One of my new-ish coworkers has a kid, which would be largely unremarkable except that he is 22, newly 23. He talks about buying her toys in the same breath he compares the rarity of different My Little Pony figurines; he’s in a complicated relationship with a married woman who isn’t her mother; he earnestly makes terrible and off-color jokes. I laugh at those sometimes, because I want to be nice and it comes easy. When he talks about his daughter, I still haven’t figured out how to react.
I’ve watched the latest Star Wars movie twice in theaters already, and I suspect that I’ll be going again a third time later this week. It’s stupid, and I know it; I didn’t have $20 to throw toward it in the first place, let alone the second place, let alone a third. But it feels so nice to be carried away into a place far beyond ours. This third time, I might go alone, but it won’t feel that way, wrapped up in darkness and the light cutting through.
I told my parents about my trips to the movies, and they chastised me for wasting my time, in the same way they once talked about the books I read for fun or the parties I wanted to attend; the way they do talk about my hair, my clothes, most of my hobbies. It is tiring to carry the brunt of my adult behavior alone, but it is even more tiring to be their child as they see it.
It’s strange to type that out in those terms, because in a lot of ways, my 2016 has been a year of retreat. I left a lot of things and people I valued behind, not because I didn’t like them but because I didn’t see myself in this world that I myself had built. As soon as I reached a plateau that felt steady under my feet, I began to tremble inside. The more I tried to pretend those feelings didn’t exist, that I was happy in a way that somehow satisfied all the terms of my adulthood and my parents’ version of my adulthood, the illusion caught flame. And just because I removed myself from that picture didn’t mean that I became happy; I burst into tears on the train all the time for no other reason than the sunset matches the song looping in my headphones; for no other reason than the sun or the wind or the rain feels urgent and present and I myself do not. Even typing this now, I feel the movement of tears begin in my chest and my throat, a vector of emotion that heads north to spawn.
I’ve begun to almost exclusively listen to the music I grew up with, or the music that sounds like the music I grew up with, before I got into “real music.” A lot of J-Pop and J-Rock; a lot of poppy love songs that send me on vibrant journeys that end abruptly. I imagine myself in some of these songs, but more often I imagine other people, archetypes that shift and swoon and move fluidly, oftentimes falling down chasms streaked with blinding, brilliant colors. Sometimes they carry the faces of characters I like, but most of the time their faces are blank, glowing ovals of light with features floating just above their would-be skin.
Not coincidentally, I’ve also watched a lot more anime, revisiting both shows from my childhood and keeping up with what the children on my Tumblr dash get into. I joke about this a lot, my slide back into my adolescent desires. It’s easy to try and frame it as “empowering,” given the strength of nerd-adjacent culture as a social force. But it feels weird to actually claim that when children around the world are sent into the wilderness for reasons they may literally never grow to understand.
I think what I’m describing is a fear of getting older, in terms other than beauty and ability. I think I’m more sad than I’d ever let on to my therapist, who has been gently ushering me into understanding what about my parents brings me paralyzing fear when all they’ve ever done is love me and wish me well on the terms they not only understand, but are reflected in the wider world. She tells me all the time that other people are going through this, on both my end and theirs. I believe her until the moment I walk out of her office. It’s not her fault; I’m not being up front with her. We’ve come a long way together and this is just the toughest climb, the one of the rest of my life.
I took a break from writing to read this piece, by a writer I adore and fear in equal spades. They, which is the last pronoun I read them using and asking for, name something that saved their life; a moment with the window open, light moving in specific ways. There are very few memories from my own life that I can remember with that level of detail and most of them are sad, perhaps unnaturally hued and thus ruined because of the tears I saw them through.
The most detailed tableaus I keep in my head are from dreams, whether by night or day. Snow-covered roofs and amorphous monsters banging at the attic door; columns of shimmering light by my childhood home’s patio; the keen slice of music that scored a failed suicide pact, and the stark white shapes that filled my dream space when I realized I didn’t want to follow through.
Lisa tells me that Rogue One reminds her of her dreams because they’re ensemble journeys whose aims are adventure. Rogue One reminds me of my dreams because they end in death.
I don’t mean to end on such a sour note. I didn’t mean to even write this at all; I swore off this blog when I realized how much I’d have to monetize my emotions, personal and in reaction, in order to pay my bills. But on the bus ride to the train ride home, I closed my eyes and saw a bloom of light, fading out at the edges. And I thought of my coworker and his daughter and the moments of life he is building for her; of my parents and the moments of life they built for me; of how you shouldn’t have to set yourself ablaze to be seen for what you really are, what you have done and can do. To build your life to life, by yourself and otherwise. Right? There can be no other answer.