[One month in the life of a Craigslist Addict, Part Deux]
Dishes have been acquired! I saw a Craigslist ad stating the following: “I put dishes on my lawn at 6pm.” I did not see said message until 10:45pm. Following a tense drive into the middle of nowhere, we arrived at the target destination at 11:30pm. Dishes were still present. Ryan and I proceeded to pile the huge Rubbermaid containers filled with more plates, mugs, glasses, and Tupperware than we could ever use into our trunk and promptly sped off. I laughed maniacally all the way down the I-5, savoring the success of our huge score.
When asked about the late-night front lawn raid, Ryan was quoted as saying: “My girlfriend is fucking insane.”
[Shift to serious tone.]
Last January, when I first moved to Philly from Bulgaria, I couldn’t believe the furniture, toys, and electronics lining the streets on bulk refuse days. As Christa commented—bulk refuse day is a sidewalk free-for-all. I saw America with clean eyes. I saw how so many families have more than they would ever need, and yet they still want more, still want new, still want. In Bulgaria, everything becomes something else. Nothing is wasted. Throughout the day I could look out my window and see grown ups, children digging through our street’s dumpster. I would put my glass jars next to the trash bins, because I knew someone would take them for canning. In minutes they’d be gone, my trash turned into someone’s winter sustenance.
And Bulgaria, compared to… oh, I dunno—SOMALIA–is a well-off country.
Can you really imagine?
I’m not lecturing—I’m just saying how holy shit all of it is.
I can’t imagine.
Some days I feel deprived. Me. Harvard grad. Hawaii Kai born and bred. I feel deprived because I can’t shop at Whole Foods, because I can’t walk into REI and drop $1000 without blinking, or hop on a plane and fly to my Iolani Best Friend’s bridal shower in LA. Because we can’t move home and find perfect jobs that would both be fun, creative, flexible, and enable us to live without thinking about the M-word.
Oh dirty, dirty M-word.
In the Peace Corps you have a tendency to hoard, to pass on even your most worn down flannel pajamas to new volunteers, to scatter your Gap T-shirts throughout the orphanage. I left everything–my laptop, video camera–I made sure I gave someone my last bay leaf. I let the kids descend on my apartment like little orphan vultures and pick the clothes they wanted. It made me happy to see them in my warm jackets, my Tae Bo shoes, putting on whatever shitty jewelry and half-tubes of lip gloss I had thrown in a “junk” box. They tried to take my last pens and rubber bands from my desk drawer. Hey! I need those! I said. But I didn’t, not really. I couldn’t throw anything away. In some ways, it was my penance, the way I said I’m sorry for leaving. It was my loose change, and it did help–in the same way unpocketed quarters help a homeless person buy a cup of coffee—warmed briefly, his condition stays exactly the same.
I joke about Bulgaria all the time, call it Hellzakhistan, write blog-worthy anecdotes about how I would freeze during winter like the water in my pipes, or how I could only use one electrical appliance at a time—wash laundry or cook soup? Use space heater or take a hot shower?
At least I had appliances. At least I had a home infinitely nicer than any of the families I worked with. Families of 5, 6, 7 in one room, dirt floor shanties. How could I complain? It was me, my dog, my food processor and overpriced soy products in an apartment big enough for a family. How could I complain about how hard it was to work with the orphanage staff, how uncaring and impossible they were, about how much I hated the way my town made fun of my work, called me a stupid American for trying to help the gypsies, who they called dirty dogs, parasites. How could I complain, when I could leave it all in the blink of an eye—a plane ride—a metal box transporting me away from that entire messed up world—and my friends, my colleagues, the children—they had to stay.
I could leave.
Today I got a letter from my friend Lindsay, who took over my job as the Orphan Sponsorship Goddess. She sent me updates about the kids, photos. In one e-mails, everything shifts back into perspective. One of my favorite girls who I took to film camp, who won a trip to Amsterdam for her film—a big fucking deal–but in the end couldn’t go because we couldn’t find her parents to sign a release form, as she was AN ORPHAN who was ABANDONED—well, she is now a teenage mom orphan. She was so awesome—still is, I’m sure—but now she has a baby, no high school diploma, and a teenage husband with just as few resources as she has.
