Carpal tunnel, in its very early stages, sings through my wrist as I lift my hands to type. I make a mental note, for the millionth time, to sit straight, elbows tight against my chest, with my feet planted firmly on the ground. It’s one of many such notes, joining an eclectic, 80’s coming-of-age comedy posse that includes “Stop scrolling mindlessly,” “Eat more complex carbs,” and “Self-flagellation is what you do best, but it’s a talent better wasted.” A many-sided die spinning at high speed in the smoky air, an RPG game in which all outcomes lead to that final, darkly humorous message, written in cursive above my sleeping head: “You’re going to die, someday, and you probably won’t like it.”
Live from Nihilism News, edginess has been out of vogue in your generation for at least ten years. What we want now are the learnings embedded and wisdom conveyed by a 15-second clip of a manicured set of hands tearing the shrink packaging off a tube of luxury lipstick, followed by another clip of the same hand spreading the lipstick—sheep fat colored oxblood-red with chemical wizardry—along a freckled Cupid’s bow. That’s the philosophy we’re committed to now, and we will ride this rollercoaster straight into whatever pulsing, backlit, sponsored fate the future has available for free download.
Outside, the snow has been falling, in fat, fluffy flakes, for hours. Snow coats branches, windowsills, fences, bicycle seats and handlebars. The last time snow fell like this, in this city, the year was 2018. As the sky darkens, the snow banks remain, insulated by the chill of the air, faintly illuminated by the fluorescent lights of the school next door. I have written before about the transformative effect of winter snow: its capacity to shape the landscape, both outside and within. Watching it come down never fails to jolt me out of my current state of mind and shift me, like a gear change, into another one. It reminds me of the personal and creative metamorphosis—the revelation that would make life feel worthwhile—that I always hoped was possible for me. I’m still waiting for it, like a child lost at a theme park, anxiously waiting by the concession stand for Dad to emerge from the crowd of strangers, arms open wide, and scoop her up. In the meantime, the message above my head, proudly portending my demise with all the hyper energy of a “Hot Dogs and Popcorn Here” sign, continues to flicker.
I often have this feeling like all the blood in my body is being drawn inwards, toward a point at the exact center of my chest. There, the blood swirls like a rainstorm before clumping together, congealing stickily into a large, red-black mass like a ball made of scarlet rubber bands, or a wet lump of rose-red bubblegum, or a pound of flesh. It travels, like a roach along a countertop, into my throat. I heave noisily. It moves into my brain, forming an embolism there that immediately cuts me off from the past and present, leaving me stranded in the mutilations of the future. You’re going to die, someday, and you probably won’t like it. You’re going to continue to live, and you don’t know for what purpose. Play another 15-second clip of a girl dancing, slightly off-beat, in a huge, white-walled suburban bedroom.
I am not afraid to grow old, but I am afraid of becoming a missing person, which appears to be the fate of every woman over 40. A woman, in pilly sweaters and sensible sneakers, uneasy but quiet on her dark green velour sofa as her husband and children unhinge their jaws, saliva dripping down, in preparation for devouring her alive. I am afraid of sacrificing my last shreds of authenticity, harbored like a buried secret in a forgotten tract of land, at the altar of expectation. I am afraid to lose the leniency of youth, the charitable excuses made for its excesses. I am afraid because the many uncertainties that have come to characterize my young adulthood show no signs of ceasing.
Meanwhile, time continues its game of knucklebones. I become the victim in a fairytale: My hands wrinkle and contort. My back and neck seize in the middle of the night. My memory loses its grasp on the joys of my past, but retains a powerful, everlasting grip on the shame. The people on who I once relied entirely retreat farther into a maze. I follow, motivated by a flood of desperation stronger than any fear of humiliation, my feet knocking loudly against the cobblestones—but the person I find at the turn of a corner is not someone I recognize. Picking up a fragment of mirror cast onto the stones, the blood in my body reacts in a gory wave, receding from my numb fingers and toes, washing up onto the shores of my teeth and tongue. Holding the mirror up to my face, I don’t even recognize myself.