- Practice pirouettes in the living room in my socks, especially on the left, because my left pirouettes are atrocious.
- Pour myself a glass of wine, which I drink in between pirouettes.
- Take a shower, frantically sticking my head out from behind the curtain every two minutes to listen for the buzzer.
- Eat a handful of Reese’s Pieces.
- Become wayyyyyy too involved in 5-10 minutes of a Say Yes to the Dress marathon.
- Immediately pin 5 different wedding dresses to my secret wedding board on Pinterest (which I will forever deny having if you ever ask me because how dare you suggest I am THAT Girl™).
- Obsessively look out the window for the delivery man during a commercial break.
- Swiffer living room and kitchen floors.
- Track my order on Seamless. – “Still cooking.” Damn.
- Pour another glass of wine.
- Eat a handful of kettle cooked potato chips.
- Flip to one of the fifty bajillion showings of Shawshank Redemption and ask why Morgan Freeman doesn’t also have fifty bajillion Oscars instead of just one.
- Obsessively look out the window again like a nervous heroine in a late 70s/early 80s horror movie.
- Attempt another left en dehor pirouette. Not on fleek.
- Hate myself for five seconds for using the term “on fleek.”
- Eat a spoonful of 1% cottage cheese.
- Switch over to Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire just as Movie Dumbledore slams Harry against a wall like a WWE wrestler and yells in his face, “HARRYDIDYAPUTYOURNAMEINTOTHEGOBLETOFFIRRRRE?!?!?!”
- “He asked CALMLY,” I say pointedly to the TV, rolling my eyes.
- Track my order on Seamless. – “Out for delivery.” YAAAAS QUEEN!
- Favorite and retweet @lin_manuel about 6 times
- Donate $16 to Hillary’s campaign
- Obsessively look out the window again. Is that a clown?
- Do a Duolingo French lesson on food. J’ai faim. Je voudrais un sandwich.
- “Like” two different girlfriends’ engagement announcements on Facebook. Ugh. Je voudrais un boyfriend.
- Laugh at Snapchat video sent by my friend Kevin
- Attempt a Snapchat recorded pirouette video to send back to Kevin. #fail
- Eat another handful of Reese’s Pieces.
- Make mental note to rewatch E.T. the Extraterrestrial soon.
- Make another mental note to phone home.
- Instagram my third glass of wine with the Valencia filter and a caption pretentiously quoting a Transcendentalist author. #basic
- Get nervous/excited when the buzzer rings like I’m going on a first date…except if I were, I wouldn’t have ordered Seamless
- Mentally play the Super Mario End of Level Theme Music in my head as I receive my bag of food from the delivery guy.
To be honest, I have thought of you nearly every day the past two years; sometimes just for a fleeting second, and sometimes, it’s all day. When it’s the latter, there’s an all-encompassing sadness I just can’t shake; a feeling of helplessness. A feeling that I – and so many others – failed you somewhere in your brief life; that maybe if I had called you more often or been that much better as a friend, you’d still be here. And then I realize the wondering and “what ifs” makes little difference at all; what happened happened. I can’t change it. And so the sadness and helplessness I feel on those days turns to anger. Sometimes, I’m angry with myself for being so distant and unaware of what was happening to you that led to your death. Sometimes, I’m angry with you for your mistakes and your last awful choice even though I know that’s unfair to you.
On the days where the memory of you is fleeting, it’s something small that triggers me: a man with a similar profile, a few measures of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an old SNL sketch, or maybe a Dixieland jazz band in my neighborhood with a clarinetist who’s a bit of a show-off. Those fleeting moments are usually the pleasant ones, but the memories they conjure up are bittersweet. Happier times that feel like an entire lifetime ago. My brain can almost convince me you’re still here on days like that, but my heart knows better, and the sadness seeps back in.
You’d be 31 today. Yes, it’s your birthday. Facebook keeps prompting me to write on your wall not knowing you can’t even read it. You’re a ghost, albeit a digital one, and your page will remain eerily stuck the way it is forever until Facebook ceases to exist. There you are smiling in your profile picture in sunglasses on a tropical beach looking happier than you did the last few years of your life. Maybe you’re on a beach wherever you are, but I’d like to think you’re in some heavenly concert hall playing music with all the greats you idolized. That’s more like you; you were happiest making music whether with others or alone. I know you can’t read this any more than you can read the birthday messages people are posting on your Facebook page, but it’s not really for you anyway.
