There’s the cultural conception of what it’s like to go through something tragic and difficult, and then there’s the reality. The year that I was twelve my father’s sister battled and then succumbed to acute leukemia, and what is strange, really, when I remember that time, is how incredibly normal it all seems. You would think that my memories from that time would be darker, tarnished somehow by the dark cloud that hung over my house at the time, but in truth I have to struggle to remember what year it was, even, because in spite of my father being away donating marrow, in spite of my cousins briefly living with us, in spite of all the pain and sadness and loss of that year, there’s nothing that really marks seventh grade as radically different from sixth grade or eighth grade for me—there’s nothing that marks that time as really, truly, dark.
Someone close to me is chronically ill, and has been for some time. I don’t talk about it much because there’s really no need to, but on occasion it will come up in conversation—almost always casually for me, because at this point it’s just a fact of life—and I’m always unsure of how to respond to the requisite sympathy the person I’m talking to will come back with. It’s nice that they’re sorry, I guess, and I’m sorry too, but at the same time this is the way things are, and it seems pointless to wallow in an extended sense of sadness about something that is, at this point, more an ongoing, painful struggle than a debilitating, derailing disaster.
There are other bad things that happen—ugly things, painful things, the kind of things that you imagine to be life changing—and it is strange, really, how little they effect your day to day life. There’s a fire burning at your front door, but you are safe and cozy in bed and—for the moment at least—you can forget your troubles until it’s time to put the fire out.
What I’m saying, really, I guess, is that it’s kind of amazing what you can get used to. The worst thing you can imagine probably isn’t all that bad when it actually happens; the tragedy you’re terrified of can so readily become average, ordinary life when you actually live through it.
We used to talk about about our bad idea jeans as if they were an item of clothing to be donned and removed at will: like Hannah Horvath before she was ever blinked into existence, we’d flirt with the darker side of possibility, investigating experiences that couldn’t possibly end well just to see, just to know, what they were like. This one would steal someone’s boyfriend, that one would date a drug dealer, and from the haze of midnight make out sessions and illicitly scented smoke we’d emerge the next morning, giggling and convinced of our own immortality.
It was fun to play with fire in the same way that it was self defeating. We’d choose our bad choices, laughing at the world that said we couldn’t, that said we were doomed, confident that when the end was near we could just throw a lit match into some lighter fluid and emerge, renewed and refreshed, from the smoldering rubble. It didn’t matter if we were stuck in a loop: at the center of the dizzying swell of action, it always seemed like you were moving, even if you were, in fact, stuck in exactly the same place.
In the last year of my twenties, my bad idea jeans seemed permanently affixed to my thighs, convinced as I was that I was a different sort of girl, one not meant for ordinary life. And as I edged into thirty, I launched on the largest project of all: something that seemed, simultaneously, to be the best and worst idea of all; one that combined a love of danger with a disdain for social convention, one that fueled my ego and promised to propel me to greater heights than I ever could have imagined—albeit in exchange for making the requisite Faustian bargain.
Or so I thought. What I had imagined to be the beginning of something significant and long lived began to sputter out after a mere few weeks, and even though I was offered a chance to rekindle the flame, I found that I had lost my taste for the whole enterprise. Where once I’d felt the swell of promise, now I only felt a pale, lifeless disdain; one that propelled me into a colorless depression as autumn edged into winter.
It was a death of sorts, or the start of one. At the time I didn’t realize it, assuming it was just a momentary pause, that with the right connects I’d be back on my way to another seedy adventure. But as winter brightened into spring, I found that—in spite of the momentary pleasures they might provide—donning my bad idea jeans no longer provided the same degree of satisfaction they once had. The chill of winter had changed me into something different, and I’d emerged a transformed being: older, perhaps, or more mature, or whatever it is you become when you’ve lost the lust for the fleeting pleasures of danger and long for something more solid, more whole, more real. The thrills I’d once pursued had lost their appeal: but it seemed, perhaps, that I’d found something more wonderful in exchange.
Google Voice transcribed a wrong number voicemail that wasn’t in English into a beautiful poem:
ON our A M, that sign Manhattan. If you still down in the basement of us have nothing that book that he get Sunday’s home on Friday for a missed call and I, quick and then idea now woke up my mind and I was hoping I well with you have.