This was originally posted on Yum Yum Union.
She had stopped liking beers a few years ago, though she kept ordering them at bars, the expensive ones with suggestive names like Sea Captain’s Mistress or A Hard Egg’s A Gonna Fall, generally not liking them but looking optimistically into those bitter brown pints, hoping that there would be a beer for her time and place. She had not stopping liking philosophy, but she had decided not to pursue it as a career — though one could hope, thinking of terms like ‘philosopher’ and ‘poet’ and ‘prophet,’ the (self) important p-words, that someone might call her that, post-humously, that these were words that one could earn not by living up to them and finding that the name fit nicely in the mouths of friends and family and important prize-givers but by leaving proof behind, a few good books. She did not have this hope. Was this the end of optimism? Perhaps about beer. A few weeks back, before a party, she drank brandy and ginger ale in the shower. It had tasted like candy, in the good and bad way. She’d gotten drunk before the party and then squeaked throughout the party but at the end of the party, saying nothing in her raw voice, she heard four male friends talk about the girls that got away. She was driven home at four in the morning, though she could have walked, but there was a bar where a man had followed her for a hundred feet that she wanted to avoid. On that occasion, the man said over and over, “I’m going to knock you down, that’s right bitch, that’s right.” She’d taken her phone out covertly, thinking that this man was speaking to a companion from the bar, wanting to be prepared. But there were streetlights behind her, and she couldn’t see a second shadow. So perhaps it was someone on the phone, which would be more difficult to report. No. The long arms of the shadow had both hands at his sides. It was her, he wanted to knock her down. She’d stopped by a book-donation bin with her keys in her fist, but the man had simply crossed the street before getting to her, definitely without companion or cell-phone. Thinking of this, she’d accepted the ride from that long evening. So drinking brandy had ended with safety, and secrets (not her own), and squeaking. Much better than the tidal stupidness of beer. No one asked why she stopped drinking beer. There would be an expectation of explanation about philosophy, though. A year prior she’d had the strangest experience: over the course of three days, for no discernible reason, her sexual orientation had flipped from being pretty much men to being pretty much women. She felt betrayed by the warm dark of her body and mind. She told a teacher she respected, wanting a bibliography, who nudged her out of the room and didn’t want to talk about it. But what was philosophy for, if not trying to make sense of these sorts of betrayals, of the kind of thing you were, about what was worth knowing? With the swap had come enlightenment. It was difficult to tell if she was angry at the suddenness of the change, or a the change, and this latter attitude was unexpected, and prejudiced, and ugly. When it went away a few months later, the new knowledge of this prejudice stuck out jaggedly. The next summer, she and a friend, feeling like competent psychonauts, and having been mostly unimpressed with the drugs they’d done, took several times the recommended dosage of shrooms. The next five hours were terrifying. She broke a beautiful water buffalo statue, and annoyed a houseful of people with the repeated question of, “Tell me what happened. Did I pee?” Between inquiries, the strangest sense of unreality pervaded everything; she pushed her face as far as she could into a pillow, but open or closed, she couldn’t stop seeing things. Afterwards, feeling wrung-out after an afternoon where every anxiety had been magnified, she felt that the experience had made her routine patterns of thought unfamiliar enough to allow for evaluation, and she had not liked what she’d evaluated. Something of the repetitiveness of the experience, the difficulty in telling whether or not she was remembering something, or it was happening — during these cycles, she felt an obsession with redemption had been revealed in her. Perhaps that’s why she had gone to Tufts. After middle school, she thought that middle school had not really counted, and that she could execute highschool perfectly. So she’d thought with high school, and college, and now her master’s program. She had done none of these things perfectly. So much of her life was ugly, and she wasn’t sure that this fact could be changed. She managed to claw a draft out, this final year of school, and presented it to her friends. Their faces and comments, largely unimpressed, and largely unhelpful, tipped her into a downward spiral. She hit her emotional-rock bottom that weekend, after a professor commented on her draft, again unhelpfully. (This same professor had nudged her out of his office a year ago.) It was the first time in years that she’d really considered suicide, but she climbed out after a weekend, rescued by resiliency of mood rather than anything rational. Still, the weeks marched on, and she felt like she had more to do than she ever had before, with two jobs, two courses, a discussion series to maintain, and the usual friendship upkeep. There came a day where she felt like she was going to pieces, and texted a friend about getting (ha!) a beer. After they decided a time, she stood up from her chair, and realized, “I’m not going to apply to graduate schools.” She told a few people, and found herself unequal to the question of why she wasn’t doing this. It was hard to talk to her friends about this subject. It seemed like the people she liked most, who cared the most about her, were now going on to some part of life which would not know about, and which she ought to know about. The boys who had told her about the girls that got away did not usually ask about herself. Or perhaps she did not trust them to listen to the long answers, or she did not know how to offer a short true answer that they would be interested in. Her father, who went to law school in his thirties after a decade plus out of school, told her he decided not to apply to law school in college after he took LSD and said to himself, “You can’t apply to law school, you’re not thinking in straight lines right now.” There wasn’t any one funny thought about graduate school. It felt, instead, like the sort of realization one has during a busy week with a promise to keep, where at every moment until the penultimate one, you say, “I am going to keep that promise,” and then, too late, you must admit you cannot, you did not, you failed. It’s true her first thought after the realization was, ‘Thank god, now I have enough time to read philosophy!’ Maybe that counts as the funny cherry-on-top thought. She wrote a letter to her father over the summer with some accusations in it, and he responded, more admirably than she anticipated. Her mother writes to her continually, but it’s harder than ever to bear that intimacy. Maybe college, and graduate school, had given her hope that she wouldn’t become her toothless lonely uneducated mother, and now it’s gone, and the phone calls sound too much like her mother is depositing notes-to-self on the line. (But didn’t her mother fight off four girls in a parkinglot? Didn’t she survive molesting step-fathers, a cocaine addiction, a disastrous marriage? Isn’t that a strength worth wanting?) A friend from school visited and praised her for continual self-improvement. It was one of those ashy compliments which, when given to you, felt more revealing of the lack of the lauded attribute than proof of it. She wants to have a job, to go to the gym, to eat food that she makes and watch netflix, and to learn some calculus from a friend. She wants that trademarked Real Life. In short, she wanted a rest from self-improvement, or so she thinks — the bitch of it is that she can’t find a way to tell the story that sounds true. But these are all true parts. Now she has to move out of her apartment; her best option is a house of Episcopalian pastors. It isn’t even clear where to break up the paragraphs, or the story. It isn’t clear that there was ever a decision, much less reasons for it. Life looks a lot like it always did. If she lives with the pastors, though, there’ll be train that goes by, the same one that she walks over every day. She can eat greek yoghurt in the blue light of six AM, same as always.