Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago comes on Dave’s iPod — perched in a clock-radio that sits on his toilet — while I’m in the shower washing my hair. I’ve been thinking lately about cutting my hair off but probably won’t. Having shorter hair, even just shoulder-length, would remind me too much of too many things: how long it took me to grow it out after my brain surgery, for one. The way Jack told me it made me beautiful, for another. Be it reasons practical or sentimental, I don’t know that I could weather another big change right now. Job loss, financial insecurity, still-grieving, moving, leaving the boys… chopping off your hair should be on that list of stressors you’re not supposed to have too many of in a certain span of time.
Regardless, it would just be an easy fix, trying to give myself a little sense of comfort (from heat, from the massive undertaking of Doing My Hair, from whatever) that would only be temporary anyhow. Whatever discomfort I feel goes deeper than my hair, deeper even than being overweight or feeling unfashionable (either one, more difficult living in Manhattan) or not knowing all the little secrets I knew in Chicago that afforded me a variant of confidence that at least could stand in for my self-esteem during weak moments.
Here, I’m told — by a lot of people — that I seem to always know what interesting things are going on. I suppose it’s true that I can ferret those out wherever I go, but (in my mind) it’s not that difficult. I’ve spent years on various journalism beats, paid to find out what’s happening. It’s a skill that doesn’t go away just because I’m in a new-ish city. If anything, I look for more of what’s going on, figuring that even if I have to go alone (not likely) it’s worth considering. There’re also Meetup groups and social networks and what-have-you. I’ve been going out, socially, two or three nights a week, gradually getting “out there.”
Anyhow. Sufjan Stevens. Last night I went to this random game-scavenger-hunt thing by the South Street Seaport with a Meetup group. It was enjoyable, and I ended up chatting quite a bit and having a drink (or, “drink,” if you believe they must contain alcohol to be legit) with one of the guys there. Nice enough, and he asked me on a date for tomorrow. I said yes, but then found out he’s fourteen years younger than I. And he’s from small-town Illinois, just having moved here a year ago. The part of Chicago where he (the narrator? what do you call a song’s “voice”?) leaves Chicago to go to NYC, that’s an experience. Probably everyone has one when they move to NYC, probably with common elements no matter what station in life you are. But my Illinois –> NYC trajectory is vastly different than this kid’s. My life experience is so much, well, heavier than anyone his age could possibly understand. He’s probably never even heard of Sufjan Stevens.
I’m going to cancel. Or at least tell him I’ll go but as friends. He’s too young and too much of what I came here to move away from. Just like when I left Texas and the thought of being with someone I grew up with was the most unappealing thing I could imagine. This isn’t to that degree, but it’s the same kind of feeling. I don’t know what I’m looking for in the wake of Jack’s death, but it’s certainly not that.
I don’t want to be back in Texas — or Chicago — and I no longer wish Jack were alive even as a raging alcoholic just as long as I could be with him… but today I’m missing my dad and brother and Texas; I’m missing Chicago, where I came of age and felt like I fit in; I’m missing Jack, who was also Chicago and sobriety and everything good I ever felt in my heart. I’m missing all the things I made a choice to walk away from, but I’m feeling those absences as though they were yanked away from me. I wish I could escape from where I am without leaving. Or telescope into the future after all of today’s questions are answered (or at least most of today’s fears are alleviated) and I feel like I belong in NYC.
I know one day I will look back at these uncertain and fear-filled weeks and they will fit into some sort of story that I can’t even yet comprehend. Knowing this doesn’t make me feel better, though. It just makes me think of the stories of my past and feel some comfort that I got through all of those things, now stories that make sense, and lived to tell about it. Whether I’ll live through this remains to be seen, but I’ve got my eyes on the horizon and my fingers crossed. Today, that just has to be enough.