The fresh start. The blank page. The bend in the road. They all terrify me. I like my pages comfortably filled, marked up with friendship and planning and routine and chocolate fingerprints. And here, in New York, to one degree or another, I have those things. But not for long.
I graduated from college a while ago. Eighteen days ago. This is the time, so logic and cliché and many overeager middle-aged acquaintances tell me, for bent roads. But I get carsick on the twisty ones. I always have. Inelegant but true.
So this is what’s happening. I’m in the city for the summer, and truth to tell, I’m so much more in love with it than I’ve been for months – years maybe. I loved my time in school at Fordham, but I never stayed for summer. The pull of the San Francisco Bay Area is a near-irresistible force to my organically-grown heart. But here I am wearing cotton dresses every day, sitting on the steps of Lincoln Center eating strawberries in the molten air at eleven o’clock at night. I get to do what I want without the sickening dread of a week of sleep deprivation to disturb me. During the day I go to a couple of jobs. I work as an intern – for a publishing house most days, for a literary agent one day, and I make enough to pay my astronomical rent and sometimes buy ice cream sandwiches.
I fill up the rest of the time. I watch small children play and then I put them to bed with a drink of water and a book. Their parents come home and pay me cash, which I spend on movies and thai food. I read books that I transfer from purse to backpack to different purse to hand, from bed to table to subway to park bench, because I can read for my own pleasure and not because I’m expected to. I talk to my roommates about our lousy apartment and ways to make it marginally less lousy. And I watch the unbeautiful and the breathtaking intermingle on the sidewalk, in the gritty air. Sometimes, I go to social events that call for chatting and smiling and nibbling and occasional flirtation. Sometimes, I have fun at them. Sometimes I see friends and am drawn into the warm circle of familiarity and care, though we’re all aware that things are changing and none of us quite know how or where or what or who we will be in one month or six or ten. In my case, it's two: the end of August brings the end of my pathetic income and plans up to this point and begins my...what?
And that’s the problem: the not knowing. The blank part is what scares us. Or at least me. And because I am me, along with feeling frightened, I feel guilty for feeling frightened. And occasionally, angry for feeling guilty for feeling frightened. Because youth is wasted on the young, right? Because anyone would kill to be me – 21 and healthy not destitute and college-educated and free as a bird and long-haired – right? I should feel lucky, right?
Except me and many of my friends, who are me only more so (smarter-prettier-braver), would not kill to be themselves. Would, in fact, like a little stability and a little bit of knowing. That things will work out okay. That dreams come true sometimes but when they don’t you’re okay anyway. That a boy will love you enough to kill bugs for you and hold your hair when you throw up. That one day you will know what you’re doing enough to not keep your voice at an unnaturally high pitch at your workplace. These are things hoped for. They can feel like fairytales.
We don’t get the knowing. We get the freedom, the single, soaring rapture of open air. And it is joyful and liberating and great. But the freedom, without the knowing – sometime even without the hoping – can suck. If you fly far enough without a guide, you end up lost and tired and alone.
Help me figure out what to do…so maybe little pieces of knowing will rain on my face and keep me cool in this heat. I’ve always been someone who gets a lot of advice. I’m okay about that.
Maybe youth is wasted on the young: at least the cowardly lion, failure-fearing, worry-wart brand of young that I happen to wear.
But damn, age is wasted on the old.