I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.
I have become overwhelmed with an inexpressible form of loneliness that has yet to take shape in my brain. The painstakingly idle stretch between the final weeks of my summer break and moving to another state to attend college has rendered me stir-crazy and oozing with all different types of feeling—pining, longing, sadness, excitement. I have yet to leave my home, but I already feel a shade of homesickness slowly cast itself over me. I lament the day when I have to step foot outside of my bedroom door and wade into foreign waters, leaving behind my spinning teenage bedroom for a barren dorm room in an unfamiliar city.
When I was younger, my parents would indulgently mutter I miss you already days before I was set to travel from one house to another. I was never able to fathom the bone-crushing longing that swamped them weeks in advance; I cried when I left either of them, but I was able to distract myself from the pang of homesickness by doing menial childlike things—playing with dolls, traveling to unfamiliar places, being spoiled with new things. I thought I miss you already was an abstraction, something people muttered because they heard it in a movie or read it in a love letter. It seemed to mean nothing. Devoid of life. I miss you already may as well have been translated into see you later, trite and dull and received with clenched teeth as you are slipping out of the door.
I feel it now. I feel it in the time I spend alone in my bedroom, unsweet and unlike it once was (should I be spending this time in the kitchen with my grandmother?); I feel it in every fluid that leaks from my dog’s body—blood on my carpet, marking her territory; I feel it in the last sore throat I’ll have as a teenager. I feel it in every twitch and pang and pinch that surges through my body, in being unable to soak in every last remnant of what surrounds me. I feel it in Georgia O’Keefe’s writing “I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again,” in a letter to Russel Vernon Hunter. I feel it in feeling.
I feel it in Garden Shed, in She’ll Move, which sounds like driver’s ed and dual enrollment, in my inability to listen to Connie the same ever again. I feel it in my warm embarrassment for every phase that has passed, in slipped tongues, in the sour tone of songs I once overplayed while brushing my teeth—I’m the man! I feel it in the television shows I script in my head and act out in my free time, in the pockets of creased makeup that once covered the acne scars on my cheeks, in Yes, God, Yes. In the boys I thought were mine—white collared shirts, self-cut hair, aligned teeth, translucent sweat rings. In the boys I didn’t want to be mine. In the girls that aren’t mine yet. In Beyond Clueless. In my frequent referencing of Beyond Clueless. In my half-scripted teen movie that will go on to become a cult favorite. In every Joanna Newsom song. In every spangled vocabulary word I have stolen from Have One On Me. In the cause is Ozymandian and the way Harmony says it. In Atlanta. In Baby Driver, which reassured me why exactly I wanted to attend school in Georgia. In rewatching it three times with eager eyes. In being the designated driver. The Hot Rod of Journalism.
In Valley of the Dolls and my obsession with Old Hollywood in the seventh grade. All of the time I spent in my typing class Googling Ingrid Bergman and Judy Garland. In the photo of my great-grandfather standing with Joan Crawford that I have yet to see. In my great-grandfather’s extreme wealth and generosity. In my great-grandmother’s engagement ring, a gold band that I never take off—the one that has left a permanent circular indent on my pointer finger. The only heirloom that I own. The fact that it fits my fingers perfectly; the fact that I am unintentionally majoring and minoring in the same subjects that she pursued in college. English and French. A sign. In fevrale dostat chernil I plakat and the way I butcher charnoyu; in never being able to figure out which way the accent leans on the E. In Sunflower by Rex Orange County and the way he says get down. In the way it sounds like the sun coming up at the end of a horror movie when the final girl sits in the back of an ambulance with a white towel wrapped around her and the camera pans away into nothingness—when David is knocked out of the window (“Now I’ve popped both your cherrie’s!”), when Gale is giving her final broadcast.
In the teen movie playlist that I am never satisfied with—the protagonist waking up late and driving to his dead-end job with Haterlovin chiming in the background, the house party that thuds to the beat of Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, the prom that ends with the band playing Glitter by Charly Bliss. In Charly Bliss’s LP. In living inside of music videos—The Man, Shuffle, Someday. In my childhood desire to live inside of a painting that was suspended above the couch in my living room; in needing to dance in the unseen avenues behind the jazz club that the painter contoured with precision, in the uncomfortability I felt while looking at the deserted streets and unoccupied ironwrought chairs that sat outside of each building. In wanting to explore the town stained onto the canvas, but not wanting to do it alone.
