this speaks volumes to the exact way i felt about my life at the age of 18. it is an email response i wrote to a girl two years my junior who was, at the time, perhaps the sole keeper of my most precious and damaging secrets. between the two of us, we must have written at least a hundred emails back and forth between 2005 and the end of 2007. at the time, i had recently gotten into stanford and had, weeks prior, visited california for the first time in my life. but still, the long summer stretched out very lonely before me, and while my friends and peers looked forward to college lives not so unlike their high school ones, i found myself often paralyzed by a certain sort of fear that i couldn’t express to people who assumed i had, as i had always pretended to, everything all fucking figured out.
some of my lamentations are probably of the typical teenage histrionic variety, but to read it now i can remember some of that sadness, and how devastatingly hopeless everything seemed at the time. and so it was that on May 3rd of 2006, in the middle of the school week, I wrote this email. the subject line of this particular message read rather cryptically: welcome silence. slit throats.
Look at me, raving about pointless bullshit like a jackass.
>Yesterday wasn’t a good day but I’m kind of relieved. You know how
>good things happen and you start to get nervous because you know you
>don’t deserve that kind of happiness? At least I didn’t have to wait
>long for the storm right?
>I’m really sorry you feel stuck. I’ve felt trapped my whole life.
>The last like 30 hours have proved to be adequate reminder that it
>doesn’t matter how close I am to making it out. I’m still stuck.
>Limbo.Transit.Waiting. I feel like I’ll die right in front of the
>finish line. Sure I struggled the whole race. I’m almost there. But
>dying on the straightaway is the worst. You’re right in front of the
>I thought classes were winding down but I have 2 papers left to
>write by next Friday. I have a track meet Friday and I have to work
>Saturday which would be fine but now is the time for end-of-the-year
>goodbyes because God knows the “we should really hang out more” is a
>bunch of bullshit unless you do something about it before summer sun
>whisks us all to entertain our various fancies.
>Different ages. The jealousy doesn’t go away it just changes. I wish
>I could redo things. I’m old. With nothing to show for it but an
>ability to buy porn and ciggies. Gamble away my fears.
>I’m emotionally so much less than you are still. You learn lessons.
>I still refuse to accept people as they are. I’ll see their best or
>their potential from my spot on the ground as they walk all over me.
>Yesterday someone stole all the money from my purse ($50 but money I
>actually earned so it felt like more) and maybe I did deserve it.
>Someone dropped me in a puddle. Just messing around but I’m always
>cold and the cold and wet as I had to go into the 60 degree building
>made me want to cry. We had to disect pig hearts 6th hour. Right
>after a lunch I ate that was a rather large veggie sandwich. Fatter
>by the day but at least my friend agreed to let me weigh myself at
>her house whenever I want (she recently lost 4 pounds because her
>asshole boyfriend makes her feel like “shit” and then she isn’t
>hungry.) Maybe I need an asshole boyfriend. Too bad I don’t feel
>emotions for prolonged periods or unless I have something to gain by
>A lot of “I don’t care” runs through my mind but I swear I try.
>I should be better. Ungrateful. I’m a bitch and I hate that I save
>these ugly words for you who deserve only the best! You mean a lot
>to me. Caring hurts.
>I thought today would be better, but it’s hard to think so when the
>first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were ‘as far as I’m
>concerned, no one stole anything from you. You practically gave it
>My fault. Misfortune is my fault. When I’m strangled to death and
>buried deep in Illinois soil it will be because I had the nerve to
>have a neck small enough for someone to get a good grip.
>I’m so close but I watch time slow down and I’m afraid everyone has
>taken this time to head to California. With their axes and ice
>picks, they laugh quietly as they detach the state from the greater
>land mass. My dreams float away.
and a few more moments are emptied out
always or never the same.
it’s what happens when you look at the path you’ve taken knowing
you are not coming home
the fog rolls in then vanishes. I want to follow it somewhere because it seems like something. I know it, but it doesn’t care about me, doesn’t care what I know. I want not to care. I want to care until it kills the not knowing.
we will always be this way
tortured tangled tango, mess
a little something to undress
then to rip apart the flesh
my hometown may be little more than an elderly person playground and an absolute hell hole, but as such, it offers up a wealth of true stories that are, if anything, way stranger than fiction. and, as a “writer”, you know, thank god for that.
the other day, i accompanied my grandmother for a little jaunt around the courthouse square. as you may have guessed, the courthouse is comprised of a bunch of pathetic shops selling a sparse and mostly useless selection of wares, intermingled with vacant storefronts and that one weird empty spot where apparently a building very neatly burnt down. (ok, you may not have guessed that last bit, or really, any of that. ya city-slickers.) nor would i have guessed as much, but for the fact that my walking companion at the time happened to possess a veritable wealth of bet-you-didn’t-know(or care)-about-this-ness. and oh yea, in the middle of all of this glorious abundance is…the courthouse! where i had spent a good portion of the previous tuesday morning but hey…let’s not get into it.
anyhow, during this particular outing we decided to go into a place called copperfield’s. it’s a book store. and if you gave me 5 minutes, i probably could have counted the number of books for sale within said store. i highly doubt anything as sophisticated as a sharp increase in e-readership could be responsible for the destitute state of this establishment to - rather, based on the average…learnedness..of the citizens ‘round them there parts - i’d say the supply probably keeps perfect pace with the demand.
