One day, impossibly, you’re in the work bathroom squinting and pinching your inner thigh, in a slight agony over the throbbing pain near your vagina. Somehow you’re 25, you have your own apartment that you have to clean and lock when you leave (sometimes you forget)- you feel tired constantly, and play a tug-of-war game with your eating disorder from the past (say ‘fuck it’ one week and eat all the cheesy gordita crunches possible, cry and grip your stomach the next with promises to only eat grapefruits for the next few days, which you sometimes do and sometimes don’t). It’s easy for you to follow the body positive heroes on Instagram, easier still for you to send your friends body positive posts and remind them how bullshit body expectations are, but you still can’t seem to break out of the idea that you must exist in a realm of perfection, of clear skin and only eating berries, of yoga headstands and flat stomachs. You’re 25 with your first UTI (from too much sex? too rough of sex? not peeing enough afterwards? all of the above?). A few weeks back you took a pregnancy test in the bathroom of a Chipotle, your hands shaking as you peaked into your purse while in line for a chicken burrito. 25 is nothing like you’d thought it would be- you’re by no means comfortable (at work, in romance, in anything). The Imposter Syndrome you thought would surely have faded by now exists unforgivably, and you’ve had that dream of being on stage without knowing your lines twice in the past month. It’s the Canton in you, rearing its hideous, on fire head- it’s the voice in your head, the one that nearly led you out of graduate school, that spoke to you of your incompetence, of your ‘place’ in the world (married unhappily, stuck, children by 23). When you reach for more, when you move across the country for a job you are more than qualified for, Canton laughs, delivers you relentless dreams, whispers sensually into your ear ‘you will fail.’ You dared to ask for more, to wring out the possibilities of life, to squeeze harder than Cantonians are told to, and because of that you’ve seen fifteen countries, you’ve read thousands of books, you’ve achieved multiple degrees. It doesn’t go away, though, this feeling of inadequacy- there are days you stare languidly out of your car window, thinking of how impossible it is that those trees are palm trees, that the 76 degree wind blowing in through that door is your home, that it’s blowing through your door. You’re always laughing it off, this feeling of incompetence and not-belonging; you use that strong feminist voice you’ve managed to find to battle the feeling of playing dress-up across your entire life, use it to say ‘fuck you’ as you put on your Express dress (you bought it at a resale shop- 25 hasn’t given you the ability to confidently walk into clothing stores you could never afford before, some of which you’d never even heard of before moving to Florida). And you use that same feminist, fuck-you voice on dates, the many first dates you’ve had since moving- the ones that left you feeling lonelier than before, crying into your pillow, longing for home and the familiar combination of melancholy and nostalgia, challenging yourself to remember what it smelled like when you dad came home from work before he retired (Busch beer and Nickles Bakery bread), to remember the first time you felt romantic love (Sandy Valley pool, being held, fingertips that felt coated with lightning, all the power in the world held in a 12 year old boy and the way he looked at me at lunch), to remember your favorite thing about the boy who proposed to you at age eighteen (I still can’t think of one thing I loved about him, and I almost married him). There have been minor successes, minor failures, lots of free food and drinks, plenty of unanswered text messages (on their end but mostly on mine). There have been two relationships in a year, much more than your normal disinterest; there have, as well, been two heartbreaks, different in their modes of delivery, their hurt, their reason for existing. Such different men- the first an instant connection, an overwhelming fluttering in the chest, a quick and dizzy descent into hungry love, the kind that has been dormant for years within your chest, a predator, existing only to feast on your own heart. You anticipated that heartbreak, felt his escape, wrote poem after poem trying not to forget things you’ve now forgotten (his wink, the pattern of scars on his stomach, haphazard and jagged, Migos playing through his speakers riding through the rich parts of the city). You tried bargaining with him as he left, tried propositioning yourself and offering to change. Even in the moment you cringed at your own desperation, this pathetic desire to have found the one, to make it work at any cost. You promised yourself years ago you’d never convince anyone to stay again (you can’t forget, no matter how badly you want to, the way you stretched your body across your dormitory door, arms and legs spread, a crucifixion of pathetic proportions), but you do it again and again, your cynical-made mind still reaching for the ‘what if,’ still offering the romantic route solutions. How is your anxious mind, the uber romantic, crazy cynical loophole, something that attracts people to you? What