I spend most of the last weekend in May searching online for the perfect electric tea kettle. I started drinking black tea with lemon only recently, and I like how it feels to hold a mug of it while watching a full season of Insecure in one night. It feels healthy, mature, like the next right thing for me to like, like the perfect adult thing to order in the café where I sit and write on sad Sunday afternoons. After many years of hating it, I acquired a taste for tea instantaneously one day, the same way I did with a particular glass of house red wine when I was twenty years old and studying in Italy and feeling like I was bad at everything someone like me was supposed to be good at.
I scroll through endless electric tea kettles from Target, JCPenney, Kohl’s, and Macy’s, racking my brain to recall each and every department store I followed my mom and grandmother around when I was a little kid. Suddenly it’s after 1 a.m. on Monday and my phone has shifted to night mode and I’ve completely blocked out the Gilmore Girls episode playing to my left. As the time escapes me, the electric tea kettle decision begins to feel crucial. I know I want one that’s cute, but not too flowery or overtly feminine, and the stainless steel ones are ugly and boring. I’m afraid I’ll leave fingerprints on the clear ones, but all of the ceramic ones are too white, with too much blank space. Some have spouts so thin and intricately long that I think the water would take forever to actually pour out and I am not a particularly patient person. As I scroll, I start to picture myself having friends over for tea and walking gracefully in a long, A-line skirt and velvet, heeled Mary Janes from my counter to my table to warm up my friends’ mugs.
Most of my searching occurs in between the hours I spend packing to move into my second place in Providence, one year almost to the day after I graduated from college in Manhattan. I will remember my first house here for its ragged wooden floorboards, a living room I barely stepped foot in, an upstairs bathroom the size of Texas, and the way my displacement within it mirrored my social experience outside of it. My writing often glamorizes my life, which is probably a coping mechanism for me, but I want to be honest here and state simply that it has been a hard year. I am sure one day I’ll look back and be able to come up with a list of important lessons I learned this year, and I'll even discuss them in this space, but at the moment I am still so far in the thick of the shittiness that I can’t yet recognize its value. For now, I try to convince myself that age twenty-three has to be better than twenty-two as I cross each day off my calendar and watch my Gemini birthday slowly approach.
Back in March, I nearly committed to a graduate program in the Midwest that accepted me with a generous offer. I spent three days visiting a campus in Milwaukee, practicing for what I was almost positive would become my life in the fall. I rode the bus and kept the card to refill it later, tried to find a restaurant with a good Greek salad, made small talk with people hoping something would stick and develop into relationships resembling what I have with my college womyn friends. As I went through the motions of learning a new city, I remembered how recently I had done all of this in Providence, and how much time I’ve spent since then trying to convince myself that uprooting my life last year was the best choice I could have made.
The Milwaukee airport was small, as was Providence’s, and the cross-country trip was easier than traveling from Penn Station to Monmouth County during rush hour. I went into the handicapped stall in the bathroom, opened my suitcase on the ground, and changed from my midi skirt and heels to my favorite black jeans and Adidas sneakers. Walking to my gate, I looked down at my white shoes, still pristine. I bought them just before my trip because I wanted something comfortable to wear when I saw Lorde in concert with my best friends the following week, in Boston and Jersey (and I thought Brooklyn and Connecticut, too, until I remembered to pay rent), but mostly because Lorde wears Adidas in the music video for “Green Light.” Sometimes when you are an aspiring media scholar constantly critiquing the music you love, giving into a capitalist trend feels like a necessary form of rebellion against your own personal restraints.
There were cheese hats for sale in the airport, the ones everyone mentioned to me prior to the trip when I told them I was probably moving to Milwaukee, and I chuckled as I walked past them. I considered stopping to take a picture but decided not to. Instead, sitting at the gate, I took a picture of the bag of chocolate covered pretzels I was eating and sent it to my friends in our group message because I know Joe keeps them in his desk drawer at work at all times, and because Megan and I got in the habit of buying them on campus in between classes last year. I knew they would understand the reference and know I was thinking of them when they opened my text, and this was important to me. They asked me, of course, how the trip was going, and I told them that I had decided not to accept the offer. All of the friends I texted while sitting in the Milwaukee airport had a unanimous reaction: can we be happy? They checked in on me, made sure I was not too disappointed, and then told me how relieved they were that I was not moving even farther away from all of them. Joe said that Milwaukee had become his trigger word. My mom sent me a text gushing about how she will support any decision I make as long as I am happy. My sister Melanie, who lives around the corner from me in Providence, said that she feared influencing my decision earlier but could finally admit that she would be ecstatic if I stuck around Providence for at least a little bit longer.
