Here Goes Everything
I’m walking on a downtown sidewalk, slick with yellow leaves, when I pass a man who’s screaming into one of those apartment entry keypads. His hands are against the wall on either side of the speaker box and he’s leaning into the shadow of the doorway. Between the winter cap pulled down low on his forehead and the darkness of the entry, I can’t see his face, but his voice is amplified by the acoustics of the walls around him. He’s angry that a woman named Virginia won’t buzz him in. It’s cold and damp and he’s held hostage by the tinny, spare voice coming through the speaker. Virginia is in control and our friend in the red knit cap and dingy flannel shirt is incensed.
Virginia, you told me you were going to buzz me in if I came here. You owe me.
He rests the top of his head against the old brick wall in front of him, staring at his shoes, waiting for a response. He gets only an electronic crackle and hiss that sound to me like someone has just hung up. Virginia has just hung up.
You owe me everything, Virginia. I did so much for you.
It’s the first work morning of my thirties when I see this, so I’m feeling particularly introspective, by which I mean hung-over and physically bruised in some ways that I will not mention here because my mother reads this thing. To be perfectly honest, she suffers enough through the details of our phone conversations. For instance, when I explained to her on Saturday morning that this year’s Halloween costume would be a couples costume, that I would be going as an electrical plug and Amy would be going as an electrical socket, her response was “Oh god, are you still doing that? That’s disgusting. How am I going to explain that to your grandmother? You know she’s going to ask what your costume is.” I immediately follow her protest with a thorough explanation of how the costumes will be three dimensional, made of interlocking foam, so that the prongs of my plug and the holes of her socket will fit together. To drive the point home, the plug will be strapped to my waist and protrude nearly two feet in front of me. There will be no actual spark or electricity when we mate our costumes, but what we lack in pyrotechnics we will more than make up for in lewd gestures and moaning, I say. Later, I explain the idea to my father and he is giddy. He wants to see pictures.
It’s Tuesday morning now, however, and the groping and unkempt hair of that last weekend of my twenties are behind me. I am feeling decidedly unplugged. I’m trying to stare thoughtfully and directly into this mystic transition from the oft-miserable tumult of my twenties to the weary stability of my thirties, while this man on the street is screaming at the Virginia who is above him. Or maybe she’s beyond him. Maybe she’s realized that she is not for relying on someone else, not for “owing” anything to anyone, or at least not associating with those who imply a system of borrowing and repaying emotional currency. Maybe she’s realized that we all give what we can in whatever way that we can and it’s up to others to decide if our own capabilities will suit their needs. If I crave more from you than you can give me, the onus is on me to choose what’s right for me, not to force you to conform to my desires, my needs, my schedule. I’m thinking hard about how I’m striving for this, how this will make me less a tightly wound ball of defensive humor, when the screaming man finally leaves her doorway. My impulse is to dial her apartment and tell Virginia that I understand, that we’re all rooting for her to do the right thing, but I go to work instead. I’m really fucking late.
Later in the evening, in the safety of my home, I open a birthday package mailed from my parents in Florida. I love them more than any other two people in this world, but they are hopelessly estranged and living together, reluctant roommates that are bound by some invisible force more complex than simple fear, necessity or finance. They’re smart people and they’ll figure themselves out, but in the meantime, the oddity of their relationship produces care and birthday packages that are curious in kind.
This package is no exception and though it is strange and confusing, it’s also sweet and thoughtful and I love it, especially the thing I’m going to share below. In this package, in part because of this momentous passing of my twenties and in part because my mom has been sorting through the landfill of keepsakery that comes from having three children, there is included a school project of mine from the sixth grade. Titled “My Autobiography,” these five pages chronicle the events of my easy suburban life, the things that defined my first eleven years of life. The first page is all business – abrupt facts and figures about when and where I was born, who was president and so on, probably dictated by the parameters of the assignment. The rest is a bit more freeform, beginning with the second page declaration that I would now “talk about some of the more major accidents and illnesses I’ve had.” The list is long and impressive and as I read this Autobiography, I was filled with a kind of quiet ecstasy for having lived so many good years since then and driven by the nervous worry of how many could possibly be left ahead of me. I’m terrified. I’m thrilled. I’m thirty. Here goes everything.
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