“There’s a place I go in my soul that says, honey, I left you in June where the sidewalks were hunger and failing to disappear. There’s a place I go where I can’t undo myself anymore; I can only exist in the medium space between understanding and not trying to understand, where I hold my own heart and lean into the heart of holding me.” – August 27th, 2017.
It’s February 4th, and Philadelphia has just won the Super Bowl. I think for the first time, ever. I’m waiting at a stoplight in Brooklyn, although no one is around to see if I took the right on red, a move I’ve learned to resist, only because it’s illegal in the city.
As I wait for the light to turn, I see a slight movement across the road through my windshield wipers. A raccoon has sprung from under a parked car and hustled up the sidewalk. He crosses the street quickly. I feel, as the light turns green, like his quick appearance in the darkness off Avenue V is a gift. I’ve never seen a raccoon in the city before. I’ve heard about them, these quiet chameleons that explore the boroughs at night.
After I make the turn on green and travel through the stop signs, I pull onto the ramp for the Belt Parkway. The on-ramp, a shore road along Jamaica bay, is flooded with the ocean, and both the car ahead of me and I are pulling through the waves, slowly, and I start to think, this is our life now. This how we have to grow up: we have to learn how to drive through the water because all our roads will drown; we have to learn how to love the sightings of animals who steal our trash at night. We have to lean into the toxicity. This is all we have left.
I don’t actually believe this is true – I believe there are some places in the world where the floods and trash haven’t won, yet – but the feeling still seems honest when, not too long later, a Pats fan crosses Woodside Boulevard in front of my car. He is wearing an oversized jersey, and he’s smoking a cigarette, which dangles out of his mouth. I notice he is wearing socks and soccer sandals, in the rain, unfazed. He flip-flops through the puddles all the way across the street toward the liquor store. I’m thinking about how wet his feet must feel, and I wonder how he feels, wearing a Pats jersey, which he put on so proudly four hours ago. Does he still feel proud? I probably wouldn’t, but I am fickle with my feelings.
I’m also thinking about how badly I wanted Philadelphia to lose. I’m also thinking how I don’t even like football. As I am waiting for the Pats fan to pass, and the light to change, I know my unexpected distaste for Philly has something to do with the fact that I’m trying to build my allegiances, and the Pats seem like a good place to start. It’s the same reason I almost unexpectedly cried during “America the beautiful,” the national anthem, and the Budweiser commercial. I think that if I have to be here – in America, I mean – I should be proud of something here, other than the fact that we’re flooding and burning down. I keep telling people I want Philadelphia to burn down. I want to keep watching us destroy the things we love. That feels honest. It feels like destruction is something we – the people, I mean – are good at. I’m not sure if by “people” I mean “humans” or “Americans.” I checked Paul Ryan’s Twitter today to see if I could understand him, and I was scared because, for a moment, I did.
A writer keeps telling me, “If you are having trouble with your writing, it’s because you’re feeling one thing and writing another.” I keep telling myself, “If you’re having trouble with yourself, it’s because you’re feeling one thing and doing another.” I often feel I am not loud enough, not brave enough, not committed enough, not vocal enough. Now, I’m trying to be opinionated. I start by telling my friends I’m rooting for the Pats. I don’t even like football.
I’m in a rainforest in Costa Rica telling an American woman I’ve met there that I can’t find a man who doesn’t want kids. When I say this, one of the British guys behind us pipes up and asks me what kind of guys I date, and I realize that I don’t know. Whoever wants me? No, whoever pays attention to me. I think that I need to start having an opinion about love. Telling the American that I don’t want kids feels like an opinion.
Four months earlier, a man was asking me how many kids I wanted, and I said 0-2 because it felt safer to mention a range than to commit to a number. It’s better to be flexible. I want to leave room to think that, if I fell in love, I would change my mind. I have an opinion, but I am saying another. I’m in a living room in Denmark, and I’m telling my Couchsurfing host that I don’t want kids (because I’m always honest in other countries). He’s telling me he can’t find a woman who doesn’t want kids. My friend Maryam is with us, and she says she wants them. It feels honest, a few strangers sitting in a living room in Copenhagen in the freezing temperatures in February, talking about whether we believe we should help this wretched species continue. I think it’s fine. It being the species, and I don’t think it’s fine. I think it’s burning down. I, then, change my mind and say that I can’t decide if I don’t want kids. I say, “I would consider it for the right person.”
