six months

An ex-boyfriend used to tell me that in his opinion, I was capable of more than I thought I was. He would say it whenever there was something I thought I couldn’t do because of my depression or anxiety or endometriosis or whatever else. “You can handle more than you think you can.”

I understood where he was coming from, and I knew he meant well, but I never liked hearing him say it. It made me feel guilty for not doing more. It made me question my carefully-implemented self care regimen. It made me feel like he thought I was acting weak. Sometimes I wondered if he thought I was weak.

The only way for me to know what I can handle is to think of a thing and decide whether or not I can handle it based on what I assume are my limitations. Or I can look at things I’ve done before that I couldn’t handle and not do them again.

Both methods are faulty. How do I know for sure what my limitations are if I don’t test them? And how do I know that not being able to handle something in the past means I couldn’t handle it now? Most of the time I just have to guess. Or sometimes I do a thing I think I can’t handle, and try to prepare myself in advance for the ramifications of the not handling.

Other things happen to me whether I can handle them or not.

Moving to a different state may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my adult life. Here is a list of the things about it I’m not handling very well.

  1. I work from home, so I’m at home alone all day, but in the evenings I don’t have any plans, so I stay at home then too. I go to sleep, wake up and work from home alone all day, and the cycle continues.
  2. There isn’t really anyone in St. Louis around whom I’m comfortable being needy. In Austin I had friends and a sister I could text and say, “Can I come over?” or “I know we’re supposed to go out, but I’m feeling down so can we just sit around and watch TV instead?” or “I need help with something, can you help me?” My parents are here, but they have their hands full with my dad’s care, so I try not to bother them unless it’s an emergency.
  3. I don’t feel very needed. My parents need me for logistical reasons, but I don’t have friends here who text me and say things like, “Can I come over?” or “I need help with something, can you help me?” It’s hard feeling like I’m not part of anyone’s emotional support system like I was in Austin.
  4. When I first moved here, I tried online dating. It was by turns a strange, hilarious, frightening, humiliating and very hurtful experience. Some things that happened still hurt and will probably hurt for awhile. Online dating has made me question my trusting nature, my appearance, my self worth and my value to others in ways I haven’t done in a very long time.

How was I supposed to know I couldn’t handle moving to another state? I’ve never done it before.

I’m not going to undo it, though. I don’t want to move back to Texas, and I don’t want to admit defeat and move somewhere else just yet. It’s only been six months. It’ll get better, probably. Maybe.


my new streetSo I’m here now. I’m in St. Louis.

I’ve been here for a month and a half, I think. I’m probably supposed to have updated my license plates and drivers’ license and stuff by now, but I haven’t yet. I’m tired.

Even if you’re familiar with it as a place to visit, living in a new city is exhausting. You have to constantly remind yourself that you live there now. The other day my aunt asked me if I had my DSLR camera with me so she could get some pictures of the family. “I don’t have it with me,” I said, forgetting that I did have it with me, just a few blocks away in my new apartment.

My dad keeps asking me when I’m leaving town. “I live here now, Dad,” I say, and he smiles and shakes his head as if to say, right, I should remember that by now. Me too, Dad.

The grocery stores are different. I got used to good tortillas and good tortilla chips and my favorite brands and the Austin plastic bag ban. Everyone in line in front of me and behind me in St. Louis has their items put into what looks like a thousand separate plastic bags. When I give my fabric bags to the grocery bagger, he gives me a strange look like, “what are these?”


The radio talks about NASCAR. The guys on Tinder (I’m not ready to date, but I looked) are all pictured holding dead fish or automatic weapons. I can’t do the thing I did in Austin where I talk to new people and can safely assume they’re as politically liberal as I am.

This part is good, in theory. In Austin I got tired of the homogeneity. If you stayed out of the far-flung suburbs in Austin, you would pretty much see the same types of people everywhere you went. In St. Louis it’s different. I went to the zoo last weekend with my dad and sister and nephew (the latter two were here visiting us), and the mix of people there reminded me of Houston a little bit. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that.

I keep thinking about jobs I had in the Houston area in my teens and twenties—waitress, grocery cashier, that sort of thing. The people in those jobs were all very diverse—politically, ethnically, age- and politics- and education-wise. I’d always liked that feeling of being part of a weird crew of people from various backgrounds who respected and loved each other despite their differences. Maybe I’ll find that here. It’s less unlikely than it was in Austin anyway, with my remote job and the city’s lack of diversity.

