“It’s good that you’re almost too old to get married. Seriously, in this day and age, if you’re not going to church, why even bother? No one your age has happy marriages.” My aunt motions in a way that makes me think that she means ‘my age’ is 20-95. “You know what you need?”
“No, what’s that?”
“You need a man who will leave you alone. Who just enjoys your company and doesn’t need you to complete his life. You have too much going on for that bullshit.”
“Wow. I was really afraid my mom had told you I was gay.”
“You might consider it. It’s better than this.”
“So, you didn’t hear that I was gay?”
“Listen, B., most marriages make women miserable. Don’t be miserable.”
Now, before you start in, let me just say that I’m sure many, many people have happy marriages.
I’m just as sure that no one in my family does.
You know how it is when you see someone making the same dumb mistakes over and over again? And on the one hand, you can see why they continue to live like that–because it’s fun up until the predictable disaster. On the other hand, you just want to take them aside and say, “So, the usual. How’s that working out for you?”
I’m hoping I can get away tomorrow and go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s graves. Being back here, seeing all these places they used to take us, it’s upsetting me a lot more than I thought it would.
America, can I be honest with you? I just want to be happy. For the most part, I am happy.
I’m anxious, as you know–which obviously runs in the family. Most of them mask it through crankiness, but they also are anxious. Still, I’m happy, I think.
I look at my family and I don’t see very many happy people. I see deeply anxious people who, when caught off-guard, can be joyful.
I understand the millions of ways I am like them. I don’t quite know what sets me apart.
I would only consider–despite my aunt’s advice that I never consider it–getting married if the person I was marrying made me feel safe, less anxious.
But America, I know when I look at these fucked-up precious people who I love that they also thought that getting married would relieve their anxiety.
Instead, it just gave them a person to blame for their unhappiness.
And that scares the shit out of me.
Usually, I get really pissed at myself when I catch myself picking at that adolescent scab–“You don’t deserve to be loved.”
It’s bullshit and it’s annoying and people who believe that end up finding out that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Intellectually, I know all that.
Still, I wish I were funnier, smarter, more engaging, prettier, thinner. America, I wish I believed you were lucky to have me. I wish I walked through the world with the kind of self-confidence and grace befitting a person my age. And, more than that, I wish I were beyond giving a shit about that stuff, since it’s precisely so junior high.
America, I wish I didn’t care if you liked me or not. I wish I didn’t believe that I will never be pretty enough or smart enough or funny enough for you.
I wish I didn’t feel that, if only I could save you, fix you, you would realize my value and that you would tell it to me.
But sitting at dinner, surrounded by people who laugh at what I do, whose eyes twinkle in the same way, who know me so well they can feel me in their bones, it occurs to me that we are all like your friend, who does the same stupid shit over and over.
How’s that working for us?
Not so well.
Oh, America, it’s late, I’m tired, and I can’t help but tell you the truth.
When I am around them, I start to feel like it’s inevitable that I will be as miserable as them, that there is no way to fix it and so one must just accept it.
This is why I stay away. This is why I’ve lived like a hermit in a city most of them won’t visit. Because I feel lucky, like I’ve found one tiny glowing ember of happiness among the ashes of our family life.
I don’t know anything about tending happiness. I don’t know how one makes it grow. But the little light and the meager warmth are so different than what anyone else in my family has, that I will do what I can to keep it.
Does this make any sense? I’m sad to be here. I miss the people who are dead and drive around town crushed over and over again seeing all of the places they aren’t anymore.
And I’m sad to be here surrounded by the terrible unhappiness of the people I love.
I don’t want to be like them, but I’m not sure how not to be.
And I’m desperately worried that the things I do to make myself feel different than them make me too weird for anyone but them to care about.
More than anything, I want to be home. I’m so tired of this place.