In my bathroom, everything has fallen under a thin coat of chalky dust. No matter how hard I scrub it away, it always comes back. I order solvents and scrubbers and potions on Amazon, and rip open the boxes when they arrive, hungry to savage the dirt and polish it gone. I find myself sitting on the floor in a dirty tank top and underwear, feeling like a failure because I can’t keep it clean. That little layer of scum mocks me in its steadfast way.
Sometimes I like to spend my Saturdays driving around, running menial errands or wandering aimlessly around malls, just to keep my nervous energy from shaking my whole apartment building. On Lyndale, they’ve painted the corner building a pretty teal color. I’ve lived here for almost ten years and I don’t remember what color it was before. Is that how it feels to get old? You look in the mirror one day and realize that you don’t remember what your young face looked like. When my friends post their Timehops flashing ten years of profile pictures lightning-fast across my phone screen, I watch their faces change and think it’s funny that to me they’ve always looked just the same. Five to 25. Thirteen to 30.
In my hometown, there’s one stoplight, and it doesn’t serve a function. It just blinks, blinks, blinks slowly, a slow beat of red that no one pays attention to. The houses are crumbling. The town is crumbling. Everything looks beaten down. That’s what happens to you when you get old, I suppose. The world doesn’t stop changing. It weathers away at your corners faster and faster every day.
It’s okay for me to spend long periods alone with myself in the wintertime. In summer, I’m perfectly content to splay myself out on the lawn and chat with whoever walks by, to make countless dates to sit and sip rose, to wander around the lakes. But the winter brings out all my little monsters, and I don’t mind letting them in for awhile, just to visit.
A few days ago, my acrylic nails started to crumble. It was a months-old set, time to be chipped off and replaced with new, strong chemicals and plastic. The tips broke off, and, satisfied by the ugly mess of jagged edges, I gnawed all tainted five nails down to bloody little nubs. Every three weeks, I sit patiently while they’re sanded down and a new coat of powder is applied. I leave with pretty, perfect nails. Biting and shredding my nails is a compulsion I’ll never get over, which is why I keep them covered up and fake. Sometimes, fake is good. I like my coffee creamer to reek of chemicals, the fakest, sweetest French vanillas. I don’t have time for something subtle.
My nervous energy is the kind that comes from being the firstborn, the Type A, the one who makes the plans and makes the lists and gets things done efficiently. It’s not anxiety. I don’t have anxiety. I don’t understand how it works. Plenty of my friends do, though, and they’ve told me about it, how suddenly the whole world looks different and they can’t quite figure out what changed. I don’t have anxiety, but I do have a tendency to stand in front of the mirror and scrutinize every inch of my skin, to figure out where the lighting is the best so I don’t have to see my cellulite, to examine my unblinking face while standing in the bathroom in the cold blue light of Minnesota winter. I do not let my brain sit still, slow down, chill out. I can’t, and I don’t want to.
I don’t have anxiety, but I burn, and I burn hot and fast until I crumple down like my nails. My nail lady can soothe my ugly broken fingers for the low, low price of $45, but nothing can soothe me until these walls are clean.