I. As a species we are heroically bad at saying what we really mean. We are so afraid to finish the conversation, or bring it back up after things cool down, that we walk away from the best things and straight towards a backup plan. We seek out places where we don’t have to have the hard talks, relish chances to enact fragmented slivers of our dreams and fantasies, and it is only after we are in too deep that we realize you can’t replace the real thing after all.
II. Today I watched a squirrel get hit by a car. It happened so quickly I almost didn’t believe it, until the car whirred by with that numb cacophony of wind and tire noise and the squirrel spun in place, writing in pain, pounding the pavement with its fists and wagging its tail in agony until its injuries rendered it dead. When I walked back by, a bird had already pecked out its still-open eyeball. I wonder if the squirrel felt that happening.
III. What is with this dance we do. People are more desirable when they’re unattainable, and their allure fizzles when reality sets in. It isn’t the burps or dirty laundry, but the earnestness and half-baked bread that causes real life to falter in the shadow of Instagram. I am always overlooked for someone who doesn’t wear their demons on their sleeve, who knows that we aren’t supposed to say the word “therapy” out loud. I am adored when I am at my loneliest, writing plaintive dispatches from public libraries and the tailgate of a truck I’m no longer brave enough to own. And I am cast aside when I sit down at the table, offering to stick around and do this more often. Even as I’m accused of “not being settled enough.” I don’t think anyone ever gave me the rule book, and even a dozen losses hasn’t taught me a dang thing about how to win.
IV. Last weekend I saw a dog get hit by a car on my bike ride. It started with general chaos across the street, the realization that people were chasing a dog, and I started to hop off my bike to try and stop the fast traffic on the busy street that separated us. A red F-150 didn’t even tap the brakes. I watched the dog get spun around by the bumper and try to run one desperate wounded step before being flattened by the wheels. Blood splattered everywhere and its owner wailed and screamed as she approached. Her daughter scooped the lifeless body up with a sweatshirt. The guy in the lifted truck at the intersection leaned out to me and said, “Man, I tried to stop that dog a few blocks ago and it bit me and ran away. That was so hard to watch. Be safe, buddy.” I pedaled forward, moaning audibly. It hurt to watch.
V. I’m not sure which heartbreak hurts the most. The loss of what could have been, the loss of what was, or the daily papercuts of being someone who feels everything. Sometimes it’s a memory of a person, sometimes it’s wondering if we might’ve worked, oftentimes it’s a squirrel’s tiny fists pounding the ground, it’s carrying a turtle a mile on my bike to bring it away from the highway to the water, knowing that’s not what it wanted and praying it’s better than what might’ve happened. It’s looking at your dog and knowing he’s going to die in less than ten years and feeling the unbearable pain of love so strongly that it almost helps you understand why people who love you always run away right when they start to get close.
VI. I think people are scared of getting too close to things they might lose. It’s not scary to date someone you only sorta adore, because you won’t die if they break up with you. When I look at Hank, I really do wonder if I would survive losing him tragically. I often wish the pain of heartache could kill, because it is so hard to endure.
VII. I was hit by a car once. I can’t stop thinking about the squirrel today, twitching its tail and writhing and pounding the pavement. It hurts so badly, this isn’t what it wanted. It’s so frustrating to misjudge something you don’t understand and to pay the ultimate price for it. Most days, at least for a blink or two, I remember the unholy racket of plastic and metal and skin and pavement. The buzzing feeling. That was the last day my brain worked the way it used to. And almost every night, I think in some abstract way about how absurd it is that we are all one second away from losing everything.
VIII. Something about that is almost beautiful, though. Tonight I was buttoning my shirt, getting dressed just to walk downstairs. I couldn’t even muster the fakest of smiles, but I thought about how many years I’ve had this shirt, how much I like it, and how it will be sad when it gives up the ghost beyond repair. I felt the fabric getting a bit tired as I ran the buttons through their slots. Almost like me. You get better with use until one day use finally wears you out.
IX. It is nice to recognize that you’ll miss something while you still have it. I strive to never take a shortcut on any walk with Hank, to never skip a therapy session, to never again be afraid of what it might mean for things to work out so well that one aspect of your finite little forever becomes certain.
X. Why are we so addicted to the vague adoration of the many and so afraid of the intentional and relentless love of the few? So afraid of a hard work miracle that we prefer the comfortable, easy numbness of the not-quite? God it makes me sick. And yet, I do it, too. Maybe growing up is really when you slam every half open door fully shut and walk through the door you value the most so far that you can’t turn back.
XI. Yesterday I rode my bike way out in the country. The gravel roads were strewn with big bushy caterpillars, thousands of them. When I traversed a section of highway, I watched butterflies dance out of the way of cars rushing by at eighty miles an hour. Sometimes they’d dodge one and get hit by the oncoming traffic. They might still have some life in them even then, before the next car finished them off. I don’t know why people get more sad about turtles being run over than caterpillars that never become butterflies, but there were a lot of bug guts, even on one lane gravel roads where I didn’t see any cars at all.
XII. Depression is one manifestation of empathy. People who are in touch with their feelings are moved deeply by all of them. The good ones and the bad ones. And there is a gnawing feeling that nips at our heels, that reminds us if we are at all out of line with our ideals. It is why some of us bury ourselves in hard bike rides and tough work, to feel a visceral outlet for that unique mental pain, to remind ourselves that we can do something we set out to. Because so often the world doesn’t quite work that way. I wish for once someone understood that the amount of hurt I feel is one of many signs of how much love I have to give.
XIII. All the classes I took about literature and writing failed to prepare me for the irony of adult life. This is a life where past loves use photos I took of them as bait for suitors who aren’t me, where people who likely would get along swimmingly hate each other because of their various relationships to me, and yet I wind up distant from all of them. A common point in a chaotic map that is littered with one degree separations, instant Instagram story views, and texts left on read. At times, I feel unbelievably dumb. Yet I know I am smart. But really, who cares if someone who didn’t choose us thinks we’re cute or not.
XIV. Everything good comes to an end. Whether it’s a friendship that changes with the seasons, a relationship that ends with a breakup or when death does you part. A trusty old truck, a favorite pair of jeans, the best dog you’ll ever have. All we can do is make those moments count, embrace the bittersweet tears when they fall, and experience the fullness of the love while it’s here. Holding back doesn’t lessen the pain of the loss, but it sure as hell lessens the joy of the having. I’d argue it’s taken me too long to learn that lesson, but hopefully life has a way of proving me wrong.
XV. I wish I wrote songs. I want this to be a bittersweet tune that you turn up with the windows a third of the way down, on a late spring night when the air stays warm after dark but still has a slight chill to it. I want to be the wind in your hair and the tingling feeling in your heart when you wonder whether the sad lyrics or the happy music are making you feel this way. I want to be able to listen to you singing, driving home from a date that went well. It’s never with me, but if I could turn all these feelings into something that comes out of your stereo on nights like this, it just might be enough.