound bytes that I keep in the garage of my mind. I suppose that at some point soon I should hold a tag sale or put it all into storage or simply haul it to whatever is a metaphorical dumping ground. For years it seemed necessary to hang onto them in the way I can’t seem to throw some of the clothing I rarely wear away. I guess there’s a part of me that thinks I might need them some day, even if only to use as a warning.
I’m driving down a twisty road and it’s October and I have been in the car for six hours already and my dog is asleep on the passenger seat next to me and I am listening to James Taylor because it’s almost twilight and nobody sounds better than James Taylor when the sun sets and I look at it in the rearview mirror and I know I only have two more hours to go.
It’s the middle of a winter that seemed to start a month early and I am huddled on my couch and I can feel how my eyes want to close and to put this day away – this week away – but the show is starting soon and so I flip open my computer and get ready to take notes on a bullshit reality show and I have no idea that by next week, I will be writing for a guy who gets a million hits a week on his site and that my site visits will skyrocket too.
Picking a pebble up from the ground and examining it like it holds some answers, I’m sitting on a low curb with a good friend and I take the end of the rock and I scratch a tic tac toe board onto his leg, right beneath the end of his camouflage cargo shorts, and we play the game, passing the pebble back and forth between us, and the night feels perfect until I look up and see a connection forming in front of me that I never could have anticipated.
I’m on the couch and I’m sitting close to her, showing her pictures of my family and my friends and my dog, and she is animated when she speaks and she is immediately affectionate and her laugh is what I’d bet a few people over the years have described as “infectious,” and I can feel myself settle and sigh on the inside because this could be a mother-in-law I wouldn’t mind sharing my life with.
I check my phone after a busy morning in a school that is devoid of students and filled with carbohydrates that the teachers keep bringing in and I have been trying to avoid both the teachers and the carbs and I look at the face of the phone and see that I have a text and the feeling that overcomes me when I see the innocuous message is one of absolute fury and I can actually feel the heat that is coursing through me to cause me to blush a deep scarlet and then my friend walks into my room and she sees my hardened eyes and she asks me if I’m okay and I throw the phone back into my bag and I tell her that I am fine and I smile so she will believe me and I almost convince myself that she does.
I’m on the water and there’s something about how it looks today that makes me wish that I could draw. It’s like a sheet of pale blue glass and I can see that sparkle that is created when the sunlight hits the shore and I gently slide off the boat and the water feels almost slippery and I pull on the water skis and I shout that they should all remember that I haven’t done this in forever – not for years and years – and I grab the handle between hands that I’ve always wanted to be just a little bit larger and I can hear the revving of the boat’s engine before I can feel it and I am lifted then and I am standing up on the skis and I can feel the grin on my face as I jump the wake.
Not one of those moments was planned. Each one, even if only for a very little while, changed me. Each one rattled me. Each one has stayed with me and I knew that they would because, even as they were all unfolding, I could feel myself converting the words into sayings and the images into mental souvenirs and they have offered me some real comfort and I have also permitted them to absolutely torture me and I think that I’m ready now to take out the trash.
That’s the new plan.