in knowing where you’re going
Last night I was listening to Jay Bernstein’s lectures on The Critique of Pure Reason and laughing because he describes it as philosophy’s version of the Clinton / Lewinsky scandal. The lectures were from 2006 and I thought about how great it is that the Internet affords us to go back in time and see how someone has evolved. It took me a minute to realize that when I was in Bernstein’s class, it was 2003, and that my history is much older than the one that the Internet has handed me. It turns out that I am older than I look.
“You must use a really great moisturizer,” said one of my superiors at dinner last week. “You don’t look old enough to have done ten years of anything.” I took the compliment and ran with instead of asserting how old I really am, which is how you know I’m really, really old. I had a meeting the next day with a woman at least ten years my superior. “You don’t look old enough to have twenty years of experience,” I said. “You must use a really great moisturizer.”
It is hard to explain the things that happen in your brain when you travel alone. You forget who you are in the best ways; you remember who you are in the absolute worst ways. If you have never done it, it’s indescribable. If you have and you haven’t noticed a difference, you’ve either misremembered your travels or you are the unicorn traveller who befriends every kind soul in town. It surprises me to learn, sometimes, that I’m not the latter because the story I’ve told myself is that I am. It’s okay that I tell myself that story as long as I can remember it isn’t the truth.
I had a day off. I went shopping. I really went shopping, the kid of shopping that girls who don’t define themselves by their shopping do not admit to doing. I wouldn’t have admitted to doing it if I hadn’t been in London completely alone. It was the kind of shopping that ended in a manicure. It felt good. You can study smart people things for five years and have a career for ten but that doesn’t mean that you won’t let out the world’s worst self-satisfying smile when a saleswoman asks if you’re okay and you say, “actually, this is a bit too large, can you get me an extra small?”
It was a bit sad but also what I needed. The store was my favorite in the city; it shared a name with one of my more significant ex-boyfriends. He’d have been proud of the extra small. Some dudes are not at all afraid to tell you those sorts of things. I shopped for considerably more hours and I got a manicure. I tried to befriend the manicurist and you will not be surprised to learn that I was unsuccessful.
On my way back to the hotel, I swiped my travel card, noticing the date and realizing it was the aforementioned ex’s birthday. I emailed him a nice note; he emailed me back a nice note. It took us years to get there and we can only really do it because we are old. My phone told me that I had new voicemails, but it only showed one from a month ago, from someone unlikely to leave a new one; we got there, too, because we are old.
“I miss it,” someone said to me this morning speaking mostly of rock music
but a little bit of the United States though he didn’t really know it. “It’s hard to replace. Nothing else feels like that except for maybe love.” I had a worry then about nostalgia; I have always had a worry about nostalgia. One of these men said to me about another of these men that they always want you back but it doesn’t mean that you have to go back to them. I had never asked to go back. There is no going-back mechanism in my brain. There never has been.
My nostalgias are for other things: for the sound of Jay Bernstein’s voice as he describes why Kant was scandalous, for the way people used to sound in voicemails when they really missed me. For the way that I myself miss things almost immediately, like the way that I already can feel myself missing the way that the loneliness felt over the weekend when it felt like a thing that would break me in half. I didn’t want it then but I have the balls to miss it now.
When I got home from the shopping trip, I looked in the mirror and noticed my skin for the first time in months. It looked clear and bright and like I must use a really good moisturizer. I wear an extra small, sometimes. Sometimes I walk entire cities and forget to eat. “I am probably going to come home a butterfly,” I said yesterday, “so there’s that.”