(I don’t mean I want to have diverse friends as tokens or anything; I just mean that knowing more people who aren’t like me is good for my perspective. And my snobbery.)

But it won’t happen right away, because like I said, I’m tired. The last few months in Austin, packing, feeling displaced, not having a real home, and saying goodbye to my friends and family and habits and things I was used to, really took it out of me. Since I’ve been here, I exercise in the mornings, work during the day, and then in the evenings I lie in bed with my dog and my knitting and whatever I’m watching on Netflix, and then I fall asleep. It’s about all I can muster.

When I do meet new people I ask them about the local laws and customs. Is it okay that my new landlord didn’t have me fill out a form with what’s wrong with my apartment before I moved in so I don’t get charged for those things when I move out? That’s what they do in Texas. Can you really drink in the park here without getting a ticket? Does everyone refer to Anheuser-Busch as AB or do some people call it InBev? I hadn’t realized how many strange assumptions I had until I moved away from Texas for the first time in my life.

My new aerial studio is different, too. I took a private lesson with a trapeze instructor so he could see what level class I should take, and every skill I know has a different name here. He asked me if I knew how to do 4 and I said, 4 of what? It turns out “4” here is called “candlestick” at home, and I knew how to do it, but I still felt awkward. I took nearly all my classes in Austin with the same instructor, and having someone different feels wrong. My new trapeze classes start on Tuesday, and I’m already nervous.

(I’m the most nervous because I’ve never had a male instructor before. I won’t be able to make jokes about how hard a straddle is for me due to my giant boobs! If I cry in front of a male instructor it’ll be awkward and I won’t want to explain it! What if I develop a huge dumb crush on the poor guy, as is my tendency these days? Then I won’t want to sweat or look gross in front of him, and it’s hard to learn trapeze properly without sweating or looking gross.)

The major reason I moved here, to help my parents, is going fine so far. I live a block and a half from them, and it’s great to be able to walk over there on a whim to help my mother change a light bulb or fix the printer, or hang out with my dad while she runs an errand, or help them make dinner.

It rains differently here. There’s no lightning or thunder or hail or high winds like in Texas. I walk outside and find that it’s been raining softly for hours without my even noticing.

you wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste death

I am trying to quit smoking again.

I’ve been a smoker off and on (mostly on) since I was 17. One summer evening when we were really bored, my best friend S taught me to smoke. And by “taught me to smoke,” I mean she literally instructed me. She bought us a pack of cigarettes (she was a grade ahead of me so she’d already turned 18), and we parked on a dead-end street in her neighborhood and sat on the hood of her mom’s car while she handed me cigarette after cigarette. She lit the first one for me and told me to just hold it to see how it felt. She lit the second one and told me to allow a little smoke to get in my mouth, but not inhale it. She lit the third one and told me to inhale the smallest amount of smoke I possibly could. We went on from there and by the end, S had taught me how to smoke, and I never even coughed once.

The last time I saw S, 8 years ago, she told me how bad she felt for having taught me to smoke, but I’ve never held her responsible. I did it willingly. Hell, I probably asked her to teach me. That summer, S had a job at a water park in Houston, and she’d made a lot of new friends. I was jealous of the time she spent with them, they really intimidated me, and I was already so insecure that I was desperate for anything that might make me seem like I fit in. S would take me to these parties where everyone was drunk or high, and I’d stand there smoking my cigarette, watching one of S’s friends hold another girl’s hair back as she threw up into the swimming pool.

I started out just smoking at these parties or when I was with S, but then I made some other friends who smoked, and we smoked whenever we hung out in the evenings or on weekends. My senior year of high school I fell in with the theater crowd, and again I’d chain-smoke at parties while my acquaintances got drunk or did drugs or whatever. Cigarettes were my way of feeling like I was “cool” at parties without having to drink or whatever else. Drunk or high people from my high school didn’t usually let people walk around vice-free without comment, either, so smoking was my way of keeping them from pressuring me.

One of many photos of me where I'm clearly smoking but I've photoshopped the cigarette out.

