✨✅ VIBE CHECK: postcard from norwich
we build history with and through each other
Ally said I shouldn’t call myself a braindead exhibitionist online anymore. Ally said that people want to read what I write. Ally said I have to trust that. I rolled my eyes.
The process of rebuilding a life, I suppose, involves some grief. You have to acknowledge what you’re losing when you move on. Although when I tried to become a new person, grief was Medusa; I wanted to move on without looking at it. If anyone asked why I left the city, I’d say that I didn’t know why. Not really. It was phantom reasons, a vague sense of dissatisfaction, blah blah blah. But the truth is that I didn’t know how to integrate my past into a new present. I thought I had to deny it ever happened. Though, to be fair, don’t they say the first stage of grief is denial?
The day after Ally’s wedding last year, she told her parents, “Cailey must actually love me because she showed emotion in public and I’ve never seen her do that before.”
And it’s true. I mean, I do. I do love her. Like, a decade ago, I got us kicked out of a Laura Marling concert in Brooklyn because she bought me a beer and I was still underage. You kind of have to love a person after something like that. But it goes deeper than that.
Yesterday, we walked the medieval city where Ally lives now, gothic churches and narrow roads, hydrangea bushes that sigh over low stone walls. We told each other the best drama from our elementary schools: the mom who was a stripper, the dad in the mob, the friend who got pregnant at 11 and just stopped coming to school (her AIM account stopped working one day, no explanation).
“I was thinking before you got here, how many different people we’ve seen each other as,” Ally said. “Well, the same person, I guess.”
“Yeah, it’s been lots of costume changes,” I said.
“I wonder what the drama at Teddy’s school is going to be,” Ally said.
No matter what I start writing, lately, I keep returning the same thought: what does it mean to start anew? It seems every time I try to change, I begin by defining the new phase (“I’m a person who does this now,”) which generally means renouncing the old (“Can you believe I used to do that?”)
I can’t figure out how to have a new start if not with a clean break. (Is redemption a process of purification — and, if so, can you have purification without destruction?) Then again, I’ve been told, I have a flair for the dramatic. I tend to make proclamations I later regret. (An old roommate constantly reminds me of when we were 20 years old and I looked him dead in the eyes and vehemently proclaimed, ‘White wine is for pussies.”) Is redemption possible? Is rebirth just an illusion? Has it always been (and will it always be) a simple matter of costume changes?
Within ten years, Ally and I have gone from dancing on tables at a club under the Arc de Triomphe to staring at the Helsinki skyline from a stranger’s office building to vaping in the bathroom of an opera house near a river in Suffolk. I mean, Ally’s a mom now. I know that’s a change. But it feels like there’s a strong case that the only changed things are what we put in our bodies or on them.
Walking through the geometric gardens — perfectly symmetrical, British plots of lilacs and lavender — I feel grounded. Rooted in history, even if it isn’t my own. I never remember how American it is to erase your past (and how that decision takes a toll) until I’m somewhere like this. We don’t realize what we’re missing until our bodies land somewhere impossibly storybook with yesterdays.
I love this city. I really do. I love how many women have bright pink hair and how many men walk around barefoot. I love how the cathedrals are always quiet and cold and how they turned one of the medieval churches into a skatepark because, I guess, they just had too many lying around. I love how when I take Teddy to the playground and pretend that I’m Ally’s sister, parents tell me all about their one vacation in New York.
Of course, this is the type of realization you can only have in a town that bears proof of its centuries: you have a choice whether you erase or whether you maintain. Maintenance doesn’t necessarily mean the erasure of progress — but once you bulldoze history for the sake of the future, it’s impossible to get it back.
Ally said I have to start trusting people, start trusting myself. She knows the traits that have stayed through all my costumes; she knows that every time I’ve declared a fresh start, I’ve been too myopic to really burn everything. She knows the changes have nothing to do with where I live or what I’m wearing or who my friends are at the moment.
We build the world with and through each other. Other peoples’ memories are as responsible for our history as our own. So rebirth isn’t a simple question of our personal denials and purifications. Last year, Ally saw me cry at her wedding.
TIME FOR LINKS
It’s been a very special week for me on the internet. My vibes, friends, truly they were…everywhere. Please see:
the fact that a cabaret voltaire record showed up on a taylor swift vinyl pressing. this is my favorite prank ever played. ever.
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