You’re not 31 today. You’re still 29. You’re always going to be stuck at 29; never reaching 30. You made it two years longer than Janis or Jimi. Two years longer than Kurt or Amy. But it stings that you’re forever hovering near 30, and I’m going to pass you soon. I’m catching up to you. I’ll be 28 this year, and then the next, I’ll meet you. Then I’ll keep passing you and passing you and passing you, and it’s not fair. And it’s not right. It’s not right that I get to have more birthdays than you so early in life. You should be here…even if it would have been harder to be here than wherever you are. You would have found a way to make things right. Or maybe you wouldn’t. The point is you’d be here, and I wouldn’t have to keep reminding myself you’re not.
It’s been almost two years since you left, but I still can’t bear to delete your number from my phone. The thought of doing it gives me a sharp sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; maybe because that makes it final. Or maybe it’s because I feel guilty about not dialing it more often when you were here. Maybe it’s both, but I just can’t do it. Though we disconnected from each other a long time ago as it happens from time to time with friends, I’m not ready to cut that last cord. I can’t face it, even though I logically know no one will pick up the other line. If I still have that number, I still have a part of you; I can keep you with me 24/7. You’re right there in my pocket.
I’m not even sure what else to say except that I miss you way more than I ever could have anticipated. I miss the stupid pranks you’d pull. I miss the way you’d laugh at things I said. I miss your music and the look on your face you’d get like you were the only one in the room playing.
Does this get any easier? Maybe. I don’t know.
“Tell me please,
Where can he be,
The loving he who’ll bring to me
The harmony I’m dreaming of.
It’ll be goodbye, I know
To my tale of woe,
When he says, “hello!”
So I am just a little girl
Who’s looking for a little boy”
-“Looking For a Boy,” George & Ira Gershwin, (1925)
Dear Seth MacFarlane,
I’m sure you get lots of mail: some from dudes who love Family Guy, some from people who hated Ted 2, some from ladies who thought your boob song at the Oscars was in poor taste (for the record: I’m neutral…even as a feminist), some from ladies who are only interested in your immense wealth. Maybe some from dudes hoping you’ll put them in touch both literally (gross) and telephonically with Mila Kunis, Amanda Seyfried, and/or Charlize Theron.
I’m writing to you about exactly none of the above things (although I wouldn’t mind talking to Charlize about being a 5’11” kickass woman who manages to look good with any hairstyle), because what I care about is your voice. No, not the Stewie or Peter one from which you have made millions. I mean that velvety, unabashedly old-fashioned crooner voice of yours singing along with Joel McNeely’s amazing orchestrations. The one that conjures up images of velvet suit jackets, smoky lounges, and stiff drinks. The one that has graced the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. The one that recorded three albums. I realize you probably get mail about this too, but because I’ve watched Sleepless in Seattle too many times, I have developed this idea that like Meg Ryan’s character, my letter to you will somehow be more important than all the other letters you and your adorable-if-precocious son have received from women all over the country.
Wait. Sorry. You don’t have a son. At least, that is what my current Google Search results tell me. They also tell me that prolonged cell phone use may cause an increase in back and neck pain and brought up the Wikipedia page for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. So I have a very exciting life as you can probably tell.
Anyway, I think you should know that one night I stayed up until the wee small hours of the morning (Haha get it? Because you idolize Frank Sinatra and he recorded an album with this title and this joke is so funny you should hire me immediately to write for one of your shows hahaha) watching you sing “Joey Joey Joey” from Most Happy Fella at the BBC Proms on YouTube. I’m kind of a sucker for that song anyway, because I happen to think Loesser is one of our most underappreciated musical theatre composers (did I mention I have a degree in musical theatre and an old-fashioned belt like Judy Garland?), but something about the way you sang it in your beautifully spun vibrato just knocked me out. And despite years of watching Family Guy in living rooms around the Midwest (Where I grew up; I’m dropping these details just in case you want to keep falling in love with me.), this is when I fell in love with you: at 2 am in a tiny NYC bedroom with just the glow of my Macbook screen slicing through the dark and your voice ringing from the speakers.
