I turned in the copyedited manuscript of Friendship on October 7th and since then I haven’t written or thought about writing anything besides tweets and emails. Which, to be fair, I have written MANY tweets and emails. But it is a huge brain shift away from thinking about the problems and characters in my book. I already feel like the book is no longer a part of me; it has its own life and I feel like I would potentially respond to any questions about it by saying “God, who knows??” When the time comes to answer questions about it I’ll probably have developed some fun and interesting theories, but I can already tell it will be a lot like discussing a book someone else wrote. Which feels, right now, like what happened. I’m having an excruciatingly hard time even writing this blog post. I feel like I’ve lost the ability to organize experiences into thoughts and words into sentences, probably permanently. Having experienced this feeling and its remission before isn’t comforting because what if this time it really is permanent? That happens! People quit, or just start sucking. That could be what’s happening to me right now. It’s probably not, but it could be. So all my relief and happiness is tempered by fear.
Other than that fear and the constant feeling of loss of an essential part of the self, life turns out to be so much easier when you’ve turned off the part of your brain that does writing! I have a job now where I work during the weeks and for the first couple of months of it I was in the library each weekend working on the book, but now my weekends are weekends. I experienced the feeling of “TGIF” for the first time in years on 10/11 and I probably don’t have to tell you that TGIF is A GREAT FEELING. I’ve had so much time these past few weeks to hang out and have fun and organize and clean and budget and transfer balances from one credit card to another and make obsessive plans for the future. Does that not sound fun? It has been GREAT. One of the things about working on a book, at least for me — and probably it doesn’t have to be this way! — is that you spend a lot of time in “finals week mode.” Like, years on end. Neglecting your body, your friendships, your family and your finances because nothing is more important than your book. Some of that damage will take years to undo (financial, mostly), but my skin already looks better. Not writing a novel is a beauty treatment. Not writing a novel is a spa vacation. Not writing a novel is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, except the nagging terror that this happiness is temporary and fake and could shade into misery the minute I try to start another one.
That first weekend of my novel-less life was also my birthday weekend, and for my birthday Keith got me a bike from Craigslist and a ring from Erie Basin; we’re getting married, finally. I spent the first day of being engaged so happy I couldn’t stop smiling and the second day, Monday, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I had eaten oysters at my birthday dinner but I don’t really think they were to blame. As anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows, my feelings about marriage are, as a politician might say, evolving. I was happy but terrified. I looked at Keith and felt the way Liz Phair succinctly describes feeling in “Love is Nothing”: “I thought, ‘Who am I?’ Who’s this guy?’” As Liz sings, love is nothing like they say. It’s better and worse, and it’s not, I guess, describable. I didn’t feel ready to tell anyone that I was engaged. I told my parents because I knew it would become a weirder and weirder conversation the longer I waited to have it, but it was super awkward (I interrupted their dinner and they asked if I could call back before they knew what I was calling about!) and I told Ruth and Bennett and Lori, but the idea of sharing the news on social media felt completely wrong. And then that feeling itself also felt wrong; who am I, I thought, to feel this way? I thought, is this what it is to crave privacy? The idea of subjecting my happiness to the internet’s infinite potential scorn seemed borderline insane to me. I told myself and several close friends that I simply would not do it.
If you clicked the link in the previous paragraph you can see that I did, on October 30th. I took that photo sitting at a bus stop on Van Brunt Street. I was wearing a fancy outfit because I had thought I was going to see Nico Muhly’s opera that night, but early that morning Keith and I woke up and realized that it was time to take Raffles to the vet for the last time; we’d been waiting for about a week to see if he would make another miraculous recovery — he’d made dozens, in his long and high-maintenance little life — but he was in pain, we could tell, and not eating, and so thin that you almost felt you might be hurting him when you stroked his bony spine. We decided and then I lay in bed with Raffles resting his head on my head while I cried, and I felt like he knew and was saying goodbye, too (let me have this delusion.) I must have at some point gotten out of bed and put on clothes and put Raffles in his carrier and waited with Keith on the curb for Arecibo but it’s hard to remember any of that clearly now. I remember the feeling of Raff’s head on my head. He loved to put his head there, to sleep with at least a paw touching me at all times. This was sometimes very irritating but now I miss it; waking up alone is the worst part of Raffles being gone.
I went to work after we got home from the vet because I wanted to be distracted and I selfishly stuck Keith with the task of putting everything cat-related away before I got home. At work, everyone was very understanding, but I felt queasy and like I was on drugs, dehydrated from crying and slightly hysterically punchy. I had a call with Manjula Martin from Scratch (hi Manjula!) during which I think I acted sort of normal? At lunch I picked at a salad in the park with Ruth, who wisely told me to skip the opera, and then I got an email from Russell at Erie Basin saying my ring was done getting resized and I could pick it up, so I left work early and went to Red Hook.
I got the ring and then when I was waiting to go home on the bus I looked at the memorial photograph of Raffles I’d posted on Tumblr that morning to see how many likes it had. People were universally nice. No one had made fun of my grief. A lot of people, who are familiar to me either from real life or the Internet, had left personal messages, including one person who said that Raffles was “one of my favorite cats of Tumblr,” which for some reason I found especially moving. I stared at the photo for a while. I’d just missed one bus and the next one was taking forever to come. And then I looked at my ring, so pretty with my dark nails and blue dress, and I took a photo of that and posted it on Instagram. It felt like the exact right thing to do.