Lately I’ve been re-reading David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim on my Metro rides, and mostly marveling, whether it’s late at night or I’m morning-cranky, at how beautiful and assured his prose is, how sly his wit, how intelligent his humor, how sneaky his emotional gut punches. I just finished the book in its entirety again last night, and on a whim flipped for the first time to the dedication page. It reads, in small italic font on an otherwise blank page: For Hugh. Hugh is Sedaris’s longtime partner, about whom he writes often and without shyness about their relationship and their respective roles in it. And seeing those words on the page, it struck me—how beautiful. How wonderful and bold a declaration that no matter how many squabbles he details within the pages of the book, how many fears he expresses that Hugh will leave him, for good, by the monkey cage at the zoo, here, in naked black and white type for a thousand or a million eyes to see, the declaration of not only his love but of their complicity in each other’s lives. Here I am, putting our private existence on display, shaped by an editor and my creative license as they may be; here I am, in the same breath, absolving and apologizing and pledging my devotion to you with these two words: For Hugh. For you.
This Friday, my purse got stolen. It was stolen from a bar on H Street in the wee hours of the morning, when I put it down for a minute because it was big and heavy and I wanted to dance with my boyfriend. This wasn’t just any purse, either—this was my work bag, which on a regular day contains most of what I need to get through the day and on this evening, because I’d attended an event for work earlier in the evening, had basically my entire life in it. My wallet, with my IDs, credit cards, and cash. My phone. My house keys. A brand-new digital camera containing photos of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx I’d taken at the movie premiere I attended that day. The iPod I got in college and use at the gym. A sweater I loved. A comfy pair of flats. A bag containing extra makeup and perfume. The flash drive holding the most recent version of a book I have been editing for the past two months. Probably a necklace or two.
The staff at the bar didn’t care. The cops, who told me they’d already had to deal with two stabbings and a shooting that day, practically yawned while filling out the report. (And then when my boyfriend yelled at them about it, one threatened to arrest him.) And my stuff? Gone.
So what’d I do? I cried. I laughed hysterically. I drank whiskey. I called my parents. I thought self-pityingly about how people are horrible. And then I realized: It’s just stuff. Expensive stuff, yes—but stuff that is ultimately replaceable. I wasn’t physically harmed, or threatened at gunpoint. I wasn’t alone, or in a foreign country. I could afford to replace the things I lost. I was going to be okay. I chalked it up to a loss and a learning experience and got ready to move on.
And then a few things happened. First, I got to work on Monday morning and the phone rang. On the other end was a woman who said she lived by the bar where my purse was stolen and had found my wallet in her front yard—with my ID and credit cards still in it! Could she have my address so she could mail it back to me? she asked. A day later it landed on my desk. Then my dad reminded me we have an extra iPod at home, and offered to bring it with him when he and my mom visit this week. Then a friend shared that some credit card companies will reimburse you for recent purchases that are lost and stolen. A couple of calls to customer service lines later and I had figured out I can fill out a claim to get my money back for that brand new camera. The next day, Nordstrom Rack read the story I wrote about my stolen purse and tweeted at me that they wanted to come by with a gift card so I could replace it. I had to turn them down because as journalists we’re not allowed to accept gifts—but not five minutes later my boss came by with a gift card and a thank-you note for “doing the right thing.” Add all this to my parents’ tireless desire to help me, my boyfriend’s level-headedness in the face of conflict (and willingness to both foot my bill for the weekend and let me use his cell phone), and even his family’s generous offers to let me have their old phones to use in the interim, and I realize I am an incredibly lucky girl indeed. Getting your stuff sucks, no matter what. And I will certainly be more careful from now on (especially when it comes to putting everything in one bag). But I’m so thankful for those in my life—both strangers and loved ones—who have reminded me that people can be good, and kind, and wonderful.
So go ahead and keep my stuff, thieves. I got something better.
- Slept in a tent
- Slept in a car
- Slept in a car covered by a tent
- Drank beer out of a Ziploc bag
- Danced until the sun rose
- Contemplated crowd-surfing
- Decided I wasn’t emotionally ready for crowd-surfing
- Moshed to Kendrick Lamar
- Moshed to the Vaccines
- Got a contact high at the Vaccines
- Saw a Beatle perform
- Slapped a bag of Franzia with strangers
- Spent $10 on a grilled cheese sandwich
- Drank beer for breakfast
- Sang at the top of my lungs to my favorite songs
- Showered in a sink
- Kissed a cute boy on a Ferris wheel
- Had the time of my life
You arrive at the hotel in a cab, early because you expect a lot of traffic. There is not as much as you thought there would be. You step out, blinking in the sunlight, feeling strange to be wearing a cocktail dress and false eyelashes at 5:30 in the evening. A gaggle of hopeful stargazers is clustered around the entrance of the hotel clutching cameras and camera phones. They all turn to stare as you walk by, and you hear the whisper ripple through the group like rustling leaves: “Who is that?” Finally they realize you are not anyone of note, and turn their attention back to the hotel entrance. You walk in on a literal red carpet. A crush of photographers and reporters stand to the left of the entrance, microphones dangling, jockeying for lens positions. They, too, stare at you, hoping you are someone you are not. You are with your much more glamorous coworker and her husband, who have actual invitations to the pre-parties; all you have is your business card and an printout of an e-mail from Elle.com’s editor.
