It was noon-ish. We were eating at the bar in Greenpoint. I hadn’t seen Jess in at least sixteen months. The last time we were together she said she was going to get a master’s degree in Anthropology. She’d lamented that she’d have to ask her parents for money.
I always loved Jess for this. Her honesty. The drama she brought into my life that I could watch unfold but take no part in. She was always moving, shifting, changing.
Today, sitting in the bar, almost two years into her degree, I ask her what she plans to do now that’s graduating. I’m thinking of moving to California, she said. Are there many Anthropology jobs there? I asked. Not sure, she said. But my friend is leaving the country for three months. I’m going to house sit for him and use the time to paint.
She was expecting the kind of response she would have gotten from me two years ago. “Oh my god! That’s so Georgia O’Keeffe of you!” and I’d truly mean it, reveling in one of Jess’s new adventures, the drama I could go home and tell Jay about. Jess is so wild, I’d say. Guess what she’s doing now?
Today, my response wasn’t that. It was more of a “But I thought you wanted to do Anthropology?” We left lunch and said goodbye and I remember thinking I might not see her again. We were so different now. Beyond that, I had this terrible taste in my mouth.
The taste in my mouth would linger for weeks. When I’d think about Jess, I’d get annoyed. She’s so frivolous, I thought. So irrational. She thinks she can do whatever she wants. Life doesn’t work like that. The taste was there the following week when I saw the same look of disappointment when my brother and his friends told me, excitedly, they wanted to buy a bar. I didn’t respond with enthusiasm or support, but questions, punching holes in their dreams. Two days later the taste grew so bad, it brought me to the toilet. Food poisoning. Flu. I’m still not sure. But it had been years since I’d been sick like this.
The kind of sick that wakes you up in a sweat in the middle of the night. Images, moments, regrets coming flashing back in hallucinatory fragments, bleeding through the walls. The night was twenty hours long. During this time, head in the bowl, tears running down my cheeks, I had this recurring out of body experience of watching myself over the toilet. I wasn’t throwing up, but purging. The bad taste I’d had in my mouth the last few months was leakage from a poisoned well that was at the brim, ready to overflow, flood out and wipe everything clean.
Jay, the pragmatic man he is, doesn’t believe in such stuff. You were just sick, he said. This wasn’t some voodoo spirit magic. It wasn’t some awakening. I knew what he was saying. But I also know some moments, some dreams, some thoughts come about only in exceptional circumstances. Circumstances that cause you to see or think about something you normally would never have let your mind stumble over. And these thoughts I was having during the fever were insights. For the first time in a long time my guard was down, and I saw who I’d become.
The kind of person who no longer cheered my friends, but questioned them. The kind who felt personally affected by the choices of others. The kind who couldn’t accept differences, but expected those to live in a way I understood. And it wasn’t just with my friends, but everyone. The couple next to me at the restaurant talking too loudly. The way Jay loaded the dishwasher. The videos Hannah put on Instagram. The past week was this crash course in self-observation. I’d pricked a nerve and was actively noticing every time I was judging something.
When my aunt came over the following day and did what she always did – started talking about her daughter, my cousin, and how great she was –my automatic thought was how annoying she was. How she always talks about Sarah. Then I stopped myself. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t I see how beautiful that is? That love. That proud feeling of a mother for her daughter. It’s incredible and I’m judging it.
I wanted to go back and apologize to every person I’d looked at in the last year. Tell them how sorry I was. That from now on I would see them however they wanted to be seen, not how I saw them in relation to me. I will rejoice in their differences. I will revel and marvel in their unique choices and perspectives and ways of being.
When I choose to see the world this way, as the good, instead of the bad, as the eccentric instead of the insane, as the silly instead of the stupid, there’s much more color. I’ve realized that loving people is just so much more freeing. I don’t mean this in a new age hippie way. I mean that it’s just nicer to not feel betrayed or slighted or that the world is so unfair all the time. It’s nice to think beautiful thoughts about people. It’s nice to just be at peace with others, rather than always judging them.
I think back to a thought I had the other day. How everyone is just looking for love and I want to be the one who gives it to them. I want to be the person who supports, cheers and lifts up her friend’s decisions, even if I disagree. Because they don’t need a lecture from me. They can get that from their parents, their spouses, their other friends. I want to be the person who is nice to telemarketers because I understand they’re just humans doing their job, trying to get by. I want to see the good in the ridiculous. The fun in the bad. The easy in the hard. I want to be like Yoko Ono and try not to say (or think) anything negative about anyone for three days, for forty-five days, for three months and see what happens to my life.