love, me

Image

 

Dear You,

For some reason, train rides make me nostalgic. Or maybe “nostalgic” is the wrong word. Can you be nostalgic for something that hasn’t yet happened?

I walked around New York yesterday, strolling along Broadway as I made my way to the New Amsterdam theater. It was raining, and I was hunched under an umbrella, my arm linked with his, telling myself to stand up straight, lift my chin. But it’s hard to look confident when you’re trying to stay dry, even when you’re wearing a red dress and what Connor calls your step on a man’s heart shoes. (Some lovely young woman told her boyfriend that she liked them as I walked by, and I stood a little straighter after that, despite the rain.) Even as I hunched, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be walking the same route a year from now. Walking from my apartment or from shopping or lunch with an old friend.

I stood at a light and peeked out from under the umbrella and thought, Will this be home?

There’s a spot just outside of New York that looks like something out of Silent Hill. Do you know the place? I looked up from my homework and out the window at this surprisingly bleak landscape, the sky gray and rain pelting the train windows. I couldn’t look away from it until the train had passed it by, but even as I turned back to my assignment, I was thinking about it—the wild grass, the empty building.

And I was thinking about you.

I thought about you riding the train to or from New York, leaving to visit family and friends or returning home after a weekend spent away. I read Kipling, and I wondered what you would be reading. Would you be reading some other canonical great? Would you be reading Kipling? Or would you be reading some undiscovered author’s masterpiece, making pencil marks in the margins and working with your mouth scrunch to one side like I do when I’m thinking hard about something? Is that where you are right now, reading this? I imagine you on a train, the windows flecked with rain, the sky just beginning to darken, taking a quick break from reading to reread old letters I wrote to you. You’ll be wearing your step on a man’s heart shoes, because everyone needs a pair, and I hope they’re the same ones, but maybe they’re different now. You’ll prop your chin on your hand and read my letters and smile.

Oh, honey, you’ll think, I wish I could tell you it will all work out. I wish I could show you everything you get to be.

I’ve never wanted to live in New York, but you know that. I grew up in Philadelphia, a city with wonders all its own, but we both know I’m no city girl. I’ve always dreamed of wide spaces, of sitting on porches and drinking lemonade out of mason jars. But I know to get there, we both need to make some sacrifices. For me, it means applying to big city places, places that scare me and thrill me at the same time. Places I think I’d tire of quickly, because they’re places where you can do nothing slowly. And for you—for you, it means following through the plans I’ve already made. It means big city apartments and piles of manuscripts—some your own, most not. It’ll mean long nights and lots of tea and some ol’ fashioned blood, sweat, and tears. But we can do all of these things. We just need to work together.

You start walking. I’ll walk, too. I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle for tea and biscotti and we’ll laugh at each other, at ourselves. I’ll bring the tea if you bring the biscotti.

 

Love,
Me

PS—Wear your step on a man’s heart shoes. I’ll be wearing mine.

Mary Shelley was a Sci Fi Geek

This is a bit different from my usual fare, but it’s something I feel needs to be said.

Image

I’ve wanted to angrily write a long post about things that happen in my Victorian Action Heroes class for a while now. Yes, this is long. No, I am not sorry. And no, it’s not going under a Read More. This needs to be said.

My professor is a well-read, erudite man who very accepting of everyone’s reading background. That’s very refreshing for a literature professor, especially because I often encounter writing and/or literature professors who have a very elitist view of literature. I can’t say, however, that I feel refreshed regarding the views of my classmates. Most of them are seniors, like me, and some of them speak as if they’ve been tenured professors for decades. But it’s not their elevated speech patterns that get on my nerves. It’s their extreme prejudice against forms of literature.

