Standing up makes my head pulse.
It fades though.
I’m only standing so that I can light this $30 teakwood candle. The article I read said I should light candles and play music and read. I’m desperate to feel anything other than this murky nothingness I’m currently feeling. All though, I take note that, normally, I would take any excuse to light candles. I love candles. I spend $30 on candles.
Now, it feels like a chore.
Maybe it’s the news. Maybe I’ve been subconsciously being placed into a gradual, undetectable paralysis. Maybe this is fear I’m feeling. That’s what they want, right? They want me to be afraid. Of everything. Of everyone. Of life and living and the world. Is this what I’m feeling? Fear?
I don’t know. It just feels like a headache right now.
Derek texts me.
The sound of my phone makes my head pulse again.
He wants to know if I’d like to go to dinner or something. I flashback to last week or last month or last year. I am standing in the kitchen with my head dramatically bent backward, bitching, in my whiniest voice ever, that we NEVER go out to eat.
“I’m not hungry.” I respond.
It’s true. Which is also strange. I’m always hungry. Right now, I’m mostly just tired. Even though all I’ve done for the past three days is sleep. It’s never enough. I’m Apathetic. And sad. Everything makes me want to cry. I feel so out of control of my emotions. I have no idea why.
The article said I should light candles and play soft music and do something I enjoy. Like reading. I pull out “The Handmaids Tale” from my purse. I had bought it on my way to Santa Monica, to keep me occupied on the flight. I bought it because I had watched the show and felt comfortable investing $17 in the text version. Plus the flight was long and I was already feeling uncertain. So I bought the book.
I was so conflicted about going to California. I wanted, more than anything, to travel. The Sagittarius in me, I suppose. I did not, however, want to do anything without Derek. Being away from him for five days seemed insurmountable. How would I fall asleep? Who would wake me in the morning? How will I pass the spare time? When will we talk with the time difference? My everyday has become so intertwined with him. I’ve become so dependent.
Ugh. What a word. 16 year old Kelsea would spit in my face. If I am anything, it is independent. Fiercely. Almost harshly. I call the shots, in all things. It’s my life, my way, right or wrong.
But the first and second days in Santa Monica, alone, made me feel more like an orphaned puppy than anything else. I felt stuck there, wanting nothing more than to be in my time zone, in my neighborhood, on my couch, with my Derek. The faces intimidated me. The tourists annoyed me. The conference frustrated me. The repetition of all of it just festered under my skin.
“Hi! What’s your name? Who are you with? Where are you from? Are you enjoying the conference?”
They were kind and well intentioned, but they were not the questions, rather, they were not the voice I wanted to hear.
16 year old Kelsea began to knock on my skull almost as annoyingly as this headache I have. “Fierce independence,” she chanted. 22 year old Kelsea joined her, singing of confidence. 24 year old Kelsea rolled my eyeballs back into my head. She showed me countless networking events and galas and conferences and WHATEVERS that I had not simply attended, as I was doing now, but that I had owned. That I had eaten up. That were better because I arrived. Never the other way around.
“You’re outgoing,” she whispered. Outgoing felt sweeter than the fierce independence chant. I vowed to myself to make the most of my time in this foreign land, with these strangers. That Derek and my interdependency would be there when it was all said and done. 16 year old Kelsea and all of her annoying growth-progressions silently applauded me.
I walked down to the Santa Monica Pier. I was lucky enough to catch the sunset. It was mesmerizing. Like an optical illusion or a magic trick. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That I was taking in this beauty. That I was witness to these colors. Surely no two sunsets were the same. Certainly no one here grew unimpressed with this sight. My thoughts wandered to Derek. I decided to get a drink.
Derek texts me again. “Do you want any snacks or anything?”
His attentiveness makes me want to cry.
Everything makes me want to cry. That’s why I’ve lit the candles and put on Coldplay and opened this book.
To not cry. To not think. To not be sad.
“Lolol.” I respond to him. I know this is something I’d normally text from how involuntarily my thumbs glide. I want him to not lose hope that I’ll be normal again. It’s only been three days of this. That’s not bad, right?
He tells me it’s not. He reminds me of when he felt like this.
Sad. Apathetic. Inconsolable.
I can’t remember, or at least, I didn’t know he was feeling like this.
That thought makes me want to cry.
I peel open the book again.