In wanting to throw a house party so that I can play House of Jealous Lovers at the highest volume possible. In the only house party I attended—in leaving it thirty minutes after I arrived and spending the rest of the night sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot while dancing to Chamber of Reflection and drinking watery chocolate milkshakes. In my grandmother’s insatiable love for chocolate. In the gold-plated necklace that she wears with pride and the white-lie I told to her as a kid about making the necklace myself. The Christmas she received the necklace. That was the same Christmas when I accidentally fell asleep on my child-sized play couch with my face pushed into the upholstery—I was playing House and pretended to fall asleep for a moment, but I slipped into a deep sleep by pure coincidence. In playing House by myself; in hating to play House with another person because they always ruined the trajectory of my plotline. In being the most submissive of my friends and always playing the Monster, the Villain, the Servant. In Maddie and Ruth and Sheetal.
In Boyfriend by Marika Hackman and the weekend it haunted me. In hearing it and seeing it everywhere; in its chords following me around like an apparition. Luke, what’s your Plan B? In what if’s, what may be’s, what not’s and I wish’s. In ten acres, the Aquamarine soundtrack, and LOVE by Ashlee Simpson. In the sun staining and marbling the true colors of everything that was exposed to it. Be afraid of the cold.
In my hesitance to peel the wax backing off of stickers and apply them to a surface. In all of the stickers that sit on my bookshelf, dusty and unclaimed. In my compulsion to wash my hands immediately after leaving a thrift store, unwilling to leave the filth of another human being’s past lingering on my palms. In finding a Regina Spektor album hidden beneath the clutter of Hanson albums in the Used CD section; in the text-tones CD insert that begged the listener to text REGINA to 84858. In the way I am unable to master the drumming pattern in Poor Little Rich Boy and the way I can rattle off the vocal acrobatics at the end of The Flowers with precision. The chord changes in the beginning of Bartender. So sweet! So sweet. Eet. The visions that Soviet Kitsch paint in my head and the musical I have yet to write inspired by it—a ripoff of Ghost of Girlfriends Past using her music; Maryann will be a bitch, Jessica will be missed, Lucille will have lived downstairs. It will begin with Ghost of Corporate Future and end with Samson. The Broadway League will love it and it will be made into a poorly-received film with Katherine Heigl and Cameron Diaz. Won’t you help a brother out?
In wanting, so desperately, to be someone else because you are tired of loving yourself to the point of delirium. You want to wiggle your toes around in a different pair of shoes, pull your arms through a jacket that does not belong to you, speak a different language that you don’t have the patience to learn. Marie Antoinette, Joanna, Regina. The girl that Tyler sings about in Perfect.
In predictability and how I wear it proudly around my neck. In remaining unchanged and happy about it; in being too patient and stoic for certain people to bother being around you. In being the only steadfast person you know; in taking pride in your reliability. In all of the promises you broke your back to fulfill—but did so painstakingly while tying a red ribbon into your hair. In Paper Bag by Fiona Apple and how I surprised myself on the way home from the airport by knowing all of the lyrics. In her subtle deep vocal acrobatics. The pride you feel hearing it play during your favorite scene in Bridesmaids, unknowing of its presence in the film until you rewatched it for the first time in two years. The pain in Fiona’s voice that is masked by trumpets; rewinding the song so that you could hear the beginning once more.
In the first a-ha moment I had in college while I was listening to Changes by David Bowie alone in the dining hall. The sound of my coming-of-age. Not knowing much about Bowie, but knowing enough to find strength in his image. Wearing lightning bolts just for him. Rewatching Confessions of A Teenage Drama Queen to hear Lindsay Lohan sing it. In being unable to convey how much the film means to you to another person; having someone else watch it and tell you it was alright. It’s not alright! It’s mineminemine. Hearing that’s my movie being pronounced like it was a badge of honor.
In perfume smelling too much like something—gym class, freshman year, a lent shirt you never wore. In Too Much being an arbitrary. In being raised to know that Too Much is expected; you must eat until you are full, work until you are tired, swim until you are pruning. Sitting at the table and letting impatience get in the way of making room for dessert. Lying by the pool at the clubhouse and jumping in before you can digest, fingers greasy from lunch and sopping hair cemented to your back. Too Much bringing you to the point of tears—too overwhelmed, too much eyeshadow, too bad. Too Much existing as a conjugation of Enough. Enough existing as both a command and an exaltation.