I wish I could talk to her. Sit down with her in my kitchen, like old times, make cookies, talk to each other as if we both believe it can all turn out differently, better—she’s the one, she’s going to break the cycle, there is hope. Still.
My life is simple.
We make it so complicated.
Tonight I spent way too long in Safeway, staring at my favorite ginger flavored gummy bears, knowing $6 is exorbitant to pay for a bag of gummy bears, but I love them, and I’ve waited all month for them to be on sale, and they’re never on sale, fucking gummy bears. On one hand, I know we should stick to the essentials. I bargain with myself. Well, Ryan gets beer, which costs the same, and he doesn’t need beer.
Just this once.
For the most part it’s easy to spend our days without spending a dollar. Libraries, parks, movies at home.
I don’t even know how we used to spend so much money. On what?
On everything we didn’t need or even really want.
Still, every now and then there’s a gummy bear moment, where I spend waaaay too much energy on the cost benefit analysis. Sometimes I go back up aisles and put things back. It’s so silly, how much we have and still how much we tend to worry. If we don’t catch ourselves and re-mantra: don’t worry.
The other night we were at Safeway, and as we were checking out, I asked Ryan, “I got a pumpkin pie, that’s okay, right?”
And Ryan said, “Of course. Jesus. Shoot me in the fucking head if I ever get to the place where I can’t buy pie. Fuck. Buy two in fact. Don’t ever ask me that again.”
And then the checkout guy added, “God—you should see all the people who buy pies who REALLY shouldn’t buy pies. Or have children.”
I wondered if it was obvious that we are anti-breeding.
Was it because we were shopping at midnight, and our groceries consist of a pie, some dog food, soymilk, eggs, bread, and some fruit?
What do parents buy?
Some afternoons I walk Mati down to Lake Washington, where the homes are incredible, and yet they’re probably nothing compared to the really-really nice neighborhoods. It’s just a nice neighborhood, with beautiful but not massive lake front homes, Mercedeses and Lexuses in the driveways, alarm system signs planted in the landscaped front yards, next to the mini-waterfalls or rock gardens. Just a fifteen-minute walk from our neighborhood, which I think is fantastic, as long as I avoid the news, avoid reading about last week’s shooting at the restaurant around the corner.
How does anyone survive here? Immigrants, rich kids, orphans. I glance at the newspaper for 5 seconds and all I can’t think is what. the. hell. A monkey in a research lab accidentally has his cage tossed in a dishwasher and is burned to death by acidic soap and hot fucking water. Generations still reeling from the horrors of Native American boarding schools. It was the 1920s. The new “phenomenon” of people who have to abandoned their homes after banks foreclose on them, and leave their pets behind to STARVE? I didn’t know. I don’t need to know.
And the Star Jones Show, cancelled!??!
Then, to let through a single floss-thin thread of light, there’s the story about the baby who survived the recent tornado storm, even though he was tossed into the elements, into some muddy yard. Oh, lucky baby. Of course his mom and like 60 other people died, but oh, that baby, that one baby, he lived. God bless his little beating baby heart.
I’m not angsty today. I am not fetaled somewhere crying. I am clear as a glass bell.
True, I am a bit confused. Confused by people who debate that life is beautiful. All these Chicken Soup moments. All these buy-one-get-one frees. All these new earth-friendly household cleaning products.
Please disagree with me.
I realize the news, the media focuses on the sensational, the negative.
It doesn’t matter. These things still happen.
Ryan’s friends think I’m wrong for him. Think I hold him hostage on the mainland, hold him hostage with my sadness spells, blindside tackle him when he’s stoned, hog tie him and force-feed him vegan sausage. That he is too-this, and I am too-that, and this and that just don’t go together.
Oil and Vinegar.
But you know, I say that sometimes you need to vigorously shake the bottle, and out comes some delicious fucking Balsamic Vinaigrette.
I wish more people were shaken.
I wish I was more shaken.
Ryan shakes me.