is it about you that permits them to a few months of fun or rebellion or magnificence but nothing more? That allows them to, afterwards, discuss philosophy and religion and the big questions of life with you, to compliment your instagram picture or your brain, or tell you how much they value your presence in their life? How is this always your role, coming so often into your life it seems destined for you, makes any other romantic role seem fake, temporary, fatal? Your second heartbreak of the year comes from a different relationship entirely; there was no instant connection, no absolute certainty that this person would be something, no hungry insistence that it work. Instead, unlike any relationship before, it was slow, a few dates that left you feeling confused, unsure. And then came a friendship, constant text messages and FB messages while working, making fun of one another, eating dinner, hearing about one another’s weekends. You faded out of other first dates, stopped searching. He was it, had somehow become the person you were looking for. And so you went a step further, giving a part of yourself to him, a small part, an unsure part, a part that didn’t anticipate a real love but rather a temporary partner, something fun and inconsequential. You believed this, even when he came over to your apartment and swam in your pool (freezing) and got you high and had a two hour long conversation about him moving to California in five months and he warned you (and himself) not to get too attached, not to let expectations grow. You nodded along, agreeing (at the time) that long distance wouldn’t be worth it, that the two of you, if you tried distance, would learn to hate one another for not being able to give what the other needed. The entire time you smiled, guffawed at his thought that you would need to be warned of such a thing- he was the one who’d liked you this entire time, after all- of course you wouldn’t be asking for more when the time came. And here you are, two months before he leaves, asking for more. You’re accustomed to sleeping next to him now, have learned the sounds of his asleep-breathing, can anticipate the shape of his hands reaching to your chest around 6:30AM. You know the way he drives and the way he smokes, the sad look he gets in his eyes that he won’t mention. You know him now, and the agreement you quickly agreed to earlier feels incorrect. It feels wrong, suffocating. And you feel, again, somehow, alone in your desire to try. You’re reminded again that men have not found you worth it- have looked at you with love in their eyes but have left anyway. How weak you are, to again be the vulnerable one, to time and time again throw your body against that door screaming ‘stay.’ He gently tells you why, explains with logic, blames himself, his neediness, his impossibility- but still he tells you no. It does not matter that he whispers it into your ear or that he’s holding you tightly when he says it, he still tells you no. He still does not want you. And this is what you keep coming back to, moment after painful moment, tears welling in and out as if on command, one mountain of intense, improbable heartbreak and then another. You’re 25 and running to the bathroom to simultaneously cry and pee, your ongoing UTI violent even in the face of severe sadness. You’re 25 and you have a full time job that you have to walk out on because you cannot hold back the tears. It’s not where you thought you’d be. Not anywhere close.
How tired I am of heartbreak. It has lost the romanticism I at one time carried it around in. There is no longer an artistic goodness to this pain, especially this specific pain, the one that has come not from any clear reason (not because the two of you wouldn’t work or are not working but because instead of circumstance, of miles and miles of distance). I feel the heaviness that is 25, the desire to have my person, to remain with my person, to reach that supreme good point of connection (brushing our teeth together, being naked in unflattering angles, telling one another to fuck off in jest and in seriousness, knowing you have that person’s chest to fall back on, their voice to tell you ‘it’s okay,’ waking up after surgery to his face, concerned and eager), the point of weirdness that equals out to love (the angles of our limbs intertwined at impossible angles, Zelda and scaring one another with the monsters in the dungeons, eating icecream three days in a row, getting too high or too drunk and laughing until you cry). I just want it to stay. I want to be worthy of that staying. To be the one convinced, perhaps. I want for someone to look at me and say ‘yes;’ not for there to necessarily not be any doubts (I get off on the doubting), but for there to be assurance despite. Or at least an effort despite. I never again want to feel naivety, embarrassment, for trying to love.
Life is nothing like I thought it would be. I haven’t yet felt a sigh of relief, that ever-anticipated moment of exhalation and release. It’s mostly sad with moments of purity, moments of light so bright it hurts, so tragic in their brevity and their inability to remain.
I want to take myself into my own arms, cradle my heart like the naive, foolish infant it is. Here I am, again, telling myself I’m okay until I am.