Steamroll Responsibly

Consistently Inconsistent

Crashing in the same car

I called my dad last Father’s Day, and he told me a long, pointless story about his car trouble. I told him I loved him when we said goodbye, and he didn’t say it back. I hung up smiling. This is how my dad is. He doesn’t know how to express himself in a way that reflects a normal amount of affection; it’s always nothing or everything at once. Not spectrum but a binary.
Growing up, my biggest fear was losing one of my parents. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t a fear that would leave me after childhood, that experiencing loss as an adult is only marginally easier than as a child. The prospect of losing parents only looms larger the older we get—more inevitable.

On this Father’s Day, all I can focus on is a feeling that I have probably suppressed for too many years. It’s not really about my dad. At least, not in his capacity as my dad. I’m thinking about who he was before me. He didn’t lead the easiest life. He was only in his 20s when he lost his father—the grandfather I never knew and will never meet. When I was young, I knew him only from the small black-and-white photo that sat in a frame on my grandmother’s dresser. I sometimes wonder, to this day, what my father’s relationship with his mother would look like if they hadn’t lost my grandfather so early. I sometimes wonder if he was like the jovial glue that held two salty people together.

I’ll never know the answer.
My dad has a habit of repeating himself. It’s how his brain works, and I understand that. It’s how mine works, too. He has told me the same few stories about my grandfather more times than I can remember. His favorite to recount, I think, was about the time he received a call from a family friend to pick up his incapacitated father. My dad always talked about riding his scooter to the house, finding his father unconscious but smiling on the floor. He carried him back home, shocked at how tiny and light the man was.

He was loving and he cared deeply for other people; but he couldn’t take care of himself. Alcoholism killed him at 45. It rocked his family when he died so young: I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t remember him fondly. He was everything his wife was not: gentle, kind, patient, warm. When he died, technically, he left my father and grandmother with only each other…which really means, I suppose, he left my dad alone.

It’s funny how the things that carry the most weight in our hearts, that loom big and strong in our memories, can be so small in person. The big moments are just that—moments. The person whose life and death probably changed my father the most was fragile and bird-boned.
The first time I saw my father cry, I was 12. His mother had just died. That was the moment I understood love doesn’t imply fondness, and it stuck with me. My thoughts return to it sometimes when they have no where else to go. It’s a crushing feeling, like there is no escape from the pain of loss; even distancing yourself from people doesn’t protect you from the grief.

Both he and I still try, though.
It has taken me years to admit it, but the reason my father and I have a fraught relationship is that we are fundamentally similar. I butt heads with my dad because we are the same person. We have the same flaws. We think too much and we feel everything too deeply. The world makes us sad and angry, and we retreat from it to lick our wounds so often that we will never stop being lonely. These are the reasons I hate my father and also the reasons why I love him.

It’s complicated, I guess.

If my biggest fear, as a child, was the death of a parent, my second-biggest was turning into my father. I saw terrible things in him that I never wanted to emulate. Things that, over time, I began to see flickering within myself and I leaped, fearfully and unsuccessfully, to quell them.
There’s a funny thing that happens, the older you get. You start to see your parents as just regular people—adults who are flawed and confused and flying blind through life, just as you are…but trying.

I look back now and the “terrible” things my father and I share don’t seem quite so terrible anymore. I sit with these qualities, the emotional waterfalls he has left to me, and I work a little each day on confronting and accepting them, rather than running away. The way my dad took care of my grandmother until she died, rather than putting her in a nursing home or turning her away. They were never close, but he tried to accept her as she was.

And that is what I’m left with, in the end: the legacy I choose to take with me. That too many feelings are better than none. That warmth is more important than pride. That caring is worthwhile. Even when the caring overwhelms you, even when you don’t know how to express it. That trying is all we can do. Even when your “trying” is telling a story about mechanical failure and hanging up without an “I love you.”

That the people who matter will understand your effort, anyway.


Your Hands (Together)

It’s on impulse one afternoon that I decide what my tattoo will be. It’s a decision I’ve toyed with for years, since the moment I turned 18, but I never settled on anything. How do you choose something you’ll be happy with for the rest of your life? What if you end up imprinting something on yourself that you realize, years later, you want to let go? How do you know what to hold on to, what to keep and what to throw away?

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I am a pack rat. I hoard; I cannot let things go. Rehashing moments is simultaneously cathartic and troubling, a means of confirming my existence and of forgetting to live in the here and now. More than anything, it comforts me to have tangible markers of abstract experiences – makes me feel like a whole person, like a body existing in physical form, rather than an incorporeal collection of thoughts. So, I keep things. They are the scraps that make me feel whole. And every so often, I wander back and sift through the pieces, pulling out the boxes with bits of paper and souvenirs that would look like trash to anyone else. Concert tickets, birthday cards, handwritten notes, bottle caps, treasures of fortune cookies past. Tiny things, but I love them – and I expect no one else to understand.