The literature we’ve read so far includes The League of Extraordinary GentlemenDraculaThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, some Conan Doyle (both Sherlock Holmes short stories and The Lost World), and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. On the first day of class, my professor informed us that we would also be exploring some genre fiction, including steampunk, which he admitted was a genre that he was only beginning to explore. He asked if any of us were familiar with the genre, and I found that I was the only one in the room nodding. I could tell that this immediately marked me in my classmates’ minds as that girl–the one who reads subpar literature. I could tell it would be a long semester.

In class, people are constantly talking about how they “don’t like science fiction.” Someone also said that they “only read old science fiction.” There’s this inherent bias against science fiction because it’s considered somehow less worthy of praise than literary fiction. But it seems no one, no matter who I ask, can tell me just what, exactly, constitutes literary fiction. When they do come up with an answer, they never jive with one another, and I’m no closer to understanding than I was before. There’s this inherent bias against genre fiction, like it’s the enemy. As if it’s something disgusting to be scraped off the bottom of our shoes.

I understand not particularly liking genre fiction. There are certainly genres that I’m not a big fan of reading, but that’s my personal opinion. What happens, however, is that people who think that genre fiction deserves to have us bite our thumbs at it also think that it’s acceptable to mock or debase the author of genre fiction just because it’s genre fiction. I saw a comic the other day, on Tumblr, that had “proper fiction” snarking about science fiction, which was wearing a jetpack. The comic was clearly meant to place science fiction in an elevated light–literally, for the person who represented science fiction was hovering above the “proper fiction” people, thanks to aforementioned jetpack. But this comic made me incredibly angry, because all it did was reinforce the stereotype that science fiction isn’t “proper fiction.” What does that even mean? What constitutes “proper fiction?”

Sometimes, when I’m so exhausted with their elitism and their blatant prejudice against anything they consider isn’t “good” fiction, I ask them to explain themselves. Most of the time, I get answers like I do when I ask them to explain what makes literary fiction. Other times, I get answers like, “The classics,” or, my favorite, “Well, this [brandishing a book we're reading for class].”

They’ll tell me that Dracula and Frankenstein are proper fiction. But Dracula and Frankenstein and Jekyll & Hyde are all examples of genre fiction–of science fiction. It’s offensive, especially because they hold these writers up to the pinnacle of literary greatness, but then when authors now like Cherie Priest or George R. R. Martin are writing fiction in the same genre (I’m including fantasy in the science fiction umbrella here because most people do), it immediately becomes something worth turning up your nose at. They’ll watch Game of Thrones obsessively, but the second you mention the possibility of actually reading A Song of Ice and Fire, they balk and say, “Oh, no, I would never read fantasy,” in a way that makes it clear that the science fiction or fantasy genre is beneath them. I don’t understand.

do understand not enjoying science fiction or fantasy, and I would never speak out against someone for not reading a genre if they don’t like it. But I am galled by the amount of times a science fiction or fantasy author’s work is put down simply for the fact that it is science fiction or fantasy. The writer is immediately written off–for being unoriginal, for being lazy, for being somehow less intellectual than a writer of literary fiction. I think this is extremely offensive.

When did science fiction become a genre at which to turn up your nose? What happened from Mary Shelley to now? Mary Shelley was a science fiction author. Frankenstein is a work of science fiction. Why is that acceptable, but science fiction of today is not? There are good and bad books in every genre. Just because something falls under the umbrella of “literary fiction” doesn’t make it a great book. There are plenty of literary fiction books that I don’t enjoy because I find the writing to be not quite as good as, say, something written by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m tired of this elitism permeating my classroom.

To round off my diatribe, we were discussing dystopian fiction re: H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man. We were talking about the dystopian genre as a whole, how it came to be, and how books like 1984 and The Hunger Games handle dystopia. And then a girl raised her hand and said something that was so repulsive to me I had to restrain myself from leaping across the table and strangling her. She said:

“Yeah, I think that past dystopian fiction like 1984 was definitely all about the social commentary and the situation, but I think that more modern dystopian fiction, which is pretty much written for a young adult audience, is simply a mise-en-scene within which to situate a romance plot.”

