2023-10-04: a different kind of life

...quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean "love" in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who touches you and you never love anyone quite the same way again.

— Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That"

excerpts from "goodbye to all that" made their way to my timeline this morning. didion has long been a gap in my own reading, one of those important writers who stands shoulder to shoulder with all the other important writers one is supposed to have read, and hasn't, and might never. some people despair at this, try to read everything. that's a sucker's game. more has been written than anyone can read in their life, never mind everything else that's been published in every other language. gaps are inevitable. it's best to make peace.

but as we read new-to-us authors, we close that gap a little, just as all the new work published every year expands it further. and so i found a copy of "goodbye to all that" stored anonymously in cloudfront, there for the reading, and so i did.

there's a lot i could write on any number of fragments ("one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before" — oh, i'll see you later), but one that particularly leapt out was the one i quoted at the top of this. when i read this it took the air out of me, because while i've known no small number of people with unhappy childhoods, and adolescent years (and "unhappy" is doing a lot of work here, papering over everything from emotional abuse to beatings, and sexual assault to rape), that there must exist our inverses, people for whom the worst it can be said were bored a lot, or felt a wanderlust and ennui and wanted to leave where they grew up. the sort of people that found love early, in all its fumblings and failings, found someone nice, or nice enough, and for whom this imprinted on them in a way that let them write a quotable line in an essay decades later.

my own first fumblings were made embarrassingly public. what imprinted on me was not that agonizing time together where you want to kiss, and don't, nor the seconds before you both make up your minds to finally kiss, and do. no, it was the risk of getting close to someone, it was learning that dangerous people exist. that they might take a interest in you, and thereby make you their problem. to speak of the first, the aftermath of our time together wasn't anything like love but it was life-changing. like stepping out of a bomb cellar, finding yourself alive and unscathed on the outside and realizing that nothing after that will be the same, not really.

years later i kissed someone, then pushed her away, afraid i might hurt her, even though by doing so, i'd hurt her already. a few weeks after that, a friend propositioned me, and in a happier universe might have been my first; and though i ran away from that, too, i've never forgotten the kindness, the basic decency: how no meant no; and how we easily remained friends, immediately and for years afterward, though we've drifted since, in the way separate lives often cause people to do.

half a decade after the first girl, someone else hurt me; someone who, like the first, wouldn't let no be no. and if not saying more is reductive, because they were a part of my life, even briefly, then it should also be said that our lives are not just the sum of the things that happened to us. that there are weights, and that the weight that particular person had seemed at the time to be everything, but time has since shown that to be false. if they were a star their light has since dimmed, past the what-ifs, the never-weres, evidenced by the fact that i've never once reached out, never thought about reconnecting: i might be naïve, but at least i learn.

didion was right, but she was wrong: love would imprint on me, happily, eventually: but it wasn't the first person for me, the second, or the third. no, it would come later. it would centre and stabilize me, and has since spanned the majority of my life.

(the entirety of "goodbye to all that" is available at the internet archive, if you're curious)