My name is Rachael. I live in Philadelphia. I like writing, self-reflection, and introspection. I also like peanut butter cup ice cream and little white dogs. This is where I keep snapshots of my thoughts. All content under the “my writing and me” page is original and my own.
I think about privilege a lot. As a sociology major and social justice advocate, much of my undergraduate career has been dedicated to acknowledging the different social statuses people hold based on their race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
I was turned on to sociology senior year of high school when my teacher, Mr. Horner asked us, “What are the three things that determine who we will marry?” The answer was not personality or looks. The fact of the matter is that people are more likely to marry those of a similar economic background.
This holds true for me in the dating world. Recently, I asked a guy what his summer plans were. He is travelling around Europe and Asia with his mother. He is in medical school. This power and privilege he has turns me off. Many women enjoy riding on the coattails of men with wealth, but this is not what I want.
Someone whose parents take them on European vacations cannot understand my upbringing. I had parents who struggled to pay the bills and expected me to work part-time during high school. This man cannot understand me in the same way I cannot understand someone who grew up in poverty in the inner city.
I will never be wealthy, and I have accepted this. I cannot hang out with my friends until pay day because I have $27 in my bank account. I cannot relate to someone who is wealthy enough to travel to California and then one month later travel to Nepal. This person will never understand the value of hard work in the same way that I do.
For me, hard work means sacrificing weekends to spend working to pay my bills. I cannot take off of work on a Saturday or I will lose a crucial $100. People of higher status than me do not relate to this. When they tell me about their Memorial Day weekend plans or summer vacations, then ask me, “What are you doing?” there is an awkward silence after I say, “…Working.”
This has always been my life. I did this through high school—7 am every Saturday and Sunday at the local diner. When my friends went to parties, I was going to bed by 11 so I could function at work the next day. I want to surround myself with people who have had similar experiences. I want friends of similar lifestyles.
Yet here I am, on the cusp where my career begins, and I am thinking, how is this going to change me? I will begin a 9-5. I will struggle to pay bills, of course, but my lifestyle will inherently change. I will have the option to “weekend.” I will have paid vacation days. I am gaining privilege.
Perhaps this is the reason why I am staying at my restaurant 2 shifts a week for the time being. For me, working in a restaurant on a Friday night is part of my identity. It is something I am not ready to give up. I can work, and so I will. I will work on the weekends until I can no longer stand it, until something inside me snaps and I feel stable enough in my new 9-5 lifestyle to give this up.
But for now, you’ll find me seating people at tables on a Friday night, smiling at the door, and filling glasses with water. You’ll find me sitting at the bar around midnight, with my free beer and meal, and you’ll find me content. Because honestly, there’s no place else I’d rather be—for now, anyway.
When will I turn into someone who wants to do Friday night activities? I’m not sure, because Lord, I haven’t known what a free Friday night is since I was 15.
The thing about me is I am drawn to that which I find interesting more than that which I find pleasant. I am drawn more to people who are complicated than those who are kind. I don’t like to be bored—I like a challenge, a complication, a mystery to unfold, a problem to solve, an enigma. Those who I have felt the most feelings for—it’s not because they loved me the most. In fact, some of them loved me the least. It’s because there was always some kind of barrier between our love or they were some project of mine—someone moving to the west coast (two, actually), someone twice my age, someone with children and lived in another country, someone I met while in another country, and someone with emotional problems, a history of addiction, and difficulties with life skills.
I should stop making people in my personal life my project. I should stop romanticizing romantic difficulties. Ideally, I would learn how to love those who are kind, boring, simple, and sweet. I would stop wanting what I can’t have and learn how to want what I can. But can’t I have someone who challenges me? Can’t I have someone who is so available, whose schedule aligns with mine, who is as independent as I am, as sociable as I am, who wants to argue with me, engage in intellectual conversations, hear my fiction and read my blogs and share with me some art or some insight? Does this kind of person exist? Someone challenging yet available? Because I need someone who is a challenge. I just do. Simplicity, complacency, it bores me.
I’m always awkward and quiet at social events that don’t involve drinking or my friends.
/ / / / /
I’ll never catch up.
You’ll never go back.
I force black skinny jeans up my thick calves. I fumble with torn shoelaces and tie up my black combat boots. They are riddled with scuffmarks. I fasten the buttons on my black cardigan. They resemble cubic zirconia. I button them all, unbutton, and then button them again. I am not sure how much cleavage it is appropriate to show at a funeral. I apply foundation to cover the black circles of my swollen eyes and a lipstick called feline pink. I skip the mascara.