Offred, er, June, is talking about how they must’ve slipped some sort of pill into her food. She always feels lethargic. I let my mind wander to everything I’ve eaten. Maybe I got roofied. Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe it was a bad, old roofy that is just now, terribly releasing its affects on me.
The worst part of everything is just not knowing what’s wrong.
It’s not knowing what to say when someone asks you, “what’s wrong.” It’s not knowing how to respond, period. It’s confusing and annoying and trying.
I sauntered into the huge restaurant at the end of the Santa Monica Pier. “Marisol’s” was lit up in a neon script. Three men were leaning by the door.
“Closed, closed, closed!” they said, shaking their hands and getting up from their butts.
“Even for me?” I responded, with as much arrogance as you read it with. “I’m with the conference.”
Their demeanor changed. Their hands went from stop signs to warm, limp invitations. “Oh yes, come in!”
I was still alone, but I felt amazing about it. Taller. Prouder. The fedora I had purchased on the Pier felt like a crown. I asked the bartender for a whiskey and coke. He handed it to me with a smile and I, (thanks to the conference), didn’t pay. I walked my drink outside to a table underneath a heater. I was the first one here.
Over the course of about an hour, I watched the once hypnotizing colors of the sky disperse into blackness. Everything was black, now. The sky. The ocean. The only thing that allows me to tell the difference between the two is the reflection of the moon. I take a moment to acknowledge that I’ve never actually noticed the moon’s reflection. Not before right now.
New friends joined me at my once lonley table. Women. Beautiful women. California girls. I felt prettier for standing next to them, conversing with them. Like property value. Like a cape cod. Our conversation went from industry bullshit to real life bullshit. It wove in and out of our personal lives. I told them all of Derek. I showed them his photo. They “aww” ed.
“You must love his beard,” they all told me at one point of the night or another. It’s so funny how that seems to be the only thing anyone can notice on him. No one ever calls out his perfectly kind green eyes that sometimes turn blue, or his world-stopping smile. They never say anything about how genuinely he holds me in photos or the gentleness with which he takes care of me. It’s always the beard. I love it on him — I’ve never known him without it. Sometimes, though, I wish the world would take a second to love everything else about him.
The night continues as you imagine. My whiskey and cokes turn into sangrias. Sharing industry knowledge turns into laughing about how many people named “Kevin” there are at this conference. I think about Derek but I don’t miss him. I feel like he’s with me. It feels like a Saturday night out with our friends.
We stumble from the end of the pier to a British bar called Kings Head. It’s divey– and I love it. It smells like Columbus. The walls are dark and dingy. There are dart boards in the back, and the layout doesn’t really make sense. Our group completely overtakes the space. I feel like I know all of these once strange, intimidating faces personally now.
I order a Heineken and almost forget that I’m supposed to pay, now. The bartender doesn’t recognize my Ohio license. He lingers on it like he’s thinking of a reason not to serve me. He doesn’t find one.
Once I get my beer, I rejoin the girls I’ve adopted as friends. We’re talking to some representatives from Yelp. Everything is funny right now. I don’t have a care in the world.
My new girlfriends must not be enjoying themselves as much as I am, because as soon as one of the reps stops talking, they say their goodbyes to me. I’m alone again. But I’m almost happier about it. I move seats to the center bar. A man I’ve said “excuse me,” too while finding my seat during the conference makes eye contact with me. We start a normal conversation. He’s as drunk as I am. He asks me if I’m married, which I find extremely strange. I, obnoxiously, hold the backs of my hands up to his face.
Single Ladies plays in my head. It finally comes to me that I’m being hit on.
I make eye contact with another acquaintance from across the bar. His name is Kevin. Or maybe it’s Josh. I think he told me Kevin, though. I realize in that moment that he was kidding. Either way, I send him SOS eyes as I realize I’m in a conversation that is going to be super hard to get out of. Josh/Kevin acknowledges my glance, but instead of saving me, yells out,
“DO YOU NEED ME TO SAVE YOU?”
I know that every sweet word Derek is sending me is his attempt at a life-rope. He asks me if I want to go out to dinner because I always want to go out to dinner. He asks if I want snacks because I’m always sending him a too-late-text asking him to pick me up something. He knows my nuances, my subtleties, my idiosyncrasies. He knows when I need saving without my SOS eyes. He just knows me.
