How I Got Lost
How I Got Lost is the title of a film my sister has a bit part in (go team Johnson!), but it’s also the subject of an essay I’m writing for a good friend. It’s been rough. I haven’t written in awhile and it’s harder to write beautifully. But here’s a beginning. Annie Eby, let me know what you think–
“More and more, I find myself avoiding silences. Instead, I look at the tops of palm trees, when I walk in the heat down the pretty side streets that are lined with them. They offer no real shade. And when I should worry about this or that thing (where to go, what to do), I worry instead that a road crew has patched up an unsteady palm with cement. It seems cruel to see cement in a living tree, as though it would suck out all the water.
On some days, I am certain these are the thoughts that should concern me. They are immediate and keep me grounded in the present. On other days, the white walls of my bedroom become filled with crushing silences. I pull my comforter over my head and try to remember something beautiful to wrap around my shoulders, when I get out of bed. Water has always helped. A cold shower, a warm bath, these are helpful things in a desert, when one does not have the aid of a river. Rivers are my favorite comfort. I will always prefer a river to an ocean. They do not contain the numbing vastness of an ocean, yet they move.
When I went to Paris a few summers ago, I spent days walking up and down the Seine. My favorite roads went past the houseboats docked on the riverbank. Many of the houseboats were bustling with movement. People climbed in and out of doorways with their hands full of food or books or water for their plants. Other boats were still, their potted red flowers shifting silently, if at all, in the hot air. I remember very clearly one boat that had a table and chairs set on its roof. The table was set for dinner with a white linen tablecloth and tall water glasses.
I want my life to be like those houseboats. I want to have the capacity of movement and the security of home at once. Up to now, my life has been like that. College has a similar sense of semi-permanence, of passing through leisurely with others like ourselves. But as I get older, it becomes harder to leave people and places. I miss them more. I start looking for familiar faces in a crowd. It’s awfully lonesome without the people that give a place its purpose and meaning. Without them, my life starts to have holes in it, through which I can see a happier life, one that I am not leading. I want that other life, yet do not know how to get there through this one. It’s not smart to start looking in holes. Sometimes you fall in.
I can reason myself out of a hole. It’s common sense really… if I can dig this big of a hole, I certainly have enough tenacity to build a ladder. However, there are days when I cannot. And it is on those days that I am grateful for I path I’ve chosen, even if it is more of a raft than a houseboat at this point. On nights when I cannot sleep, nights where I miss everyone and everything I cannot have, my mind hurts from holding so tightly to memories that were once substance, as though it were reaching for a hand that no longer reached back. I remember the boyfriends I loved and left carelessly, doors never fully shut, others that left me, never knowing what lives we’ll miss seeing because we’re no longer there.
Yet, the next morning, I get up, because when I pull the comforter over my head and try to think of one beautiful thing to wrap around my shoulders, I am able to—once, when I was sick, a friend picked out all of the marshmallows in my favorite sugary cereal. I only like the marshmallows, and she wanted me to have a special treat, an incentive to get better. Once a boy took me on “night walks” for a month before he tried to kiss me. He wanted to know my stories. He wanted to know everything about me, what I dreamed of, what I was afraid of when I was a little girl.
I’ll tell you what I told him…when I was a little girl, I was afraid of shadows. And as a grown-up (although that word reveals the vestiges of childhood), I am still afraid of shadows. I suppose it’s a common fear, that we will never fully become the substance of what we should be. But like I said, I get up, and that is a good start.”