I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman (or even the second or third) to tell you she’s in love with you, because you are, after all, a good-looking, successful adult male who is well-rounded and charming and has had his fair share of romantic relationships (and probable imagined relationships in the brains of too-enthusiastic, moony-eyed fans of both sexes). And I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman to tell you she likes your singing voice, because you have a mother, and mothers will always tell you they like your singing voice even if it is terrible (unless your mother is Rose from Gypsy, because she will definitely ruthlessly tell you you’re not cut out to be in the biz if you’re terrible). But I might be the only natural blonde woman (Are you in love with me yet? I’m 27, so I’m definitely within your suitable dating age range) to tell you both of these things and also say that I think it’s time for you to change careers.
I know, right?! Who the hell am I to give you career advice? I’m not Oprah or one of those super attractive “career consultant” type ladies in Manolos The Today Show brings on for a segment that Matt Lauer has to pretend to care about when he’d rather be talking about ISIS, but because I’m a fellow Scorpio like you (See? We are perfect for each other), who has killer intuition and x-ray vision for bullshit, I have always sort of felt like Family Guy was a way of giving you the so-called freedom to do what you REALLY wanted to do: make pseudo-Sinatra albums and give into your more Capra-esque cinematic leanings. Basically, all that long-windedness above summed up: please just go make Technicolor movie musicals or a Frank Capra-style screwball comedy or earnest drama. Ted 2 was basically a Capra courtroom drama masquerading as a frat boy comedy. A Million Ways to Die in the West wanted to be a musical. Your albums are oozing with charisma and sentimentality. This is not to say that Family Guy doesn’t have its merits as a consistently funny show and that your voice and animation work are not also important facets of your multifaceted talents; I merely am saying that I feel you are sometimes afraid of being earnest, sentimental, and—dare I say—sweet outside of your recordings and concert appearances, and frankly, those qualities are more attractive to me as an artist and woman than someone who always goes straight for the joke every time (and I would know as someone who regularly is afraid of being honest and sentimental and covers everything up with a well-timed witticism or joke).
As a nerd, I can instantly recognize other nerds, and you are a big one. I’ve heard you give interviews, talking, in detail, about Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins (who is totally underappreciated) or film scores with an enthusiasm normal people reserve for like, Beyoncé or the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I once wrote a 25-page paper in college comparing John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Wagner’s use of leitmotif in his operas. This is not what normal people do, Seth, and you and I are not normal no matter how hard we both try. I have made peace with this as I have aged and realized the right people will think I am cool, and I think you’re still working on that, which is totally fine. Being comfortable with your nerdiness actually makes you cooler, I think (I’m still waiting for the popular girls from my high school to confirm this on Facebook, so I’ll get back to you). I’m not saying you aren’t comfortable with your nerdiness, but because most people know you for being the cool guy of Family Guy or making dirty jokes at the Oscars, it’s almost like your nerdy jazz career is a super-secret alter-ego you only reveal to those you can trust, which is apparently mostly musical theatre/jazz aficionados, the BBC, and old people who miss the Big Band era, which are three very trustworthy, awesome, reliable groups, honestly. Kudos. But no great thing ever came from not taking risks, and I think you’re on the precipice (I am always looking for an opportunity to use that word, which I learned from Old Rose in Titanic back in 1997) of something great if you have the courage to just go for it.
I’m sorry for sounding like one of those motivational posters teachers hang in their classrooms that have trippy photos of nature, but I really think it’s time for you to boldly go where you’ve never gone before (Star Trek is still on the brain, clearly). It’s your earnestness that I responded to when I watched “Joey Joey Joey” at 2am on Youtube, because you didn’t do anything for a laugh or to coast by on charm: you just sang the damn song from your heart. I think there’s a big ole warm, gooey heart inside of you, MacFarlane, and I want to see it, because it’s way more interesting than everything else. It’s real…you know what I mean? And unlike Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire, I want real, not magic.
Okay, I sometimes want magic too (and especially during the holidays), but real is the substance of life, and I want that. I think you want that too. I need to take my own advice, as per usual, but this isn’t really about me. Actually, I guess it IS sort of also about me too since I’m the one being all righteous and trying to tell you what to do with your life while ignoring my own. So for the record, I get scared too. Being funny always feels better because people don’t have time to judge the real parts of you when they’re laughing at something you say instead. But being funny isn’t all that I am, and I could do a better job of letting myself be honest too. I guess we both have homework to do, Seth, and if you’re anything like me, you probably enjoyed doing most of your homework (except math because you don’t need that to sing Sinatra or Garland songs).