One of many photos of me where I’m clearly smoking but I’ve photoshopped the cigarette out. (RIP green glasses)

I spent my freshman year at UT living in a dorm where you could smoke in your room (I KNOW, I’M SO OLD), and my friends across the hall both smoked, so cigarettes turned from a party habit into an everyday habit. After the smoking dorms at UT there was waiting tables, where everyone smoked, and then there was being an English major and hanging out with a bunch of writers who smoked, and my identity as a smoker was cemented.

I’ve always attributed a sort of romance to smoking. I did confine my smoking time to parties at first, but the majority of my smoking time in high school was spent with friends in little poorly-lit corners of parks in our neighborhood at night. We’d stop at the Circle K for cigarettes and sodas, and sit in the park for hours, smoking and talking about boys or our friends or what we thought college would be like. There was a newer subdivision next to mine that had a few little man-made lakes in it, and one of those lakes had a dock with a gazebo at the end of it. My two closest friends and I would spend hours in that gazebo, talking and laughing, singing whatever new radio hit we were obsessed with, and smoking.

Then there’s standing outside in the snow at night sharing a cigarette with your boyfriend. There’s you and a friend driving down the highway, smoking, singing an angry Ani DiFranco song at the top of your lungs. There’s going camping with friends and two of you waking up earlier than everyone else, sitting by the river as the sun comes up, each of you with your first cigarette of the day. There’s lighting a cigarette in your apartment building’s hallway and then running outside to stand in the wind as a cold front comes in and leaves whip around you.

There’s sitting on your patio with a glass of wine and a cigarette and your laptop, writing.

This is the first personal thing I’ve written in years without a half-full ashtray next to me. It’s weird and I don’t like it. I haven’t had a cigarette since 1:00 yesterday afternoon.

I’ve quit smoking once before. Throughout most of my twenties, I told myself that I would stop smoking when I turned thirty. In March 2008, two months before my 30th birthday, I came down with a terrible flu-like illness that left me weak and lifeless and uninterested in smoking. A week later, once I was well again, I decided to continue not smoking. Since I’d already gotten over the nicotine withdrawals, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to just go ahead and quit, right?

It was difficult, but not terrible. I kept half a pack of cigarettes in my glove compartment just in case, and somehow knowing they were there calmed me, made it easier not to smoke. I started listening to NPR on my commute instead of music, just to change up my routine. When I went out to bars I brought knitting with me to keep my hands busy. Things were okay.

I’d stopped smoking for three months when I went through the breakup of a bad relationship I’d had no business being in in the first place. The stress and general horribleness of the whole thing broke me, and I thought, fuck it, why bother with this quitting? I bought a pack of cigarettes on my way to a friend’s wedding in Fort Worth, and I’ve been smoking ever since.

Until yesterday.

I don’t think I really smoked that much. Maybe half a pack on a normal day? More when I went out or was stressed or traveling or it was nice out or I was doing yardwork or woodworking projects?

I liked smoking.

But I started to feel dirty inside. And I don’t mean literally, though I wouldn’t want to look at any pictures of my lungs at this point. I mean figuratively dirty, like there was something wrong with me. As I get older, fewer and fewer of my friends are smokers—they quit for health reasons or because they’re going to be parents or because dude, they’re not in fucking college anymore—and sneaking off to have a cigarette by myself lacked the aforementioned romance. When I met new people I tried not to tell them I smoked unless I had to, for fear of being judged.

And trapeze. When I do trapeze routines, I get tired and winded before everyone else. When I go to strength training class in the mornings, I have to take more breaks than anyone else. Sometimes my instructor sniffs the air near me and says, “Did you SMOKE TODAY?” Which is annoying, but also kind of adorable (I’m a smoker! Why wouldn’t I have smoked today?). Anyway, if I want to be able to do actual trapeze performance routines, I can’t also be a smoker.

Everything I hear about quitting smoking says that your life should be otherwise stable when you quit, so that quitting is the only stressful thing going on in your life. That obviously isn’t true for me right now, as I’ve got a breakup and a move to another state and my dad’s health problems to contend with.

But first of all, I got the quitting feeling (you former smokers will know about the quitting feeling), and it’s always easier to quit when I have the quitting feeling, so I’m going to do what the feeling says. Second of all, why the hell not add one more change to my already evolving life? If I can move to St. Louis and start my life there without smoking as part of my identity, more’s the better.

But holy hell is that 14-hour drive to StL going to be boring without any cigarettes.