Everyone in my family expected that I’d write for a living when I got older, but at age eight I learned that writers are poor and decided maybe being a famous singer was more appealing. I began to listen to a lot of Brandy; and I wrote songs or poems, depending on who you ask; and I sang in talent shows — usually placing third, never placing first. When I reached middle school I auditioned for the show choir — which only accepted the best students and which put on seasonal concerts and which traveled all the way to Florida to sing at Disneyworld once, I think — and got in. I sang “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie and was accepted and to me, this was proof that I was good, that I was only going to get better.
My plan was to audition for LaGuardia, the Fame school, because when you’re a kid growing up in New York you don’t just attend whatever high school is closest to your home; you apply, you audition, you start thinking about the extent of your talent when you’re a goddamn 12-year-old. I wondered whether I was talented enough all the time, and the verdict was that I wasn’t, so I practiced more. I sang in my room. In the shower. I went to 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. show choir practices daily. I wrote more song-poems. And then my parents told me we were moving away, and LaGuardia was not going to happen, and I wouldn’t even live in Brooklyn long enough to perform in the winter concert, and they knew I was disappointed so they were going to find me voice lessons after the move, was that okay? And I agreed but as it turned out, it was not okay. We moved and I did not get better; instead of getting voice lessons I began getting high and getting depressed and I remained depressed until I wasn’t; this was a phase I went through.
I mean, the singing thing was a phase. The depression, that’s something I thought was a phase but is actually something that retreats and returns — very naturally, this happens — depression is like the ocean tide or the sun or a determined cancer that doesn’t stay away for long. And I’m okay with knowing that but only because right now, I’m pretty sure I’m in remission.
I am familiar with phases. Fashioning ashtrays out of tinfoil and sneaking cigarettes in my bedroom. Gelling the baby hairs that frame my face and sculpting them with a toothbrush. Brown lipliner and white eyeliner. Listening to Brandy, writing song-poems. Drafting acceptance speeches for the Grammys I’m going to win. Practicing my autograph. Writing five-page letters to heartthrob celebrities who are twice my age. Falling for guys who don’t even want to bother using me. Hating my mom and writing it in my journal over and over like once could never be enough. Dreadlocks. Sleeping with a pair of scissors beneath my pillow. Reciting “Our Father” every night before bed so that I wouldn’t have any nightmares. Painting my nails with Whiteout. Tattoos. Drinking cocktails in my roommate’s bed at 11 a.m. every Sunday. Working the register at McDonald’s. Telemarketing. Sweeping up the hairs people no longer wanted on their heads. Hoop earrings. Phases, I’ve passed through them all.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if monogamy is realistic, or something I should aspire to, because it seems like all of the people I’ve been attached to have turned out to be phases. And you could’ve never told me then — while I was falling in love and sharing air and drowning in eyes — that this person was not going to matter someday. I would’ve never believed you, that’s what love is like. So I guess what I want is more than love. I guess what I want is someone who becomes part of me, who is there even when they aren’t, who runs through my veins and my mind and my limbs whether I want them there or not. Less of a phase, more of a depression.
It seemed every girl had a belly-ring except for me; even my own mother had her navel pierced years before I was allowed to do the same. This was an abomination, this was unfair, this needed to be corrected it was a medical necessity. I asked and begged and pleaded and threatened until my mom drove me to Modern Age Piercing & Tattoo and let a bored Russian woman drive a thick blue needle through my virgin flesh and finally I was unique, just like everyone else.
And I wish I could say that it stopped there but it didn’t, because then I needed to get my nose pierced. See, having your belly pierced was like having your ears pierced, was like wearing a freakin’ headband, it wasn’t special. It was nothing. So I got my nose pierced, which ended up being a mistake because it never quite healed. Every time I changed the ring I cried a little and bled a lot and on occasion the back of the ring would peak out of my nostril and someone would tell me I needed to blow my nose (even though I never actually needed to blow my nose and thank god because blowing my nose hurt like hell).
I came to regret the nose piercing and the belly piercing — the money spent and the pain endured and the blood shed — so I removed the rings, years ago, and that was that. Except now I have these holes in my skin that seem to be going nowhere; but I guess no one ever said a passing phase couldn’t leave a scar.
People confuse depression with Just A Phase One Goes Through because, when things get better — when the sun rises or the tide calms or whatever — and you are moving forward knowing how bad it was then and how good it is now, well, why would you go back? You are victorious, you have figured something out, you are all fixed. That is how sadness works maybe, or disappointment, or grief. That is how phases work, they are linear, you begin at one point and evolve and you end up someplace else. That is not how depression works, though. With depression, there is no Point A and Point B: it is circular, it is a cul-de-sac, you just always run the risk of finding yourself back where you began.
Last night I ate sushi for the fifth time this week with people I see every day in a neighborhood I’ve lived in for something like four years now and it hit me — this, right now, is a phase. This job and this diet, these friends and these circumstances — they are a song-poem. They are brown lipliner and gelled baby hairs. Or maybe they’re a depression, I don’t know. I can’t always tell the difference between a piercing and a tumor; I don’t know who will be discarded or who will leave behind tiny holes or who I will regret; I don’t know who will stay under my skin or on my sleeve but always a part of my story, for better or worse.
I got to thinking that feeling frightened or relieved by this realization — that all or none of this will matter someday — that’s just a phase, too; one day this dinner and this night and this jarring awareness I accidentally stumbled on will become footnotes of another phase I’ve survived. At least they’ll be in good company.