I’m gonna wrap this shit up here, because I’m worried you’ve already stopped reading and/or are considering getting a restraining order against me, and I really only wanted to write to tell you I’m your fan and really rooting for you in whatever the next phase of your multiple careers is. I think you’re probably the coolest nerdy dude in Hollywood, and I’m hoping NBC casts you as Harold Hill whenever they decide to do Music Man Live. You’d crush it during “You’ve Got Trouble.” I know that because I also watched you do it at the BBC Proms on Youtube in my bedroom (I should probably get a social life).
And if you feel like meeting me at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, I will be the blithely-cool, semi-neurotic, blonde Meg Ryan type (but taller) waiting for you.
Think about what I said. And think about my Valentine’s Day offer.
Live long and prosper,
I saw Richard Linklater’s extraordinary new film Boyhood opening weekend (at the always cool IFC Center here in Manhattan) and was treated to a Q&A with the man himself and his star, the miraculous Ellar Coltrane, following the film. Chances are, you’ve probably been reading and hearing a lot about this film the last two weeks or so, and not without reason does it have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is quietly moving, honest, and completely lovely; full of the real stuff of life that seems insignificant, but upon rumination, it is actually the important stuff. It’s the stuff that shapes who you are.
And it got me thinking (and continuing to think as it is over a week ago I saw the film) about life.
But it also got me thinking about magic: both fictional and real.
Whether it’s coincidental or not, magic seems to be a recurring theme in the film. In one scene, Mason’s mother (a sublime Patricia Arquette) reads from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before bedtime. In another scene, Mason and his sister, Samantha (played with feistiness by Lorelai Linklater), dress up and attend a midnight book party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. They’re wide-eyed and excited, clutching their newly purchased books to their chests like precious treasure. A third scene has Mason asking his father (the always reliably affable Ethan Hawke) about magic and elves. “Right this second, there’s like, no elves in the world, right?” he asks tentatively. And this propels his father into a wonderful moment of vocal philosophizing about the definition of magic itself. He explains that magic could very well be the fact we have whales so huge you can swim through their arteries, but is that magic? He doesn’t know. When Mason asks again, this time a little more pointedly, his father answers, “Technically, no elves.”
The last scene of Boyhood features a now nineteen year-old Mason sitting on a rock in the wilderness of Texas with a girl he’s just met that day, his first of college. They’re talking about life. “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment?” she asks. “I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.” He replies, “Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?” And just as he’s saying that, the sun is setting, and you know you’re glimpsing another fleeting, magical moment, but like Mason, you’re hopeful, because you know another one will come along if you ground yourself in the present. And THAT right there got me thinking about another of my favorite Linklater films, Before Sunrise (really just that whole trilogy, but the first especially). In a scene in that particular film which is all about seizing those fleeting moments, Celine says to Jesse, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.”
So is that magic? Connecting with someone else on an almost spiritual level? The kind of magic we’re accustomed to is often the kind associated with witches and wizards like Harry Potter where there are spells and people are transformed. If you really think about it, all magic is about doing something to another person: cursing them, making them fall in love with you, changing them or yourself in some way. The Oxford Dictionary defines magic in four ways:
- The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
- Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.
- A quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.
- Something that has a delightfully unusual quality.
So if we look at it this way, as magic being something that seems delightfully removed from everyday life that influences the course of the events in a life, then we really DO experience magic in the real world. Mason’s father wasn’t wrong and neither was Celine: magic is very real and present. I don’t think Richard Linklater featured Harry Potter in two scenes of Boyhood without reason; not only have the books changed the lives of millions of readers around the world in profound ways, but so too do Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience the magic of growing up, forging friendships, and discovering love (among other things like battling dark wizards and basically saving humanity). Magic is ever present in all those milestones of life, big and small.