This thought instantly transports me into his sometimes green, sometimes blue eyes. My resting place. My shavasana.
Before I can dwell there, the jingle of his keys at the backdoor snap me back into reality. He erupts into the house. He’s a quiet, gentle presence to the world, but he’s a volcano to me. He always has been. He makes the same face he always makes when he gets home after me. Like a cartoon character at the end of the episode, or a 90’s TV dad. It’s overly friendly and excessively happy and super pleasant. I think he calls out, “Babe!” My favorite.
He takes in the candles I’ve lit around the house and the soft music playing on our Amazon Echo. I peek out from my book to whisper hello to him. He comes to me and doesn’t stop smiling. I ask him to tell me about his workday, which usually gets me an “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Today, now that I need saving, he has endless stories to tell me.
I lose myself in the movements of his mouth and his perfect teeth and the way he always talks with his hands. Before I realize what’s happening, I’m laughing at his story and joining him in the kitchen to fix dinner.
I realize that I haven’t eaten today. I haven’t been hungry.
But now that he’s here, I could eat.
The last day in Santa Monica doesn’t meet my expectations. After my rowdy night out with my new friends, I expect to be pretty popular at the conference.
What I found, however, is that everyone is hungover and sleeping in.
The sessions are sparsely filled and everyone I was high fiving and cracking up with last night barely has the energy to blink, let a lone notice me. I feel very alone again.
The conference ends very early. 2pm. My flight home isn’t until the same time the next day. Without being able to meet up with all of my new friends and make plans for the rest of the day, I slowly sink back into the lonely space. I never have these problems in Columbus. I never feel bored or unwanted.
I fight the insecure feelings I’m having and resolve to spend the afternoon exploring. I throw my hair into a bun and put on a sundress. I whisk my crossbody over my shoulder and meander around town. I shop at the 3rd Street Promenade. I stop and listen to street performers. When I miss Derek, I decided to go find a bar.
There are an abundance of rooftops. Every uber driver I’ve had during this trip has told me to go to a bar called Bungalow. They say that I look like I belong there. Someone finally tells me that that is the bar where all the reality stars hang out. Drinks are expensive. I guess I give off that vibe. I consider this as I walk down Ocean Avenue, looking for a place to drink my insecurities away.
Once I settle into a retro rooftop bar called Hotel Shangri-La, I remember that I’ve added some of my new friends on Instagram the night before. My confidence slowly trickles back and I reach out to them via DM to see what they’re all doing. We agree to meet and I fall in love with my independence again. Free to hop from bar to bar as I choose. To visit whichever friends I choose at whichever location. Free to go jump into the ocean if I should choose. (I don’t choose.)
Suddenly my flight seems like it’s coming too quickly and I’m wondering if I really want to leave this magical place that strings my emotions up and down and uncovers things like moonlight to me.
“You could totally live here,” I think to myself.
Derek’s not here though.
We’re eating dinner on our couch.
Our black leather couch.
Well, it’s a sectional.
It was our first big purchase together. Or maybe the TV was. I guess I wasn’t really there for the TV. I just came home one day and it was in my apartment. He had told me about it. I venmo’d him for half of it. But it was really a Derek-thing.
But the couch…
The couch we scoped out, together. We hopped around from store to store and sat and leaned and laid. He really wanted leather and somehow got me on board with the idea. He’s a persuasive one. More so than he lets on.
Our couch was sitting alone in the very back of a Value City in Dublin, OH. It had a few hidden scratches that Derek found right away. They didn’t bother us. It was exactly what we wanted. Room for both of us to sprawl out after a long day. Or before a lazy one. He claimed his spot on it before we ever even brought it home. I have a weird attachment to this thing. I’ve never owned a couch. I’ve never gone to the store and purchased one and brought it home. They’ve always been hand-me-downs from roommates or Craigslist finds. But this one is ours.
So we sit. And we eat. I’m eating leftover pizza. Derek is eating healthy. Such is the balance of our relationship. Before long we are lying on the soft leather, neither one of us in “their” spots. We’re intertwined somewhere in the middle. Half in my spot, half in his. Derek has relinquished complete control of the television to me, tonight, because he knows I need saving.
I flip on Netflix and sink into how familiar and warm and right everything in my world feels.
Saturday comes in Santa Monica. It’s time to go home.
I have to check out of my Airbnb by 10a.
