In My Time of Aging.
A/N: This is me. Right now. Nothing will ring truer than this. This was written over night; it was supposed to be a poem, but it was fleshed out and now it's just something I wrote to get out of my head.
Disclaimer: Any references to IKEA, Backstreet Boys, Jamie Oliver and Instagram are merely that: references. I own nothing you recognize.
Nina discusses table sets and glasses with me. She has bought six wine glasses, five dessert glasses and wants to spend some more money on the champagne flutes. She buys a Jamie Oliver knife, the promise of great culinary adventures already advertised on the front cover in the curve of Jamie's grinning face. The food processor is already peeking out of her shopping bag. It's the latest version on the market, with the cutesy vintage styling that makes it look forty years old instead of two months. It's an ode to childhood memories and lemon pies with grandmothers who smoked too much, who knit great big sweaters, dolls and socks and died, cancer ridden in clinical hospitals. Sometimes I think it's what we cling to, in order to make ourselves feel at home, to feel that we partake in a pattern.
Sophie has a gift certificate for Ikea on hundreds of dollars. She spends it on beautiful wallpapers, decorating each wall a different colour of her mood, so that she can turn and look at the wall accordingly. She, too, buys vintage pens, long beds and closets designed to creak loudly on their own. We wear old knitted sweaters, glasses big as saucers on our faces because the fashion tells us so. We loathe everything new and shiny and splurge on clothes that are just odd enough to be smart for about five more minutes. We've learnt to associate the strange with good, and the ordinary with boring. Outstanding is for us only, and we are allowed to feel superior. Our superiority is endearing. My credit card's lines are soon smoother than a baby's bum, run down by my emotional violation of it. There seems to be an equation that equals the number of tears I've cried with the number of coins I've spent.
We visit the capital, walking down its narrow streets, drunk on adulthood. Nina points out her apartment, five stories up, with the view of the cathedral. She has a small kitchen, a dining room table and a large bed. It's nothing, but it's everything. She tells me with authority of the workings of university. That the theology students throw the best parties, that going to Sparkle Bar is the best bar in town, even though you have to be 21 to get anywhere here, and we're still just 20, running around at night in a strange city for the first time. She's swelling with excitement and pride, her fingers gripping the house key with a vigour I have yet to see her grab anything else with. It's hers. (And yes, let's forget the fact that her parents bought her this place). We like discarding facts in the bigger picture.
I smile, teeth for lips, and we continue strutting down the street that we'll all come to call home someday soon. It's not so much a place for adults as we are all children playing make-believe in large clothing, smearing signature red lipstick on sinful lips in an attempt to woo off the belts of men we have no intention of pursuing. We like the power. It makes us feel with a purpose, that flesh can raise itself in greeting at our command. That as inhuman, foreign and specialized – civilized as we are, we can still cause reactions on a deeply chemical and animalistic level.
In my time of aging, age comes with a clockwork precision I find eerily frightening. Milestones mark each pass in the rite of passage, measuring and evaluating your journey, as the steps shall forever alter your life. The gamble? Each step is another stage up a broken ladder, which threatens to crumble at any given moment. Any moment now – any moment -
The night shades our sins and we allow instinct to take over, the control giving way for pain. Vultures are waiting for us, ready for one-night wonders, never to return again, escaping when the first rays of reality slip in through the shutters. It's a symphony of surrender, matched by the beat of the bass. Out in the middle of the dance floor, I close my eyes and allow oblivion to take place in the hollowness of my chest. When dawn rises, it'll slip away, seeping out of my pores like the alcohol that clenches my throat.
At ten o'clock we buy twelve bottles for four people. Nina insists on drinking way too much, losing way too much control. She forces me. (This is my poor excuse, now listen to it carefully; I make lying an art). We force each other. We drink our body-weight of sorrow. In front of the mirror in the bathroom, going together because we never go alone, she takes photos on her phone of the two of us in bras. She kisses me sloppily on my lips, her lips too hard on my mouth, a poor imitation of something else, saying she loves me, that this is love; this is love.
At twelve o'clock, we should already have left an hour ago and we're dancing to our fitness song, showing the moves from our latest Zumba class. We sing along to songs we hate and say stuff like I want ya and When ya looking like that. The nostalgia should burn me, but truthfully I just do it for the others, imitating crude gestures and easing into mindless songs that mirror the exact state of our world. We’re mirrored reflections of each other, forever bound to reflect something: humanity, DNA, fashion, bad decisions, sorrow; lies.
At one o'clock, Nina's never been happier in her life. She tells me this breathing hard into my face, her eyes centimetres from mine. We leave the apartment, greeting a bunch of guys on the corner. We're everyone's friends. Sophie and I pee in the driveway of a children's school. Wave to the camera, Sophie grins and points to the black box behind us. I'm being fashionably smart, but humanly dumb, wearing a jumpsuit and my signature burgundy lips. It'll be a miracle if any of this lasts. I've seen too many mirrored version of myself in the burnt out shade of the five in the morning sunlight with faded lipstick, red-rimmed eyes and mussed up hair.
We make it to the club, taking pictures of anyone and everything. In the morning, we will look at them and remember 10 %. I order the drinks, leaning across the bar (as I've been taught). Strut out my bum just so. Two guys ask me to rate the barman, talking loudly in front of him. I ignore them and slip into the sea of people, carrying with me the five glasses of oblivion.