I watched the sun setting in purple over the runway and listened to “Delicate” through my headphones and felt content. I caught myself beaming, basking in a feeling of satisfaction, which has become my greatest scarcity this year. I had no plan B at this point, not even another graduate school I had been accepted to, and yet, compared to how I felt a day earlier, walking around a picturesque campus on Lake Michigan that I felt obligated to join but knew I wasn’t meant to be a part of, I felt fucking liberated.
There is an expectation, I believe, for young women feminists in particular to be willing to drop everything for an opportunity to advance their careers. But I don’t believe that making a choice strictly to improve your resumé, if that choice comes at the cost of your personal life and happiness, is a truly feminist act. The unconditional support I received from my friends and family when I turned down this offer — and, it is important to note, their willingness to honestly express their feelings to me — made me confident in my decision not to move farther away from the people I love in New York or my incipient relationships in Providence. I am grateful to have people in my life who know my neuroses and still keep me around, who remind me that I am capable of giving and receiving unconditional love. The relationships that provide me with this sense of security and contentment feel worth investing in as much as — if not more than — any part of my career or education ever has.
I am not saying that I left Providence for three days and had an epiphany that made me love it here — this miniature city is still way too small for me, especially on its East Side, where I’ve been living and have spent countless hours driving around in circles, killing time, memorizing street names and shortcuts, listening to SZA’s album and feeling suffocated. (The combination of track six and Blackstone Boulevard in the late afternoon feels personal.) But it took leaving the state and returning, being tempted by a new (and promising) city, to realize that although I haven’t quite made a home for myself in Providence yet, at least I have laid a foundation. I have just begun referring to New York City as “New York” when I spent the first twenty-one years of my life referring to it exclusively as “the city,” which sort of makes me cringe, but also feels indicative of my adjustment and the work I've put into building a life here. I applied to a master’s program in Rhode Island the night my plane landed and managed to get accepted and officially commit to the program within a week.
The Sunday after my trip, I went to my sister’s house on the West Side of Providence, which she and her husband Karl had just moved into. They made an offer after I went to the open house and told them they’d be crazy not to. Whenever something goes wrong in the house, my sister blames me for convincing them to buy it, and I take the blame because I still love the place and because I am trying to get her to laugh through the stress I can see in her clenched teeth. I sat on their new couch next to my oldest sister, with their dog Zuzu cuddled between us. A few feet away from us, Karl painted their dining room walls the perfect shade of teal to match the couch, carefully avoiding the ceiling and moldings with a level of patience and precision I wish would rub off on me. The new lamp in their dining room was too short and too modern for the feel of the old house, so they needed to return it. Half the kitchen tiles were pulled up for renovation, the top of the center island not yet installed, some of their old furniture and decorations redistributed temporarily in similar but different places in their new, more spacious home, like an erroneous facsimile of their old home. Melanie made dinner — salmon and a traditional Greek salad, my favorites, because she was trying to comfort me, and she knows how to do it well — and we sat in the dining room with the smell of paint surrounding us, the window open to dry the paint letting an early April chill creep in. Despite the boxes still packed, the salmon was cooked perfectly and there was bread in the house and we used placemats and we got to choose between two different bottles of white wine to have with dinner.
I told Melanie and Karl that I feel older now, like the last few months had aged me exponentially and influenced my priorities. I told them that I was anxious to stay in one place for a while, after living with different people in different places almost every semester of college. I want to live in a home I care about, where I make my bed every day and hang pictures up in real frames. I want to make an anchovy sauce and let it simmer on my stove for hours on a Sunday afternoon, wiping bright red splatter as I try in vain to keep the white gas stove clean, and serve it to friends who will inevitably rave about my family recipe. I am sick of eating meals at my desk in my bedroom instead of at a real table, and I want to stream TV shows on an actual television, not just my laptop. I need to open a bank account I can access anywhere, unlike my (very) local Long Island credit union, and stop relying on cash back at CVS as an ATM like I have been the last five years. I want to come home to someone at night, someone who is worth coming home to, and I wish there were a quick fix for the loneliness I’ve fallen into this year.
