Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Next Door

There is a house on your street. It probably looks just like the house two doors down, and the one 2 doors down from that. Maybe it has a different color door from yours, and maybe a tree or two where one does not stand in your own yard. There is probably a neighbor there, and maybe you don't know them or their family but when you drive down the street and pass them at their mailbox, you wave.

I used to live in that house.

Christmas Day

Driving in Atlanta for me is kind of like falling into bed with a lover you had when you were young; it has been so long and you have both changed and yet, the terrain is familiar and you can still ride the curves the way you used to. Despite the pouring rain, I am keeping a steady pace en route to part two of my Christmas Day routine; more food and mostly drinks with my chosen family after dinner with my blood family.

I have travelled this stretch of 285 hundreds of times, in my tenure as a resident here, and during my current extended run as a guest. But this time feels different. As I near the exit to the life I used to know, I turn the music off. Despite the heat blasting on my face and feet, my hands go cold. I start nervously trying to shred the skin inside my bottom lip, unable to do so as I have long since had the tooth that used to be so offensive straightened. It’s strange, sitting inside my adult body, feeling myself deteriorate in physical habits I have long since shaken, I thought for good.

I exit without even thinking about it. For the last mile, I have been directing the car to the right, in preparation to get off here without even recognizing. I take the right turn at the top of the exit by rote, something deeper than my subconscious directing the car through streets that have grown no less familiar by physical and emotional distance.

I remember this. The steep decline of the hill that eventually rises again in front of the church that shares a similar name to my childhood church. The old brick houses, some turned into businesses now, which face the railroad tracks I was never allowed to cross alone. I drive forward, outside of myself, easily maneuvering these streets I know by heart.

When I reach Church Street, I am amazed by how much has and hasn’t changed. I remember when the new church was built, its steeple casting a long shadow over the older church that still sits nestled to its side. It’s hard to breathe as I pass, the changes over the years unremarkable enough to make me feel like I am once again eleven years old, sitting on the curb outside and crying my eyes out because an elder just told me that my mother and I are not welcome there.

But I don’t stop.

I continue past the churches, feeling that familiar prickle on the back of my neck that you get when you feel like someone is watching you. And maybe the part of me I left there is watching me run away, again.

The street less than a mile down the road still forks to the right a bit more dangerously than most entrances to a residential areas should be. There is the bike trail to the left still surrounded by trees standing attention on one side of it. I see the details for what they are, but remember them as they were; a gang symbol spray painted on the back of the bike sign; fresh tire grooves in the grass of the neighbor’s yard where a car took the turn too quickly; the steep drop off on either side of this little narrow road.

I don’t need directions. Though it has been years, I know where I’m going. I take the second right, my chest seizing up, the houses looking at once recognizable and indistinct through the rain coming through the window. I reach over to hit the button to roll the windows up, surprised to find it won’t go anywhere. The window is not down. This is not rain. I am sobbing.

The first left is my street, the sign no longer obstructed by a large tree. I take the turn slowly, like the lead car in a funeral procession.

It’s still there, still standing, the first house on the left. A small part of me, shocked, gasps aloud at the fact that it still exists. In my childish mind I imagined that once I left it, the earth underneath it opened up and swallowed this house and all the malevolence contained therein, righting as best it could the balance between good and evil. But it’s still there, plain and unordinary tucked among its twin houses and for a moment I doubt myself. Maybe all the things I thought happened inside of those walls never occurred. Maybe no one on this idyllic street noticed because that evil did not exist.

I stop the car on the other side of the street, crying far too hard to drive but afraid to put the car in park in case I need to drive away quickly. I am afraid, just as I was so many times behind the brown door of that house. I am just as fearful now as I was as a child, just as alone as I felt then.

From my vantage point across the street, I take in the door now red, the flowers heavy with rain out front where once were unruly bushes and weeds. The garage door is the same, the windows in the same place I left them. And there is a light on in my old room.

I am weeping so hard I have hiccups and I can’t get in nearly enough oxygen. I am gasping, bawling with my entire body, long, loud sounds that I have never heard come from my usually smiling mouth.

I can’t stay here.

I go around the corner, knowing that there is a cul-de-sac I can turn around in. I am trying desperately to maintain control of the wheel but my limbs are shaking violently, my skin burning where I remember injuries. I turn around, preparing myself for the fact that in order to leave, I have to pass the house one more time.