I insert large floral-print earrings into my ear. Flowers are appropriate for funerals. I imagine his lifeless corpse inside of a wooden coffin. The lump in my throat rises. I sob into my pillow.
The coffee pot hums. I feel its warmth. I feel the bitterness run down my throat. I am still alive. I can feel. I light up a cigarette and inhale. I usually never smoke in the morning, but today is the exception. Today I will smoke and inhale as much nicotine as possible because I am alive and breathing. It is an affirmation of life. I am alive and he is not.
There are people from high school gathered outside. Sarah says, “I guess this is the reason we’ll be coming home from now on, these things.”
The funeral directors park my car for me. I feel uneasy.
“They took my keys.” I say. “Where are my keys?”
Everyone is lost in their mind somewhere.
I see Alyssa and we lock one another in a death grip.
How are all of these people so straight-faced? How are his best friends so straight-faced? The only people crying visibly are his girlfriend, his mother, his sister, and his closest female friends. Why don’t the men cry? What are they trying to prove?
Crying in public at a funeral is cathartic. I do it. I share my grief. I put it on display. We are all suffering.
“Look.” I point to a photograph on display. “That’s one I took of him.”
I shake. My bottom lip quivers. I lean on my sister and she strokes my hair. She wore eyeliner today. She is heavy in make-up. She was not planning on shedding as many tears as I.
“I took pictures of pictures.” I tell Alyssa. We look through my phone.
“Remember the time he dressed up as Sexy Santa?” she asks me, “He was so skinny, he used his backpack as a belly. That’s where we stored all the candy!”
We smile through tears, choke out giggles through our sadness. Alyssa and I are the only ones laughing. Everyone else is morose, catatonic. Alyssa tells me, “I love coming to these things to get the free stuff. Tissues and calendars.” We have an entire box of tissues and about ten tear-soaked tissues stuffed in our pockets.
I turn to Jawad. “This is awful.” I say earnestly.
“He was your first love.”
I lose control. He hit the trigger. My body shakes. I sob into his shoulder and he puts his athletic arms around me. My first love. I’m not alone. Other people know.
Jawad knows. When we were seniors in high school I told him, “I wish Johnny would get his shit together.” He responded, shaking his head softly, “You’ll always love that kid.”
I am whimpering like a puppy that has been kicked. When I am done, I pull away from Jawad’s grip, and I smile through my soaking wet face.
“You have a booger.” I say to him.
Then my sister and I burst into a fit of giggles.
This is what you have to do, find humor in the sadness.
At one point, I decide I need to go see Lauren. She was the last person to love him. She was the one who was there. She was the one who expected to wake up next to him. I do not have words for her. I walk up to her and we hug. I hold her, and she is sad. I pull away and I whisper,
“I hope you’re doing okay.”
She says, “I’m trying.”
I hug her again and walk away.
When the pastor speaks, when he says, “Johnny made everyone laugh. He had a relationship to me, to you, to everyone.”
This is the point I am the most uncontrollable. I hiccup whimpers. I gasp for air. I hear his laugh echo in my mind.
In the car, I remember to turn my high beams on.
“Does anyone know where he was coming from when he got in the accident?” Jawad asks.
I thought he may have been coming from his family’s house because that’s near where it happened.
“Yeah,” Alyssa says, “I heard he was on a drug deal.”
“Hmm. I thought he was doing better.” I say absently.
“He wanted everyone to think he was doing better than he was.” Alyssa replies.
I shook the tree branch and I called your name.
“Johnny! Johnny, can you hear me?”
The tree branch nods.
“Johnny. I wish you weren’t dead.”
The tree branch nods.
“Johnny. Are you there?”
The tree branch nods.
“Johnny, I miss you. I’m so sorry. I wish you didn’t have to go like that.”
I inhale nicotine and sip my beer.
The tree branch sways.
“Johnny, I hope you’re in Heaven.”
The tree branch nods.
“Good. Good. Okay, Johnny.”
The tree branch stands still.
October 25, 2010
Nothing is over until you’re dead.
My explanation for everything in life up until this point has been, “Well, I don’t know, it just felt right.”
There is an inherent flaw in this logic.
There are some life occurrences to which we will never get over. These things shape us like play-dough in the hands of a child. These things define our very character and hold subtle control over our every move.
It’s the obscurities that make you beautiful.
I try over and over again to decode this line, this facebook status with words just as obscure as their topic. The ambiguity draws me within myself until I’m swimming in a pool of words, until the letters fly apart from over-analysis, until I’m just floating in alphabet soup.
I remember nothing, really, besides driving home buzzed and watching out for deer. I don’t know what took me there; I had no business going back.
