Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Whenever I spend an extensive length of time at my parents' house, I realize that, though it is only sixty miles away from where I live now, it is so different. Culturally, it is very different. The difference in the weather is even noticeable. It is only sixty miles north of New Brunswick, but the elevation difference is something like nine hundred feet, so it's usually about seven degrees colder here. In New Brunswick, we will have no snow on the ground, and on the same day, I can come here and find parking lots framed by walls of snow banks as tall as me. It's very bizarre.

It's quieter here. Thus, the difference between winter and every other time of year is so much more noticeable. It's easier to be depressed in a Sussex County winter. The empty trees and lifeless ground are in plain sight; tall buildings don't mask them and there aren't enough people around to distract one from the cold, colorless surroundings.

Of course it's beautiful here. Sometimes I think it is like sad beauty, though.

My own personal baggage exists here and it comes to the surface like the white shapes that appear, suddenly, when you tap on the surface of a frozen lake. Sometimes I feel like I need to just get out because I have too many memories here. The bad ones irritate me, the good ones make me miss things. No matter how happy I am with my current life (and I am), feeling so closely - physically - reminded of the past makes me feel weird.

This is why I was not looking forward to a week up here watching the pets at my parents' house. Furthermore, I thought I would be spending a lot of time alone, since most of my friends have moved away from the area, exacerbating the cold, lonely, depressing air.

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2008 is to write more. I decided that some kind of regimen with my paper journal and this blog would help in this direction. Whenever I open a new post, however, I never know what to write. So, I've decided that when all else fails, to look in my drafts folder and try to revive one of those posts. That's what started this; a draft from two winters ago, I realized, helped me write about how I feel right now. (It was really hard to write that sentence properly - I kept switching "write" and "right." ARGH!)

From December 27, 2005:
Oh is it dull here.
I feel like I need to post this online for motivation, but I also feel horribly exposed.
Today I took a trip to the near deserted library. It was twisting inside me like physical pain - physical pain like some object caught in my digestive tract - boredom-induced mental anguish. Boredom that empties the mind of all creative impulse, all drive, and, like dust, what slowly collects are little worries. Worries like miniscule mirrors; they reflect the lack and report it back, they reflect off each other like that scene in (name of movie we watched in film class), multiplying into a thousand nagging worries - why don't you have this? why don't you do that? God, your life is empty!
I wanted to crowd my mind again. I was looking for some piece of pop culture to cram in there - a nice book, or a mind-dulling film with which I could kill a few hours and knit.
And would you know that every literary heroine with a fulfilled life only attains this after finding a man? (Except one, but I already read The Big Love this summer.) Did you know that?
And after spending a day visited by thoughts, uninvited, unrelated to present stimuli, such as "Every interesting man you have met has been kind of a prick. Or a stoner," this is the last thing you want to hear - that all happy heroines become so only after finding the (made-up) interesting man who is not a prick, or settling for someone who's nice, but can't hold their own in conversation and daily life with you. Of course

Of course I have no idea how I intended to end that sentence two winters ago. But it was interesting that this was written BEFORE I went on a date with a seemingly perfectly nice, cute, interesting guy who turned out to be a drug dealer. (Whoops!) Anyway, similar thoughts have been finding their way into my days. It's just what happens being in the Nostalgic North. For example, while cleaning, I came across old papers--old essays from my first English classes at Rutgers, old poems, and some letters-to-never-send written to the guy I was dating five years ago. We had a short, intense affair. I believe it lasted three weeks. The winter of five years ago was remarkably cold. I will never forget it - frequently the high temperatures were in the teens; my vision of that winter is walking with a friend across campus to my Calc class, wrapped in a navy blue peacoat (why!? I knew that coat was worthless against wind!) with my head down, each step seeming a struggle as the wind attacked us, the sun peeking through trees and tops of buildings, not warming us. That winter was the last winter in which I was really depressed. I'd had winter depression before, but in 2003, it was really bad...and then it never came back. (Only for a day or so I'll feel it, and then it will go away. I tend to now do smart things like, when I feel it coming on, go for a walk to get some sun or call a friend.)

Anyway, much of that winter - that three week "relationship" (I'm making fun of my eighteen-year-old self who rushed into things and thought three weeks was long enough to find a soul mate) - was spent riding in a car or sitting in bed or sitting in coffeehouses with this boyfriend. I should mention that he lived thirty miles north of me, near High Point, so up where it was even MORE frigid and bleak. Anyway, the two of us would watch the news - it was right before the U.S. declared war on Iraq and Saddam Hussein's face was everywhere - and just say the most depressing things. I guess you can't blame us - it wasn't hard to be depressed in that time. As I remember it, we all knew war in Iraq was coming, but we held onto a wish that it wouldn't, or that if it did, it wouldn't be too bad and maybe something good would come of it, like a non-tyrannical government in Iraq. (I remember at that time, also, the news was splattered with stories of the cruelty of Saddam's regime--stories of people getting their arms chopped off, mass graves, all kinds of crazy stuff.)