It’s funny because no matter what we write, how we act, no one ever really knows. And we all think that about each other—no one ever really knows. And that’s what makes the space between couples so sacred—what only we know. What everyone else sees is the static from our shufflings, the exhales–frozen mid-air, the sparks after a firecracker has been lit. I am thankful we see static for static, breath for breath, sparks as the aftermath of a chemical explosion. I am so thankful that after we fight—and everyone fights—we can laugh and say I can’t believe you called me that! We’re so silly.
And pretend we’re better then every other couple in the world.
It still can hurt if I let it. It all can hurt. Opinions of friends, burned-to-death primates, starved-to-death puppies, Bulgarian kids with no family, no future, no way. We’re all scared animals. Maybe I just have to stop trying to climb out the cage, because it’s all one big cage, and the only way out is through our own heads.
Nothing makes me feel safer than glancing behind me and seeing Ryan and Mati passed out on the floor-thrown futon, parallel bodies, Mati’s ass in Ryan’s snoring face. It’s incredible, what we do—spend all of every day together, money going down and down, and our faith in each other, our writing, our art, going up and up, freed balloons, tied to nothing, every now-and-then snagging a tree, an eagle’s nest, what have you. I remember one of our friends saying she didn’t know what her relationship would look like—she and her boyfriend only know each other with money, with jobs, with insurance. Strip it all away—what are you holding onto? Steak knives? Or each other?
How can our concept of struggling even count? We have heat and three warm meals every day. A car, two computers, at least 100 books, owned and borrowed—and most importantly, no children to wake up to. Ever.
We’ve been obsessed with free library DVD biographies—today’s was Louis Armstrong—I think he gets to check the “coming from hardship” box.
I’m in the middle of a poem, and by middle of it, I mean I drafted out the middle. It’s beginning and end-less. I didn’t write poetry for, oh, I don’t know… the five years after I was rejected by twelve Master’s programs. The five years after I took a “Creative Writing 101” class at UH and the instructor/Satan told me I would never make it as a writer with the shit I was writing, crossing out entire stanzas with her black pen/pitchfork, leaving my pieces as some sort of postmodern cartoonish art I could tape to a gallery wall and name: “The DEATH of Dreams.” I always drove home bawling, bawling because who did I think I was believing I could write for a living? I stopped writing anything serious. I switched to collaging my life together in anecdotes, using the word fuck profusely, saying fuck line break here versus link break there, fuck trying to write.
When I met Ryan, and I fed off of his freedom on the page. And I wrote the first poems I have ever really loved. Poems that could never be published in The New Yorker, but poems that captured every life-changing thing that was happening, and now, every time I go back, I feel that same buzz of something incredible stirring.
And that is worth more to me than any publication.
Yesterday at the library, Ryan met someone in the practice room (yes, our library has practice rooms–who can hate on Seattle?), and even though she was shy at first, after watching him bang out some fun piano notes and sing some silly impromptu lyrics, she stopped being insecure about not being a Bach prodigy or whatever and started banging, singing–playing along.
People just have to be freed from their training.
Kimi is one of the most amazing and talented women we know. But will she ever know she’s gifted? As gifted as we think she is?
I think we all have to take our work less seriously. Infuse pieces with love, not build them on shaky foundations–oh god, is this fucking REVOLUTIONARY? Did I use synecdoche? Did I use it without seeming forced? Deus ex machina? In medias res? Did I use any literary devices spelled in LATIN?
Ryan always says he wishes he could knock nine years of Iolani and Harvard-training from my brain.
One of my dear friends once told me he could tell I was more of a reader than a talker, because I had a massive vocabulary, but pronounced most big words wrong.
I think that’s one of my most charming attributes.
Some days I could blog forever, thought to thought, anecdote to history to photo to song and dance–but the library’s about to close.
My last thought:
As Ryan wrote, people are dying. But that’s what we do every day. Die a little.
We grieve at funerals because we don’t understand how the people we love the most can disappear. We don’t know where they go. If we really believed in heaven, there would be less tears and more celebration. If we really believed in nothing, there would be less tears and more celebration. None of us believe in anything. All death does is remind us we do not matter, the universe owes you no justice–everything we carry can be ripped from our arms in a millisecond. We have no control, we are just passengers taking off without a pilot.
We are working on our landings.
We are constantly mid-air.