Last night, looking for a free restroom at Staples bar in Allentown, I opened an unlocked door on a fortyish man in a striped shirt, urinating. I’d had a few beers and only laughed as I closed the door. When he emerged a few minutes later, holding the door open for me, he paused in the doorway, gazing up at me. “Nice glasses,” he said.
Yeah, I know… they’re purple. But I still can’t see. As evidence, I submit the past month’s events:
The man I worked for in New York last year calls and says, “I may be hiring.”
My mom says, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to pay the rent on our apartment while I’m in Oregon, I can’t afford to.”
My brother says, “I was the only reason you and Mom came here in the first place, but now I’m throwing all my shit onto the first wagon train west and leaving you here.”
I say to both of them, “I’m really glad you’re leaving this lame burg, but what will I do without you here?!”
I panic for two weeks about being left alone in this town, sure that vampires will attack me every time I board the bus and every night will find me home alone, twisting my hair into drool-coated strands. I can’t see how I could have a good time in a town I’ve complained about for six months.
My mom and brother leave, and suddenly I see people running to welcome me. Come out to the bars with us. Come to this art show, have a glass of wine, play Cranium, drop by the Greek festival, eat Chinese food with us.
And I say yes.
I discover that the apartment, so crowded for three, is spacious and well-appointed for one. I can listen to country music as much as I want, walk around with as few clothes as I like, set my own schedule. Obvious advantages to living alone that I could not see until I reached this point.
I meet an artist named Al, who is delighted to discuss his work with an attendee of his show who actually wants to talk about art, rather than schmooze. I hadn’t seen it until he points it out, but sure enough, the exhibit room itself carries out the “duckrabbit” theme in his work. The torn little paintings hang in each ear, and the mirror with patches of fur on it is somewhere around the neck region. Beaked and bunny-eared, the duckrabbit is everywhere: crocheted on the wall, painted in watercolor, embroidered onto scraps of his old trousers.
I tell a coworker about my plan to make an artistic representation of my house using vintage wallpaper found in odd corners of the apartment, and her friend leans forward saying, “That reminds me! The wallpaper in my house is ten layers thick in some spots, so I’ve been peeling parts of it away and leaving layers exposed in some areas, painting around it… it reminds me of a fresco somehow…”
Just as I’m about to leave the flaky-creative path I chose last year, I start work at an arty nonprofit and meet a coworker with a great many friends in the local art scene, the perfect support system for a creative flake.
But I didn’t see that coming a month ago, when I glanced at a mental calendar and discovered that the most frantic twelve months of my life had left me exactly where I’d started: creatively clueless, friendless, loverless, jobless, homeless. I couldn’t see what the trip had been for.
Cynical about my flaky-creative path and worried about how I’ll pay for my existence, I say yes to my former boss. Yes I’ll move back to New York, yes I’ll return to a position slightly beneath what I had when I left your company last year, yes I’ll ignore every negative impression I had of that city when I visited two months ago.
Reading in bed on a quiet night, waking up with sunlight filtering through trees rather than buildings, moseying to and from work, drinking Blue with low-maintenance women, discussing architectural elements in art with unkempt strangers… I feel happier than I have since playing with the twins in England. I feel carefree. I feel me.
Going back to New York doesn’t reconcile easily with that; I don’t see myself moseying, scavenging wallpaper, or relaxing with girls as down-to-earth as those I hung out with last night.
I don’t see it, but I didn’t see myself enjoying living alone when my mom and brother left, either. I didn’t see myself finding love in that lonely country house on a road winding through pastures in Devonshire. I didn’t see myself making a great friend when I moved into a stranger’s apartment in Inwood last spring for my last three weeks in New York, a friend who only today reminded me that I don’t have to accept everyone and everything I encounter upon returning to New York. I can redefine my boundaries, and I can say “no.”
But right now I’ll continue to say yes, even when it scares me, even when I look at a closed door and see nothing but painted wood. Ignore my hand-wringing; I know that once the door swings open, I may see a duckrabbit on the other side.