I’ve been trying to reflect on Leslie’s question with mediocre success. Am I better off than I was a year ago? I imagined there would be an easy answer, a resounding YES. But my memory plays tricks on me. One explanation I find helpful is that people with ADHD struggle to develop mental scripts based on past experience. In practice, this means it’s hard for me to call up negative memories which might keep me from making a mistake. So I suffer the same loss or embarrassment or social fallout multiple times without actually learning a lesson.
In some ways, this lack of a script has made me brave. It’s allowed me to take leaps of faith. If I’d paused last October to completely process my ADHD diagnosis, to accept the past suffering ADHD had caused me and contemplate every implication for my future, I never would have moved to NYC. But it’s also made it hard to reflect on my past and progress.
While struggling to reflect on the past year, I started reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It’s a beautiful series of essays, all meditations on mystery and wonder and the unknown. Solnit observes, “People look into the future and expect that the forces of the present will unfold in a coherent and predictable way, but any examination of the past reveals that the circuitous routes of change are unimaginably strange.” Rather than the last year being a linear progression from happy to unhappy, these words made me realize that I’ve only traded certain types of beauty and longing for others.
A month before I moved to New York, my sisters and I drove to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for an overnight getaway to celebrate my 30th birthday. As we drove through the snow on a quiet mountain road, we saw several deer appear in the winter landscape. That night we minced our way across a frozen bridge, shivering in our swimsuits and flip-flops, and climbed down into the hot spring-fed pools built into the riverbed. Our backs resting on smooth rocks, we traded jabs and shared the laughter that only sisters can elicit from one another.
The next morning I was floating in a pool, watching the steam rise and the sun glint off snowcapped peaks, and feeling the sun on my face. I told myself to remember how happy I was at that moment. The contrast between the cold air and the warm water on my skin, my sisters floating nearby: that was happiness.
I long for the beauty of my home. Sitting down at my parent’s long oak table for a plate of homemade pasta, driving alone as the sun sets over the mountains, watching my dog play in our backyard. The delightful chaos of family gatherings, cool summer evenings on porches, the libraries and parks where I spent my childhood.
But when I was home I was filled with longing and loneliness. I yearned to inhabit a place that sparked my imagination, for a new cast of characters. I longed for streets I’d never walked down, for art, for a feeling of belonging, for a kind of love I’d never felt before. Not familial love but the love of the unknown, of mystery, of getting lost.
And the beauty I’ve discovered here is no less rich than the beauty I left. Standing near the waterfront under the Williamsburg bridge at dusk and looking across to the glowing Manhattan skyline, I feel like Gatsby on his dock watching the green light. I have friends who share their favorite poets with me and teach me about herbs.
The imperfections of this place are starker too: the piles of garbage, the rat that almost runs over my sandaled feet, the oppressiveness of crowds and the massive divide between the obscenely wealthy and everyone else. Now when I experience longing it’s for quiet, for empty spaces, for broad streets and open skies.
Am I better off than I was a year ago? A year ago I was in love with my best friend, but he wasn’t in love with me (or he was but didn’t know it yet, it’s as hard to read the past as it is to predict the future). The city brought us together, and I know I’m better off for it. Our love isn’t the thrilling, consuming (often terrifying) first love of two strangers. It’s a comfortable love, a favorite sweatshirt, a kind of love I’ve slipped on like a second skin.
What the two of us have discovered, I feel we should’ve known all along. That he dries my tears and calms my fears. That I bring flights of imagination into his practical world. That no one makes me laugh more whether we’re discussing how weird geese skulls are or he’s gently teasing me for my refusal to jaywalk like a real New Yorker.
I’ve found the beauty of waking up in someone’s arms. Someone who tells me I’m remarkable. Someone who liked me before I liked myself. I’ve learned how beautiful it is to discover the hidden side of someone that only a few get to see. Like my practical, semi-stoic, logical boyfriend who can fix any machine and prides himself on a worldview that’s half-Buddhist and half-nihilist (which drives me insane at times), yet who loves to put his head in my lap, gushes over pictures of dogs, and tenderly brushes the hair out of my eyes so he can kiss me.
Because at the end of the day, when my paycheck is too small and the city overwhelms me, one of my oldest longings has disappeared. The longing to be understood and accepted by someone who isn’t family, someone I chose and who chose me.
Solnit writes of love, “A relationship is a story you construct together and take up residence in, a story as sheltering as a house.” I can’t say he’s filled all my empty spaces. I don’t believe another person can fix everything in me that’s broken, or calm every fearful voice in my head. But he’s given me an anchor. We’re building a shelter together. I don’t know exactly what the future holds or where we’ll end up. But when I’m with him, I don’t mind being lost.
2 thoughts on “One Year Later”
Oh, Nat, I heard, and think I understand, every word you wrote. You just validated the journey I’ve been on most of my life. It’s all about shelter and being lost with your beloved. Don’t wait so long. Your words are north-star solid. Much love. Jim
Wow Nat. I am so proud of you. You’ve taken brave jumps throughout your young adulthood and will likely continue this trend as an adult. I admire you for that! As someone who has always felt there’s been a plan and followed that plan I often wonder about taking risks and veering from the plan. I don’t out of fear and need for safety. Continue to follow your heart and gut, as learning to trust ourselves is a long hard lesson.
PS you should apply to be a columnist!!!