Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam

Posted on May 23, 2010


Originally published April 8, 2004

Ten years ago today, I was in New York City for the very first time with the constant companions of my college freshman year, who I thought I’d be best friends with forever. It was my birthday weekend (ten years later, it still is.) I was in my mercifully brief clove-cigarette-smoking, patchouli-wearing phase, so many overdue apologies to my compatriots on the Peter Pan bus. On the journey up to NYC, I amused myself by listening to that Simon and Garfunkel song about countin’ the cars on the New Jersey turnpike. Do I even need to say that I thought I was very cool?

We were staying at my roommate’s sister’s student apartment on the Columbia campus. Lacking fake IDs, we were drinking in her living room when we saw the news that Kurt Cobain had been found dead. Echoing the pain of my generation, I was like, Whoa, dude.

Actually, I’m sure I was upset but that’s not what I remember now. I just remember so exactly where I was, and who I was with, and how happy I was. I believe I didn’t even tell my mother I was in New York that weekend, because I was a nineteen-year-old-badass and she had just told me that no one was going to pay for me to go to college the following year. Anyway, I had seen Nirvana in concert the autumn before Kurt died and been very impressed. In high school, in Ohio, I used to listen to Nevermind as loudly as possible in my room, with my head right between my lousy speakers so that two walls of music crashed together inside my skull and I couldn’t really think. My parents moved out of that house while I was away at school that year.

It was also on that trip that I insisted we go to the top of the World Trade Center and take pictures of the view. My blase, big-city friends indulged me because it was my birthday. When I see the pictures of that day now, it’s like looking at relics from a lost time. I don’t look like myself, or any incarnation of myself that I can recall. The building we careened around that day is dust and ashes.

I’m feeling so nostalgic this year, as my birthday slouches toward me. I think about who I was ten years ago, and I don’t know if I’m more upset that my life is still so similar or that it’s so very different. I’m still here in DC, now living with my sister and my dog. Sometimes happy, sometimes not. All the people I was with that weekend live in New York now, with their graduate degrees and their spouses and their artsy friends. I talk to some of them rarely, and some of them never. I miss them, but more than that I miss who I was at nineteen when I woke up every day and felt so lucky to live in this city and be living the life I was living.

I am thankful that I no longer wear plaid or patchouli and that I’m old enough to drink in bars. I still have awesome friends, just not the same ones. I wouldn’t say I’d excise any of my twenties, but there are definitely parts I’m glad I won’t be re-experiencing. I just thought I’d be a novelist by now, or a mother, or at least a Bachelor of Science. The realization that I’m not, and that ten years have passed so fast, has just kind of crept up on me. God help us all when I turn thirty next year.

I’m going to the gym tonight, and I’ll have on my crappy headphones, but there isn’t even any music on my mp3 player. I listen to books now. I’m so fucking old.