34. Say It Like You Mean It
Getting out of my car just now, I strolled down the steps into the apartment courtyard, passing my neighbors sitting around a citronella candle and an open bottle of cava. They were grinning as I walked up, all very pleased to see me wearing pajama pants decorated with cascading tulip-shaped wine glasses and a matching shirt reading: but first, Champagne.
"I just came from a pajama party," I said, to their cheery faces. They asked me to sit down and join the party (if I'd known it would be that easy to be included back in high school, my wardrobe would have consisted solely of breathable cotton nightclothes). I told them sorry, I had to come up and get some writing done. But, please let me know when this sort of thing would be happening again soon.
I'd just come from Sharon's, whom I thought would be the only living being I would see that day, hence the pajama pants. Maybe it's a mix of not seeing anyone most of the day, being slightly motion sickness from editing our shaky music video footage, or that I'm pretty sure I'll be staying in Nashville for another four months, yet vacating my apartment in one; I sort of got the blues today. By now I know that this is because I'm stuck in a rut, like the skipping of a record, by binge-watching too many shows on Netflix or not properly managing my diet and exercise. Both of those can be fixed, and half of them were addressed this evening by me, on Sharon's couch, watching a show that always seems to snap me out of it: Chef's Table.
Like an army of relentless overachievers with dogged persistence, this show never fails to remind me that greatness is achievable, but only if you let yourself and you alone steer the ship. Pulling every influence under the sun into your sphere, if you don't shine it all through your own prism then it simply becomes cheap imitation. The people featured on this show are masters of their craft, and each episode seems to come from an entirely different swath of humanity, each one farther flung from the last. It also reminds me that solitude is never the enemy of creativity. Trust your own judgement.
When I was in my freshman year of high school, I had a group of misfit friends who, like a bunch of chaotic electrons, seemed to revolve around a single nucleus comprised of our shared awkwardness. Each of us had our quirks: one of us was of course the trouble maker; another girl, the demure voice of reason; and I was the bubbling cauldron of creative, emotional energy, constantly playing circus clown to the angry bulls let loose inside the china shop of my brain. The friendships I had that year were nice and needed, and we all did our best to stick together and be as understanding as we could of the other at any given time. This included the stupid stuff.
Waiting in a single file line outside the school during a fire drill one afternoon, I faintly remember craning my neck over in the direction of one of my friend's ears and in a grand, heroic voice, proclaimed: "WE'RE HAVING A FIRE DRILL." She spun around to look at me as I struck a powerful pose, standing there like a grand cape flapped behind me in the wind. Mildly amused, I continued to ironically pronounce things that were very clearly happening ever so often, until I was deemed "Captain Obvious" by my eye-rolling cohorts. I kept it up for as long as I found it funny, which was far too long for most.
Many years later I would date a man who had the exact opposite amount of tolerance to this kind of nonsense and a much more limited sense of what constituted as a needed statement. He was a cold man, whom I loved hopelessly and without hesitation. That was, until it came time to express my feelings. Never having felt this way about anyone, even those I'd dated for many years before then, I found myself in unaided wilderness when it came to navigating a relationship such as this with dignity. He was older, and had experienced much more of life already through past loves and in the books he read constantly, all of them lining his bedroom walls like an ominous, enclosing fortress. On the days when I would be so happy I could burst, it would blurt out of me, a balloon out of the hand of a starry-eyed child floating off into the sky. "This is so much fun," I would say.
It would take only that for his entire demeanor to change. The storm clouds would gather behind his eyes and he wouldn't say anything again for hours. Finally, when I begged and begged one day for him to tell me what I'd done wrong, he said, "You can't just say it. You can't just point it out like that. As soon as you point it out, it's no longer good. You ruined it."
Shamed, I'd fall silent, and after enough time would pass things would return to normal, but it would take at least a day or two. I would wallow in the knowledge that I'd spoiled a perfectly good afternoon by saying out loud how great it was. The one night "I love you" came careening out of my lips, faster than I could stop it, he ended up asking me to leave. It was all just too much, he said.
It's only now I realize this pruning was taking place, as I become more aware of what I say and to whom I say it. C tells me that the Swiss are people of brevity and reservedness; if I want to be the "cool new American" I've told him I'd like to be viewed as when I move there, I'll have to do one thing, and that is talk less. He of course doesn't mean talk less to him, or anyone I come to know well, but to anyone on the street, or in the market, or riding in the elevator with me; I'll need to curb this enthusiasm welling up inside of me. This would be my choice, and thankfully now it's mine to make.
In these ebbing months still living in the US, I find myself beginning to say goodbyes, especially within my apartment complex as word is spreading of my moving out. But it's even to my closest friends that I feel I'm constantly reassuring them of my continued devotion to maintaining our close bond (even though they're not asking); and with every additional unprompted conversation I hear the questioning voice in the back of my head whispering: Do you mean it? How can you promise any of this? You don't know what's happening next. And especially: Every time you say these things, they sound less and less true.
I know it sounds silly, but I really think these thoughts, or rather, torment myself with them. More than I'd care to admit. I do now have a partner in C to whom I can say just about anything I want, without fear of losing his love or support. He knows who I really am. Deep down, underneath the squishy exterior and second guessing, beyond the self-consciousness and the frantic, bleeding heart, therein lies a hero. One who never parses words but stares into the eye of life and speaks its name. One who strikes a power stance on the front lawn of a high school campus in North Dallas, Texas, and speaks her mind, no matter who might say I'm ruining the vibe. I am Captain Obvious, and I stand for all to have the right to enjoy the moment.