She was so clearly talking about The Hunger Games, and it made me so angry. God forbid a writer–especially a woman writer–include a romance narrative within the context of her novel, because that’s all it will be boiled down to. Forget the fact that in 1984, Julia and Winston engage in a sexual relationship–fall in love–in order to overthrow the corrupt government. Then, it’s okay, but when Suzanne Collins shows the romance in The Hunger Games as the only way these poor kids can cope with the horror of what they’re going through in these Games. I was so angry that I couldn’t bring it upon myself to answer her, but I stewed silently for the rest of the class, and I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive her that comment. This is what people think of science fiction and/or fantasy literature these days. They see it not as a critique or as anything else other than a different landscape in which to situation a romance narrative. I could rip my hair out. I want to fling Cherie Priest at her, who writes wonderful novels that could, yes, be considered somewhat dystopian. The Clockwork Century series itself may or may not be a dystopia, but the Seattle featured in the novels after the Boneshaker attack is definitely a dystopia. And her novels aren’t romance narratives. In fact, the one time I can distinctly point to a romance, it happens between two tangential characters. Even when the novel is narrated through the eyes of Cly, the romance he has going on with Briar Wilkes doesn’t intrude on the plot at all.

The elitism surrounding literature needs to stop. Stop making people feel bad for what they read. Stop making extremely intelligent and intellectual people feel as if they’ve had their brains wiped clean and like they know nothing. Stop claiming some kind of high ground because you think Junot Diaz is better than John Green or because you don’t like reading science fiction and fantasy. You’re not better than me, and I’m not better than you. Stop positing yourself as better than someone else simply based on the books they enjoy reading. You’re not being intellectual, you’re being offensive.

this is what it is to be on the cusp of something.

Image

Three girls sit on a screened-in porch, each curled up on their respective piece of wicker furniture. Mosquitoes ping against the screened sides and cicadas hum in the distance. Half-drunk glasses of wine rest on end tables, and a bowl of eggless cookie dough sits perched on the wicker coffee table beside a pile of letters. It’s the perfect August evening; it’s hot but not oppressive, and there is an easy familiarity about them as they sit talking. It is late, but there is no indication that they are tired. They toss back their heads and laugh between scoops of cookie dough.

They do this every year, this getting together to read the letters they’ve written each other over the past year. This is nothing new for them, and yet it feels different this year. It isn’t just the fact that they’re beginning their final year of college or that they’re drinking wine instead of water. They are typically separate entities, but something about this night has turned them into one being. They are not separated into Live, Love, and Laugh but instead become tangled together into the mess that is Friendship. The wine they drink is sticky and sweet, and the letters they read are by turns poignant, hilarious, embarrassing.

The air is electrically charged that night. Something shifted in the air the moment they stepped onto the porch. They can’t help but feel it; it is infectious. There is a feeling of momentousness to everything.

We watched each other fall in love that night—with ourselves, with men, with our friendship. But most of all, we fell in love with living.

This is what it is to be on the cusp of something—something new and exciting and terrifying all at once. They cannot see the future; they do not know what the year will bring. They cannot see the joy to come, nor can they see the heartbreak. They do not know that the winter will lead to road trips on the coldest day of the year. They cannot see themselves standing in a hotel room, surrounded by bags and contemplating the heater. If they could see that future, they could have saved themselves some embarrassment and frozen toes.

They don’t see the interviews, the nights when ice cream will be their best friend, the endless cups of tea, or the long walks back from the library in the cold. But they feel them. The future hums in their very marrow, hums even more loudly than the cicadas and the crickets. They are not quite real this night; they exist in a kind of limbo between the future and the past. They are in a lingering present where they can, just for a moment, rest and feel the electricity of life around them.

In another few hours, the sun will rise. The rosy fingers of dawn will begin to light the sky and bring a new day. The outside world will call, pull them back. But for now, they enjoy the night. They sip their wine. They live. They laugh. They love.

that’s the thing about pain. it demands to be felt.