and so, i crossed the entirety of the store in about 30 seconds flat, and smiled wanly as i tried to compliment the merchandise at a decibel loud enough for my strolling partner to hear. so here i am screaming “OH YES, YOU SHOULD READ THIS ONE. NO, I SAID READ IT. NO, GRANDMA. READ IT, READ IT!!!” (grandma : what? oh that’s nice…) when i’m interrupted by a woman that im pretty sure had not been there just a moment before, real creep status. she puts down her book and gasps…”oh. my. god. is that little janelle LEATHERWOOD???!” (people in this town always have to say the last name with it. i think they just like how it feels in their mouth…s…) but oh, hooray! i set my shit on “wide eyes/false smile/faux innocence” before turning around and ah yes, there it is! i look so fucking friendly that my face hurts.
this woman looks almost exactly the same as i remembered her. a thin sheet of drab-colored hair hangs, or sort of trembles trembles just barely past her shoulders as if exhausted by the relentless effects of gravity with bangs that brush the frames of her real thick owlish eyeglasses so sturdy i wouldn’t be surprised if they were bulletproof . now that i think about it, if you were to shave both her and my mother completely bald, they might look like disturbingly bald, long lost twins. there’s fodder for a good nightmare in there for sure.
i recall that this woman used to work with my mother at a greenhouse called “papa’s”, a name that for some reason reaaaally fuckin creeped me out. i probably hadn’t seen her since i was about eight years old, a time when, i could have sworn there were more than 25 books in the store, more than three teeth in this woman’s face, and when trips there had actually seemed like a treat. i can’t remember exactly what i said on this occasion due to the fact that i was just kind of picking from a nice set of stock answers i like to have on hand when im feeling particularly anti-social, and was also very distracted as i pointedly tried not to stare her straight in the gums.
however, i definitely remember what this aging woman had to say, because it really tugged at the leathery old strings of this suuuuper-jaded heart. “janelle, you can do anything you set your mind to. i always knew you would be successful, and you deserve it.”
i’m not ashamed to admit - i thought for a second that i was going to cry upon hearing this. i had been having what they sometimes call ‘a shitty christmas’.
she wrapped up her praises with discussion of the gifts she was looking forward to that holiday season - new teeth on order for herself, a new kidney for a friend - stated simply, naturally, and in all seriousness. i instantly felt like lord of the bitches when i thought about how i had complained to my friends earlier that day that all i had gotten that holiday season was a check for $100, three days after christmas no less. i suppose i “needed” the money, but at least i didn’t need a new kidney, ya know? it’s all relative. but it is incredibly difficult to reconcile the understanding i have of the world i live in now with the reality of the world from whence i came. it’s hard. it’s also probably why i spend so much time inside my head, trying desperately to sort this shit out.
i smiled (genuinely this time), thanked the timeless librarian lady and wished her all good things, then tracked down my grandmother who had been wandering about the store absolutely oblivious to the fact that conversation was taking place anywhere in the vicinity. and with the feeble tinkling sound of the little shop bell, the two of us found ourselves once again blinking stars from our eyes in the weak winter sun as if newly released from some alternate universe.
i had been pretty hell-bent on acting hostile and moody for the duration of my reluctant trip home, but you could say i had a change of heart. or something. i telephoned my mother (ours is not a particularly inspiring relationship) and invited her to lunch. she’s a timid soul, my mother, so i knew she would appreciate this little christmas gift on my part.
her gift to me? an off-hand story about a girl she grew up with that used to ‘turn tricks’ for spending money and who, apparently, was under the impression that that was what everyone did to make some extra dollah dollah bills, y’all. i thought about asking what all ‘turning tricks’ might have entailed, but i mean, we were eating, and i absolutely didn’t want to hear any of those foul things come out of my mother’s mouth, ever. considering how willing she is to say incredibly abnormal and uncomfortable things without my prompting, i let it be. to this day, i have no idea what the moral of that story was. but my mother seemed pleased with this imparted wisdom, and so i tried to mirror her obvious contentedness and just take it for what it was.
to my surprise, it was an ok day.
are the worst. she is the only person i know who can find something to talk about every 5 seconds for an hour straight while driving in the middle of absolutely fuckin nowhere. it’s like being trapped in a tiny portable hell, where the destination is always somewhere you don’t want to fuckin go and the starting point is somewhere you definitely didn’t want to be in the first place, with a soundtrack that outlines every pointless detail present and past that, for reasons unknown, happens to pop into your grandmother’s head. the thing that disturbs me the most is that im pretty sure i inherited these crazyass thought patterns from her…but at least i’ve learned that maybe…i should keep some of those thoughts to myself. you’re welcome.
grandma: “did you know that back when i was younger i used to have a friend who fell through the road back where we just crossed that bridge? weeelllll, back in the day they didn’t keep very good records of where they’d been mining around here. they used to mine for (some kind of metal ore i dont remember) and here every once in a while you’d have a place where the road just fell right in! well one day anyway, along comes a guy in a truck who just drives right into one of those holes! and you know what? (i assume all of her questions are rhetorical, so i tend to just sit in a bitchy silence, waiting for her to go ahead and tell me whatever random thing it is that there was no possible way in hell i would have guessed anyway) he was just fine there sitting at the bottom of the hole. that is, until along comes another truck that just drives right in there on top of him. and that’s what killed ‘im!” she punctuates this particular gem with a twinkling little grandma laugh.
it’s at precisely this moment that i become slightly horrified/surprised/glad that i actually listened and wonder how this could have possibly ended with a laugh when im pretty sure she started out by saying this guy who was crushed by another pickup truck was her friend. but all that comes out of my mouth is:
janelle: “that’s fucked up.”
grandma: “well…” she trails off and nods her head slightly.
this is grandma code for ‘i don’t have the foggiest idea what you just said, but i’ve been mostly deaf long enough to have identified The Trail Off And Nod as a successful mechanism for making people think that i do.
tHIS is how i feel today. crzy and excellent.
..but hopefully tomorrow will not be sad like a bird with a stomachache..
board games! fun times! like them! indeed :)
this is your new favorite christmas movie