My flight doesn’t leave until 2p.
I hastily attempt to clean up the 2 bedroom apartment that I was calling home. It feels like home. I’ve used the coffee maker every day and done yoga on the balcony and showered and slept and ate and napped. It’s weird how quickly everything feels like it’s become mine.
I call an uber and lug all of my actual belongings down to the lobby. With a slam of a back car door, I abandon my Santa Monica home and make my way back to Ohio. I tell Derek I’m excited about it, on the phone. In my mind, I am. But in my heart, I wanted one more nap on that couch. One more sleep in that bed. One more pot of coffee on the balcony.
Maybe it’s the hangover– maybe it’s the series of hangovers, but when I arrive at LAX, I cannot bring myself to do anything but plop into a seat at the terminal. I lie there, pretzeled up into a ball, my neck sometimes on my knees, sometimes on my luggage, sometimes wherever it wants, for 4 hours, falling in and out of sleep. I wake up with a sore throat, just in time to catch my flight to Chicago. It’s a 4 hour flight so I immediately regret the nap I’ve just taken. I pull a Tylenol PM out of my purse and pray I can sleep this day of travel away.
(Be careful what you wish for.)
The flight to Chicago feels like a dream. Not in that it was pleasant, but surreal. I sit next to a couple that looks like they would rather sit next to anyone but me. They whisper to each other and keep as much distance from me as possible. I try not to take it personally. I probably smell or have drool on my face. These aren’t far fetched ideas.
The Tylenol PM doesn’t knock me out, but does leave me dazed. I think I watch a movie on this flight. I think it sucks. I lose all sense of direction and time. I just know that I’m not home. Either home. My little apartment on Venice Blvd or my black leather sectional in Grandview Heights, OH.
Landing in Chicago is more of the same. I instantly feel the cold and darkness when I get off of the plane. It doesn’t rattle me or wake me though. I’m still some half-awake, zoned out, shell-of-a-Kelsea. The air just makes me more aware of that fact.
I somehow shuffle through the airport and get food. I have a phone call with Derek. This is the first time I’ve opened my mouth to speak since the uber to LAX. My throat hurts worse than I imagined. Derek is so happy that we are only one measly, 45-minute flight away from each other.
I board that tiny plane for that measly flight. I have a window seat this time. The only completely dark, night-time flight and I finally get a window seat. The irony would normally get to me. Right now, nothing gets to me. I rest my head against the side of the plane and slip away for those 45 minutes. I’m awakened by the captain announcing that we’ve landed in Columbus, and a passenger yelling out the score of the Ohio State game.
Walking off of the plane is even more chilling than it was in Chicago. Derek is waiting for me as soon as I make it to the pick up spot. He is visibly disappointed that I am not at the level of excitement that he is about our reunion.
Truth is, I just don’t know how to be.
For the next three days I would field the same questions from Derek.
“What’s wrong?” “Are you sure you’re okay?” “Did something happen to you?”
I would answer him by saying that I was sick. Which was true. My throat, my head. This insatiable feeling of being hot and cold at the same time. Surely I just caught something.
But after a while I found myself consistently holding back tears. Which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is extremely tiring. I called off of work. When Derek asked my why I just cried.
He told me to do my yoga, to drink some coffee, to get back to my routine.
I didn’t want my routine. I wanted to cry. And sleep. And maybe be back in Santa Monica? But also to just be in bed with him. I don’t know. I wasn’t happy.
I couldn’t nail down why.
Pizza is hanging out of my mouth. Bojack Horseman is on our TV. Derek is giggling at memes on his phone and occasionally showing me the extremely funny ones. I’m laughing.
I don’t notice at first… but… yeah, I’m laughing.
And I feel fine.
I feel like Normal Tuesday Night Kelsea, and not Zombie-Depression-Android Kelsea.
My heart feels like its back in rhythm. I feel like a child that’s finally stopped crying.
I feel fine.
Like it’s not all that bad.
Like I was being silly.
I share this with Derek.
I’m apologetic. I tell him that I don’t know what came over me or how I got so out of whack. I tell him that if the past three days are what people with depression and anxiety go through everyday— how do they function in this world? That cloud of muggy sadness completely debilitated me. But just as quickly as it encompassed me, it left.
Now, I’m trying to figure out why…
You write really beautifully. I love this. I can truly relate to these feelings.