Image

She’s sitting on my bed, surrounded by little piles of crumpled, tear-soaked tissues. Her face is in her hands, but I can still hear the muffled agony issuing from her mouth. I clutch harder at my mug of tea and try to think of something to say, but I know it’s better if I don’t say anything. I believe in crying, even when it’s embarrassing. A good cry is good for the soul—way better than chicken soup.

“I knew he would say no,” she says into her palms. “I knew. But it still hurts so much.” She picks her tearstained head up and looks at me, blinking to get me into focus. “Why does it hurt so much?”

I wish I knew what to say. I’m a wordsmith who never has the right words when she needs them. When they really count. I shrug my shoulders. The only words that come to mind are words that don’t belong to me.

“Because the only way out is through.”

I don’t have the words to say to her to make it better. I only have what I know to be the truth. Not the truth spoon-fed to you by television and chick flicks and most YA books, but the truth that can only come from experience. The truth that comes with being the one sitting on the bed, surrounded by a moat of tissues, from screaming into pillows and crying yourself to sleep at night. From looking in the mirror at your red, tearstained face and wondering if this is what it will always feel like. (The answer is no, it will get better, but you never believe that at the time.)

It’s the truth you find at the bottom of a pint of ice cream at three in the morning. The truth you find when your tears have run dry and you find yourself smiling at something on the street without thinking about it. And it’s a hard truth, one of the worst we have to teach ourselves.

Why is it that the truth that it gets better is the hardest to face?

I leave her to herself for a while and walk over to the mirror on the bathroom door. I look at myself, standing in my oversized sweater and jeans, clutching my mug of tea like it has all of the answers. I see her in my eyes, the ghost of the girl I used to be. The girl who looked in the mirror and saw herself and never thought things would get better. The girl who felt like a gnarled, twisted crone inside. Who didn’t believe in crying or piles of tissues or heart-to-hearts. Who pretended that pain didn’t demand to be felt, that if she just ignored it, it would be fine and it would go away.

On the other side of the room, she’s started picking up her discarded tissues, stashing them in her fists to throw them out all at once. I go over and notice that she’s stopped crying. She’s sniffling, but only a little, and she looks up at me as I come over.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tell her, if only for something to say. “I promise.”

She nods and runs a hand through her hair. She takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

I smile.

She smiles back.

It’s a start.

a letter to my future self.

IMG_00000425

Dear You,

I’m sitting on my bed in the apartment. I’ve just pulled brownies out of the oven (it’s our Christmas party tonight), and I’m trying to make myself pack because tomorrow, I go home for Christmas break. I think that if I start packing, it’ll really hit me, and I’ll be a puddle of emotion, so I’m writing you instead. I don’t know if you need this, but I do.

What’s frightening about packing is that I’m very aware that this is the last Christmas break I’ll be packing for. That I’ve just completed my penultimate semester. That there are only a few more months to go before it’s all over and suddenly I’m you, six months or six years into the future and wondering just how I got there. I crawled into bed last night and wept. I’m not ready to leave. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.

Packing, you see, is just the first step. After packing comes looking for jobs, for internships, thinking about that scary thing called the Future. And I don’t know where you are right now. My hindsight is twenty-twenty, but foresight is a gift I don’t have. You could be sitting in a New York coffee shop, drinking tea while you scribble notes into the margins of a manuscript; you could be sitting in the armchair of your parents’ house, rediscovering this entry as you peruse the internet; you could be in a downtown apartment of your own, curled up on the couch with your laptop and taking a quick break from that grueling task we call editing. And you’ll be reading this and laughing. Laughing at me for being so afraid when everything was going to work out fine.