Yesterday, one day after finding those letters (they just said things like, "Dear ___, It was not very nice of you to lie to me and say you would never hurt me when you did." or I'd self edit and add, "Actually, it wasn't nice at all! You're a fucking jerk!") a song came on the radio. Oh - a tangent - one of the things about North Jersey that makes it NOT suck is that the local classic rock station is really good. It plays different songs than 104.3--it plays different songs! I don't hear the same Led Zeppelin song, the same BAD Van Halen song, and "Freebird" three times a day on WNNJ. They play a lot of early 90s stuff, too. I know...I've already adjusted to the fact that early 90s is now considered classic rock, and The Fresh Prince is on Nick and Nite...I am only twenty-three! I am not old!

So anyway, an early 90s song came on. The first time I heard this song and actually paid attention to it was my last night with this bf, the night before I went back to Rutgers for my second semester, the night before our relationship would turn into phone calls and canceled plans and fizzle out while February was still in the single digits. It was some song with lyrics about not meaning to hurt someone. My bf was singing along, and I had this brief moment of insight in which I realized that he was going to hurt me, that he was not perfect. This couldn't last, and this song was going to remind me of this moment forever.

I should mention that in this THREE WEEK relationship we had already discussed moving in together someday - for some reason he selected a random fragment of Central Jersey suburbia. I thought this was a great idea, simply because...I hated dorm life.

Eighteen-year-olds are so silly!

When the song came on the radio, I remembered that moment, and how I downloaded it illegally that winter and, after we broke up, played it over and over again as is the wont of eighteen-year-olds crossed in love. I laughed, I thought, "I don't feel sad NOW!" But I did, a little.

I have to clarify - I'm always terrified that the objects of my blogging will somehow find it - I was in no way pining for this ex. Nor am I, five years later, still mad about what happened.

First of all, it's great fuel for writing. I mean, it's perfect how many metaphors for the time existed in the actual physical surroundings. Lots of things involving "cold," "darkness," and "ice," without being too cliche I hope. For example, one date (this stands in history as one of the awesomest dates, by the way) consisted of driving to parks just over the NJ/PA border, where there are lots of waterfalls. We went for a mini hike/picture-taking excursion around snow-covered, partially frozen waterfalls. Frozen waterfalls! What a great poetic image, especially for a couple of depressed people who had a very short but nice relationship - like they were frozen (haha frozen! ice! waterfalls! winter!) in time. (Also, a picture of me from that day is one of those things I think of as a definitive portrait of me from some time in my life; from that winter there are many pictures of me in the useless navy blue peacoat with a strained smile and a desperately sad expression.) Anyway, in addition to being an awesome date (which didn't cost the man a dime, except gas money - take note of this men!) it was something I could and should make into a beautiful, appropriate poem.

(There was much literary merit in my time with this bf. For one thing, we had secretly liked each other before, but never acted on it because we were-gasp!-from different social circles. Yes, that's right. I was literary and academic and he was...A FOOTBALL PLAYER!!!!! I plan to write about it, someday, highlighting that aspect - the football player + nerd romance - the sad parts tied in with ice metaphors, and also a lot of humor, a lot of making fun of how silly I was at eighteen.)

So anyway, that song, and driving on the same roads, being up here, made me sad not because I want a bf, or miss that specific one, or anything stupid like that. I just felt sad for who I was at that time, someone who placed her happiness on someone else's approval, someone who felt that life was complete when a Homecoming King called her "princess," and consequently, when this fell apart (in three freaking weeks!) felt like something had gone terribly wrong. I was imagining myself hearing the song, someone who was desperately clinging to happiness based on something external, something that didn't come from within, something based entirely on another person. I was imagining myself being in a state of doomed happiness - right before the moment when I realized, deep down, the thing on which my happiness was based was ephemeral.

In summary, (gah these blog posts get long and far from my original intention of writing) my current stay in Sussex County is not bad at all (I'll write about that later - the positive) but memories like this keep flying at me. I'll have a nice day which ends with some kind of social interaction, and as soon as I get a few miles down the road in the direction of home, the darkness of the night (they don't have many streetlights around here, the roads don't have many other cars, and the trees and clouds obscure the stars) starts to get to me. I feel like I am driving, physically and figuratively, through black ice (not like the kind on the roads - I'm still working with the wording of this one.) For a moment, everything seems impossibly, infinitely, endlessly cold, black, sad in a beautiful way. Before I can sink into my old depression, I just stand on the edge of it, the safe zone where I can look back on a memory, feel nostalgic, admire what is pretty of my surroundings, and then step back and see where I am now - not alone, not sad, not wanting anything I don't have or am not in the process of getting, no longer dependent on someone else's approval for my own self-worth or happiness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I spent chunks of many years sitting at "home" in north.NJ mired in memories - regrets, lusts, open wounds, the gamut. Out back the landscape was being actively destroyed as I looked out the door each morning - a perfect metaphor for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. It's almost too obvious, too literary a metaphor, to be real...but hey.

Being alone with those memories helped the transition, though I didn't know it (nor what to do) at the time...