I grew up in a land without spring.
I went to college in a cold climate. I’d never seen snow, or worn a coat.
One day I stepped, solo, onto a plane, and went further east than I’d ever been.
To go back now would be to literally go backwards, and I never have.
New York has been my home since 1996—even during those four years I lived in New Jersey I worked and studied in New York Fuckin’ City every day.
In 1996 I was 18. My father was in federal prison, convicted on Not Enough Counts of Being A Purely Evil Person,* my mother was beginning to pick up the pieces of the shattered life she’d treated us to while “raising” us. My brother was…well, what was my brother ever doing? Not much.
And I was dreaming of escape. It came soon enough, in the form of a thick envelope from a college I’d never heard of and had only applied to because the scholarship was promised to me months before. I probably ended up in Rochester because of an affirmative action program requiring geographical quotas, and I can’t say I was enthused about not being able to go to my top choices, but the thick packet, sparkling with free tuition to a $30,000 a year school, was what it was. (Little did I know that every year they would yank a full quarter of that “free ride” away, so that by my senior year I was paying $22,500–of course, by the time I’m done paying that off I’ll have paid exponentially more, but I have my fancy degree! I can argue about the Nietzschean concept of superman to myself all day long while I make caramels! That’s worth $80k, right?
I wasn’t scared at all, and now that seems weird to me. I remember getting into the cab from the airport and marveling at the old houses near the campus—I’d never actually seen houses significantly older than I was. I’d been to Chicago, where there are beautiful old buildings, but old houses were an entirely new phenomenon, and I was mesmerized by them.
I knew no one, I had no connections, no confidants, not really enough clothes even. But I guess that’s what being a teenager is about.
I was INSANELY EXCITED.
I remember watching a movie outdoors on the quad the first week I arrived, with my new best friend, Anne, and literally vibrating with excitement. I was giddy with the freedom of having escaped my family and everything I knew.
I loved everything.
I loved the way my room was so tiny and compact, I loved the new kinds of trees, I loved the millions of shades of green (green! So lush!) turning to a million shades of red and orange and yellow, I loved the old buildings covered with ivy and the classrooms and notebooks and pencils and homework and papers and tests and bad industrial food and my job at the coffeehouse and music and thrift store shopping and riding my bike to the co-op and BOYS.
It was what a freshman year in college for a girl who’d lived a pretty much miserable life until that point should be: fun. I had a lot of fun. And it was fine. No major heartbreaks, at least none that left lasting imprints I remember today. It was a lot like that Gillian Welch song, actually. I’m sure at the time there were dramatic moments, but in my memory it was a neat line of boys, one gently falling away as the next moved to the front of the line. No horrible dudes, no super special gems. Pleasant and fun and freshman-in-collegey.
Meanwhile, the weather was so strange and storybook-y to me. Snow, much like having hippie parents, seems so fun when you read about it, but it actually pretty much sucks in real life. I didn’t understand why the afternoons didn’t get warm. I was used to “winter” mornings that were maybe 55°F that became 90°F by lunchtime, so you’d go to school with a little jacket and come home with it tied around your waist.
The winter was rough, but I was having too much fun and working too hard to notice too much, except occasionally when my feet, in their sad little chucks, would hurt so bad I had to duck into any nearby building and take off my shoes and socks and rub them back to life.
In time people started talking about spring, how it was coming, except later than you’d expect for us, tucked away in western New York where it sometimes snowed on graduation day.
I had no idea what I was in for.
Could I have been so stupid? I mean, I had an intellectual concept of spring, but, again, it prepared me about as much as my intellectual concept of being surrounded by six feet of snow for seven months helped me. I had no clue how wonderful it would feel, those spring days that felt like your heart was going to burst out of your body with beauty, walking through cherry tree blossoms like you were living in Anne of Green Gables or something. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that I had no clue such beauty was possible in the everyday world. I still feel that way, every single spring.
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona.
Land of it’s-a-dry-heat. Land of dirt and rubble, destruction and endless expanses of skull-fucked earth so barren and ugly we pretended cactus was pretty. Not that I ever saw cactus, even—by the time I was a teenager the desert (which I guess has its own rough beauty, though not a kind I appreciate or enjoy) had been pretty much swallowed up by the endless ugliness of cheap housing for people desperate to be anywhere but there.
I had read about the sweetness of spring, but I’d never seen a crocus stalk poke shyly through a crust of old slush, and, again, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I don’t believe you can have optimism without springtime. Fiddlehead ferns unfurling their soft fingertips, motioning to the whole world to wake up—all that.
I was 19 when I knew, for sure, that life was going to be amazing. Spring had a lot to do with it.
The very first day of the very first spring of my life, I kissed Jacob for the very first time.
Is it dramatic to say it was the first day of my life?
Who cares, we’re talking about love here.
March 20, 1997.
My friends + his friends, that Venn diagram that intersected in LPY + JJMFP,** went to a movie.
We’d been circling each other for weeks—he’d been secretly copying off my notes in REL 106: From Confucius to Zen. I was, without even really realizing it, disentangling myself from a string of silly boyfriends.
We skipped the movie, and walked around campus for hours.
My first spring literally and metaphorically began that day. How tidy that is. Thinking about it tonight, as he’s in Austin mixing a show and I’m here in upstate New York, it still gives me chills.
We held hands.
It was cold, but he told me about spring.
We knew everything that was to come, right then.
Not that it’s been easy, exactly. I mean, loving Jacob—that part’s been easy, because he’s literally the best person I’ve ever met. I once read that one sign of a healthy relationship is that both people think they’re getting a better deal. I’m positive of it. Fourteen years ago today I remember thinking: “I’m a good person, but this cute boy I’m dying to kiss is, I can already tell, a much better person than I am.”
And for almost half my life now he’s weathered my rages, enjoyed my wild highs and, in general, put up with me astonishingly well. “Lucky” isn’t even the word. “Miracle” comes a little closer.
I’m pretty awesome, but I can be a damn terrible girlfriend sometimes. My sins and transgressions and cruelties and rages are serious business, and even though most of the time the excellent home-cooked meals and endless amazing confections and various other skills and delicious qualities make up for it, I’ve put Jacob through more than his share of hell, that’s for sure.
For example: all of last year, when I had a nervous breakdown that lasted the better part of 365 days and I depended on him more than I ever have—yet also gave less to the relationship than I ever have. Not a great combination, not one I’m proud of.
It’s 2011 though, and things have gotten so much better, if not in the world, at least in my little heart and head. And it’s springtime again.
It comes every year!
The daffodils I planted the year we bought the house are poking up again. My heart catches in my throat every time I walk up the walk and see them. Optimism.
Happy spring, dear world, continually renewing yourself with green and freshness and sweetness and love love love love.
*Actually, he wasn’t convicted of any of the right things, in my mind. Pure evil can be hard to prove in court. Having pounds upon pounds of illegal drugs and piles of unregistered guns is slightly easier to prosecute.
**Two middle names, two last names. Someone else has hippie parents, yep.