To Mike, watch out for the icy patch.
I’m sure I’ve mixed up the timeline and contradicted myself, but I’ve tried to get it right. I’ve changed some names to protect the innocent—and to protect my mother from people in her book club coming at her like, “That’s not how my kid remembers that day in preschool.” A lot of things that are meaningful to me didn’t make the cut because they just weren’t entertaining. For example, my childhood best friend Meg isn’t in the book at all because it turns out my mom was right: those stories really are only funny to the two of us.
1. braid hair
2. arrange books by color
3. do homework on the floor
4. feng shui room
5. magazine collage
6. lie in yard with Walkman
When I was thirteen I started making lists. I’ve always liked structure, and I thought if I broke it down into steps, I could will myself to fit in. My idea of “normal” came mainly from film and television, and with that as my guide, I wrote down the kinds of things a “normal” girl might be doing when a boy showed up unexpectedly at her house. Of course, the one time a boy showed up unexpectedly at my house, he found this list.
Jared was one of the popular kids at school. We weren’t close, but he was a neighbor, so he occasionally came by. This was the only time he’d ever arrived unannounced. He spotted my notebook, opened it, and started reading out loud.
“Oh god, that’s stupid. Seriously, put that down, it’s nothing.” I was in a full-out panic. Come on, Anna, why would you generate written evidence of your social and emotional ineptitude and leave it lying around?
As soon as he left, I ripped the pages out of my journal and burned them in the bathroom sink. The fire made the house stink of carbon for days. When my mom and dad came home I told them I’d been burning incense. I doubt my parents believed me, but they could sense my desperate need to drop the issue, so they moved on. That night, I resolved to keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.
Once I’d moved out of the house at seventeen and there was less threat of unwanted guests pawing through my belongings, I attempted to keep a journal again. I managed only about a dozen entries over a period of two years, but I never did burn it.
Last year I found this journal. My handwriting as an angsty teen was appalling, yet somehow better than it is now. And the subject to which I devoted the most pages (besides my virginity) was the fear that I would fail—in all things—and have to go back home to Maine with my tail between my legs.
I had thought my younger self assumed everything would work out—that I was possessed of some reckless confidence you only have in youth. Otherwise, how could I have been fool enough to try? But the journal wasn’t quixotic, it was fearful. The terror was so present, yet I was doing it anyway.
Shit, I thought, I used to be tough. I used to be brave. I used to be a better version of me. Lately I can’t paint my bedroom walls without asking ten people for their opinion and eventually talking myself out of it altogether.
I’d moved away from everything I knew and loved at seventeen in spite of how scared I was. I wondered if I would still have it in me to do something I found so daunting. Aren’t you supposed to get more independent as you get older? Shouldn’t I be bolder, more self-sufficient? Have I gotten comfortable? Have I stopped pushing myself the way I did when I was trying to “make something of myself”? Was that a fluke?
I texted my brother.
Me: I miss being a scrappy little nobody. I was much more capable.
Mike: You’re still scrappy. You just get a lot more emails now.
Mike: You’re still a little nobody to me.I
As if I had asked the universe to send me an example of something intimidating—a test to see if I still had some nerve—the opportunity arose to write a book. Sure, it will be hard, but all you need to be a writer is perseverance, a low-level alcohol dependency, and a questionable moral compass. Is that not what you need? Well, I’ve got a bunch of embarrassing stories. And I’ll keep the rest of that stuff in my back pocket.