At one-thirty we dance with closed eyes in the middle of a disco ball, twisting our bodies in stereotypical movements, willing the eyes of men to roam freely. I swirl my hair and smile like I have a secret twisting between the apex of my thighs. A guy tells me I have red lips. I nod and say always. Our conversations between midnight madness and morning glory are always deep like that. We fix our makeup in the toilet. Sophie's trying very hard to fold the toilet paper before use. Nina's beaming at the world, drawing outside the lines of her eyes.
At two o'clock, I am remembering you. Not missing you, but missing the feeling of wholeness. Of belonging. I order tequila because the taste still reminds me of you; bitter and hard to swallow but leaves you ready to conquer the world. I swing my hips in your tribute, one last thought straying you before I catch the eyes of a dark-haired shadow who illusions love.
At three o'clock, Nina is crying outside the bar and wants her mum. I try and guide my way through this alien town and we end up at the doorstep, locking ourselves in. Half an hour later, the others arrive, having lost one of the girls to a bush and a man.
At four o'clock, I sit staring at the moon, watching the city breathe beneath me. The others are dead to the world and I cry myself dry, lipsticks marring my pale skin. I haven't been loved for a year. I haven’t been loved for nearly enough time.
The next morning we all awake with sallow faces, eating tuna on toast because that's all there is in the apartment. We swear we'll do it again, because this was so much fun. I can feel my body resisting with every bend I make. It will be years later, when it is too weak to abide my requests that I shall recollect past accomplishment and murmur that this, this, with a finger raised, was how you lived your life. Bones creaking beneath your skin with the dull burn of sadness twisting in your stomach. Time’s smart like that.
See, humanity has always known how to kill itself. We make dying beautiful with smoke rising like halos from our burgundy lips and instagram-photographs.
We go to the mall, listening to the white clad lady with the scary-painted eyebrows when she tells us that we must preserve our youth carefully. I buy Chanel, because she makes me feel pretty. We are allowed to feel superior. We read. We are well travelled, and we are to have a university degree. Our superiority is charming. Our wallets flirt with them. It'll be years before I learn to tell sincerity from falseness. You taught me that.
I leave them at the station, taking the train home. They wave goodbye, hand in hand, with the buildings reaching into the sky behind them. I listen to music, letting sorrow drip into my heart like liquid poetry, each tear harder than the next. I arrive alone to my hometown. I ride my bike home, too impatient and tight with money to take the bus.
The house is empty when I enter it. There is no note. No nothing. Only the stale smell of sticky floors and disappointment lingers in the doorway. I make myself dinner, cheese on toast and eat in my room, playing the music loudly, trying to fill the silence that weaves itself into my lungs.
My head feels empty, heavy and hard to deal with. I want to bury myself into the deep confines of my bed. And I do try that. But nothing helps. I think I preferred the numbness. But I'm here. A bit lost. Trying to figure out my life and who I am (despite the fact that I thought I knew who that was – I was wrong.) So I write. Drink coffee and go out with friends who are all studying in the capital, living on their own, all doing impossibly beautiful things. While I'm at home. With a father who doesn't see me. A mother who pretends sending a text every other month is a relationship. And a house that has stopped feeling like home years ago. Now the garden seems oddly vacant, plants have overgrown their boundaries, slipping around necks of chairs, swallowing them whole. Ghosts of the past are running through the green, building huts in the indents of trees and cooking mud cakes to forgotten best friends who fell in love with you all by themselves.
I peer into photo albums, searching faces for clues, piecing together a past I’ll never remember. I trace the lines of my face, trying to merge then and now, only to discover that my features are turning coats, telling the tales of a family I have left behind, carrying on the button nose and the wide eyes. I look for my feelings to be echoed in the depths of such similar eyes, but find myself grasping at straws, the alienism hauling at me once more even against such genetic closeness. If only biology was enough. If only.
And I'm left sitting in a room that has turned into my world, wandering out only to chance a glance at living. Escape is my only option, much like I did four years ago, just around this time. Numbers are hard like that. Count too far and you're gone. Three years ago, I was madly, deeply in love with you, the happiest I have ever been. And I thought I knew who I was and that was the reflection in your eyes. A year ago I had a family. Three months ago I was something; a graduate. Now I'm just a little girl, lost in the faces of impostors, not even at a crossroad - not really anywhere. I'm just right here, in the seat of this chair with panic blistering my stomach and loneliness swallowing my reason.
I keep on bouncing off countries in my mind, trying to see myself there, draped in accents and mystery. I should discover myself, or find myself. Because running away from yourself and going on exotic trips has always screamed responsibility. I've done this before. I know this dream. But dreaming has become tradition and tradition has become mediocre and who wants mediocrity?
The dream doesn't come quite as easily as it used to, but it's still there, flickering on and off like a bad connection on a TV. Maybe that's you playing around. Maybe I really do miss you. Or parts of you. The parts that didn't destroy me. I sit patiently and wait, waiting for something to step back into making sense. It doesn't come, not here.
Instead, I hear keys jiggle the door as darkness presses against the window, and the hours fall away like burnt paper through my fingertips. I hear the breath as he steps into the room, the quiet murmur of the TV and I press my feet against the ground, feeling the unmoving earth tremble beneath my feet. Sometimes bravery doesn't have to be loud. Sometimes it's enough to just hold on. Hold on.
Nina texts me and tells me she had a blast and we must do it again sometime soon.
I smile and send her a text, always.