A Sketch of a Young Woman in Five Parts
They sat quietly across from each other in the busy restaurant. She was a pale, thin little girl with short, dark hair. She played absently with her food, deep inside of herself, making pretend with her potatoes and chunks of mangled broccoli. Her mother sat across from her, she was pretty and had long blonde hair and a pair of sunglasses turned up on the top of her head. She was highlighting passages in a novel for her monthly book club, a novel she couldn’t stand but which had won a Pulitzer prize in literature and all of the other wives raved about. She didn’t get it. Her eyes only moved up from the page when the door opened, or when a chair moved across the restaurant floor, or when someone’s child was being too loud, narrowed usually in disdain. The little girl absently sank and twisted her fork and spoon into the mashed clumps of food on her dish. She thought about how she wanted a dog, she would love it if her mother would only buy her a dog.
It had been raining all day and night. The girl went for a walk around the dormitories, listening to the soft patter of the rain against the midnight silence. She was nineteen years old. Every detail of the night had significance, every light, every slick, wet stretch of pavement and puddle. She felt like a sponge, absorbing everything that fell in front of her eyes. Times like these, which were becoming fewer and fewer, were the only times that she felt like she could really breathe. Away from the hustle and bustle of school, of classes, of feet moving through hallways and across campus, and voices echoing in lecture halls and corridors. Away from the expectations of her peers, that she be this or that particular type of person to fit in, to feel normal. Away from the expectations of her parents, whose attention lay heavy on her grades, her ambitions, her career track. Point A, B, and C needing to be accounted for, barely an adult and she needed a road map of the rest of her life to prove to people she was going to be somebody. A real person, one with things, one with money. If she had all these things, maybe she could have love. She kicked off her slip-on sneakers, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and began walking through the wet grass barefoot.
She sat in a corner in the university library. It was very quiet, there would be a shifting here and there of books, muffled coughs, footsteps, but little else. She had a stack of books on the table in front of her and reclined back in the somewhat rigid study chair. She read Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. She was absorbed and content in those pages, even though they represented a twisted sort of urban horror. Next she would read something lighter, something calm and nostalgic. After Dark by Haruki Murakami had caught her eye. She was twenty years old and hadn’t been to a class in over a week. She couldn’t wait for her parents to find out. She peered over the top of the book at her fellow students, and flashed a warm, conspiratorial smile before returning to its pages.
She was twenty three years old. She walked her dog around the apartment complex a little after one in the morning, it had been raining all day. She’d just finished watching Spirited Away, the Miyazaki film, now she walked through the complex as it still drizzled in a fine mist. She had been working on some paintings while she was watching it, but decided to give it a rest about halfway through. She didn’t have anything just then, and if she tried to force it she’d only burn herself out.
She is thirty two years old and she is happy. Which is as much as anyone could ever hope for, despite the usual hiccups with work and relationships, the occasional health scare, the state of the world dangling by a thread, and the general stress of daily life. The work grind is ceaseless, stress hums outward from the amygdala as a constant white noise, an invisible tension to meet demands. But in spite of this, she is happy.