Sometimes my phone doesn't recognize my fingerprint. Which seems like such a first world problem that I'm embarrassed to lead with it. But, on bad days, my unrecognizable fingerprint leads me to a lot of existential questions. Like- who am I? Or who does my thumbprint make me out to be?
Have I touched you? Has my thumbprint decoded messages from the freckles on your arm? Is this swirling identity like the inside of a tree? Does it know how long I have left, how long I've been traveling, where I am going to go?
Or is life's plan less permanent than the universes on our flesh? This thumbprint was chosen for me. A thing I cannot share, cannot give, cannot leave behind. When we feel like reinvention, like it's time to start anew, there are parts of ourselves that we cannot shake. So who can we become, when so much of us is hardwired?
I have spent a lifetime trying to reinvent myself. I was always too sensitive, too innocent, too (for)giving. In every dynamic, I was the maternal one: the one gone to for guidance, or help, but the last one told the fun stories. I kept moving- from school to school, to a different state, I even went traveling and told myself that, for two weeks, I could be whoever I wanted to be. But I was still just me.
I cried when that random drunk guy sloppily leaned over, while I was in the middle of talking about how much I love live music, and kissed me. And I fell head-over-heels for the man in the leather jacket who told me that I sweated sugar and linked pinkies with me through Belfast. I was still just me.
But there are some things that we can't take with us. Leather-jacket-love-stories stay where they came from. Wherever we leave our thumbprints, will we be remembered? Or covered over as quickly as we came?
I wonder if playing thumb-war is the most honest argument--just two identities battling it out. If we could solve everything with hand games; if scissors always cut paper, if paper always covered rock, if rock always broke scissors...then my phone would always recognize my identity and the swirling fingerprints that are meant to say so much about us would speak for themselves so we wouldn't have to talk so much.
I make it a habit to watch something go. Especially when I don't want it to. Maybe it was an overindulgence of rom-coms as a child but it was well-ingrained in me that the thing I looked back at should always be staring back at me. Like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. When you love something (set it free but) stare at it until it comes back to you. Right?
Living alone makes me a woman of ritual. Every morning, as I'm leaving for work, I bid my apartment farewell. Turning around, my tea thermos sloshing about, I say "Goodbye house. I miss you already." I take a moment to take stock of what I have. Of the warm tea in my hand. Of the heaviness in my heart.
Another ritual I've adopted takes places on Sunday evenings. While the weather outside borders on frightful, I fill my cast iron pot with shallots and garlic, rosemary, carrots, potatoes... building something hearty. Chicken stock, for the soul. It's enough food to last at least a week of mason jar lunches at school or warm dinners.
I am not always a religious person but there's something holy about routine. There's something holy about knowing where you will be and who you will be with. Having a semblance of how the day should go.
A plan combats loneliness. Turning around to stare at your apartment as it watches you walk away combats loneliness. Listening to Glen Hansard tunes as you get ready for work in the morning combats loneliness. Listening to Rosie Thomas will make you feel lonelier.
But you aren't lonely. You just had to let things go, in order to realize all that you have--without someone else there. Just had to take stock of everything, exactly as it is now. Because tomorrow it could all change but you will still be the girl who waves goodbye to her apartment and turns around to see who's taking stock as she walks away.
It takes 10 minutes for the train to come. 12 minutes to walk from your apartment door to the turnstile. 52 minutes to get to work. No transfer. 15 minutes to layer your longest locks away, 2 years to grow them back. 1 day to read A Wrinkle in Time. 1 year and 11 months to realize he's no good for you. 2 years and 1 month to realize he's no good for you--and mean it. 7 seconds to cut your bangs. 17 voicemails, 22 missed calls, and 3 pillows to finally let him go. Eight seconds to assess your surroundings. 3 hours to find your only pair of jeans. 21 minutes to walk from Union Square to Chelsea Market. 12 seconds to gather a first impression. 25 minutes to dye your hair, excluding application. 5 seconds to call your mother. 18 minutes to work up the courage to tell her you're scared. 7 seconds to cut your bangs. 1 second for you to hear the tears well up in her throat, like gurgling oceans. 12 seconds to let the oceans swallow you up. 6 minutes to count every decision that led you here on one hand. And an instant to regret them. 1 year and 11 months to realize he's no good for you. 7 seconds to cut your bangs (again).
In every relationship, one person always loves more than the other. That's not to say that both parts of the whole aren't in love but one will always care a little harder. Or needs a little more. The first time someone told me that, it came with a warning. Midnight on a Tuesday, my first year in New York, on the way home from work. The same coworker who bleated confidently that he was the type of lover who loved more, leaned in a little closer, off Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street and whispered, "find someone who loves you more than you love them."
I just laughed. In part because I was not yet cynical enough to heed his advice but also because I have always loved something. It is just in my nature to want to be amorous: to make cute puns and keepsakes, to fill my heart with ideas the dreamcatcher snuck through. Back then, I didn't imagine a time where love wouldn't be reciprocal, since, love by definition needs more than one able-bodied participant. Or else, it is lust. Or worse- pedophilia.
There's that Serenity Prayer, used by twelve step programs, beseeching a place of healing for the wisdom to know the difference. To accept the things we cannot change. The people who love us is a something we cannot control. Neither is the people we love. Or how.
Now, I see the imbalance everywhere: on trains where couples pull and push away from one another like the Dance of the Cool Kids...bullying is, by definition, when one person treats another like they are inferior to them. This is a society in which we spend the majority of our time bullying, in order to keep ourselves from being bullied: it's a defense mechanism. Survival of the fittest.
I spot that weakness in others, now. And it scares me. It keeps my walls up, my emotions locked behind a collection of jagged metal bars. I don't mean to be prickly or detached. I'm just trying to remember what it felt like before I was broken. What it feels like to not be afraid.
"Losing love is like organ damage; it's like dying. Only difference is dying ends. This could go on forever."
But we are all hoping to be wiser than yesterday; to take something useful from the paper cuts.
My biggest problem is that I dive in, heart first. Too genuine for my own good. And I expect everyone to do the same. From the outside, there are lots of people who can put up the right facade. I teach my students about archetypes at the start of the year. So they can use them in their literature analysis, in their acting work. Stock characters, if you will. It's easy to channel Prince Charming. To channel the Damsel in Distress. It's much harder to take stock of who those characters are. Of our character. Sometimes the good guys come across as the bad ones.
Who has the wisdom to know the difference?
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal. Married to my best friend and planning a lifetime of adventure!