I was pacing the rooftop deck of the Williamsburg loft my employer generously rented me for the month.
“I think I might be experiencing anxiety for the first time,” I said into the phone in a small voice.
Turn, pace. Turn, pace.
It was August 2013. Dusk had brought some much-needed movement to the previously muggy afternoon air. I was wearing a baggy white t-shirt, denim cutoffs, and bare feet. My shoulder-length hair hung limp, slightly curled at the ends from the humidity. I’d just turned 24.
“What does it feel like?” Kelsey was on the other end of the line in San Francisco.
“Like I could cry at any moment.”
Turn, pace. Turn, pace.
“It will be okay, Hales.”
We talked for an hour, my gaze shifting between that unfittingly, ridiculously fancy deck and the glowing manhattan skyline. It was so stupidly pretty. Why was I such a mess?
I cried to Kelsey. I cried to Austin. I cried to Kelly. But mostly I cried to myself. Or worse, just stared at the air in front of my face and felt nothing but inexplicable despair. The strangest part of all of this was there was no particular reason for my sadness.
I remember emailing my dad:
I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t really make myself feel better about anything because I belittle all my optimism as silly idealism or naive justifications. I am so distrustful of my own logic because every “logical” thought I’ve had in the past I’ve ended up disagreeing with later.
Cynicism just kind of sucks the hope out of me. It feels hopeless. Even when everything in my life is technically going well.
And it was, embarrassingly enough.
I wish I could launch into the treacherous backstory that got me to that place, pacing that deck, crying on the phone. But I’ve got nothing. Work had sent me to New York to cover for someone who left the company quite suddenly. I was living and eating for free in one of the coolest cities in the world – a place I often dreamed of living. Everything was wonderful. But I was a wreck.
Tonight, almost two years later, the song Island by Yuna came through my earbuds during my commute home and my mind was transported to that muggy rooftop deck in New York and my breath caught in my throat.
I would never claim that an album alone cured my sadness that summer in 2013. Maybe it just came to me on the right day. Maybe it was a catalyst for a thought that lead to another until I was on a path that went towards a light instead of a shadow. Whatever it was, Yuna’s album held my hand like a good friend until I came out of the other side of it.
And tonight when those familiar notes floated through my earbuds the trip flashed through my mind like a little movie.
I remember the pages and pages of journal writing I did to Decorate. The sense of calm that suddenly overcame me as I walked the city streets to Lullabies. The tiny smile that begrudgingly crossed my face as I looked out the subway window to Island. The little dance I did when no one was looking as I walked through the park to Favourite Thing.
The album was my background music to healing that summer. I continued writing every day. I started reading more. I started tracking my feelings and course correcting my defeatist lines of thinking. I researched and discovered news ways of looking at life. I also – as unromantic and unremarkable as this is – got off my particular birth control when I got back to San Francisco. That helped.
But tonight as I listened to Yuna and marveled at my inner movie reel, I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. I barely remember what I was even worried about that summer in New York. And the parts I do remember are so irrelevant. Not in the oh-that-worked-itself-out-so-my-hindsight-tells-me-it-didn’t-matter kind of way, but in the that-fear-went-unsolved-and-eventually-was-forgotten-and-became-completely-irrelevant kind of way.
It reminded me that not only might my current concerns not get solved, but they might go POOF – into thin air! Irrelevant in a week or six months or a year!
If only I could know what I’ll know next year, I sometimes think to myself. But we don’t get to know. And that’s life isn’t it? You wait and wait and then go OHHH. And there really is no other way. You can read a million times that LIFE IS SHORT and TO ENJOY YOUR [INSERT DECADE] WHILE IT LASTS and to LOVE YOURSELF and to FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS and to NOT WORRY ABOUT WHAT MEAN PEOPLE THINK and you can try so hard to do those things but don’t they fall on deaf ears a little bit? Aren’t they just clichés to you until, very suddenly, they’re not? Until your life experiences stack up, one by one, and provide you with proof?
But really, I think you’re too young to be cynical.
My dad wrote back to me, in response to my panic-stricken email.
Don’t get me wrong, but to me it feels like you need more data points than you could legitimately have collected at this time in life to conclude an outcome which justifies significant cynicism.
And maybe I didn’t fully understand him at the time but he was right. I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But he knew there wasn’t much he could tell me. The same way my mom couldn’t tell me in 6th grade that the world wasn’t going to end because all the popular kids hated me for telling the principal that Vinny punched my friend Preston. Well, she could try. But it wouldn’t mean anything until I learned it myself. My parents knew it then and they know it now.
There are some things you just have to let life teach you. Truth has a way of proving itself to you regardless of what anyone tells you.
Tonight, as I sat on the bus thinking of that summer in New York, I realized something. The silly thing about worrying about the future is not only do you not know what will come your way, but you don’t know who you’ll be when it does. Your worst fear now may come true, yes, but it also may not be your worst fear by the time it happens.
Time has a way of showing us things we could never teach ourselves. There’s a certain awe-inspiring freedom to it, isn’t there? So much is out of our hands.
It would be okay, that summer in 2013. Kelsey was right.