in memoriam: young and single in the city

Reader Question:

Do you ever miss being young and single? I mean not actually, because UGH... I don't want to be back there living that life, but I'm sad at the realization that I will never be there again.

Answer:

and by "there"
do you mean
here?


There was a summer I lived in New York
with another single girl
in a dorm.

I had a fake ID
and a Metrocard
and the city took me deep.

Even now, more than ten years later,
I can smell
the ginger and garlic and hot oil at Yummy House,
and the sour garbage baking in shiny bags on the street,
and warm beer breath,
and the rosewater perfume I was wearing
and the cold, air-conditioned spaces
where we met for cranberry vodkas
or frappaccinos.
(I was young.)

That summer I was not grateful
for the freedom to walk
8 blocks at my own pace
to the bodega with the good salad bar.

I went to the movies three times a week,
mostly alone,
but sometimes treated by a guy
who almost always annoyed
or bored me
no matter how nice and interested I tried to be.
There were no second dates.

We tumbled, a tight crew of girls with straightened hair
and go-to Friday night shoes,
from cab to bar to cab to bar
to cab to couch
to diner the next morning
where we drank coffee
and ate pancakes and potatoes
and passed the chapstick
and laughed.

Do I miss it?
Sweet Jesus.
Yes.
Every day.
Yes.

You have to understand that I'm writing this
on the same couch
(the same cushion in fact)
where I sat
eating scrambled eggs and watching the clock,
cramping,
and leaking amniotic fluid
onto a waterproof medical pad
after my water broke.



I sat on this exact cushion
sticky, miserable
and breastfed my son on the left,
as I pumped on the right.
(The right nipple cracked and bled the first night.
You have to let it heal.
And you also have to keep up your supply.
That's why I sat on this exact cushion,
sweating,
strapped to a baby
and a machine,
both pulling.)

You have to understand that I'm writing this
surrounded by plastic trucks,
mismatched socks,
and a green apple with one brown bite gone.

You have to understand
that I fell in love with my husband
that summer
13 years ago.

I am not unhappy with my life.
I am roundly,
profoundly
blessed.

But I do not understand the people who say
"I don't remember what my life was like
before the baby was born."
Really?
I do.
Because it was fucking awesome.

I went where I wanted
when I wanted.
I ate what I wanted
when I wanted.
I wore what I wanted.
I did what I wanted.

I was the goddamn
monarch
before she takes the crown.

Maybe what they're really saying is,
"I don't accurately remember
what my life was like before the baby was born.

Because when I look back at that life
all I see is the absence of human shit,
and the graceful way I simply got into the car
and then
miraculously,
back out again.
Without bending back my thumbnails on car seat buttons,
or getting an infant finger in the eye
or having to run back inside
for a binky.

I must not be remembering what my life was
REALLY
like
because I do not remember ever feeling free
but when I look back now,
the freedom is all I can see."

I'm trying to look back at that summer
and remember it,
really.
I remember having fun
and feeling lost
and terribly small
and ordinary.

I had broken up with someone all my friends loved
and I was dreading going back to school.
I didn't know if I'd have friends anymore.

Some of the guys
took more than was offered.

Some of the guys
took less,
a half-portion.
An embarrassing wealth remained on the plate.

And there was the trip to Planned Parenthood.
Which was kind of exciting,
actually,
for me.
It was just for Plan B
for my friend,
whose date had assured her
he always wore condoms.
(He did not specify
for how long.)

I was afraid
that I was really untalented.
I was afraid
that I was dull.

I had a summer classmate
who wouldn't leave me alone.
She followed me around
and drove me bat shit crazy.

I hated the people who hurt me,
embarrassed me,
or made me feel small.

I was so young,
thrilled and tender,
easily bought,
and easily wounded.

I don't want to go back.

But what I understand now is
how free I was.
I did not know how free I was.

The people who wouldn't leave me alone,
who drove me bat shit crazy?
I wasn't married to them.

The people who hurt me,
embarrassed me,
made me feel small and powerless?
They didn't call me mommy.

I do not miss caring so much about
what boring guys thought of me.

I do not miss hiding my eagerness
or deciding
who to be
tonight.

I miss the time in my life
before I made choices
that cannot be undone.

What's funny is,
I'm pretty sure I felt trapped then, too -
what a silly child I was,
to believe I'd already built four walls,
so young.

What's funny is,
of course my choices can still be undone.

I could leave.

I've thought about it,
deliciously,
in the abstract:
How simple it would be
to shop for groceries
that only I wanted to eat.
How my home would be full
of the things I loved
and no Legos.
How I could always
get to the gym.

Of course I've thought about it.
But not really.
Because some things
cannot be undone.

What's funny is,
I'll look back on this little collection of words
when I'm in my sixties and laugh.

"You silly child.
The whole world was open for you then.
You were strong and smart and independent
and your feet were truly under you for the first time.
You had the chance to have
a hell of an adventure
every goddamn day
with the loves of your life
who still followed you around
(remember when that drove you crazy?)
and hurt you
(and healed you)
and reminded you
how small you were
in the whole great deep beautiful fucking world.
Why the hell
did you spend so much time imagining
all the ways your life was already over?"

Because...
I just did.
Because even though it was silly,
it was also sad.
Because young and single is fun,
and gone.

Maybe I'm the average
of the person I was
and the person I'm going to be.
Maybe that's why
I'm still afraid of the dark
and no longer afraid of alone.
Maybe that's why
when I am invited to a baby shower
and I know exactly
which spring salad
I will make,
I feel proud
and claustrophobic.

Maybe that's why
I look back at being young and single and feel
drawn
and repelled.

When we ache,
looking back on our younger selves
and remember how good we had it,
how ungrateful we were...
When we shake our heads
without the compassion that will eventually grow
for those kids we used to be,
when we say
that youth is wasted on the young
we have to remember

we are still young enough.

exhibit a


2 comments:

  1. and how about the time you had to soak up an entire bottle of red wine and stuff it in your purse :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YOU JUST HAD TO BRING THAT UP AMIT.

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