Celine and Jesse experience that magic as they wander the streets of Vienna, talking for hours and essentially falling in love. I’ve written about it before, but we’ve all had those moments of connection with someone else. It’s usually those moments we actually FEEL life happening to us and around us; we become acutely aware of our own mortality and the preciousness of it all. It’s the thing where you feel infinite and finite at the same time. Mason Jr. becomes aware of it at the end of Boyhood. Celine and Jesse know it too. And so too do we when we allow ourselves to be swept up in those moments, to be seized by them the way Mason’s female companion posits during their conversation. And those moments are also usually the ones that transform us with their magic, because our lives are never quite the same afterwards. I just felt it late last Wednesday night as a guy and I recklessly climbed ladders to the roof of his office building just to look at the Empire State Building and essentially, each other. To hold hands and talk about life, both of us sensing it was the start of something new and treating that beautiful fragility with reverence and wonder, because we know it will never be like that ever again; we will never have these moments again.
Boyhood often is about the mundane of life, but further examination reveals the mundane is the magical. So often we remember these small things more so than the milestones. The little setbacks and victories. The way your mom would make breakfast. Summer days spent riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk. Long conversations to your best friend on the phone. Or maybe harboring a crush on a college professor. Or climbing on a roof to look at the city lights with someone just because you’re young and feel invincible. Things DO change, people DO change, and that’s the magic of it all. Time is magic, because as it passes, it transforms you and the world around you. You’re always under its spell.
Just as he’s leaving for college in Boyhood, Mason’s mother is crying and poignantly admits, “I thought there’d be more.” So do we. All the more reason to appreciate whatever time and magic we’ve got.
*Run to see Boyhood whenever it hits your local multiplex. Heck, even drive to a showing nearby if it’s not. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of movie. Truly something special.
You know how celebrities/famous people always seem to die in threes? And some murders inspire subsequent copycat murders? That whole “when it rains, it pours” thing? What I’m trying to say is misfortune often breeds misfortune.
And I should know. The last three months have probably been the worst of my entire life. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but in thinking about the last twenty-five years, I cannot remember another time in my life when so much shit was flung my way in such a brief space of time. Blow after blow after blow. Three months of near-ceaseless gut punches. My life literally imploded in my face. BOOM! There it goes in a mushroom cloud and rubble like a scene out of a doomsday movie.
(Maybe I’m being a TAD dramatic, but you get the point.)
I had a great summer, one of my very best, truly. Lots of travel and fun times with friends and family. After a year and a half, my best guy friend finally asked me out, and we started dating. As my second year in New York came to its close, I finally felt settled; everything was in a good place. I felt prosperous in nearly every area of my life from my bank account to my relationships. I bicycled through the streets in a haze of contentment, peace, joy, and love. I reveled in it all. I felt seriously happy for the first time in a very long time, and even though not everything was perfect, I felt like I was FINALLY on track. My life was slowly but surely piecing itself together.
And let me tell you, after a boyfriend drought of about six years (we’re talking committed relationship here, not random dating, which I HAVE done on and off since 2007), having one again was awesome (let alone this guy who is funny and smart and respectful). Not that I was ever miserable because I DIDN’T have a boyfriend for a long time, it’s just you forget how great it can be. And being in a relationship and/or love in New York City is especially great. And since I’ve grown up by leaps and bounds since my last real relationship (considering I’m 25 now and was just 18 back then…eek), this one was VASTLY different. It felt real and adult.
So things were going swimmingly until the beginning of September when my floating turned to sinking. It felt like someone pushed my head underwater all of a sudden. My roommates wanted to have a conversation about apartment business, and what I thought was going to be a routine discussion of what we could all do to keep improving the place turned into them accusing me of basically being the worst roommate on the planet (which, having asked my other former roommates to confirm this, all answered with a resounding, “WHAT?! You’re probably the BEST roommate in the world!”). I couldn’t speak because I had no idea anyone felt this way. Now, I’m a highly intuitive person, but I’m not a mind-reader, so if you don’t expressly tell me something is bothering you, I might not be able to pick up on it. My roommates both avoid confrontation whereas I like to deal with things head on in a civil way, so a personality conflict was bound to arise. All this came completely out of the blue, but here I was being asked to move out. Two against one. They’d discussed the whole thing behind my back and already decided the best solution was to force me out without any input from me or even attempting to fix the situation. So here I was, a relatively impoverished twenty-something in one of the most expensive cities in the world and had about a MONTH to not only find an apartment I could afford but also move into it.
