Month: October 2014

To Burn, To Keep

For fifteen days in August, I sublet a room in one of those luxury student housing complexes. This particular one, I believe, caters to the student athletes at the University of Maine.

Creepy? Yes. On everyone’s account.

For the students around me, I was an old woman throwing my mothball and liniment smell into their hormones and Axe Body spray bouquet. For me, I was an adult dropped into the reckless, dirty, CW drama of undergraduate life. It was not an ideal arrangement for anyone. The difference in time schedules was enough to make me feel every bit of the fifteen year gap.

I am now, at the age of thirty-three, a woman who is in her pajamas by 9pm and asleep by 10. I awake at 6 and get to work (whether that is teaching or writing) by 7.

When I was an undergrad? Man. I remember not heading out for the evening until 10. I remember trying to build my class schedule so that I would not have to be awake before noon.

So those two weeks this summer were this strange immersion into a life that I lived once-upon-a-time, but have mostly forgotten. Or maybe it was not an immersion, exactly, since I didn’t try to relive or recreate that experience myself. It was more like being on the other side of one-way aquarium glass.

Which is not to say that I do not think back to my undergraduate days on occasion. But, with time, these thoughts have become kind of amorphous. The parties have blurred into a single night of loud music, cheap liquor, fearless dancing, and dirty rent houses. The shows (I was a theatre major; there’s a chance you didn’t know this about me) have become a fractured miss-mash of backstage and onstage moments. I do think about certain classes and certain professors and certain lessons from these professors, but I have also looked back over my undergraduate transcript and thought, “I took that class? Really?”

The sexual experiences, and the strangely asexual ones, and the ones I wanted so very badly to become sexual that never did. Eating leftover Hideaway pizza at five in the morning in an effort to soak-up the previous twelve hours of vodka&cranberry. My first love, and all the power of that experience, and how he kicked my heart in on a March day in Chicago, and all the power of that experience as well.

But even this event, one so powerful that it set me on a trip to Mexico that Hunter S. Thompson would have cheered, (or at least I thought we made it to Mexico; turns-out I was slurring broken Spanish in a Texas border town). Even this event, so many years removed, makes me think more about how all experiences back then were heightened to a quick-hot, brushfire burn. Everything was possibility—each night, each day, each breath seemed capable of bringing something or someone new, something or someone who could send my future spinning into a million possible directions.

At the age of thirty-three, I have come to a point where my possibilities have begun to narrow. I will probably not write for The Chicago Tribune. I will probably not run for political office. I will probably not learn to play steel guitar.

There is a sadness in this, but also a relief. Then, I felt like I could be anyone. Now, I am someone. If the tingly excitement of not knowing has been dulled, so has the anxiety of it. And much more than literal age, I feel like this knowing has been what has curbed the destructive and reckless behavior that this anxiety produced in me.

I think it produces such behavior in many young people. Almost every night of my fifteen nights in that student housing apartment, I witnessed that behavior. Most nights, right about the time I was curled-up watching PBS, a cheap-liquor-and-bad-decisions party would strike-up. These parties produced many things—property damage and emergency room trips and vomit piles on the sidewalks. They produced a great number of fights. Some of these were verbal, some were physical, most were a combination of both.

This was all familiar. In college, I once watched a guy beat another guy’s face until he was unconscious, his nose a shattered and bloody wreck. When the cops arrived, the guy left standing took off, as he had priors. And those of us who didn’t want to lie to the cops? Pretend we had no idea what had happened? We took off as well.

I once watched a couple scream at one another until the guy threw his girlfriend against a wall, then he complained about the dent her head left, as it would probably cost him his deposit.

I once watched a girl take a baseball bat to a guy’s truck, and then his torso when he tried to stop her.

This is not all I witnessed. There was a great deal of violence mixed-up with the so-called good times. This summer, there were as many fights as there were parties. One of these still echoes.

A girl’s boyfriend kicked her out of the party. He told her she was being crazy. He slammed the door on her face. The girl tried to get back inside. She pounded and scratched and screamed at the door. She began crying. She remained in the stairwell until she caught her breath. She knocked on the door and asked if they could talk. Please, she didn’t understand. Please, if they could just talk. Please, please, please, she didn’t want to lose him. If he would just explain what she’d done, she would never do it again. The door opened. The guy told her to stop bothering him. The door slammed. The people inside laughed. The girl began crying. She cried until she couldn’t. She knocked again.

Rinse. Repeat. For a long time. Most of the rest of the night.

Some nights, my smile a little whiskey-slicked, I knock again. My knocks come in the form of unearthing old artifacts—letters, mix-tapes, emails, ticket stubs, books—and letting those artifacts remind me of what being in love with that person felt like. I also remember the terrible way he loved me, and the terrible way I loved him. The horrible jealousies we both encouraged. The cowardice of which we were both guilty. The being in love part, though, that’s the part that was always good. That’s the part, I know, that this girl was fighting for. The being in love part is what left her bruised and bloodied and humiliated in that stairwell. It has left many of us there.

My hope is that I stopped hearing that girl because that girl stopped knocking. I hope she woke-up in her own bed and had breakfast with a good friend and then went for a long run and then deleted that guy’s number from her phone. This is probably not what happened. But I do hope.

I also hope, however, that as she goes through the things of his she will return or throw away or burn, she will keep at least one thing.

Because while the nights of falling out of love with someone, even someone who does not love us well, are difficult, and we must burn and ravage what we will to get through them, there will be times when she is in love with no one. And those nights are difficult in their own way.