I knew it was wrong, emotionally, but there weren’t any real rules I was breaking. I was searching for my emotional bearings. I was searching for what made me who I am. I was searching for the one thing I could never shake off completely, because I wasn’t ready to let that part of my life go.
I remember smoking lots of cigarettes and laughter with brand new people who I’d actually known for years. I remember feeling like a fairy, flying in, making mischief, and then disappearing as if I’d never existed.
Fairies are figments of imagination. No one can ever be sure they’re real. They’re explained to be hummingbirds.
Suddenly, I get it. It is the obscurities that make you beautiful. Except, it’s not beauty. It’s intrigue. It’s everything I don’t know, what’s under the surface, undiscovered. It’s magical, because I’m not sure whether it exists or not.
It’s the wondering, it’s the mystery; sometimes we get lost in the search, the desire for the search, and we don’t even remember we’ve already found what we had been searching for. It’s a temporary dementia, this relapse of character. It’s a longing for our old selves, because we miss them.
I remember the box, and the red, the bright red, and the glowing rocks. It was the ultimate buried treasure; there was love underneath.
Six years; is it a long amount of time, or a short amount of time? I can’t tell.
April 25, 2011
Reading this page a million times isn’t going to change anything.
I still have hope and possibility in my life, so I don’t see what the problem is.
Then I close my eyes and I see his vitality, his life, his lack of self-filtering, this vibrancy that beams from him. The echo of his laugh, the way it is so nonchalant, as if laughter is like breathing to him, and finding amusement in the world is breathing oxygen, like he needs it.
When we are in the same place, I see him more than I see anyone else. I feel his presence more than I feel the presence of anyone else.
Sometimes there are flashbacks, and I get that feeling of newness and rebirth I used to have when we were together. I remember in the shed that first time, I walked out feeling like a new woman. His presence has tormented me ever since. When he is in a room, there is nothing else I can think about. Him being in the same place as me is this horrible, loud, buzzing background noise. I don’t always tune into it, but I am constantly aware that it is there. It perturbs me because I can’t concentrate on any other thing I am trying to do at that moment. It tempts me, when I hear the television in the background and I am trying to write a paper. Writing a paper is something significant, something great, and something that requires talent and hard work. Watching a television show is effortless.
I love him deeply. I never stopped, is the sad part. I only learned how to love others, and how to love again. I never stopped, I only got used to the idea that we would never be together again. I love him purely, I love him effortlessly, I love him unquestionably. It is the saddest gosh darn feeling in the world.
What do I do with that love? It tugs at my heartstrings whenever I hear him as background noise. When he becomes pictures on the computer I forget and it ceases to matter, and I can be convinced of this platonic liking between us. But when he is there, moving around, filling the room with all of that vitality, that aloof, over-the-top, loud, in-your-face charm… (does anyone else see it as charm, or do they see it as ridiculousness?) I can’t ignore it.
What do I do with that love? I tuck it away and cease to feel it. I feel everything else, as there are so many feelings in life. I feel deep feelings for others, about my future, about my work. It is the mastery of selective attention, repression is.
Oh, right now, though, the background noise is buzzing, and it’s so loud, and I can’t ignore it. What do I do with that love?
Rest in peace, Johnny.
This is the conversation we had the last time I saw you in person. It was August 2011, right before I left for Rome. I wrote it down because it meant so much. You meant so much.
That night, she said everything she wanted to say. It was a night of expunging.
“I wrote so many fucking poems about you.”
“Did you read them?”
“I read all of them.”
“Did you read the one about seeing each other in the hallway?”
“What about the one about that day in middle school we put our handprints on the sidewalk?”
“I read that one, too.”
“I just need to tell you, I’d rather have you in my life as a friend than not in it at all.”
“But we can’t be friends, not really. I still have too many feelings for you.”
“I know. Me too. But that’s why. That’s why I need us to be able to talk. That’s why I need us to be on good terms. I’m not saying, you know, like hanging out or anything like that. I just want to be able to know how you are. I need to know you’re doing ok. I care about how you are.”
“God, I know…” He grew serious. He stared at her for a minute. “I never stopped loving you. Which is what makes it so hard.”
She beamed. She had been waiting five years to hear those words. Now that they were said, the world felt at peace inside of her.
“Me either. I never stopped…but it’s too late. I’m happy now. I’m so happy now. I used to always think we’d get back together, but it’s too late for us.”
“I know. It’s not that kind of love. I don’t want to be with you. I know we can’t. It’s just, you’re… you’re one of the most beautiful people. You’re the only one who understands me. I can still tell you anything.”