In Vaeun!, a culling call for help, with a strong emphasis on ay-euhn, as if the end of my name suddenly spluttered a guttural set of vowels. The way my hair stands up on my neck when I hear it ring through the house, shrill and desperate and comforting all at once. Vaeun! means help me take clothes out of the dryer, clean up the mess I made in the living room, pick up fresh shards of glass that sparkled the floor. Vaeun! means come back here, or you’re in trouble, or give me a hand. The time of day decides what context it is shouted in.
In the name Alma and how it strangely reminds me of pouring milk. Being unable to figure out why it reminds me of pouring milk. Is it because of Brokeback Mountain? The word almond? The loveliness of the name—how it is cream-colored in my mind, swirling with vanilla and pistachio flavoring. Alma is brunette and wearing an eggshell-colored dress. She smells of maple syrup and Coca Cola. Michelle Williams in Meek’s Cutoff.
In dreaming about what I will name my children, a pastime that I have occupied myself with since I was young enough to begin writing. Jane, Collier, Mars, Bowie, Samson. We’ll call her Slater. In trying to think of a name that has meaning, unlike mine—you were named Esme after blackberry, rosemary / Jimmy crack-corn; you were named Elio because you were so young and sweet and helpless. We named you after the city we met in. Your name was etched into the table at the restaurant we sulked in when our food caught fire on Thanksgiving. Billie Holiday was playing on the hospital radio as you were being born. It came to me in a dream.
In fearing that thinking about these names ages me and propels me too quickly into adulthood. Will Alma—slow and stoic like honey—save me from growing up too fast? Or will Ella, Ava, or Olivia, delightfully young and childlike names, glue me to youthfulness? Is that why there is an abundance of Ashleys and Taylors and Kaylas? Does their blandness and conventionality reap some reward? Will naming your kid something sophisticated—the Winnifreds, the Jacks, the Brafords—assimilate them into adulthood better than something whimsical? Am I damning my child’s future by naming them Plum? In fearing who your children may become.
In fearing adulthood itself. The stretch between college and the rest of your life. Don’t quit your day job. Digesting self-help books and leaving the Food Network on TV because you don’t like to come home to a quiet house. In clinging onto familiarity and a fleeting identity you once personified with pride. In being unadjusted to the state of change that is shaking your core. In nothing will be the same reverberating in your head.
Yet, I feel content. Satisfied. Proud of being seventeen. I feel it in the taste of strawberries. In having faith in fruit. Eating blueberry pancakes on the marble countertop in my aunt’s kitchen. The singe of citrus on my tongue after eating one too many pineapple chunks. In picking green tomatoes off of my unfurling tomato plant and stealing limes off of my neighbor’s tree. In spitting out the first sip of coconut water. The color of dragonfruit skin. The feeling of squeezing a clementine slice against your front teeth with your swollen tongue. In being allergic to black cherries. In cherry-flavored Blow-pops. Cherry-Coloured Funk.
In moving on. In growing up and growing taller; cutting your hair and painting your fingernails a different color. In being published somewhere new. Clicking your pen and scribbling it feverishly within the margins of a brand new Moleskine. In buying Moleskines and feeling guilty about the price. Buying notebooks that you don’t need. In new things.
In kissing your grandmother on the cheek and telling her that you love her. In meaning it with all of your heart. In the Italian food that she makes every night and heats up the following afternoon. In the Polish swear words she exclaims when your dog wedges herself beneath her feet while she is standing at the stove—kurczę! In petting your dog while she rests her head on your lap; releasing serotonin when she looks up at you and tilts her head in confusion.
In the warm sun and burning European dreams. In love. In loving those who will never love you back because it’s much more fun that way. In idolization. Obsession. Improperly using the word infatuation. Kissing boys in cars. Dreaming about kissing boys in cars. Kissing your friends on the nose. The final scene of Bridesmaids.
In moving to new places and stretching your legs out at rest stops. In entry-level classes and residential mixers. Extra-long sheets and shower caddies. Starting fresh. Toying around with different personalities and vocal ranges. Listening to Melodrama on the way to your Tuesday classes because you are blue on Tuesdays. What am I on Wednesdays? I think I’ll be red. In matching your outfit with the album you are listening to at the moment.
In being loud for the first time in your life. Moving wildly and impulsively. Laughter. In screaming and shrieking in delight; smiling with your snaggle teeth showing and eyes glued shut. In interrupting silence, disrupting peace, and howling at the moon until your mind and body and soul converge into one entity and finally blur the line between sadness and depression and soul-crushing longing.
I feel it in feeling.
Artwork courtesy of Bergen Larson. You can follow her here.