It is still true that if I had my pick, I would be putting down roots in Manhattan, but that isn't realistic right now. Instead, I start taking a daily vitamin and clean out my car and buy a proper face wash. In an alternate dimension somewhere, a 19-year-old version of me scoffs pretentiously at my domesticity.
After dinner we sat on the teal couch and watched a favorite episode of Girls called “One Man’s Trash.” In it, 24-year-old Hannah spends two nights with a 42-year-old man she just met. She asks the man to beg her to stay with him overnight, he tells her how beautiful she is and she is surprised to hear it, they read the newspaper in the backyard and drink glasses of lemonade. He keeps a bowl of fresh fruit on the center island and steaks in the fridge and wine on the counter just for himself. As they call in sick and play house together in his Brooklyn brownstone, their encounter reveals to Hannah what her adult life could look like. At the end of the episode, Hannah says, “I came here, and I see you, and you’ve got the fruit in the bowl and the fridge with the stuff, the robe, and you’re touching me the way that — I realize I’m not different, you know? I want what everyone wants, I want what they all want, I want all the things. I just want to be happy.”
In the last week of May I spend four days packing up everything I own and make short drives from the East Side to the West Side to load and unload as many cardboard boxes as I can fit in my tiny car at once. The boxes are left over from my sister’s move so I scribble out her handwriting and put my own labels on each one. While packing I find things from my last apartment, from my senior year, that I never used or even unpacked here. Like my quirky magnets — there’s one of Alexander Hamilton, given to me by my friend Angela on my twenty-first birthday, and a collection of small square tiles I got in Pompeii with Ancient Roman sex scenes painted on them, and a little Greek salad magnet I bought in Athens. My record player is covered in dust because I haven’t used it a single time since I lugged it here last summer from my parents’ house, insisting that since I wasn’t living in a tiny New York City apartment anymore, I could and should be able to find the space for it. I peel 4x6 photo prints off my wall, scotch tape ripping sage green paint leaving the same trail of subtle damage I have left behind in every dorm and apartment I’ve ever lived in. As I take them down, I look at each picture I deemed worthy of hanging up when I moved in and think about whether or not the same pictures will carry meaning for me in my next place, or if I need to replace them with new photos, new people, like I did each year of college. There are several pictures from graduation, like the one with Julie and Megan where I can recognize an enduring contentment in my eyes that I would give anything to have back now (and where my hair looks perfect); one from a night last February at a Lower East Side bar, in which I clutch Amelia’s head with my long arms so zealously that her face is completely covered; one taken in my old kitchen at this time last year, as we embraced Harry Styles’ album, drank a box of rosé, and talked at length about Mark Ruffalo; at a rooftop bar in Midtown celebrating my last day of my last job, as we dragged ourselves through a July humidity so thick and sloppy we felt underwater and my emotions were so heightened and so keen that I don't think they will ever again feel as intense as they did that summer; one with my family at a wedding in autumn, where I am noticeably the only one without a significant other but I put my contacts in and danced with my sisters and my nose ring looked as cool as it ever has and I felt remarkably whole and sure of myself; and a perfect elevator picture from the fall of my senior year that lives in my memory as proof that the everyday can be worth falling in love with. Next year I want to blow up these pictures, put them in frames and hang them with a hammer and nails instead of Command Strips for the first time. I want to add new pictures, too, from the life I’ve been working on here, and hopefully of what my life looks like in the next two years in graduate school.
I’m staying at my sister's for the rest of the month until the studio apartment I want opens up. My things are only half unpacked, spread across the second floor of her house — the big, open space that made me convince her to buy it (which I’ve been referring to as “the smush room,” à la Jersey Shore) is filled with my books and clothes and bric-a-brac heedlessly wrapped in pages of The Providence Journal. I’ve got a mini fridge up here, and my own bathroom, which is perfect for me because the only health advice I happen to follow is drinking excessive amounts of cold water (my friends, especially Andrew, can attest to this, as well as my constant need to pee). Next to it is a shelf, half of which is cleared for my future tea kettle. Next to that is a bowl of fruit.
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