I’m not sure exactly what happened that last morning, the day before I packed up all of my shit and made the decision to abandon everything I’d been working so hard to get. I do know that I things had been on-again/off-again Not Right for a while. I was living in a performance gallery that I had started with three of my best friends and while the gallery was seeing meteoric success, the strain on our relationship was clear and just as rapid. I had my first and only first-hand experience with sexual assault that summer and didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it, even though I knew many of my friends had gone through something similar.
I had just gotten back together casually with a sometime boyfriend who wasn’t fit for a relationship any more than I was, but with whom I shared an impossible sexual chemistry and a mutual hatred for sleeping alone at night. I went to an endless stream of artist parties and book releases and album releases and salons, meeting people who all seemed to me to be more or less the same. I had just been promoted to bartender at a restaurant I hated, but that paid me more than enough money to drink my immediate sorrows away. That job also put me in close proximity to a haunted green-eyed waiter/artist named Justin, whom I followed around the kitchen like a shameless puppy dog.
When I woke up, I was lying in my tiny little bedroom/office at the gallery, with assorted $20 and $50 bills lying all over my futon and the floor. I gathered them into a neat little pile and put them into my desk drawer, next to an empty bottle of rye whiskey and a rusty old bowie knife. There were three texts from my summer boyfriend telling me that he wasn’t going to make it to my house that night because he was at a party with some girl. I opened the door into a pile of garbage bags, walked around them, and got into the dirty shower. My gallery-mates were gone god knows where, so I went in to work early for staff lunch. When I got to work, Justin was sitting in a booth by himself, staring dejectedly at a photograph of a wedding ring on his phone, the wedding ring his girlfriend wanted him to buy for her. I made $300 that night to stand at my bar and listen to the adventures of middle-aged executives just in from Bora Bora, Sancerre, Rio. I did shots of Amaro with them and told them about my gallery. I watched them sink back that dark digestif and smile at me, telling me how they envied me the freedom of being 22 again.
I came home three-fourths into a bottle of bourbon. I got about 15 feet from the door before my feet stopped moving, and I stood there for 10 minutes, trying to work up the will to go back inside. I didn’t realize up until that point that I had been singing “That Lucky Old Sun” and crying for the entire walk home from the train station. Beyond our warm yellow windows, I could make out the voices and silhouettes of my closest friends, talking, trying to decide what they were going to do about me, if anybody knew what the hell was the matter with me. I tried to make my feet move a few more times before giving up and walking to a nearby park where I knew I could be alone.
I guess I just kind of snapped. The pressure built up, got to be too much, and out it all came. I sat under a slide for two hours with my head in my hands before raising it up with a manic kind of clarity. I walked back to the gallery, screamed out what needed to be screamed out, put all of my shit into bags. I used the coming days to say goodbye to everyone I loved: my parents, my friends, my ex-friends, my ex-lovers. I told my boss I was quitting and leaving the city and no, I didn’t have a plan. No, I didn’t know what I was going to do. No, I didn’t need to think it through some more. No, I wasn’t going to change my mind.
I hopped onto an Amtrak train and spent the next few months sleeping on floors and staring out over unfamiliar cornfields, living off of my savings and an emptied-out 401k. I called Justin from under the harvest moon to tell him that I missed him and that I wished him the best of luck. I hung up the phone on people who made backhanded comments telling me that I was crazy and I could have everything back if only I’d grovel for it. I drank spring water. I swam in rivers. I exchanged stories with strangers. I went three whole months without ever once thinking about cigarettes or cocaine or beer. I stretched out in the middle of the afternoon on soft green grass under big rural skies. And I felt lucky. I was alone in the world, as truly as one can be alone, and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. But for the first time in 21 years, I felt lucky. I felt youthful. I felt free.