Ten years ago:
Those first weeks in the apartment were easy. I was fascinated by existing in this place, and there was always something to fiddle with and examine. I went through all of my boxes, intentionally finding a place for everything I owned. I turned on the stereo much louder than I would have normally, just to revel in my own personal space. I sat in my bed, head laying against the windowsill, looking up at the sky and watching the snow float down to earth. Things were simple in that place, and I was happy to be there.
I really was happy. It seems wrong to say that now, knowing where things were heading. But I was reveling in my freedom every moment, and I wasn't bogged down in any drudgery. Work was hard, but then I would run home and play house for a while to feel better. I spent so much time on these things that I didn't dwell on the past that much, so the associated anxiety wasn't hitting me at all. I didn't yet have an internet connection at the house, so I was quarantined from the stress that it sometimes generated. I was in a little bubble, not thinking about how it was inevitably going to burst.
I was still working most of the time, flushing out the last of the Christmas rush. But I had settled out how the store wanted to operate, so things were flowing much easier than they had been. I continued to chat with Allie on smoke breaks, and we hung out once or twice toward the end of the year. I was having a hard time resolving hanging out with one of my part timer's girlfriends while I scheduled him to work, so I talked to him about it one day when we were both in the store. He seemed cool about it, but how does one really talk about such things when the power levels at work are different? I decided to proceed with discretion.
I went to that New Year's 'party'. I probably shouldn't have, but that is the retrospect talking.
This is a result of one of the many problems I had when I lived in Michigan: I didn't know when people fancied me. I'm still not good at such things, but back then I was making fundamental errors in my assumptions of other people. I was treating people as concepts, working off of assumptions that I concocted while hiding in my apartment. One of my base assumptions, given the mental state that I was in at the time, was that I was a pretty good friend, but completely undesirable otherwise. Not in a malicious way mind you, only that I thought I was broadcasting my burdensome issues pretty clearly, and that would be a turn-off for anyone I happened to stumble upon. The idea that I could be entirely wrong about this didn't even cross my mind. Every time I didn't notice I was wrong, it tended to create awkward situations, and New Year's Eve was a perfect example.
She came to pick me up, since she lived out in Fennville and I had no way to get out that far. I don't remember the trip out there much, just visions of passing trees. We must have just been chatting about little things then, like work or something. When we got there, it was just the two of us, and she said that others would be along shortly. But they were not, and two hours of bad cable went by before she decided that everyone else must have bailed on her.
We drove around for a while, and she asked me about all kinds of things: Did I think I would ever move back to New York? What was my childhood like? What do I think about children and relationships and marriage? I took these all to mean she was interested in what I was about, as transparent as they might seem in retrospect. And I asked her these things back, making conversation as we drove over snow-swept roads. I wanted to talk about these things, but the weight of them didn't occur to me for some reason. I should have seen these questions for what they were: probes into evaluation what I thought my future looked like, and where she might fit in. I think about these questions sometimes, and it makes me wonder what she was looking for in there.
When we got back to my apartment, she washed the pretense away and things became clearer. It was almost midnight, and she said that she didn't necessarily need to go home that night. Sitting on my couch, waiting for the clock to tick down, things made sense to me. I wasn't interested, but I had wandered into this situation and I had no idea what to do next. I was upset at myself for potentially leading her on somehow and creating this situation. I should have been clearer about my state, and how I wasn't interested in such things. I wondered what I had done to make her interested in me, like it was a flaw that I desperately needed to correct before I found myself back here. I felt absolutely terrible. But when the clock struck midnight, I did kiss her out of some strange sense of obligation. I don't think it was the right thing to do, but at the time it seemed like the right thing. I hate those parts of myself that seemed conflicted over things that seem rather simple in retrospect.
Those moments immediately afterward were awkward, as I tried to explain things. I wasn't mean or strange, but I fumbled the thoughts that I tried to convey. There is no comfortable spot in that place, but I did what I thought was best at the time. I apologized, and she apologized, but this was cursory absolution, and I felt like I should still be talking, but I had no idea what to do next. We sat there staring at each other for a while before she said that she should go. I walked her to the door, apologizing and generally being pathetic.
I spent the first minutes of the year 2000 standing in my kitchen, feeling like a complete asshole.
Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
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