Today I ripped down a collage that has decorated the walls of my California bedroom for ten years.
When I was twelve I made this depressingly conventional bit of tween art clipped from the pages of tween magazines. Its guts was glitter and brightness and glue. Break hearts not curfews. Girl power. Work it, girl. Don’t be a statistic. Think, don’t smoke. Pictures of the men I wanted, but none of the women I wanted to be, and only the barest hints of the woman I’m becoming. Romance! True beauty. Sensationally beautiful. Love the skin you’re in. If you love someone set them free. Lover! Life is a blur. Fight your fears. Write on.
Across the top it said “Brave New World.”
I just spent a week packing up my Evanston apartment. We salvaged boxes from dumpsters, packed them, moved them, gave things away. Threw things away. Little things, big things, things that cost and things that didn’t. We watched a garbage truck crush our couch. Occasionally we would eat, but spiritlessly. Will you forgive me, reader, for saying that we pitied ourselves a little? It was ostentatious. We sighed often.
Now I’m in California and packing stuff in boxes again. We–a brave new we, my family–are remodeling the house. For us, for now, a life in boxes. But not all our things are equally willing to embrace the boxed life. You see, in earthquake country, we glue our treasures down. And I find that certain stubborn angels of a past life will not unstick so easily.
But we pry off the angels, do our best to smooth over their determined remains. We drape the empty shelves in plastic and let the painters in and try to imagine life in fresh colors. A brave new world for all of us.
Then there is the food of home, which is not brave or new but old and safe and reliably nourishing. In n Out burgers do not make everything right, but it’s hard to walk away from one feeling less happy. In high school I came here almost every day. Once I ate a burger here with seven patties on it, and seven slices of cheese. It was ostentatious. Today on a bench by the drive-thru I ate less. Hunger feeds me more now than it did when I was a girl.
Home. When you’re here you taste the secret sauce of youth. You dip your feet into the person you used to be. You feel her weight, feather-light, insubstantial, nothing at all. It says one hundred and five pounds on her driver’s license, and next to it the picture of a fifteen year old girl.
When I remember who I was when I lived here, I feel shamed. I don’t know why. Oh, but I do. It is cruel to be that young. I never want to be so careless, I mean so carefree, again. But don’t I? Don’t we all? Again and again and again.
Only that kind of thinking has never accomplished anything, has it, reader? A happy indulgence to think that way. Because I know what happens now, what comes next, and it’s thrilling and scary and sad. Now I start to imagine a life with new rooms in it, and maybe slowly I will furnish those rooms, stack the shelves with treasures, neglect to glue them down.