You wanted to know where I thought I'd be in five years. I felt the words freeze, my mouth open in a state of dumb shock because I had suddenly realized that in five years, we could no longer attribute our mistakes to the tried and true excuse of being young, foolish, and naive. Despite our round-cheeked baby faces, we were no longer the giggling girls who hunted for mischief and reckless adventure, believing that it equaled spiritual freedom. In those days, we were eager to indulge in the vices that youth and suburban-bred boredom offered. I became well versed in the art of tearing myself apart. We were the ones who had gotten our hands on a bit of Kerouac, a taste of Sylvia Plath. You wanted some long-haired trailer park poet, some rough around the edges Ponyboy Curtis.
We pretended that we knew everything because it scared us to think that we really didn't know anything. The thrill of being a teenage girl had always been driven by the reflexive need to test the boundaries of this temporary status. We wanted to prove that we could challenge mortality without fear. We copied the actions of those trailblazers before us, the public figures that had paved the way, the cliché characteristics of "bad girls" echoing back to pieces of history that now served as tired and familiar costumes. During our sophomore year in high school, I picked up smoking. Both of my grandparents had been heavy smokers for a sizable portion of their lives and consequently, died of lung cancer. Yet I decided I liked to flip-flop between Marlborough Reds and Cloves. We'd smoke them after school, puffing away like we were the stars of our own movies, blowing out sloppy smoke bubbles as though we were strung-out junkies with nothing better to do than wait to die. Truthfully, smoking was the physical manifestation of anxiety, an impulsive tic; some symptom of my nervous energy.
When you wanted to know where I thought I'd be in five years, I realized that last year, during this time in the season, New York was biting cold. The wind would whip against your cheeks and your nose would always feel runny. When you walked down the streets, you did your best to keep your head down to avoid the full sting of the cold air slashing your cheeks. On one particular night, I was out on a second date with a guy who I had met on OkCupid. I foolishly believed in the magic of New York City, as though it were another universe in itself. (And in its own way, New York City is it's own universe, equal parts filth and beauty, kept afloat by the aspirations of starry-eyed optimists in love with a place that doesn't really exist.)
On our first date, I'd been relieved that he hadn't turned out to be Norman Bates. If anything, he looked like a young Anthony Perkins dressed in an outfit entirely pieced together from weekend Goodwill and Salvation Army raids. His coat was one big, blue, florescent marshmallow. His brown hair was covered by a knitted hat topped with a puffball. He told me that he'd grown up in upstate New York, was now an English teacher at a high school in Brooklyn and liked the classes that he taught. He confessed that a legion of his female students held torches for him and grinned as though I were meant to be in awe of his fan club. Nevertheless, I wanted him to like me because I was lonely. I tricked myself into believing that it would be better to solve those issues with a distraction, some brooding Heathcliff of a stranger who hoarded his love. I found Tony Perkins on the other side of the great black hole of the Internet and refused to initially question his true motives.
On our second date, he let his mask slip. He confessed that despite being white, he "didn't date white girls" and he liked me because I was "exotic." I realized that I had been reduced to nothing more than a conquest. In her essay, "Eating the Other," bell hooks argues that "as is often the case in this society, they were confident that non-white people had more life experience, were more worldly, sensual, and sexual because they were different." hooks was speaking about a conversation she had overhead concerning a group of "very blond, very white, jock type boys," who were rating various female students by their race and ethnicity and which group was more likely to put out. Tony Perkins could've fit right in with those jocks. His dating history signified that he was in denial about the fact that his preference was merely a fetish. He thought that his confession was a compliment, a bit of flattery that would lower my inhibitions and get me into his bed. I wasn't a person to him, I was a commodity. At the end of the night, I knew I wouldn't see him again.
The city is an ever-shifting sea of bodies and sometimes you get plucked out of the masses. How many times would you really be on the same subway with the same few people? People check Missed Connections on Craigslist as though it's the first chapter in their future love story. But what are the chances that you'll have control of the ending?
You wanted to know where I thought I'd be in five years because you wanted to get married by the time you were 25. You really do want it to be an event rather than a celebration. You want the day to be documented with impeccable detail. Deep down, you don't think that the more lavish the display, the stronger evidence of your commitment. Rather you want the symbolism of the day to work its way into your young marriage like voodoo, as though it will vanquish whatever fears threaten your relationship. When I think of marriage, I think of my mother and father and flashing lights and my mother locking her bedroom door at night. Sometimes I think that I see myself in my mother and other times I think I see myself in my father. Even though these are slivers off the surface, bits that escaped the bonds of subconsciousness, it scares me because this mish-mash of traits is occasionally volatile.
In five years, I will be 29. I can create an outline of my ideals but it doesn't seem too sensible to fill in the blank spots. Not when things can change at the drop of a hat and unemployment is the monster lurking beneath the bed, waiting for you to flip off the lights. I can only concentrate on the fight ahead, one day at a time. I do hope that in five years, I've forged ahead on my career path. I hope I won't have to be forced back to the drawing board, emailing mountains of resumes. I hope that I can continue to be inspired by the books I read and the movies I watch and the hearts of unexpected mentors. I will learn how to fine-tune my creativity because it's often fleeting and fickle but as a writer, it's something that you should trust.
In five years, I know that we will be back at your apartment or house, wondering about the next five years that will not stop for us.