Things quieted down a bit in October, though I was furiously on the hunt for an apartment. I lucked into one almost immediately and began planning out my moving strategy. If you’ve never lived in New York, I can tell you that moving here is a major, MAJOR pain in the ass. Worse than anywhere else because like no one has cars. ANYWAY, I made it through October relatively unscathed and managed to get all my possessions schlepped from one neighborhood in Queens to another adjacent one thanks to a dear friend of mine and his sturdy little car (Tim, you are an angel!). I let myself think the worst was over and breathed a sigh of relief that the apartment scenario from hell had been vanquished. New apartment, new roommates, fresh start.
But the worst was not over. Five days into November (and a little under a week to go to my 25th birthday), my boyfriend and I broke up. Even HE admitted the timing was horrible considering everything I had just been through (because in spite of everything, he’s a really good guy). The breakup is both sharp and blurred: parts I remember so clearly and others I can only remember the feel of them. When you love a person, that doesn’t just go away overnight. Love never really dies; it just transforms itself over time into different kinds of love. What makes this particular breakup hard is that it’s not because there isn’t great care, affection, and love there for each other; it’s timing. It’s emotional preparedness. It’s other things that are between us right now. And these are things people have to work out for themselves. I’m not putting it all on him either, because I have my own set of issues to work through. My intuition tells me that he and I have more to our story, but we both have some life to live on our own first, and for whatever reason, we can’t do it together right now.
So I was awaiting the third event (because like celebrity deaths, these things always happen in threes), and finally it came on Sunday. My dear friend was in town for a few days and invited me to the Brooklyn Museum to look at the Jean Paul Gaultier Retrospective (which, for the record, is amazing). On the way to the admission desk, I slipped in some water and tumbled to the floor only to be followed by my bankcard being declined. Overdrawn. AGAIN. Trying not to panic and maintain some semblance of composure (despite having just fallen to the floor like an idiot), I pulled out my bankcard from home, paid, and entered the exhibit where I put the best smile I could for my friend.
As I made my way to my church afterwards for that evening’s Vespers concert/service, hot tears crept into my eyes, thinking about having to make yet ANOTHER phone call to my parents asking for help. I’m 25 years old and can’t seem to get it together despite numerous attempts. While church was reliably soothing for an hour or two, once I left, the hot tears came again. On the walk home from the train, I lost it. Angry sobs. I called my mother from my bed, curled up in the fetal position. Ever the voice of love and understanding, she eased my fears, but couldn’t quash my anger at myself for yet another financial failure or at the universe taking another massive dump on me. “WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?!?!” I yelled into my phone in anguish, my mother silent on the other side. And it’s a question that is yet to be answered and may not be anytime soon.
To combat my heartbreak, anger, and sadness, I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries and my church looking for answers, peace, distractions, etc. I’ve planned out trips to places halfway across the world to try to escape my life here. I’ve gone on two-hour bike rides. My friends have done their best to keep me busy. And sometimes, I can manage to forget all that has befallen me these last few months for a little bit. I can even almost muster some real happiness if only for a minute or two, but somehow or other, it all comes back. There is no magic salve to cure me of it all, no quick-fix. I am, quite simply, a broken down human being desperate for a break, some goodness, some light. A reprieve.
BUT I haven’t lost all hope. I have to believe on the other side of this destruction and desolation there is something big and great waiting for me if I have the courage to push through all rubble. Yes, I am angry, vehement even, but what good does it accomplish? It’s obvious everything is out of my control right now, so being angry isn’t going to change that, but maybe channeling that energy into something else will. Maybe forcing myself to work harder and create will produce something good. Maybe I was too much like Icarus, arrogantly flying too close to the sun just because I could only to have my wings catch fire and plummet to the ground. I don’t know. At this point, I feel like I can go nowhere but up…even if it means crawling.
Today’s topic is not the happiest, but I felt compelled to write about it. I had planned to do part II of my Film Heroine series, but something has been looming in my mind this week, and I feel it necessary to purge my brain to try to make sense of it. Thanks for bearing with me.
Last weekend, a middle and high school classmate of mine was killed in a car accident back home in Missouri. He was 25 years old; a military vet who enthusiastically worked at the Buckle in our local mall upon returning from his service. Only a few days before, he had been in good spirits, joking with friends online. Eerily, his last tweet dated just a few days before his death read “Don’t drink and drive. Call a cab!!”
