For the longest time, I have been so scared of failing that I hardly ever try at all. The kernel at the bottom of most decisions people like to call brave over long tables littered with wine glasses and wreaths of green is fear. I knew this when I was 16. I knew this when I was 10 and stopped playing tennis because I kept losing. I am not good at being bad. There is a story about the ocean in all of this, but it comes much later.
I say I’m so happy I came but I cannot wait to go home. And maybe that isn’t absolutely true, if anything ever is. Is there something to have been gained from feeling helpless, hopeless, ripped apart most Friday nights? In learning how to look after plants when all you love is further away than you can even pronounce? I forgot how to breathe in underground subway stations and went days without water for fear of picking up the phone, but those are not the stories we tell over a video call. If this year was an adventure, it was climbing a sheer rock face in altitudes measured in weak wrists, and most days, I didn’t think there was enough oxygen up here for me.
I have thought this through for a long time. And if the story I tell is not the tequila-soaked, red-green-white deluge of ecstasy everyone believes in, what can I say. Only the truth. finally, and for once.
The story of this year is about my legs almost buckling as I walked into the ocean with a surfboard, certain I wouldn’t be able to do it and about to try anyway. That I had to stand up for myself, in Spanish and in English, over and over again, and in badly-worded grammar and an accent like an ambulance-siren, I did. I cried over, and for, and with teenagers, and I was more excited than any of them for a day at an amusement park. I did not manage my expectations. I never reminded myself that one day I would have to say goodbye. I spoke about Nabokov, and I did not play it down. I said it mattered, because it matters to me. And so, it did. I walked into so many rooms full of strangers that I forgot this is something that used to make me want to stay home. When everyone is a stranger, maybe no one is.
There were whole days spent doing nothing but watching the sunlight crawl into my windows and get choked out by the smoke. I stopped using the word “fine”, because none of it ever is. Sometimes it is ecstacy, sometimes heartbreak. There was no room this year for anything that was less than an electric shock, even when all it left behind was being numb for days.
I swam in the ocean, and made a new plan. I learnt about Antarctica and the mermaid-tail of Mexico. I kissed someone else’s pinky finger at 3 am and no longer called the things that are mine anyone else’s. I got really good at loving, and at fighting, and saying sorry, and not saying it. I learnt how to make poached eggs and throw out my own garbage and stand in front of a room and make mistakes and laugh instead of shrink. If evidence is needed to support any hypothesis, I can no longer prove that I am scared of being bad. If this year has been anything, it has been a year of failing at most things. Almost everything, and so, maybe, at nothing.
I am not quite there yet. I will still change and stretch and sigh and dance with another stranger and fall in love with more tall men and apart at goodbyes and forget to stay in touch. I will be here again, in this heart-space, but each time it will be a little different. I will be a little more willing to try, a little more lavender-strong. Maybe I will feel like all the words people who barely know me like to use. I have not told the story about the ocean yet, and the story of this year is that maybe I don’t need to. And, that maybe at last, I am happy I came.