I'm on a train to Rhode Island to be with my parents and my two brothers for my birthday. It is a tradition. My birthday comes and I leave New York. I’ve done this every summer since I turned 25. That was my last New York birthday. I got too drunk, and all of my friends fought. I chased a boy to the train crying and apologizing even though I’d done nothing wrong. Lies I’d told came home to roost. I woke up the next morning hung over and miserable. I apologized to everyone I knew. I was an unholy mess. I’m not now, and that feels good.
If I stayed in New York this year for my birthday the most dramatic thing that would happen is that maybe I would eat too many hot dogs and not leave any hot dogs for my friends. They’d all be like “BITCH” but I’d regret nothing, because hot dogs are delicious. What I’m saying is that now, turning 31 I’m not only less in pieces, I’m also -- possibly -- less interesting.
I know it’s not true, I know it’s not. I look around and see that my life is exciting, my relationships rewarding, and adventures aplenty at every turn. I remind myself of this, but that niggling voice creeps in some time: Boring, boring, boring. I am hoping it’s not this worry that I’ve grown into someone dull and flat that has crept into my mind today trying to do me harm.
I walked out of my apartment without my Prozac. I count out the days I’ll be without on one hand, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday -- damn, that is a while. I do a quick search on my phone, “How many days can I skip my--” I’m met immediately with other overly-anxious and depressed folks frantically turning to the internet for answers. Some say the half-life is long-lasting, others claim that even a day and they notice a change. I’m chomping up and down on and old mouth scar on the right side of my gullet. I realize I’m doing it and I stop. I am going to be fine. I am going to fine. I am going to be fine.
Come tomorrow morning, I want to be quietly burning to a crisp on a rocky beach. I want sand scraping me in unfortunate places. I want to smell like coconuts and slightly-off scrod. I won’t wear any makeup. I’ll probably only change clothes once for a period of four days. Even then it will be solely to wear one of my mom’s bathing suits because I can never manage to bring along one of my own. The most rigorous activity I have planned is filling the bird feeders that surround the cabin where my parents live.
I didn’t forget the pills to sabotage myself. I forgot the pills because I am forgetful. I feel the muscle-bound monster in my mind rear up on its hind legs, like Tim Curry in "Legend." It’s gearing up to berate me: Stupid, lazy, forgetful, ugly, f*ck-up. I slap my flip-flops down on the train’s floor. They give a satisfying sound. I swallow a bit of my own mouth-skin and then I relax my jaw.
“F*ck you, Tim Curry,” I say. “I am great.” I imagine him in full demon regalia awkwardly tottling backwards to get away from me. I laugh, one loud, totally gnarly snort. The people around me examine me carefully for signs of insanity out of the corners of their eyes.
I'm on a Metro-North train. I’m eating pretzels drowned in butter and artificial mustard flavoring for lunch. My shirt is covered in holes and weirdly that makes me feel sexy and punk rock and cool. I wave at a puppy across the aisle who has been eyeing me and my pretzels. His tail wags. I want to ask if I can pet him, but I’m shy. “I should rise up against this shyness,” I think. Instead I lean back and burrow into my seat. I’ve done enough pushing myself today. I will let the shyness win. Tim Curry snickers. I give him the finger and finish the pretzels.
The train is going forwards but I'm sitting backwards. This is not a metaphor. I mean, it could be one, I could make it one, but it’s kind of embarrassingly obvious, right? If I were Dorothy Parker, I'd make some comment about how I'm moving faster than a speeding bullet towards something good, but I keep forgetting that this is so because I'm eternally captivated by all the stuff fading into spots that I'm leaving behind. Also if I were Dorothy Parker I'd be drunk. And probably significantly more glib. Also I'd be dead. I am glad I'm not Dorothy Parker. Not just because of the whole ‘dead’ part -- I strongly dislike martinis.
I'm getting off the train in New Haven where I'll transfer to an Amtrak train for the final leg of my journey. It's an annoying transfer. But it’s one that saves me 20 bucks and since I've gone freelance those 20 bucks are the dividing line between security and the quiet certainty that soon I will be showing folks who take a left turn inside Trader Joe’s my less-hairy nipple -- for a modest fee, of course.
I have bad luck at the New Haven train station. It's a beautiful place if you only look at the ceiling. New Haven is strange. Once there was a track fire and I wound up sleeping there. I stayed at a cheap motel, double-bolted the door and watched a man and a woman in the parking lot waltz together sweetly and then begin beating the holy hell out of each other. I called the front desk. The phone rang and rang. I went to look back outside and the couple was gone. All I could see were cars and the back of an abandoned grocery store.
New Haven. It’s a place that leaves me feeling unsettling and stuck.
The last time I was there, about a year ago, a dude asked to borrow my phone. It was 2 a.m. I was an asshole for having my phone out at all while waiting at an abandoned train station. Considering that I was woman, that made for two crimes. I looked up at him and a siren went off in my mind. He was youngish, strung-out looking, taller than me, and white enough to be a vampire. For half a second that seemed like a real possibility. But I didn’t let my mind hang out thinking about life eternal and glittering Pattinson pectorals. I was all business. I was hard nosed. This is one of the only times in my life that my intuition took the reins. "No," I said before I knew I was going to. "It's an emergency," he said. "There's a police officer stationed downstairs," I said firmly, and then I stood up.
"Give me your phone, f*cking c**t," and I was already walking away from him slowly heading towards the cop I'd seen earlier. I didn’t run. I felt his eyes on my back, burning a hole in between my shoulders. It was Tim Curry again. But Emergency Becca, In-A-Crisis-Becca, she had no time to indulge. “Sure, I might be a f*cking c**t, but I’m a f*cking c**t who didn’t just get robbed.”
The cops let me wait in their office. One dude went upstairs to take a look. The other offered me a small bowl of nuts. "There are supposed to be pistachios but I haven't seen any." I nodded, "Pistachios are actually really expensive." Talking about something inane unlocked my brain. Whatever cool calm certainty that had driven me towards their office evaporated and it was like I'd been in an elevator that dropped suddenly. My stomach relocated to the ceiling, my insides quivered and lurched. I was shaking and I hoped nobody noticed.
“I’m sorry for being such a pain,” I said. I don’t think the cop said anything. Maybe he said “don’t worry about it.” I felt my throat tighten up, like I was going to burst into tears. Not because I was wrecked over what had happened, but because the strong, zero-bullshit-tolerance, take-charge Becca was gone. It felt like meeting someone and immediately knowing you want them in your life and then learning that they are moving far, far away. I missed someone I didn’t even really know.
That’s the Becca I’m calling boring now. The one who doesn’t apologize. The one who saves the day. The one who is decisive and smart and brave. She deserves better than for me to dismiss her. “Call your shrink,” she says to me as the train picks up speed, “stay away from the Internet, call him, see what he says. You’re gonna be fine.” I’m gonna be fine.