Admittedly, he and I were never all that close when we were in school together. We had a few classes together, but didn’t really hang out with each other outside of our shared academic world. My high school was small (my graduating class was around 156-ish), so you basically knew everyone even if you weren’t best friends or in the same social circle. He was a nice guy, extremely personable, and could always back up his opinions with solid logical arguments (we had sociology together, and he made some truly great discussion points). He was of Mexican descent so people always were making jokes, but he laughed and made his own jokes right alongside them. Naturally, we all graduated and went our separate ways: me to college in Oklahoma to study musical theatre and him into the military to serve our country. I didn’t think of him much beyond the occasional Facebook post that would float across my newsfeed or when a mutual friend would mention his name. But I was always impressed with his work ethic and enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. The last time I saw him in person was graduation day as he walked across the stage to get his diploma: May 2007, nearly six years ago.
Word travels fast in a small town, and even though I live over a thousand miles away, I was bombarded with messages and posts all over my Facebook about his passing. For some strange reason, I couldn’t believe the news. I had seen him post April Fools jokes only days before. My heart sank. How could this be? I couldn’t explain the sudden sadness I felt for a person I only occasionally sat in classes with for seven years. 25 years old and gone. Never married. No children.
I’m not sure if it’s the fact in a mere seven months I myself will be 25 or what, but it all feels so wrong. What if I go to bed tonight and that’s it? Or am struck by a cab on my way home? All the dreams and hopes and wishes for my future suddenly vanish along with my mortality. No one’s future is certain, no longevity of life guaranteed. It’s a cold, hard smack to the face when you lose someone young. A wake up call to your own mortality. Are you living your life as fully as possible? What’s holding you back from making each day count? You can’t live in fear of dying the next day, but you should always remember that it’s going to happen at some point so you better get busy, right?
When someone young dies, are we really mourning their death or the death of their potential, their untapped talents? Of course we’re mourning the loss of the person, but perhaps we’re just as sad about the “what ifs” that will never play out, the dreams never turned into realities. I still have trouble processing the death of actor Heath Ledger because as an actor myself, I saw so much potential, whole reservoirs of talents meant for a longer, larger, luminous career. To see him so alive onscreen, such raw energy and instinct, is a shock to the system when you remember he’s been gone for five years.
I guess what I’m really feeling is the preciousness of my own mortality. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always operated as if death was so far away, that I was invincible somehow; death would come when I was ready, not the other way around, you know? Rudy’s death has shaken me up more than I thought, because I realized that I don’t get to decide how long my life will be. I’m not in total control, invincible until I decide to let go. We take our youth for granted, believing we have the entire world — our life — at our fingertips. And we do, because anything can happen. That’s the point: ANYTHING can happen…both good and bad. I don’t try to dwell on the bad, but maybe I’ve made myself numb to the idea that anything bad could happen to me or anyone I know or care about. Bad things happen. Good things happen. That’s just how life works. And the hard part is accepting BOTH.
I think about all the times I’ve stopped myself from doing or saying things because I was so worried it would make me look stupid or hurt me somehow. The funny and possibly idiotic reality is what I’ve really done is robbed myself of things that might have enriched my life in weird ways. I overanalyze everything because I think I can logically solve all my life problems before they even happen and have some control over my life, but that’s ridiculous, because I can’t control what another person is going to say or do, how they’ll react to me and my actions. I’m 24 years old and still sometimes operate like a teenager, thinking that someday I’ll get it right and take a risk and not be scared shitless of my own actions. But what am I doing? I keep putting things off for the next day, because I have tomorrow to deal with it. Rudy never got that chance, and I could lose mine too.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into some tale of morality and mortality and carpe diem and all that, but maybe that’s what it really is all about. All of it. Everything we do is added to the story of our lives, whether that story is short or Tolstoy-length. And maybe we don’t get to decide the length of our life story, but we DO get to decide the content, the characters, and maybe the ending if we’re lucky. I’m sorry that my classmate didn’t get a longer story, but it’s one worth knowing even if it’s a slightly cautionary tale. I just hope I can make my own story worth knowing, choose the right people to inhabit it, learn from my mistakes, let things go.
Rest in peace. You’ll be missed.
Last week, I FINALLY saw the first film in Richard Linklater’s lovely trilogy (or will it be more than that?) about love and life: Before Sunrise. It took me a little time to get my hands on a copy from the library here in New York, but I’m glad I did. I’m right around the ages of both Jesse and Celine in the first film, and boy did THAT influence my viewing experience. Whoa.