Or you could be reading this and still feel that fear. Still not know where you’re going or what you’re doing or what’s going to happen. You could be staring at an empty suitcase, like I am, dreading filling it because you know what it means. You could be on a train or in an airport terminal, on your way to an interview for a job you’re not even sure if you want but it’s something. Maybe you wear red lipstick now. Maybe you finally learned how to do eyeliner on your top lid (and if you did, can you please teach me? With the wing and everything?).

I don’t know where you are. But I know where I am. I’m at a place where what I do controls where you are. And because I owe it to you to do the best thing for you, because, damn it, you work hard and you deserve a little luck now and again, I’m going to make sure you get wherever it is you’re meant to go. Even if it means scary empty suitcases that need filling or red lipstick or airport terminals. Even if it means swallowing that knot in my throat right now and pushing through everything. Even if it means I end up crawling in to bed tonight and weeping again. It will all be worth it, because it means I’ve done something that makes your life better.

I hope I’ve done it. And if I haven’t, it just means I’m still trying. Hang in there. I always come through.

Good luck out there. And nice job with the eyeliner.

I have packing to do.

Best,
Me

here’s the thing.

Image

The three of us sat perched on barstools, laughing in the way that we did when we knew the conversation was turning serious. We sipped at our drinks and looked around at each other. We had traded sticky diner booths for barstools, traded glasses of water for rum and Coke, a vodka cranberry, and a beer (that one was mine), but we were still the same people we had been for the past seven years. We were still Live, Laugh, and Love. We’d just grown up a little.

“I thought you agreed you had to tell him how you felt,” I said.

Live sipped at her rum and Coke and gave us a doe-eyed expression. We stared back at her over our respective glasses. “I did,” she conceded. “Until I got back to school.”

That was the thing, we’d discovered about growing up. The living, the loving, and the laughing—they were not necessarily separate entities but things that somehow ended up all smushed together when you reached that looming precipice of adulthood. There was loving to be had in the living, and there was living to be had in the loving, and there was laughter to be had in both. The big issue was getting ourselves there, when we were still young enough to cling to the cusp of un-adulthood and pretend like we hadn’t turned twenty-one months ago and that we weren’t sitting on barstools. Like everything wasn’t changing within the year. It was so much easier to pretend that if we ignored it, it would all just go away, even when we were smart enough to know that that wasn’t the case. So here we were, forcing ourselves to have one of those Adult Conversations that were coming more and more frequent these days.

Love made a noise that sounded like a snore. “Oh come on,” she said. She had to set her drink down for this. She liked to talk with her hands. “You cannot chicken out about this.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. Wasn’t that how all of these conversations always started? Here’s the thing. The part when I’m gonna ‘splain it to you, Lucy. Or, maybe better yet, the part where you’re gonna ‘splain it to me, ‘cause I’m having some trouble wrapping my head around the fact that you can stay teetering in limbo and be happy there. “Here’s the thing. You could go on not saying anything; you could graduate never saying anything. And then we could be here—at this bar or another—sitting on barstools like these, two years from now, and you’ll have never moved on with your life because you still have that what if of him in your mind.”

“Even if,” Love added, after a fortifying swig of her vodka cranberry, “you haven’t spoken to him recently and even if you might find out he’s seeing someone or engaged or—God forbid—married. It’s like that movie.” She snapped her fingers at me, a gesture for help. “That one where the kid skips school.” She has trouble remembering things that aren’t predominantly romantic in plot.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I supplied.

“Right! Yes. It’s like that says. Life moves pretty fast and all of that.”

Live looked between the two of us, sucking on her straw even though all the remained in the glass was ice. “But what if it doesn’t work?”

Love shook her head, curls bobbing. “You’re missing the point. There’s no ‘work’ or ‘doesn’t work.’ There just is. We’re not saying it’s going to be easy,” she added. “It could hurt.”

“And it might suck,” I added. “But you’re the better for having tried.”

Because here’s the thing about life. Living isn’t always going to be easy.

It could hurt.

And it might suck.

