Forgot about this one until I heard it last Friday night in Asheville. Now it's on repeat.
June, a year ago. Walking south on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, 117th Street. The Avett Brothers on repeat. One song in particular, May It Last.
There is a sea. And I am the captain. Something unknown waves high as a mountain.*
Those words felt true in a very particular way, at that very particular moment. Like I was moving towards a thing that was both large and immovable. An eruption of land in a seemingly endless sea. And that it would, for better or worse, change my life.
The feeling wasn't altogether comfortable. Something unknown. It seemed so obvious and still so totally without form. Waves high as a mountain.
I feared it had to do with the election. That the world would turn an un-turnable corner.
Months later, on my 31st birthday, I sat in a bar with a friend and said, Something has to change. I am in danger of missing my life.
A month after that, I quit my job. Wrote a book. Applied to school. Spent a month in the mountains. Wrote four impossible things on the back of a postcard. Watched in wonder and awe and terror and joy as that something unknown came into focus. Carefully felt my way back to myself.
Said goodbye to New York. Didn't look back.
I flipped that postcard over recently. They were ridiculous things. Big starry-eyed life-changing things. I wrote them down at the start of the year, checked off three by the middle of April. Am working on the fourth now. My daily life is built on what only ten months ago seemed impossible.
It's raining in Durham right now. The trees just outside the window where I work are losing their leaves. Pasta is cooking on the stove. I am breathing deeply. The postcard is now framed above my bookshelf.
On Friday I'll see the Avett Brothers in Asheville, North Carolina.
I no longer feel like I'm missing my life.
*These lyrics are a bit off because I misheard them for the months. But even the mis-hearing feels important.
Wouldn't change a damn thing about life right now, if I'm being really honest.
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so lonely than in the two months before I left New York.
It was an odd feeling, at an odd time. I was tremendously happy, and also lonely in a way that occasionally felt like it would kill me.
Which is different than being alone.
I’m not wholly convinced there exits sufficient language to describe the experience that is loneliness. Because it’s not so much the feeling of being alone, it’s the feeling of being alone in one’s experience of that alone-ness. It’s nuanced and personal and deeply alienating. And it sometimes feels like standing on one side of a ravine while everyone else who has already crossed moves on without you.
I was careful not to expect too much. I was excited to move to Durham—excited to begin school—but didn’t want to think that everything would change. I was hopeful, but tentative. Experience has taught me not to overreach in my wanting.
I live by myself now, in an apartment with three small rooms. It’s the most amount of space I’ve ever been able to call my own. Each room gets light from morning until the evening when the sun dips behind the fence across the street. I’ve printed photos from recent trips to London and Paris and they now hang on the walls. A jar of ground coffee beans sits next to the stove, a Moka pot beside it. I walk across campus a few times each week to go the grocery store or the small yoga studio with its brick walls painted white. The air is made sweet by gardenias, and in the evenings there is a riot of sound made by cicadas alone. I live on a tree-lined street in a tree-lined neighborhood in a section of town that is quiet and a bit removed from school. I can walk to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, or the bar that serves food until two on Friday nights. I love it.
It’s so good here. Life is so easy.* I didn’t know--I had no idea it could all feel this way. Like the center of my chest has softened. Like faith itself is loose and adept and everywhere.
I spend a lot of time in classes or in the common area at school. We go out on Friday nights--and some school nights, too. I am surrounded by others, often. But I also spend a lot of time on my own--at home or in the library, on long walks or lying on the yoga mat. And the thing is, I'm not lonely here. I mean, maybe I will be, eventually. But I'm not today. And probably won't be tomorrow.
*This is not to say school is easy. School is hard. I am neither a statistics or microeconomics whiz, and I don't seem to read as quickly as some of the others. But hard in the context of that which has meaning is transformative. Which is to say, totally worth it.
Years ago, when I was living in Brooklyn, I got off the train one night two stops too soon and walked south towards home. There must have been some issue with the subway because it was too hot for such a long walk and the summer air seemed to catch between my fingers and stick at the base of my neck. Hot and tired and at the end of a long day, I remember thinking, if I could leave, right now, and do anything else, I'd go and sit and stare at the mountains for a month.
I feel like I mostly made a mess of leaving New York. I should have gone quickly, with little fanfare. But there were logistical concerns and so I stayed for as long as was necessary. I'm not quite sure how to describe those last two months other than to say that time felt thick and viscous, and I felt stuck.
It occurs to me that I haven't actually said why I am going, or where. Not here anyhow. So here goes: I'm headed to Duke to get a Masters in Public Policy.
It is a decision that feels deeply and quietly and unambiguously right. Which is to say, yes, I'm excited.
But before North Carolina, before school, before the terror and thrill of having to meet all new people, I am spending a month in the mountains. To sit and breathe and edit a book. Because life is weird and cool and the twenty-seven-year-old me who walked home that night tired and hot and overwhelmed by the future planted some seeds, and here we are.
I went back to Brooklyn last week, two nights before leaving. Another warm summer evening. With nearly everything I owned packed away in boxes I pulled out a vintage dress I got a few years back at a small shop in Park Slope that no longer exists. I swiped on a dark lip stain and took the F train one last time. To Vinegar Hill. To a tiny restaurant on a tiny street that my friend Kim and I discovered one night after reading an article in GQ. And there I sat marveling at four of my oldest and closest friends as we laughed and argued and ate cheese and pasta and jam and chocolate cake and it felt like an actual celebration.
If you'd have asked any one of those friends some five years back if I'd ever get there--if we'd ever sit in Brooklyn on a quiet July night and drink tequila and celebrate so much good--I'm not sure what they might have said.
New York was hard. I think I can say that honestly, without addition or pretense. I am so glad to leave. So much of what happened in that tangle of streets was not good. But there was much good, too. And as I walked to the subway on Tuesday night, and as I sat with my girlfriends eating too-expensive-and-too-small-dishes, quietly happy, I couldn't help but think I am leaving New York with everything I might need. A sense of awe. A little bit of grit. A capacity for both joy and sadness. A clear and meaningful value system. And a deep appreciation for the woman New York made me--or perhaps the woman I became in spite of New York. Everything else that I might want--or wish for--will be built on the backs of those things. And that is enough. More than, actually.