Here We Are At Last (And Now What)

by Rose Amer

Does Life hand you lemons or do you buy them $1.99/lb at a Trader Joe's?

No, I'm honestly asking: how does it work? ("It" being Adulthood, or Grocery Shopping, or Opportunity, or Something).

Miss, can you help me? I saw my mom last in the canned food aisle.

I wonder what it's going to feel like the day after graduation. The same, probably – like when they ask you if you feel any older the morning of your 10th birthday and you try and feel inside if really it does but you know it doesn't. It'll feel different in autumn, I'm sure: the muscle memory of going to class interrupted. That's when my system will realize this routine of 20 years - summer breaks is done. Even still, the day after graduation is when I'll start the New Routine, with the job I'll presumably have by then, and the apartment I'll find in that neighborhood I hope I'll like, and I will probably at last understand how much lettuce to buy for the week so I don't end up throwing half of it away. Commencement commencement commencement. That's what they mean, right?

When I was a freshman, I found it hard not to cry in CVS. I could theorize, here, that the overwhelming sensation was a result of the Possibilities of Choice: this Campbell's or that Campbell's, two-ply or one-ply, this shampoo or that one (or that one, or that one, or that one). Or perhaps it was the result of the regurgitated childhood trauma of wandering food-shelved aisles in search of mom. I think it's more likely, however, that upon meeting the kind eyes of the elderly checkout attendant I felt like I just wanted a hug.

"Cash or credit, honey?"

When the possibilities are endless, so is the anxiety.

"The future," they say, "is waiting for you."

And with the intuition of a child I reply, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

When they ask me what I'm going to do, I feel a throbbing at my fingertips – the pre-crying, post-recognition tightening of the throat that reminds me of when my mother's voice cracks under the weight of having to tell me someone's died. Although, I guess it feels less like a mourning and more like a terrible yearning for something I'm not sure I'll be able to find.

They like to say that I have my whole life ahead of me. Which is objectively a little true, sure, assuming I live as long as the average American female. But if you're going to belittle the 22 years that brought me here – to the Threshold of Adulthood, to Life Itself (Notwithstanding Everything That Came Before It) – then at least have the decency to say something a little more meaningful than "You have your whole life ahead of you." Tell me what Life is; I'm not sure I know.

There's no more Annie's Mac and Cheese left on the shelf. They're all out of apples. What am I supposed to do, staring in the face of emptiness? What am I looking at? But they've got 13 different brands of whole wheat sliced bread.

What if I just closed my eyes, for a minute?

They used to tell me to cherish my childhood.

They like to tell me I'm young and I don't know anything. But I think it's the Not Knowing that has taught me the most.

Have I felt what it means to be scared – really, truly fucking scared: to be held at gunpoint by The Potential of Your Own Life?

Do they mean to tell me that to live – to truly live in the way that fairy tales have prescribed – is contingent upon suffering? I don't mean that happiness is incomprehensible without suffering, or visa versa – that, I think, is the stuff of therapists' offices used to placate the crying and the broken. What I mean is that maybe they are doomed to coexist. Is Pain just the shadow of Happiness standing in the warmth of the sun? I call to one and they both come running, hand in hand. The star-crossed impossible lovers of old.

Why can't I ever finish a damn bag of lettuce. Pennies in the trash, pennies in the trash, and the thing that keeps me going rotting in the back of the refrigerator.

I presume the truth is that Life doesn't always hand you lemons. No, sometimes it leaves a flaming bag of dog shit on your porch and you feel like you're washing your hands for days
for weeks
for months
for the months since the day you last spoke to her
for every moment since you answered your mother's call and she was quiet for the first few seconds and you understood what she was going to say to you and you already knew what you didn't want to know and her voice cracked when she said "Hi, honey" and you felt whatever that thing is that hangs in the air at funeral homes and coats the throats of children lost in the aisles of grocery stores and you wanted nothing more than to return to her the years of comfort she gave you in lullabies and warmth but you're pretty sure there isn't an English word that can do that.

I love you, maybe.

"Not yet," said the youth. "But maybe someday."

I found it hard not to cry in CVS.

Somewhere deep in my churning gut I understand that everything will work out, of course. In theory, what I've purchased isn't really an education but a lifetime of contentment, at the very least. I will call my friend who I met on my floor freshman year and we'll be 32 and scared-but-content and I will probably feel all at once in my churning gut what feels like a misplaced nostalgia for what's to come. Or maybe they call that Love. When we talk on the phone it won't especially matter what the subject is because the real content of that experience is being connected from however far away by the aching understanding – can you feel it in your bones? – that someone somewhere is thinking and feeling the same crazy things as you. And I am, and you are.

I will do, and I will write, and I will be. I will live in an apartment downtown, probably. I will own a couch that used to live with somebody else. I will finally have the time to read, and still probably won't. I will kiss my Loved One and hope they don't smell the fear. They will smell the fear. (They always do). And they will hope in turn that I don't smell the fear on them. I will. (I always do). But we'll eat ice cream sandwiches from the back of the freezer and sit on the couch that used to live with somebody else and pretend to read all the same.

So, this is my incantation incarnation incomprehensible routine of mental gymnastics that gets me from morning to afternoon to evening to sleep to morning again:

There will be nights walking home in the dark when you will think the chewed-up, spit-out whirring of hot air coming from the grates below your feet is Hell Trying to Take You Alive but you have to remind yourself that it's just the generator that keeps the lights on late at night.

Maybe I'm bitter about having to read Freud for the eight-thousandth time instead of actually dreaming. But at least now I know what I don't believe in.

I'm not sure if this is the time-immemorial sensation of Being A Person or if it's just the slightly burnt coffee I had this morning still sitting in my stomach. But either way, does anybody know when Scandal comes back?

You're gonna read this book on the cusp of 22 and you're gonna sit in the library at 4 o'clock on a Wednesday and you're gonna feel something. You're not going to understand what it is but you're going to feel it.

And then years later when you're deciding between cereals in the grocery store some part of you will remember that book and that library and that feeling and some part of you will call it Love and then you'll give the man $2.99 for a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and go home.

Home: the canned food aisle, perhaps.