But you’re still always better for having tried. For leaning too much one way or the other and not always being trapped in limbo forever. For throwing caution to the wind and leaping off the cliff into the abyss below, with the hope that something, somewhere along the way, will catch you or break your fall. For understanding the Live, Laugh, and Love are not mutually exclusive directives and that they, more often than not, complete each other. That one cannot really be fully achieved without the other two. That you need to just sometimes get out there and do the thing that scares you most because even if it doesn’t go as you planned, that’s okay. It just means something better is waiting for you.

Because here’s the thing.

Life is messy. Love is messy. And Laughter finds you along the road, sometimes in the most unexpected places. But they’re all better experienced together, when the Living and the Loving and the Laughing become entangled in one giant mess, one twisted and knotted ball of yarn so you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Because here’s the thing: having someone to lean on when things get really messy always helps.

here, there be dragons.

Image

“I’m scared.”

I am afraid of a lot of things—clowns, bees, heights—but I think it’s almost funny that what scares me most is admitting that I’m scared. I suppose that’s true of most people. Everyone likes to think that they’re brave. They want to believe that they’ll be able to face anything that comes at them, face stoic and shoulders set, but we all know that that’s not the case. Because we’re human. Because we feel. I’m still young, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned some truths about life along the way. And the truth about being brave is that it is always easy until you have to be.

While I was vacuuming out my car this weekend, I started thinking. I’m a meticulous vacuumer of my car, and as I clambered into the backseat, ShopVac hose in hand, I noticed fine grains of sand all over the upholstery. Normally, something like this would make me cringe. But that day, it made me smile. I was sad to be vacuuming the sand out of my car, because it meant that summer was ending. It meant that trips to the beach were to be no more. That night, I would go meet some friends for ice cream, and we would all say goodbye before the school year began. Our last hoorah. I popped the trunk and was confronted with what looked to me like a miniature beach, and it made me a little sad to suck up all of the sand in the vacuum. It had to be done—I like having a clean car—but at the end of every summer, as I vacuum sand out of my car (and it always manages to get everywhere), I feel something a little bittersweet. Maybe it was because I love returning to school in the fall—sometimes that is where I feel the most at home—but I think it was also because I knew this would be my last year there. After that, I was confronted with a Great Unknown.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been the Girl With A Plan. I’m not one for last-minute decisions, and my friends and I have never just called each other out of the blue to decide to get in the car twenty minutes later and go God knows where. We’re planners, decision-makers, and we always like to have an idea of where we’re going. But that’s the issue with becoming, as we’ve come to call it, a Real Person. For the first twenty-two years of your life, you have a roadmap. I could spread mine out on the table and jab my finger at the next destination. There, I’d say proudly, that’s where I’m going to be in a year. Suddenly, however, after twenty-two—or twenty-one or twenty-three, give or take—years, you find yourself at the end of your roadmap. The rest of the map is blank, uncharted territory.

Here, there be dragons.

I love dragons, but this terrifies me. There’s no telling what is waiting for me where the map ends. I don’t know where I’m going to be one year from now. My life is so totally uncertain, and I’m scared. I hate saying it, hate admitting it, but I find myself saying it to myself more and more. Whispered to myself in the shower, when I seem to do my most introspective thinking. When I’m brewing a cup of tea in the kitchen. When I’m lying in bed at night, staring up at my ceiling and trying to think of something—anything—else. And I sit on my bed with my tea perched on my knee, on one side of the computer screen, talking to you, and I wonder if you feel the same way. The look in your eyes when we start talking about being Real People tells me that you do. We don’t talk about it often, but when we do, the fear becomes something real. What it feels like is the end. And I wonder if that’s what this next year is going to be. The Beginning of the End. And I don’t want it to be, because we’re too young for there to be an End just yet. We have too much ahead of us to End everything.

Why can’t it be the Beginning of the Beginning instead?

