“This is incredibly cheesy but I think about independence a lot this time of year. And not in, like, a geopolitical sense,” I told my friend Jami at lunch yesterday. After I explained why, she told me that her acupuncturist told her that the body remembers the anniversaries of emotional wounds as well as physical ones. This is exactly the kind of woo-woo thing I love. I made it part of my half-belief system immediately. My body remembers! My brain also remembers, though, and probably more easily because the events are linked to a conveniently significance-freighted national holiday. Anyway, this summer marks the 5th anniversary of the beginning of my independence from everything that had defined my life up until that point. This is a story I have told again and again, to the extent that now it almost seems like something that happened to someone else. It happened to me, though — more accurately, I made it happen to me. And every time I tell the story, more time has passed, and the meaning of the story has shifted a little bit.
In June of 2007 — sorry if you’ve heard this one before — I had become afraid to leave my apartment. I would, under duress, walk to the grocery store at the end of the block, but even that was excruciating. I had to take an Ativan to get on the subway. The fear seemed completely irrational, which made it even more frustrating and maddening and painful. It was also hard to explain to anyone else what was happening. I would lie and say I was physically sick; it wasn’t really lying. I would stand in the vestibule of my apartment building, waves of nausea washing over me, willing myself to push the door open. Half the time I’d go back inside.
In retrospect, my fear doesn’t seem irrational. I was afraid to leave my apartment because my subconscious had access to the information, stored in some mental safe that my conscious mind couldn’t unlock, that the day was coming when I would leave my apartment and everything in it and everything about the life I was living in it for good, forever.
If anyone is contemplating doing something like this I recommend just going for it. Some things to know: it’s terrible at first, and by “at first” I mean “for several subsequent years.” All your fears are well-founded. Everything you’ve dreaded will happen; it’ll be even worse than you think. But the upside is that after those things happen they will have happened, which means you won’t have to worry about what might happen anymore. Also, you’ll have a new life.
The other important thing to know is that you can only do this once. Doing it repeatedly looks like you haven’t learned anything. Waiting until things get so catastrophically bad in your life that you have to burn everything to the ground in order to change is not the ideal way to make changes.
I don’t really remember anything about the day I left except that it was sunny and Greenpoint was its usual big-skied self. I got up early in the morning, when the heat of the day was only latent in the pavement and salty, sewagey breezes were still blowing in from the river. I got on the subway and took it to Penn Station and got on the LIRR and took it to the ferry and arrived in Fire Island and started knocking down the dominos. Descending into the subway I was terrified, nauseated, sweaty, white-knuckling it the whole way to 34th street. But as soon as I started doing the things I had been so scared to do I wasn’t scared anymore, which is usually the way.