(Full disclosure: I go to the library generally about once a week. It’s a habit developed in childhood when my mother would take me to story-time, and we’d leave with a giant stack of books. As a “financially-challenged” young adult, I don’t see the point in getting Netflix when I can check out literally almost any movie or TV show on DVD for FREE. Thanks, New York Public Library!)
The film is about two strangers who meet on a train going to Vienna, one an American (Jesse played by Ethan Hawke) and one French (Celine played by Julie Delpy). These two twenty-somethings strike up a conversation that quickly turns into many conversations throughout the streets of Vienna. But their blossoming romance has a time-stamp: Jesse is flying back to the U.S. the following morning. What transpires in the course of their night together is funny, joyous, honest, and bittersweet.
I wasn’t expecting to find myself a little weepy at the end of the film (especially since I rarely cry during movies), but as the final moments played out before me, I realized I was a little more than invested in these two characters. I understood them, because I’ve been there a little bit myself, I think.
When you really connect with another person, whether that be romantically or platonically, there is innate electricity; you feel a spark. Jesse and Celine feel it almost immediately in the film, and I’ve felt it at various points in my life too. It’s akin to magic; the world seems to slip away from around you, leaving just the two of you in some kind of alternate reality.
“Jesse: I feel like this is, uh, some dream world we’re in, y’know.
Celine: Yeah, it’s so weird. It’s like our time together is just ours. It’s our own creation. It must be like I’m in your dream, and you’re in mine or something.”
I remember several endless nights like Jesse and Celine’s where I was so completely engrossed in the person I was with that time stopped. One such night, I chronicled in this blog post, and I felt that magic. Recently, I spent a long afternoon with that same gentleman just walking and talking around New York. This city’s streets and neighborhoods really encourage the whole walking-and-talking scenario (paging Aaron Sorkin!). It’s one of the things I love best about New York: you don’t have to have a destination, the journey IS the destination. The longer we strolled, the more our conversation deepened. We were discussing things we’d never brought up before: life, dreams, adulthood, marriage, children, aging. It made me realize just how much of ourselves and our thoughts we keep hidden from other people, even ones we trust. It also reminded me that all of us feel totally lost at some point or another, especially in our twenties. He may be a few years older than me, but it doesn’t mean he has life any more figured out than I do (which I’m not sure if I find reassuring or depressing).
Jesse and Celine both ponder life’s great mysteries, and neither one of them has definitive answers either. But in a weird way, I find all of our endless hypothesizing beautiful. Some questions in life will be answered, and others will not; that’s just how this thing goes, I guess. Maybe the only way to get through it all is by letting yourself be vulnerable and open to other people, to truly connect on some deeper level so you know you’re not alone. And maybe you fall in love with that person or they become your best friend in the process.
I believe people enter into our lives for a reason. Some people are forever in your life, and some are only there for moments. I think we usually only ascertain that person’s purpose in retrospect, but sometimes, we’re given little moments of clarity to see them for what they’re worth and what they can teach us. Jesse and Celine only have each other for a few precious hours in a night before they’re forced to part (though we know they meet up again in the sequel, Before Sunset) but neither one of them will be the same afterward, each etched forever in the other’s memory (and heart). That’s what makes their parting so bittersweet, because in a short amount of time, they’ve found a soulmate…at least for the night.
Much like Jesse and Celine, my own little afternoon adventure had a timestamp too; I had to work that evening, and he had plans with other friends. He walked me almost all the way to my final destination. The moment for goodbyes had come. He wrapped his arms around me, enveloping me in a tight hug. “It was so good seeing you,” he said as he tightened his grip. I responded, returning his embrace, “It’s been too long. Let’s do better.” We pulled apart, neither one of us wanting to leave even though we both had to. So we wound up aimlessly chatting for another minute or two before we hugged again. After we pulled apart this time, he gave me one last look and left me at 47th & Lexington to head to work. Yet another spell had been broken. Back to the real world at last.
I can only hope I have more Before Sunrise-esque nights in my life, nights spent trying to solve all the problems of the universe and having silly adventures. Nights without plans where the present is all that matters. Nights where I connect so deeply with a person that parting with them is agony. Isn’t this what we all wish for in life? Isn’t this what truly LIVING feels like?
“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” – Celine
Perhaps you’re right, Celine.