I like beginnings. Actually, I love them. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read, devouring their beginnings like as person who has been starved for weeks. The beginnings are what suck me in, what immediately invest me. So why can’t this Beginning—my Beginning—be the same? The thing is, I know the place where I think I’ll be might not be where I end up, but my problem is that I need to realize that that’s okay. It’s okay if things go a little wonky and don’t turn out how I plan. It’s okay if I don’t have every minute of my life micromanaged. It’s okay if everything is uncertain because there’s always something that is certain. I have two hands, and I have more than enough people to hold them. And I’ll hold on to all of them, tightly, because I know that somehow, we’ll be fine. Just fine. And besides, as a good friend of mine likes to say: 

It’s not an adventure if everything goes right.

was this what our legacy would amount to?

On the day my grandfather died, I found myself in the basement of the house that he had shared with my grandmother. I was confronted with things that were, for all intents and purposes, his: the deer head hanging at the bottom of the steps; the Game News magazines on the table that probably hadn’t been touched in several months; four pairs of shoes lined up neatly in front of the refrigerator in the laundry room.

At my age, it is difficult to face your own mortality. But as I pulled two bottles of wine from the closet beside the refrigerator—casting another lingering glance at the pairs of shoes lined up on the floor before turning off the light—I found myself wondering about what happened to us when we died.

Was this what our legacy would amount to?

A deer head that would inevitably collect dust in a stranger’s attic? Magazine subscriptions that had to be cancelled? Unfinished puzzles? Four pairs of shoes in front of the refrigerator? Was this all that we left behind us when we died? It hardly seemed fair.

I was, of course, wrong. As we all sat around my grandparents’ living room, swapping stories and telling tales, I realized that the legacy lies not in the memorabilia but in the memories. The objects may retire to a basement or an attic, may be sold at a garage sale and end up in someone else’s home, but the memories attached to those objects always remain.

If there were to be an epitaph for my grandfather, it wouldn’t say:

Survived by one deer head, two magazines, and four pairs of shoes.

That might have been what my grandfather had, but that was not who he was. Instead, I like to think that it would say something about him that was simple but effective:

Loving husband, father, and grandfather.

A simple sentence, but it speaks of memory and of a life well lived. It speaks of fulfillment. It speaks of legacy.

don’t wish for a storybook romance.

I don’t want a storybook romance.

I don’t want a rollercoaster romance, where something always happens to break us up but it’s okay because we’ll get together in the end. I don’t want a fairytale fantasy where an evil queen sweeps in during my wedding and curses my first-born. I don’t want a Shakespeare play—because most of those end badly—and I don’t want a Nicholas Sparks novel. Storybook romances stem from the common misconception that Love is hard. But Love isn’t hard. Love is easy; Life is hard. Life is what swoops in on Love like a jealous sibling and tries to knock the wind out of its sails. With storybook romances, there is always a hint of Tragedy. No one wants to read about the story of two people who got together and didn’t have some kind of catastrophic event tear them apart so they could fight to be together again. So I don’t want a storybook romance.

I want a sweatpants romance.

I want to come home after a long day, put on some sweatpants, and have someone to sit on the couch with me. Wrap me up in his arms while we drink tea and talk—about our days, about literature, about anything. I want a love where we weather through illnesses wrapped in blankets with thermometers under our tongues, where runny noses mean Netflix marathons and upset stomachs mean peppermint tea. I want the only hurricanes we fight through to be the ones raging outside the window, and we’ll put the mattress on the floor just in case and pretend that we’re camping. I want every day to be an adventure of the best kind, without drama or dragons but with laughter. We’ll be perfect—or as perfect as two fallible human beings can be—because we’ve learned that love doesn’t play out the way it does in books and we don’t want it to. We don’t want to follow stories because we want to create stories.

I want an insomnia romance, where some of our best conversations are had while we should be sleeping but instead we’re up late into the night, the comforter pooled around our waists while we talk excitedly about everything and nothing. I want to be there for all of the important moments, not miss them just to argue about them so we can reconcile.