In a way, everyone does this. Memory is an act of hoarding, after all, picking up the pieces of your past and holding them up to the light, gently teasing them apart (often over and over again) until they make sense. Sometimes, they never do.

But one afternoon in my 20s, I am sifting through the scraps of memory, and I find a yellow card envelope I have tucked away for the last ten years. I have saved this quote – carried it with me, literally and figuratively, through nine different apartments and dorm rooms (five moves in the rain, four in blistering heat). It is small but it gave me hope when I was young, and it gives me something to think about now. So, even though my mother does not like tattoos, I decide on this sunny day that her handwriting is something I can be sure of forever, that I will never regret it on my body. Maybe it’s a redundant choice, since my mother is already all over me, etched into my features and my movements and my voice. But it is mine to make.

On Lethargy and Longing

I have a problem with inappropriate crushes. I like to like people with whom any kind of future – physical, emotional, or otherwise – is nigh impossible. You know, they live inordinately far away, or they’re not into women, or they’re people with whom I must maintain a professional relationship. And in addition to the inappropriate feelings, I like to be very obvious with my intentions by…doing nothing at all and treating my crushes just like everyone else. I’m really good at romance.

Unlike in teenage years, though, crushes as an adult are fun. They are no longer crippling or full of agitated over-thinking or insomnia. Having some fluttery feelings serves to make my day a little more exciting and that’s all. There is no angst because there is no pressure – nothing can happen. Nothing will happen. I am safe from having to try.

Lately, I realize how prominent a theme this is in my life – protecting myself from having to try. I’ve spent my whole professional life running away from the things I might be good at because I was too scared I wouldn’t be good enough at them. So instead, I pursued other things, things in which I had no personal stake, no confidence to be smashed. I went through the motions. Instead of chasing dreams, I moseyed in the general direction of middling success. It doesn’t matter if I fail at things I don’t really care about. No pressure. No problem.

It occurs to me that I’ve made a concerted, if subconscious, effort to absolve myself of making an effort. A little ironic, all the work it takes to justify laziness.

But. I am starting school in a month and a half, which will mark the first step in a direction that involves doing something I care about, potentially failing at something I’ve secretly wanted to do all my life. To say I am scared is an understatement. This is where shit gets real (and/or hits the fan).

It’s like I actually slept with that cute boss or that exchange student from halfway around the world. And now we’re waking up, bleary-eyed and a little hung-over, and “the talk” looms ahead of us, full of the potential to be awkward or devastating or – just maybe? – incredible.

Loving Sounds of Static

It’s the warmest day of spring so far, probably the highest temperatures I’ve seen since September, and I’m already feeling summer laziness setting in. Something about the heat brings me back to teen years. Everything seems to do that lately. The moment I caught my reflection and saw someone there who actually looked almost-30 was the moment I started running from the future, the moment I started retreating from adulthood with a kind of fervor I haven’t unleashed since I was 16.

I was riding the train to Fishtown one night this winter, spacing out and watching the city through the window, when we entered a tunnel, and I saw myself in the dark glass. My eyes looked tired, my features drawn. I felt awkward all of a sudden, the same way I feel when I interact with someone shorter than I am – sort of gawky and unsure what to do with my limbs, which start to feel wobbly and gigantic. I’m so used to the world as a shrimpy, baby-faced kid that I don’t physically know what to do with my body when that role is stripped away. When I’m the tall one. When I look…old.  Adult.

I think that’s when I started to hit subconscious panic buttons. For the first time basically ever, I don’t give a fuck if people mistake me for a high school student. I encourage it. I wear sweatshirts with loose jeans in public. I don’t do my makeup. I went to a concert last week dressed in a black T-shirt my boyfriend accidentally shrank in the wash and grey Chucks. I looked in the mirror and saw my 17-year-old self staring back. Mission accomplished, I thought. Now what?

It’s the question of the moment. Now what? Where should I go? What should I do? If I’m past the age where gummy bears and wine comprise an acceptable dinner, what the hell should I be eating?? Shouldn’t adulting be easy by now?

And then there’s today. The day after yesterday, which is the day when I decided I’m moving to New York for graduate school. And things are finally starting to feel like they’re moving forward. So, I bought new lipstick that (I think) makes me look like a woman who actually knows how to wear lipstick, and I’m wearing it with this red dress I bought last summer. I like to imagine the whole ensemble makes me seem more put together than I actually feel (/am). C and I are lounging on a couch at his place when a ghost from his past (of sorts) appears from upstairs. And he doesn’t have to say it, but I know the connection, and it feels like coming full circle to that day in April (not unlike this one) four years ago, when we ran into someone similar at the book thrift down the street, and C stuttered when he called me his girlfriend for the first time in public. I feel 17 and 23 and 35 at once. Confounded by life’s tiny twists and the sharpness of my own emotional turns.

