Funny thing happens when you begin going down a one-way road, eyes closed, with breaks that haven’t been inspected in years —
Your crash doesn’t make headlines.
Nobody mourns. Your tragically young face isn’t plastered across Facebook walls, black ink “RIP” tattooing comment sections. Nobody finds your plot line unpredictable. There aren’t flowers and condolences. The world keeps turning. Spinning.
I guess that’s the thing about being your own cause of disaster.
Because I know did it to myself. I pinpoint moments, circle catalysts like a word search, but none of it means much when I stop to breathe. I remember it like a slow motion explosion at the climax of a movie: disconnected, out of touch, not moving fast enough. I was there. But I wasn’t.
And I did it to myself.
It was the summer following college graduation, and I was consumed with two things. A man, though in retrospect man-child is more fitting, and avoiding anything that tied me to reality. I couldn’t decide which one I loved more, or which one was more unhealthy.
Los Angeles was quickly becoming more and more a place I so badly wanted to belong to, but feared it was swallowing me and my newfound freedom whole. It’s weird, this sudden feeling that accompanies graduation. Like, oh SHIT, it’s just time for life? This is it, right? Now it’s on me and I’ve got to keep finding ways to pay rent and bills, teachers aren’t here to assign me some numerical value, things are starting to fall solely on my shoulders, and what if my curving spine can’t handle it? What if I break and don’t bend? What if I have no fucking clue how to be a grown up?
But that’s what you do after graduation: you fake it. You fake adulthood. And for those lucky few of you who’ve had it figured out since day one, congratulations, and also, how? Do you not ever crumble under your own expectations and society and feeling like everything is so heavy you’re just going to fall down? No? Wow, good for you, babe. Seriously. Take me out to brunch and teach me how.
Because I was faking it. I was faking it so hard that I was lying to everyone around me, including me. I was working part-time folding clothes, begging them to give me full-time (despite hating it) because I needed the money. I hadn’t learned how to budget and soon learned spending my grocery money on Uber rides to a bar where previously mentioned Man-Child didn’t even bother showing up to was, in fact, not a great way to go about adulthood. I’d get down to my last bit of money and calculate which meals made most sense to skip. A handful of cashews and rice cakes, I decided, would be the kind of thing I could survive on. For a little bit. But apparently you do that enough and you pass out at your shitty minimum wage job. Have to clock out. And don’t make the money you really needed.
I also made the very, very stupid mistake of going off Zoloft, the one thing that had been proven over the years to keep my depression and anxiety manageable. It wasn’t some well thought out “I’m just gonna go cold-turkey because I have inner strength and look at me!” and it wasn’t even because I was nervous about side effects from long-term medication use. Nope. I was a dumb 22 year old girl who never got it refilled. And the absence made it’s presence undeniably known one very dangerous night, but more on that another time.
I was spiraling. A cartoonish version of depression, I slept all day on days I didn’t work and wore oversized sweatshirts from two ex boyfriends ago. I left my apartment so rarely, I began alienating friends left and right. Because no matter how great you may be, nobody is going to stick around when you don’t make the smallest of effort. Relationships are two-way streets, and remember, I was too busy on a solo trip down the wrong path. With occasional detours to the Man-Child’s apartment.
I was stuck thinking something was going to happen. It had to! I figured I’d experienced enough pain, enough loss, enough tragedy, that things would just turn around. Los Angeles would invite me in, arms open, show me the perfect affordable apartment across the street from a quaint coffee shop – where I would pen the next great screenplay and it would be picked up, optioned, my bank account and tummy would be full. It was just going to happen.
That’s the first mistake us early 20-somethings make, thinking deserving something means it will happen. Maybe it does. But often, it doesn’t. You work. You hope for luck. You put your heart and soul into things. But you don’t wait. You don’t sit and wait for something to happen. Because with that mentality, it probably won’t. And spoiler alert: all my waiting and avoiding reality with a man who never saw a future with me, it didn’t lead to greatness. At least, not right away.
I ended up broke, back home, and dangerously depressed. “I’m every privileged, whiny 20-something cliche!” I’d want to scream. I couldn’t even face myself, this girl. Not a woman. A lost, terrified, Peter Pan syndrome girl. It wasn’t until a car almost crashed into me one night that I realized how dead I really was. A tragedy I was putting upon myself. My instincts were not those of adrenaline and fear, but of peace and acceptance. After the car sharply veered, narrowly missing mine, I felt sad. I drove home terrified of that thought. My body didn’t even give a shit. It was ready. It wasn’t going to fight it.
In between fits of half-assedly applying to jobs, texting Man-Child, plotting ways I could make a trip to Los Angeles to see him, and crying so violently at night that I often woke on the floor of my bedroom with a bruised chest, my mother made an appointment for us to get our nails done. I played shitty guitar and my fingers looked more like a Black Swan situation than those delicate Pinterest photos I was supposed to want. I didn’t really care. I did so much with my hands, I didn’t need to make them pretty when my life wasn’t feeling too pretty. I liked the hangnails and messed up nail beds. It felt like me.
But my mother, bless her, was trying to do something to cheer me up. Like maybe slapping a coat of hot pink shellac could do the trick. So we embarked on this mother/daughter suburban outing, and I tried to pretend the sun wasn’t making my skin itch.
I sat down with a pretty Vietnamese woman who told me about her children. She was proud of them, it was practically seeping out her pores and I wondered what they were like. I felt a weird shame, wondering if my mother felt this way about me. Or what she looked like when strangers asked about her daughter.
She took my hands in hers and looked at my nails. She made a clicking sound, the kind of thing you to a baby animal that’s doing something it shouldn’t.
“Your nails! Too short!” She explained, showing me the mess I had done to myself. I nodded, looking down.
“Don’t do that any more, ok?” She gently tapped my hand with hers. It was strangely reassuring. But I couldn’t stop the stinging of tears. And there, in Nails Forever, I cried. I cried for it all. And for some things I never could articulate.
But that’s when I decided she was right. I was destroying myself and I couldn’t sit back and wait. Watch. Pick at my fingernails and life until everything was a bloody sight that no one could stomach.
“Don’t do that any more, ok?”