Underground, the air is thick, and everyone toes the yellow line, waiting for the train. And swaying, alone in this crowd of people as two veterans pass by asking for change, I imagine the train barreling through and myself stepping in front of it and perishing against the metal, and then under the great big bullet, a great pain and then obliteration. But when the train does come, I first hear it, and then feel it: a great rush of air that cuts through the stale, stagnant atmosphere. I realize in that moment, that I do not want to step in front of the train, but enjoy the breeze it’s arrival has brought.
And this is my life, my teeth on a rope, my head thrashing, pulling back against insanity, always, afraid my teeth will break.
I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 16, post-college, with $200 in my pocket. The way some may practice an interview or first date’s dialogue in the mirror, I must say Massachusetts (Massachusetts, Massachusetts, Massachusetts, three times, fast).
I forget sometimes that I’m here, and not still in Arkansas. There are times I miss my family, and the ghost feeling of their absence creeps upon me. I mostly remember that I’m not in Arkansas when I realize, daily, that no one here knows me (save for my best friend and housemate, whom I am forever grateful to).
But, for the most part, no one here really knows me, or where I came from, or how I came to be me. And this is something that I thought I would leave behind. Cambridge meant a new place, a new life, a new identity. The thought of calling my family makes my heart race in an anxious reluctance. It’s difficult to separate the places when both places still live on, in tandem, in me, in past, in present, in future. There is no forgetting Arkansas. There is no erasure of Ashley in the span of a four-hour flight. 1,500 miles cannot separate myself from myself.
The rope only lengthens the span of miles, and my teeth chip away as I continue to pull against my past.
The first month, I spent unraveling. Libby (the aforementioned best friend), was on the other side of the country working an internship at Boeing in Seattle. I threw myself into a new world. Within the first week and a half, I had a job as a barista at a neighborhood bakery in Boston’s South End. During the last half of July and all of August, I paid no rent. I’ll be paying that off for the next two years.
I drank a lot and discovered the art of having Chinese food delivered to my door. I visited bars (Bukowski Tavern, The Beat Hotel, Mead Hall), I went on two OKCupid dates (one went fine, the other, I was left in a dark park in the middle of the night after refusing to give a blowjob, perhaps a story for another time). I cooked. I cleaned. I bought sheets and comforters. I put my books on shelves. I went to a park.
I took photos and posted them on Facebook. Like this:
I bought an overpriced flannel shirt. I weighed myself. I cried about weighing myself. I bought Scott Stossel’s “My Age of Anxiety.” I left that book on my bedside table. I didn’t write. I intermittently lost myself in delirium. I hallucinated a spider. I broke someone’s heart. I broke someone’s heart again. I asked myself: “What is love supposed to be like?” I asked Twitter: “What is love supposed to be like?” I received one response: “Love has no expectations.” I made an agreement that every day, I would do something “to enrich my life or better myself.”
I sought Amanda Palmer’s attention on Twitter. I immediately regretted being an attention seeker.
I breathed in fresh air. I touched a flower. I smelled a flower. I joined a book club.
I became sad, all at once, for days at a time. I became happy, all at once, for days at a time.
I picked up a new hobby: painting. I realized I might need more practice.
I thought about giving up finishing my last class to actually receive my college diploma. I thought to myself that the degree didn’t matter, that I would never find work, that I am not a writer. I thought many self-deprecating, defeatist things.
And then I decided that the degree did matter, so, after seven months of ignoring emails from the online class services, I printed the course guide for my lessons, asked how much an extension for the class would cost (a mere $25), and emailed Henderson State University in Arkansas to make sure they hadn’t forgotten my withheld diploma.
I started to enjoy talking to customers. I started taking pride in the quality of my lattes. I learned how to make a messy sandwich presentable. I learned how to count a register. I am trying to learn to shrug off assholes (a valuable quality in a city of so many). I learned how to pay rent (and phone, and electric, and the train fee, and my loan fee). I learned how to try and fail to ignore the anxiety that comes along with all that.
I got excited about Amanda Palmer’s upcoming book drop party. I got excited about Lena Dunham visiting Boston on her book tour. I got excited upon seeing Nick Offerman on a marquee on my way to work. I look for Nick Offerman’s marquee every day.
I stopped drinking caffeine to stave off anxiety (it has helped some). I stopped drinking alcohol because alcohol is not medicine.
I got a cat. Her name is Enid. Enid means “soul” or “life.”
She looks like this:
And I started to appreciate things a little more, and myself a little more, and I started hoping that I could hold onto this feeling a little longer, through the despair and the ecstasies of my past and present.
Tonight, I watched Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk on how our struggles help us become who we are, and how we apply meaning to our hardships, even if it is years after we endure them.
And I decided again, for the thousandth time, to choose life.
And I am deciding now to let go of the rope tethering me to my past, and to not erase it, but to say I endured it, and that all of it was so that I could tell it to you all, someday, in a book on someone’s bedside table.