Later, here I am drinking a (probably skunked – Lord, let me count the ways I am not a good grown-up) beer by myself and painting my nails and watching things on the Internet. It’s quiet in this house that is not my house, and the dog is napping in the sun, and I want it to feel peaceful, but instead I am just scared. I write about it in an attempt to make the experience somehow more profound than it is. (Yet another thing that hasn’t changed in the last decade, I suppose.)  I don’t want to be inconsequential and swallowed up by this expanse of years ticking away. I want the little pieces to add up to something; I want to be building myself, want my youth to be a series of meaningful events. I made choices, and I’m moving, and I’m bringing the last five years with me, and I want it all to capital ‘M’ Matter. The little side stories and the petty jealousies and the insecurities – I assume they are nothing, but I don’t want that to be true. Every look back is like a step forward in my head. Cyclical and linear at the same time.

The Orchard

I’m listless and lost, and I want to say a million things, but I can’t get the words out. I can’t even form the words in my head. It’s like a blank canvas that screams for ink, but I don’t have any. Empty space that draws invisible lines on itself. Silence that roars.  I’m just restless and my ideas are dried up, and I feel shriveled in the morning when I tumble out of bed, like the sleep has drained me rather than refreshed me. The years have only fed my nihlistic thoughts, so I can’t help thinking, what’s the point, anyway? Why try to find the right words when they don’t, can’t possibly, matter?

So. I drink too much coffee and say a whole lot of caffeinated nothing to a whole lot of people who don’t really want to hear it. I run circles in the city avoiding eye contact. I stare across the Delaware when I walk my dog every morning and wish for something, for anything, to happen that will clarify what the hell I am supposed to be doing here. I read the paper and my mother’s books and everything else I can find and wish for words of my own, but they just never come.

Crash Years

“I feel like I blinked and the last three years disappeared.”

I say it, and I’m instantly relieved. Finally, I’ve put words to this uncomfortable feeling I’ve been having – the muddled years in my mind. Each time I pull up a memory, I have to remind myself, count backwards on my fingers, to figure out when it happened.

I blinked, and I’m 27, still living the life I had at 24.
I blinked, and I am approaching 30 and still financially dependent on my parents.
I blinked, and four years have passed since I finished college, and I am still lonely and anxious and unsure.
I blinked, and it’s 2015, and I haven’t done anything I thought I would do.

K reclines, inspects my face as all these thoughts shuffle and reshuffle themselves in my head. She says what everyone says. “You know, it’s a different world now than it was 30 years ago.”

And of course, she is right. Everything costs more, the economy tanked, technology has drastically altered the course and content of our lives. Nothing is what it was. Nothing is what we expected it to be. I was born in a moment of relative calm in the world – calm and privacy and mostly peace and economic prosperity. The past 30 years have been tumultuous; nobody prepared us for this world. Nobody was prepared for this world.

Nonetheless, there is a niggling strand of doubt I cannot shake. If I were different, this would be OK. If I were the kind of person who was good with people. If I were less shy and sensitive and insecure and more interesting and bubbly and industrious. If I were able to do more with everything I’ve been given. If only. There’s nothing else to say on this, nothing I haven’t thought about before. You can’t will away the person you are.

K tells me to stop thinking I don’t deserve the opportunities I have been given. There are things we cannot control – privilege is one of them. Just because someone else is deserving of opportunities, it doesn’t mean that I am not.

I can’t quite make myself agree. As time passes, I find myself coming back to this idea and trying harder to be better, to be deserving.

We’ve come to the end of our conversation. (More time that seems to have rushed past me in a blink.) I leave. Outside, it’s dusk, and the lampposts flash on as I walk home in the almost-dark. I try to see the pools of light and not the spaces between. I try to be present in each footstep, to resist the panic in my mind from internal clocks and calendars. I can’t keep focusing on wasted time. It’s a false notion, anyway -“wasted” time. What should you be doing with it? Who’s to say? Even as I think it, I am lamenting the minutes passing – can’t help feeling I’m lost in my own life, drifting in and out of consciousness. I don’t know where the years have gone, let alone the minutes and the hours.

I blink, and I am waking up on a morning five years from today, and things look different but exactly the same. There’s something I’m forgetting, something I should be doing, something that got lost along the way. Many things, probably. How does the time keep disappearing like this? How do I keep forgetting to make my life? I am so busy going through the motions, I have forgotten to hit “record” on the little moments that build a film reel worth re-watching.

Of Mice & Mockingbirds

The only words I have are someone else’s. But this is what has flashed through my mind, over and over again, since last night. My heart breaks a little bit for a small town in the Midwest… and for all of us, living in a world where this is considered justice.

“How could they do it, how could they?”

“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night.”