I don’t want to be separated by oceans—either literal or figurative—and I don’t need moment of catharsis where I realize the depth of his feelings for me because I’ll realize every day. I don’t need grand gestures—rooms filled with flowers—and I will never wish for circumstances that drive us apart just because I want that perfect movie moment of getting back together again.

Who says that love has to be like a book? A movie? Who ever told you that that was how love should be? Books and movies make love look hard, and they make it seem like love is the problem but also the solution. But love is always just the solution. Life is problem, the jealous one who acts out when he feels neglected. I don’t want a storybook romance because I don’t believe that’s the best way. I don’t want a storybook romance because they’re flawed. I don’t want to follow what someone else has written for me.

I want to write my own.

i don’t know where i’m going, but do you got room for one more troubled soul?

When did Tomorrow become Today?

Yesterday we were sitting on the couch, my feet tucked under your thigh to keep warm. Today you’re packing the car to embark on a roadtrip into the Unknown. Down the dusty road lies that fickle fiend, Future. The Magic 8 Ball can’t give me the answers as to what he has in store. He’s annoying that way, and he might just be the biggest enigma I have ever come across. He’s impenetrable, and it’s impossible to tell where the road he’s laid out will lead. I don’t like people like him—people who keep all of their cards close to the vest, people who are so unpredictable and unstable that just even thinking about them is like pulling the wire on a bomb and hoping you’ve pulled the right one. I don’t want you to be around people like him; he’s dangerous. You know it, but you also know that you can’t fight the inevitable. He’s out there, and if you don’t go to him, he’s coming to you, and it’ll be much worse if you wait for him to catch you unawares. 

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I stand on the curb with my suitcase next to me and try to decide what to do. There’s no telling where Future is or what he’s up to. There’s no telling who he’s with. He could be with his wife, Adventure, the flighty temptress. Or he could be with his mistress, Heartbreak, a seductive and poisonous sorceress. He won’t tell you which he’s with, of course, and by the time you find the two of them, perhaps reclining on a beach somewhere tropical or shacked up in a sleazy motel room, it’s too late and you’ve run right into the both of them and you think My God, this is what I’ve been heading to. I want to find him with Adventure, happily together and sipping margaritas while they laugh. I don’t want to find him in the dark state he inhabits when he seeks the addiction of Heartbreak’s arms. I want to know I’m headed where I should be, but the only way to find out is to jump in the car and go.

You know I don’t usually work that way. You know I like a plan, a roadmap, or at least a rough idea. But we have none this time, as much as you wish you could give me one. I look at you as you throw your last bag into the trunk and shut the hatch. The sunlight gleams off of your sunglasses as you turn to look at me. We stand there, staring at each other for a long time, and I know what I want to do, but I also am afraid of what I want. There is no question that I want to go with you. I want to heave my bag into the back of the car and leap into the passenger seat with a reckless abandon that should characterize someone of my age. I want to prop my feet up on the dashboard and sing along loudly to the radio. I want to get in that car and drive forever with you, even if it means driving into the Unknown, where Future is waiting with his mystery woman.

And yet I am afraid, because an old part of me knows I could get hurt. And the reality of it is that I probably will, in some form. But what I encounter may not be the Heartbreak I fear.

You’re getting in the car now, turning the key in the ignition. You’ve kissed me on the forehead to say goodbye. You don’t want to leave me behind, but you can’t wait much longer. Your brake lights are on when I rush forward and fling myself at the open passenger window, throwing my arms inside the car and latching onto the door. You look at me from behind your sunglasses and I say, “I don’t know where you’re going, but do you got room for one more troubled soul?”

I throw my bag in the back, slide into the passenger seat, and prop my feet on the dashboard. You pull out onto the road and we ride off into the Unknown, ready to meet Future and whatever woman he’s courting head-on. You reach down to turn up the radio.

They’re playing our song.