There's this idea floating around that the kernel of every unhappiness, the seed from which it sprouts, is want. Like most ideas, this one is both right and wrong, but lately what I've been tasting is the rightness, the ways in which the idea reveals itself to be -precisely and terribly- true.
You want something. You get it. Then, tooth and nail, you defend it. I do this with free time. A year ago I wouldn't have dreamed of wanting -let alone needing- my evenings free. Yet now I eschew everything I can that takes me out of the house after 8. I want the time to wind down, to settle in. I want an early night.
All these other things I've laboriously acquired, that I feel I must defend. It's exhausting. The time to exercise. A kitchen of my own. Cable internet, a library within walking distance, the perfect part-time job. Any part-time job. Financial security. Emotional security. The sheer temerity of being alive.
The idea is, you're supposed to stop. You're supposed to appreciate what you have, live in the moment, blah blah blah, set everything else adrift. And sure, there are things from which, if I try, I can unmoor myself. My wildest hopes and dreams, for starters. Sleep, if I must, though the lack of it renders me both witless and overbearing, like a bossy four-year-old. I can do without eating out, without my childhood teddy bear, without more than half of my books.
But then comes Saturday, when I drive down to my hometown for a friend's 29th birthday party. H downs two bellinis and enough chocolate to stupefy a Clydesdale; I follow her excellent example. We bicker about how long we'd known each other; she claims third grade, I assert fourth.
Honestly, I'm not sure. The things about which I'm certain are sparks, brief flashes of light. At nine, H was jealous of my ankle socks. At twelve, I was jealous of her pique turns. At eighteen I borrowed her prom dress. At nineteen, I acquired a twitchy cellist with a bowl cut; she dated a future investment banker. We compared notes. We got dumped. We wanted to change the world and there's a whole lot I'm forgetting in between, because that's how things are when you grow up together: you forget.
Or rather, you remember, but each memory is attached to three more, and each of those is attached to six more, and then twelve, and then forty, so that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot untangle a narrative thread from the intermingling of your lives. It stymies everything you've ever learned about writing - which is no mean feat, and probably a good thing, to boot.
S was at the party. In fifth grade, his British mother packed Smarties in his lunch every day and we would take turns begging for them. Two decades later, I ran into his mother on the cancer ward of the hospital. One decade earlier, S asked H to prom. He tried to slow dance with her and she edged away. T didn't go to prom, but she was Lucy in our sixth grade musical, the one in which S was good Snoopy and H was evil Snoopy and I was a morbidly officious psychiatrist. R is T's little sister; she went to school with my brother but took ballet with me and with H. T's mother taught preschool across from our fourth grade class. H's mother was best friends with V, I's mother, who went for walks with my mother, who had an office down the hall from H's father. And on, and on.
I miss this. I want this. And I don't want not to want this. There's something precious in a life that's less story than palimpsest, a life that cannot be made sense of through narrative because it's not yours; it belongs to your neighbor and his friend and her enemy. It's not a thread but a knot; it's not a knot but a wide, warm blanket. I don't live here anymore. So few of us live here anymore.