I slow as I drive past, staring at that single light from the room that used to be mine, overlooking the front yard. My mind plays the soundtrack of the days and nights in the house and my bones feel every major and minor chord. Bile rises in the back of my throat. I watch that window and cry for so long that I can’t be sure that I didn’t imagine seeing a small hand press against the sheer fabric shading the glass.

Pulling away slowly, I am careful not to hit the cars parked on either side of what used to be my street. I’ve cried so long that I am dehydrated and no more tears will come, yet I know I am still crying. I reverse the directions I just took, each turn relieving a pound of pressure from my chest, until I find my way back to the highway again, and I can breathe. I don’t bother to wipe the traces of salt off my cheeks. I point the car towards my original destination, the comfort of my aunt’s home, refusing to give my eyes to the review mirror.

* * * * * * * *

It is not until I am 26 years old, far removed from the child cowering in the bathroom of that house, that I realize that maybe I didn’t imagine any of it at all. While on the phone with my aunt, somehow we have wandered into this subject that no one in our family speaks of.

"You know, none of us liked the way he treated you. But we figured if your mama was happy..."

So someone noticed?

And in my mind, the voice that still resides there, childlike and confused as I haven't been in the years since, asked the one thing I've always wanted to know...

"Why didn't anyone say anything?"

There is a house on your street. It looks like the house two doors down and the house two doors down from it. You might not know that neighbor, but you wave when you pass them at their mailbox. Maybe they smile and lift a hand in greeting. You turn into your own drive, happy to live in such a friendly neighborhood.

I used to live in that house.

Friday, January 21, 2011


If the legends are true, I have a bit of fear of commitment. Or, at least I do if you ask any of the people I HAVEN’T dated. *side eye* I could offer up the contents of this blog, the last five chronicled years of loving and losing and lusting, as evidence that this isn’t exactly the case, but to be quite honest, I am not always 100% sure that they aren’t right.

My attitude about marriage has always leaned a bit further on the side of ambivalent. This is not an I-don't-believe-in-marriage thing, or even feminist why-must-I-join-with-a-man-to-be-complete thing (though, this is a valid question). If I am honest I have to admit that deep down, I have always been rather meh about it. And that opinion has mostly stayed deep down because it is often seen as the opening volley to go back and forth with me about why I am wrong for feeling the way I do. I have seen marriages fail (all of my mom’s), I have seen marriages last (my daddy and stepmom, my godparents), so it certainly isn’t lack of proper role models. And, admittedly, I have been up close and personal for the kind of unique devastation divorce causes, but that doesn’t make me afraid of it per se. Just all the more resigned that IF I do decide to get married, I am only doing it ONCE.

As I have gotten older and my ideas about what I want for myself have become clearer and less influenced by the other voices in my head (family, friends, society, religion), I’ve found that I feel the same way about marriage as I do about children; if I decide to, I will be happy to have done so. If I don’t, I doubt I will feel any sort of acute loss.

I am meh about it; come what may.

If you are a long time reader, then you know I have discussed marriage seriously with two exes; Almost FiancĂ© (hence, his moniker) and The Great Houdini. I invite you to peruse the archives if you are not up to date on the spectacular failure of those relationships, as I generally prefer not to rehash them because I am trying to pretend they never happened.

But here is sometimes where I confuse myself about myself…

See, we seriously discussed marriage. We talked about the important things like finances and children and where we would live. We talked about the frivolous things like what kind of wedding we’d prefer, what type of rings we’d (I’d) like.

But the thing is, deep down inside I always knew it wouldn’t work out.

And that is the first time I have ever admitted that aloud.

I knew it wouldn’t work out with Almost FiancĂ© even as I was dragging my best friend to a jewelry store in the mall and picking out a ring. I knew we would be over before he ever proposed or we set a date or anything.

I knew TGH and I would never make it to Puerto Rico to have our beachside wedding. I knew we’d never raise a son with his name or laugh at the other’s hair losing its fight against the gray.

I knew.

And not because we didn’t love each other or because we weren’t good together. But just because I knew then just as I am certain of now; love is the walls of a marital house. Not the foundation. It’s just not enough.