You manage to finagle your way onto the list at the ABC party with minimal embarrassment, and you head to the tent. You immediately see Ty Burrell, who is wearing a tux but has not bothered to shave, holding hands with his wife while talking to Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show. They are standing by a picnic table, at which is seated John Oliver with his wife, who is much more attractive than he is. You decide you are both too shy and not drunk enough to approach any of these celebrities. Your coworker suggests hitting the bar. You get a free glass of white wine and clutch it like you are Tom Hanks in Castaway and it is your ever-loyal only friend Wilson. You drink it way too fast.
As you’re draining your glass, your coworker tells you Tony Goldwyn of Scandal has arrived. You get another drink. Then Kerry Washington comes in. You steel yourself, gulp down the rest of your wine, and head to the entrance. They are mobbed by reporters much more legitimate than you, with photographers and cameramen; you have just your iPhone. You hover awkwardly, until finally you see Tony Goldwyn break away and head into the party. You stop him, say you are a big fan of the show. He shakes your hand and smiles, exposing teeth so white and even you are momentarily distracted. He is incredibly charming and gracious. You ask him a few questions before releasing him, then sigh in relief that the first interview is over. You look at your phone and realize you forgot to hit record.
And it continues. Some celebrities—Charles Esten from Nashville, especially—will be overwhelmingly nice to you. He will smile the TV-worthy smile that crinkles his TV-worthy blue eyes and introduce you to his mother, whom he has brought as his date. He will call himself a “local boy” and talk self-deprecatingly about getting nervous before playing the Grand Ole Opry. You will thank him for the interview and think to yourself that you’re getting the hang of this.
Until you meet the celebrities who are not quite so nice. You will touch Kerry Washington on the arm, timidly, to get her to turn around, and she will fix you with a deathlike look and give you somewhat clipped answers that come out as friendly on paper. You will attempt to approach Eric Stonestreet, whom you assume will be as happy-go-lucky as he is on Modern Family, and he will shut you down completely. You will spot Connie Britton—glorious hair flowing, blue lace dress swishing—and will follow her into the party at a safe distance, as she’s stopped every few seconds by fans and acquaintances, trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. You never will. Other people you do not get up the nerve to talk to: Hayden Panettiere. George Stephanopoulos. Sofia Vergara (though her date will stand behind you on the lawn as he smokes a cigarette, and when you try to make polite conversation, he tells you he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s smoking, then leaves, crushing his half-smoked cigarette into the grass with his heel).
You can’t get into any of the other parties—in fact, you can’t even get down the escalator—so for a few minutes when your coworker and her husband go downstairs, you are sickeningly alone. You go back to the ABC party and stand around, nervously. You are slightly buzzed, nervous. You get up your nerve to talk to Shonda Rhimes, who laughs at you when you ask for spoilers. And then it’s time for the dinner and the celebrities begin to file out of the tent, and it’s like a giant whoosh of air is sucked out of the space, like the world is a balloon deflating, and you’re left among the wilted canapés and dirty glasses, still blinking in the sunlight that somehow now seems a bit less bright than before.
Here’s the thing: I can hear my downstairs neighbor having sex.
He’s a nice enough guy. I’ve met him a few times, and he came to my housewarming party back in the summer. But whether it’s from the vents or the lack of insulation or the general oldness of the building, whenever he moves around or makes a sound it’s basically like he’s right there in the room with me. Once I was lying in my bed and heard my phone vibrating, so I reached for it—and realized it was actually his phone downstairs.
And then there’s that whole thing where I hear him and his lady knocking boots.
It’s disconcerting to wake from a sound sleep to the noises of someone getting frisky, a) because it slips into my mind before I’m fully conscious so I occasionally start dreaming about it, and b) because I still don’t know whether he can hear me equally well. (At the party I asked him if he could ever hear me moving around upstairs; either actually surprised or making a concerted effort to fake it, he said no.) It doesn’t help that they always seem to be, uh, in the mood at the oddest hours: this morning it was around 4. It’s a weird and one-sided intimacy, but also, I guess, fascinating in a voyeuristic way.