I keep saying, “If the man who loves me wants one, I would have one.” What I’m really saying is that I am afraid of bright line rules; I’m afraid they make me unlovable. I want to be loved. 0-2. The Danish man whose couch I’m on asks me why I would give up such an important part of myself for someone else. That’s how he phrased it: a part of myself. He said it simply, like my beliefs are mine, and I should respect them. I don’t tell him that I’m afraid my beliefs make me unlovable. I’m a woman; I should know how to practice being desired. That’s why I practice compromise more than I practice insistence.
Insistence. Insistence is having an opinion and fighting for it. I believe in human rights. I fight for them. I insist for everyone else, but I don’t insist for myself. I am standing in front of a 200-foot waterfall in Costa Rica, and I’m talking to a Costa Rican woman about abortions and children. We talk about our struggle with men who feel attached to their seed, the insane pressure we feel to succumb to the idea that we are vessels for their desire to be remembered, immortal, some brutal legacy whose scars and stretch marks we have to wear on our skin until we die. I am not so sure I would change my mind about children, even if I fell in love.
I am trying to figure out what it means to love madly or be loved madly in a world where so many people’s “end game” includes a family. If insistence means I demand what I deserve, what I deserve is what I believe, deeply. I deserve to be committed to that, to myself if nothing else. Is this how to exercise an opinion? “Exercise” is such a different word from “have.” I have opinions; I don’t exercise them.
I remember a psychic in Chicago, who I went to see with my friends Morgan and Jade, after we drank too much champagne at brunch. The psychic said I had a void in my life. She said the void was my love life. Her brow worried about my void. It’s been two years since I met that psychic, but I still think about what she said. Sometimes I think that she tells every woman the same thing. My single friends often say they don’t want to be alone forever. Now that I am trying to exercise my opinions, I’ll say that I believe I’ll only be alone forever if I choose to compromise myself to be loved. Compromise of my fundamental beliefs is the only way to assure myself that I will be alone forever. Being alone forever doesn’t mean being single forever; it means I could choose someone and, in the process, give up more of myself than I want to, and I would have nothing left. Having nothing left feels an awful lot like being alone.
There’s a poem I keep saying to myself in the shower, “You’ll never be let down more than you’ll be let down by the one you love most in the world,” because I don’t want it to be true. I think that if the person I choose to love most in the world is the right one, and I am honest with them, it will be the same as choosing my most heartfelt and deepest dream. We will be everything we want us to be and more.
I want our mutual dreams to be the end game. I don’t want my body to be someone’s diversion along the way to their own dream. Perhaps I want to be the dream. Perhaps I will, one day, be someone’s dream girl. And I won’t have to change, or lie about, any part of myself to be her. So I stop asking for comfort in places that provide so little comfort. Just because I like the sound of a voice doesn’t mean I should listen to it. And society’s voice is so loud, telling me to grow up, and find love, no matter the cost. No matter the compromise.
Instead, I stop listening to the collective voice of everything I don’t want to be. I find a newfound energy in liberation. A freed spirit that knows what it needs and deserves. I am in a single cot in a co-ed dorm-style hostel room in Liberia, Costa Rica, and it’s hot outside, so I’m sitting beside the fan, writing a new year’s resolution three weeks late. I am writing a resolution about keeping a traveler’s soul. As I write it, I define what I mean by “traveler’s soul.” I write, “Keep a spirit of openness, warmth, joy, novelty, seeking, extending arms, relying on others, meeting strangers, sharing connections with them, living to find other people who share this spirit, joining other travelers, other cultures; looking for people who are different, grounded, holding onto the earth, being grateful for it; genuine spirit, humble heart.” Looking for people who are different. I feel different.
But even when my dreams are different, the voyage is mine. The traveler’s spirit is accepting everything I am and being that, needing only that. All I have to rely on in the dark and light and joy and sadness and openness and hope and earth is me, with respect for everything I want and my body believes. If I hold onto that, it doesn’t matter if I pledge allegiance to anything else. It doesn’t even matter if everything else burns down.
“You never ever have to inspire anyone to meet you on the bridge. You never ever have to convince someone to do the work to be ready. There is more extraordinary love, more love that you have never seen, out here in this wide and wild universe. And there is the love that will be ready.” ― Nayyirah Waheed