Twenty years ago:
I am seven, about to be eight. I have written in my journal, in pink ink: I don't want to be eight. We live in a rented house in rural upstate New York. I am afraid to sleep alone, and beg my mother to sleep with me. I am afraid of the dark, and of other things. My sister is my best friend. We ride our sleds on the back of the neighbors' snow mobiles. I taught myself to play the piano three years ago. My favorite TV shows are Punky Brewster, Thunder Cats, and He-Man (She-Ra sucks, but we watch it anyway). My favorite singer is Madonna. I wear chiffon skirts and hot pink high tops and scarves in my hair. My favorite place is the hay loft of the barn, the willow tree, and the pond in winter. It is always winter. I teach myself to ice skate. I get frost bite on my toes, ice skating when my parents aren't home. Our dog is hit by a car when I am in the hay loft. We bury her in the backyard. I take dance lessons and horseback riding lessons until I am thrown.
At school, I am in second grade. My teachers want me to skip a grade, but my parents say no. Instead, I go to third grade for Science and Reading. Because of this, I am always late for lunch. I wear small pink glasses. I write in my notebooks. I write a story about a tornado, and my mother is called in. I write a story about divorce, and my mother is called in. In the car, she asks me: Why do you write these things? A boy in my class asks to hold my hand and I say okay. He gives me a wooden snake and a broken fishing pole. He has a dirty face and long black hair. He squeezes hard. Then another boy asks to hold my hand. He has red hair and doesn't squeeze at all. I say okay. The first boy finds out, and pushes me against the table in the cafeteria. Uh oh, better get Maco, he says.
We move in a year, as we always do. In a few more years, a freak storm strikes with heavy winds, and the wall of the cafeteria (which is entirely glass) shatters during lunch, injuring many children and killing one.
Ten years ago:
I am seventeen. I have injured my knee in dance practice, which knocked me out of The Nutcracker, and I will be on crutches for a while. Before my accident, I dance four to six hours a day-mostly ballet. I take singing lessons. I am in a play. I am always in a play. The cast throws me a surprise party for my birthday. They have cake and food and wine coolers I don't drink, and perform improv for me all night while I sit in the front row and laugh and laugh. Most of my friends are from the theatre, in their fifties and sixties, but I have two friends at school my own age, and we sit in a parked car at the reservoir at sunset and talk about leaving town.
I am a vegetarian. I rarely speak to my father.
I have applied to liberal arts colleges in Ohio, but I really want to go to NYU and be an actress or maybe a playwright. I am writing a novel and many bad poems, though I had my first real acceptance last year. I send out bad poetry submissions every month. I play the old upright piano and sing when no one is around. I wear baggy clothes--baggy jeans and overalls and velvet shirts and granny dresses, anything to hide my body. I don't have a body. I wear my hair long and loose and am very thin. I really want to be kissed.
Five years ago:
I am twenty-two, in my first year of graduate school, and utterly miserable. I am taking a mediation for my skin that will eventually be taken off the market due to its side effect of depression. I cry myself to sleep every night. A man exposes himself to me. My car is broken into, then, late at night, lost, I am in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver. I write just a few poems and they are terrible. I submit old poems like a fiend. I can't seem to connect with any of my teachers. I can't seem to make any friends, though this will change very soon. I really miss college. All is not lost: I am in love, for perhaps the first real time. I have a chapbook come out, and the experience is wonderful. My apartment is expensive and large and stunning: hardwood floors, fireplace. My upstairs neighbors, a couple, scream at each other every night. My downstairs neighbor, an elderly woman, tells me I am only young once. I rent a piano, and write songs I sing to myself and my boyfriend. I plant tomatoes and peppers that do not grow. I am learning how to live in a city. I am learning how to cook, how to drink, how to taste. I am discovering the music that I will love for life. I am going to rock clubs. I am taking the subway. I am walking around by myself. I am making a last stab at vegetarianism. I live alone but sleep with many lights on and a knife under my bed. I am very thin and hate my hair.
One year ago:
I have my dream job, teaching at a small college, though I am tired all of the time. I love my students, my colleagues, my office, my stapler. I am in love. I don't write poems, don't submit to magazines. I am halfway through writing a novel--work I think, I know, I am afraid, will define me, whatever that means. I don't know what to do with it, but I know I have to do it, and so I do. I am growing my hair out again. I live alone in an enormous, three story apartment from the Civil War Era. A ghost supposedly hangs out in my backyard, though I hear and see nothing. I sleep with the hall light on, and a knife under my bed. The heater breaks, the pipes, the windows, the electricity. I am afraid of the basement, but learn to go down in the basement and find the fuse box. For the first time since high school, my friends are not writers, and talking with them gives me energy, though I am lonely without them. I feel like an adult for the first time in my life. I throw a big party, and people come. I have curves and eat burgers. I walk everywhere, all over town. My boyfriend lives across the street. I keep a piano in my attic, and stay up late, playing and singing. I light candles in the windows, and look out of the windows and dream of something, something, something.
I really want a job. I really want a book.
I have no idea what' s coming.
My books and bed and desk and letters live in San Francisco, but I'm in the Midwest again. I get up early and make breakfast and drive. I drive through emotions like I drive through towns: mostly defeat or defiant resilience. I am lonely most of the time. I have finished the third draft of my novel, and sent it to readers. I know it's not done yet, but I want to move on. I am tired. I have an idea for a new book, and I am writing poems again. I sleep with a cell phone in the dark. I arrive in the late afternoon at the house of the man who loves me. He is not home, but I have a key. I turn the heat up, unpack, think about cleaning but do not. Before the sun sets, I lace up my shoes and go for a run. These days, I am running more than I am writing. Some days I feel I am running away from my writing. I have dinner at the Chinese restaurant with a friend.
Tomorrow, I will drive to the city to get my hair cut and buy champagne and pick up my boyfriend, and at the end of January, I will turn 28. When I was a little girl, I dreamed about that year, like I dreamed about having a daughter named_______. I dreamed something would happen when I hit that age. I don't know what, but I feel it in my body: I feel it coming, and I am ready. Many of my childhood dreams have been prophetic, but not yet these.
In the car coming back from dinner, fiddling for NPR, I freeze on a radio preacher for a while. I don't know why. He says, Does it hurt? and for some reason, this phrase, isolated, the timbre of his voice, the slight tremble, the concern, the familiar tone, makes me want to weep. I feel my nose crinkle and my eyes well. I allow myself a moment, just a moment, in the dark of the car in the driveway where no can see.
Then I go inside.