It also makes me think more about the dynamics of couples you see on the street. I’m always interested in how they act around each other. Some are more reticent with their public displays of affection, avoiding holding hands or calling each other pet names, and others cling for dear life like one is the chocolate coating to the other’s bacon strip. I’ve known some people who were such odd matches it was hard to picture what they were like in the private, quiet moments, away from social niceties and the intrusion of the outside world. Sometimes it seems like certain people conduct their relationship for the benefit of others, that it blossoms under other people’s gazes, in the heady mist of coupledom, and shuts tight under the chill of boredom and routine.
And it makes me think about being in love. How do you know when it’s love and not just a crush, an infatuation? Is it time that determines it, or depth of feeling, and can it appear and disappear like smoke? Can you be in love with someone if they don’t feel the same about you? Do loving someone and being in love go hand in hand, or are they totally separate—and can you really, truly have one without the other? When you’re in love with someone, are you seeing them or just your version of them? Is it possible to really see another person? Has someone been in love with me without me knowing it, and if so, did they ever really see me?
And one more question: Anyone know how to get earplugs to stay in at night?
Blame it on unlucky 13, but this year hasn’t exactly been off to an auspicious start. Today I got a text from a good friend saying she and her boyfriend had something important to tell me. Naturally I assumed they’d joined the ranks of pod people slinging diamonds left and right and had gotten engaged, so I was all set to sit down tonight and write a post bitching about how all my friends have found the loves of their lives already and are settling down while I’m back to living like a college sophomore and what’s wrong with me and blah blah blah.
But then I talked to my friend. And it turns out she didn’t get a ring on her finger. Nope, what she got instead was a lump in her breast.
This friend is only a couple of years older than I am, and has no history of breast cancer in her family. And now, for no discernible reason, she’s potentially staring down the long and ugly road of chemo, radiation, the possibility of a mastectomy, the possibility of never being able to have children. At younger than 30, in very real terms, she has to contemplate the fact of her own mortality.
I want to cry and scream and shake my fist at the sky, cursing whatever cruel, capricious god lets this kind of thing happen. But what good does that do? Instead, I’m trying to find salvation in the positive things. In the grace she showed when telling her friends about the situation, how she kept her voice steady and asked us whether we had questions when she doesn’t even have the answers to what’s going on inside her own body. How she requested our support while saying she doesn’t want every conversation to revolve around the C-word. How, stupid rock or no, she has a man she loves and who loves her by her side, who must be just as confused and scared as her but who’ll hold her hand and help her through hell. How we’re so lucky, all of us, to have the ability to form friendships like these in the first place.
That one phone conversation with my friend taught me a lot about dignity in the face of terrible situations. And though it won’t be an easy road in any way, in the end she will be okay. She has to be.
She just has to be.
My new roommate moved in today. Well, really, he moved in some of his stuff before the winter holiday, and came back at 3 this morning, terrifying me out of sleep with the sound of the front door opening. Luckily I remembered he was coming back today and resisted the urge to call the police and/or break out the pepper spray. I don’t know much about him other than that he works for a history news website and wears bow ties, so I’m curious to see how this is going to go. The walls in my apartment are pretty thin, the floors pretty creaky, and though it’s just for six months it’s plenty long enough to realize you are not someone’s biggest fan.
Save the last couple of months I was in Massachusetts and shared a Somerville townhouse with two very strange dudes who advertised for a roommate on Craigslist, I haven’t lived with anyone I didn’t know in a while. I was lucky enough to be assigned a random roommate freshman year who is still one of my best friends, and I lived with another best friend during grad school. The great part about living with people you already love is that you get to see them pretty often and it’s a way more comfortable experience if you happen to forget your towel after a shower or need to borrow a safety pin or whatever. The downside is that inevitably at some point you want to kill them.
One roommate was incredibly chipper in the morning, which to an AM-averse person like me was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Another was amazingly messy and chronically late, traits that are facets of her utterly endearing personality but are less charming when you’re living in a tiny space. I’m no picnic, either—I’m moody as hell, stay up way too late on weeknights, and sometimes forget to buy toilet paper.
It’s strange going back to college-style living, after I (for a brief period) thought I’d moved on to a new phase in my life. Maybe Mr. 3 AM and I will end up being long-term friends and he’ll wear one of those fancy bow ties to my wedding someday. Or maybe it’ll just be a way to save half of the rent and Internet. Either way it’ll be a learning experience.