It’d been a long time since I saw my beautiful blond friend with the very put-together life. My friend who always knows what to wear, and always has the earrings that match it. My friend with the grownup life and the baby.
She looked great, of course. She was sparkling. The collar of her little dress sparkled. Her clean, contemporary diamond ring sparkled. Her eyes sparkled, too. Since I’d last seen her, a lot had changed. They were moving. To Connecticut. They were looking for a house now.
Connecticut? But– we used to think Brooklyn was too far away! I haven’t even been back to the Upper West Side since we moved down here. Wait. A house. That means you’ll have more than two rooms? And a car? And a yard? Impossible. A washer and a dryer? Amazing. More than one bathroom? Ultimate luxury! Unimaginable.
I tried to picture her new life. She was wearing pearl earrings in my imagination. But then, she does that sometimes anyway. She looked so grown up. So complete. She would drive her kid (her KID!) to school in her car. She would drive to the supermarket. She would return to her house. Her entire house. Her husband would commute into the city for work.
“What’s your plan?” she asked. “What are you thinking, for the future?”
I stared at her. I looked down at my plate. I looked up again, and I still hadn’t figured out what to say.
“Bear,” I said, later that night, “Do we know what we’re doing with our lives?”
“Um,” he said, “Maybe?”
“I don’t think we do.”
“Yeah, maybe not. But who cares?”
“That’s what’s so cool about us.”
Sometimes I realize that one day everyone will leave this city. It will drain like a bathtub and the empty, dirty streets will leave a streak. Everyone will go find a house somewhere, with a yard. Because kids need space, and there’s no space in the city. Because the air is cleaner out there. Because of the schools. Because of the money. Because the city wears you down. Because it just makes sense. Even my twenty-something single friends talk about leaving. After they get far enough in their careers and when they want to settle down and have a real, serious life. They look forward to not having to deal with the subway anymore.
Sometimes I want to grab the people I like by the wrists and beg them to stay.
Because I can’t really imagine leaving the city. Or when I do, I imagine this cottage at the foot of a cloud-touching mountain range. I imagine breathtaking openness. I imagine the sky going forever. I imagine uninterrupted nature. And this fantasy doesn’t include where to buy groceries or who I’ll hang out with, or where the money will come from, or how close I’ll be to my family, or where the nearest hospital is in case someone has a stroke or accidentally chops off a finger. It’s a fantasy. But it’s the only thing I can imagine wanting, outside of the city.
And I think that maybe there’s something childish about all that. About my obsession with extremes. Being grownup has always seemed to be all about moderation. About balance.
When I was a little kid, all I wanted was to step off the back porch into an endless, rugged wilderness. I hated the white fence that separated our yard from the neighbors’. I hated his ride-on mower, which he seemed to use as an escape from the stagnant world inside his house. I wanted to explore, and sometimes it felt like there was nowhere to go.
In the city, there is always somewhere to go, just like there is in the wild.
But what if everyone grows up and leaves me? This whole place feels temporary sometimes. Everyone is only passing through.
After I saw my beautiful, grown up friend, I had this overpowering urge to go to suburban New Jersey to see my parents. Bear and I took the train out. And then we called a broker and she took as around to see some houses. We saw a house with a formal dining room. There was a fireplace in the living room. There was a mantel over the fireplace. There were wintery, naked woods in the back. But through the woods, I could see a fence. And another house. I could see the borders. And I felt somehow both far away from everything, and not far enough away. What would I do in my formal dining room? Who would come over for dinner? Would I have to cook something formal?
In the car, in between houses, I said, “Life is already so constricted. We’re already living in so many different boxes. I want the land to be open.”
I could almost hear my mom rolling her eyes in frustration, and I was frustrated, too. I didn’t mean to sound so philosophical and annoying. She said something about priorities. About reality. About having kids one day and being a part of a community. The stuff that matters.
“But I’ve always wanted to be somewhere wild,” I said. I was a little embarrassed, again, but also defiant. Why can’t I want that? Why does it have to be immature?
She said something about how what you want changes. Kids change everything. I’ll know, when I have kids.
We took the train back to the city, and came above ground at Penn Station– emerging into the stinking mouth of the beast. A siren wailed, and was immediately joined by another. Horns honked. Misguided tourists froze under the spasming lights.
“Welcome home!” I said.
“I know…” said Bear irritably. “Exactly. Welcome home. I hate this damn city.”
“I love it!” I said.
“It’s like putting on a big, hot, dirty jacket, and you can’t take it off.”
“I love it.”
“It really is like that– like the jacket. That was pretty good.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s like a jacket. But I love it.”
“We live in a little box in a bigger box full of stupid little boxes.”
“But we get to ride an elevator up to it!”
I realized that when I think about growing up, what I’m really hoping for is a box on a higher floor, with a view of the city, and the water. That would be amazing. At least it wouldn’t be pretending not to be a box. At least all of the borders are obvious, and they’re all slamming into other borders, and we’re forced to deal with all of our edges all the time. I like that, for some reason. I like it even more than a yard, and possibly about as much as a washer and dryer.
And maybe, along the way, I’ll meet a lot of other people who aren’t ever going to be completely ready to grow up. Who like the extremes. Whose kids know every inch of Prospect Park and have eaten every kind of food in the world by the time they are six or so. Whose kids are explorers by nature. (Or who decide not to have kids.)
“I wish you didn’t love this city so much,” Bear grumbles. “We’re gonna be stuck here forever. It’s terrible.”
And there– there is a problem that I don’t know how to handle at all. Because I really don’t know what we’re doing with our lives. And I look bad in pearl earrings. I’m wearing my mom’s right now, just to see, so I’m not just making things up when I say they don’t work on me. Which is maybe partially why I should try not to ever have a formal dining room.
* * *
If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in white and green.
P.S. Check back tomorrow to find out who won the sneakpeeq giveaway!