When people say this, the knee jerk reaction is for people to call you cynical. And I will admit, in certain ways I am. But cynical is not the sum of all my parts. What I am is the type of person that likes to walk into things with eyes wide open; I am no longer willing to be the girl that will pick out a ring knowing that it will never be on my finger. I don’t buy into fairy tales.

Because really, I have never believed that that’s what love, any kind of love, is about. I believe in a balanced team; I don’t care about a white dress. I believe in knowing how to make someone’s eggs; not in caring about a seating chart. I believe in being willing to walk your whole life beside someone; not stressing the politics concerned with who will walk you down the aisle.

So, maybe I have historically picked people with whom I knew there would be no future with. Maybe I have (as a therapist once pointed out) pursued people who were physically distance so that I could have a buffer from being emotionally close.

But maybe I have learned those lessons young so that I don’t repeat them with the men I meet now, whom I know good and damn well aren’t going to work for me. And isn’t that better?

Or maybe I am just hiding behind the meh.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is This all There Is?

Here is a cheat sheet for today's post: sometimes I contradict myself.

You're welcome.

Generally, I am a level-headed, pragmatic person. I am the person you want standing near you in the instance you so happen to catch on fire because I'm not the type of girl who is going to be bent over screaming, "ZOMG THEY'RE ON FIRE!!!!" I am the type of girl to calmly find the nearest bucket of dirty rain water and put you out. I might even beat you the flames with my coat. (Unless it is white.)

Basically, I am awesome in times of general freak out, terror, shock, and awe (no George Bush). And I say all that to say, don't fucking judge me for the following.

Last week, as seems to be the case with everyone who successfully survived New Year's hangovers, everyone was all abuzz about the changes they were making in their lives because the calendar struck January 1st.

(Full disclosure: This year I also found myself being one of those people. I don't hate on people who make New Year's Resolutions though I generally don't make them unless they are something like this foolishness. But I, like most people started a new exercise program after the New Year… not because I was waiting for some magic to happen on January 1st, but because I knew I was likely going to spend my 2 weeks home in Atlanta over the holidays cooking, eating, and very, very drunk. In case you were wondering, I was 3 for 3. *hands go up… and they stay there*)

As usually happens around this time of year, talks of my annual birthday trip started, as I am the 1st person to have a birthday every year. It started innocently enough…

“La, how old will you be this year?”
“Um… 26. Wait no. 27. (insert long pause) ZOMG I’M GONNA BE TWENTYFUCKINGSEVEN.”

Now, many of my beloved readers are mainstays in the 30 and over club and because of this fact, your first instinct will be to respond as many of my beloved friends and Twitter followers who are older than I did when I tweeted my unhappiness with this calendar change;

“Bitch, stfu.”

To that, allow me to offer a simple fuck you in advance.

Because I know numbers and shit, I know that numerically 27 is not all that older than 26. I KNOW this. And yet I couldn’t help but feel a mild sense of panic wrapped in a little bit of impending doom settling in below my boobs. I am not one who freaks out about getting older for the most part, but there I was, all wild eyed and antsy at the prospect of aging another year.

27 is not old. But for some reason, it feels far older than 26. Or maybe it is, rather, that while I hold vehemently to the notion that we shouldn’t compare our life’s progress to others, maybe I am doing this all wrong. I mean, what have I done REALLY? Have I accomplished anything of note? Am I pursuing any of the dreams I said I was going to? What am I doing? Omg do I have to get a cat or is the dog enough? I have tons of questions.

Let’s see… I am late shades of 26 with few advancement opportunities at the company I love, refusing to date, refusing to part with Chipotle, and mom to a temperamental dog who refuses to stop jumping up on strangers. I have an apartment that I love, though it is by no means as fabulous as it could be, and my mother refuses to stop plotting on my uterus. On the upside, I, uh… usually win drinking contests and I am amazing in bed.

Ugh. Fail.

This is silly. I know. You don’t have to tell me that. I am not old. If my parents and grandparents are any indication, I quite literally have damn near 50 years of life left. I am working, and striving and travelling, and playing and drinking and living and loving more than likely just as I should be at 26. Hell, I have even found a way to make a few investments, pay off some debt, and make a few grown up purchases. But now that I am here, this side of adulthood that I thought I wanted as a kid, and thought I was preparing for in college, I have to ask…

Is this all there is?