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back to school
You step out in a plaid skirt, a green cardigan, a baby tee, battered loafers. It’s the third day of fall. You are newly an American citizen. You feel safer, otherwise the same.
You regulate your emotions with the usual tasks. You wipe your dog’s paws after it rains. You pick up gazpacho at the grocery store. You water your plants.
This is the first September you’ve spent living alone in a long time. Your mom is worried that someone will break into your apartment. You roll your eyes over the phone.
The truth is, you’re panicked, but you have no one to complain to. Nobody finds you pitiable, least of all yourself. When you look in the mirror you’re sometimes surprised by the girl looking back. All of the chaos of your early 20s has been either suppressed or sublimated. Your hair is tidy, your makeup, your clothes.
You’re not allowed to say, I still don’t know how this all works.
You remember the first day of school. 12 years, then the aborted attempt at college. You always loved the order of beginnings, freshly sharpened pencils, bright red backpack, new pencil case, the smell of eraser shavings, every year vowing that this time you’ll keep your handwriting neat.
Adulthood as you understand it: if you don’t know what to write, you sit down and write anyway. If you don’t feel like running, you put on your Nike shorts anyway. If someone lets you down, you’re understanding. Everyone’s going through something…
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You see now how some people make it to midlife and implode. You think the discipline will add up to something but what if it doesn’t. And what if it adds up to the wrong thing. What if one day you have the house and the boy and the baby and the book and you realize it’s no solace in the face of your own mortality.
It’s just like you to believe that good behavior will always be rewarded. It’s just like you to believe that meaning is something that can be earned. You’re getting old enough to see the holes in your own logic. You poke fingers through. It’s kind of funny in the Kafka sense of the word.
You got a therapist because you wanted to explain everything about your life to someone and have them tell you what it means. Again, bad logic. All anyone can ever do for you is help you live with yourself a little better.
You call up a friend who’s moved out of New York, you get drinks in Hayes Valley, you go to a 30th birthday party. You cry at a restaurant and embarrass yourself in front of the waiter and tip generously. You used to try to save the menu from every nice restaurant you went to. You used to keep all the movie tickets from Sundance. You wanted to preserve them, make a scrapbook. You wanted to remember everything.
Lately it feels like there’s too much to remember. You’re at the restaurant, he’s looking at your hand like he wants to hold it. You think: I’m going to have a hangover tomorrow.
You buy a $13 blouse off Depop and it’s perfect. You spend too long in a vintage store in Paris and run back in the rain to make it on time for dinner. No one tells you when to wake up anymore. You fall asleep early, you wake up in the middle of the night, you read about Victorian marriages. Your best friend tells you that he thinks you’re repressed. Twitter is not called Twitter anymore.
When you first moved to the city everyone was talking about deep learning. Now they’re talking about artificial intelligence. It’s still all the same people, you live in a city no one successfully leaves. You’re going to die in San Francisco probably.
You’re going to have a backyard one day and get more domestic animals. You’re going to accumulate more beautiful objects but they might not make things feel any better.
Your dog needs you to throw the ball for him 37 more times.
There are no more first days of school for you. But inconvenient revelations are a lifelong thing.
So you’re still learning. Happy autumn.