Ten years ago:
I was beginning to loathe the idea of moving for the eleventh time in four years. Boxes I had emptied six months before were slowly being restored to their natural packed state. Anything not tied down or in immediate need was herded into the living room, which was converted into the packing area.
I threw myself into that mess immediately because it was a much more approachable problem than the logistics of actually moving everything back to New York. Being poor and license-less immediately removed the possibility of renting a truck and driving my things back. I wasn't about to leave things in my brother's basement again, because the last time I did that I wasn't able to see my belongings for nearly two years. I went through and trashed everything I could bear to discard, but there was still way too much left.
Out of desperation, I began thinking about carrying as much as I could onto a Greyhound bus, and then shipping everything else ahead of me. This wasn't the first time I was going to try moving on the bus, and I had a rough idea of how much I was willing to lug around with me. The shipping bit frustrated me though, as I figured it was going to be expensive and potentially harmful.
There was no winning, but I had committed myself to the goal of getting back, and there was no turning back.
And then there was Isabella.
Isabella worked at the store down the hall that sold all of the little glittery accessories that the kids like. It was a very girly store, and I had never actually set foot into it at all merely out of a complete lack of interest. I would run into her while out and about in the mall scene, but at most it was a nod of recognition or maybe a wave.
One day we started talking. I don't remember how it happened but it did, and then we were saying hi to each other as we passed instead of nodding. And then we were stopping and chatting instead of saying hi. And then we were both closing one night and in the midst of our conversation it came up that I didn't own any summer shorts. She found this idea appalling and weird for some reason, and insisted that she take me up to the bigger mall in Grand Rapids to take care of the "problem".
She took me up there on that Saturday, and she dragged me into every store I would have fanatically avoided otherwise: the Gap, some place called Anchor Blue, motherfucking Old Navy of all places. I would protest at the threshold of every store, and she would convince me that she was only doing this for my own good, and then I would relent and she would run around the store like a woman possessed. She would pull any pair of shorts off of the rack and hold them up to me with a critical eye I clearly did not have, and then throw them at me while I shook my head and began protesting. And it was fun in the weird sort of way that trying out a new aspect of a person is fun.
I tried to convince myself that I was just out having fun with my weird new friend, but I also saw that dynamic creeping up between us and I was afraid of it. I didn't want this to be a situation where I built her expectations up. Even if I wasn't in the midst of trying to get myself back to New York I at least possessed the understanding that I was not capable of putting together a fully realized relationship. On the drive back home I actually had the presence of mind to say these words to her in a coherent way. She demurred, saying that we were just hanging out and it was fun and all of that, but that certainly didn't seem to be the case to me. Either way, I was proud of myself for clearing the air all on my own, and defusing the situation and my anxiety at the same time.
And I did get a pair of shorts that night. I still have them actually, and I do wear them from time to time. They are the kind of shorts that have zippers in the hem, so that one can attach the legs and turn them into pants. It was the closest I was going to come in those days.
Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
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