In Which Ella Does a Little Filing

Alright folks, get out your filing cabinets. We’ve got some documents to put away.

To be filed under Not Helping Anorexia:

  • Looking at Fashion Show Photographs
  • Looking at Vogue
  • Skipping Dinner and Lunch and Not Exactly Eating Breakfast

To be filed under Disappointments That Probably Don’t Warrant Crying:

  • Burnt Chocolate Croissants
  • Missing a John Green Live Show
  • The London Calling Record Skipping Three Times
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

It’s Cold In the House Tonight

It’s cold in the house tonight. I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and I still find myself twisting my hands, trying to warm up my fingers. My nails, which have gotten a little too long again, are lightly scratching my skin, making the hand-wringing a tad uncomfortable, but I can’t write if I tuck them under my legs. So I let my fingers become a little stiff and keep tapping away at the keys, pausing every few sentences to rub them together again.

I can’t help but think back to sophomore year and those winter nights when I would stay up until three or later in the morning, doing my homework. I’d line up small tumbler glasses on my desk, filled with ice and various flavors of Vitamin Water, and every time I felt my eyes drooping, I’d grab one and chug it, letting the cold, sugary liquid jerk me back from lethargy. My cheeks would flush from the cold and exhaustion, and I would cry and cry and cry. Because I was fifteen and too young for this stress. There were too many classes and too many activities and too many people to disappoint and too much sadness.

Sometimes, I’d sneak out of the house at one, two, three a.m., walk up the hill to the street sign, sit with my back against the freezing metal pole, bury my head between my knees, and try not to think for ten minutes. But pajamas, even when paired with a ski jacket, are not enough for thirty degrees or lower, and I’d be driven back to the house with a runny nose and a mind that was racing as much as it had been when I had left. Frequently, I’d think about just sitting down on the floor of my bedroom and screaming at the top of my lungs, but every time I’d open my mouth, a whisper of a scream would come out, and I’d feel as silly as Pushkin’s hisses, which are more air than menace.

As I sat at my desk, I was freezing and burning all at once, and my head would pound. Yet I managed to keep it together through those nights. The work got done. I got my A’s. My extracurriculars were Ivy worthy. It looked like I’d be able to go to Yale. And somehow, I was weirdly happy despite the cold and the stress.

But I’m eighteen now, and sophomore me, as perfect as she was, has long been abandoned. The cold now just means that it’s another lonely night where I feel empty and oddly poetic. But there isn’t anyone to share it with. No one to message paragraphs of essays for critique, and no one to gripe about homework to. It’s just me, the cats, and my laptop.

I like my quiet, but cold nights like these are supposed to be spent communicating with people, saying things that you would never say if it were light out and your toes weren’t beginning to go numb. The magic of the darkness, the way you feel more anonymous and safe to let your guard down a little, is lost without anyone to share it with. I love those conversations when you suddenly get to actually know someone, not just their pretty exterior, but the things that scare and upset them, and discover your shared demons. I haven’t had one of those talks in ages.

Maybe I’ll call George and talk to her for an hour or two. She’ll surely listen to my theories about Billy Collins, and I’ll be able to unload some secrets.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella and the Goodbyes

Today, the last of my friends left for college.* It’s got me thinking about goodbyes and the last time I said goodbye to an era of my life.

When I moved from D.C. to where I live now, I was twelve, and I knew from the moment I carefully unpacked my entire china fairy collection** from the boxes in my room all by myself and cleaned up without anyone telling me to afterwards that things weren’t going to be the same anymore—I was no longer a child. I was suddenly part of that awkward in between stage where you aren’t quite a teenager, but you’re certainly too old to be a kid. And it felt like eating one of those sour candies I used to buy from the ice cream truck–the type that I once made Pippa eat so much of that her tongue got so red, swollen, and bumpy that my mom nearly called the doctor.***

At first, it was so sour that your eyes teared up and your tongue felt like screaming in shock and pain. Then, just like on a long run, you become impervious to it–it still hurts, but you can work through it in a dull, rhythmic manner. It’s as if the pain will never leave, but you can just keep feircely struggling through it with eyes narrowed and forced, even breathing. Finally, it tastes sweet, like a proper lemon drop or a strawberry sucking candy. But there are always those sour pockets still stuck in the sweet part that make you cry all over again, and it hurts as shockingly and sharply as it did in the beginning.

I liked the responsibility of this new in between age. I loved being known as “the smart, mature one,” but I missed building fairy houses every fall until my arms were caked with mud, and the flowers in the front yard were rather unevenly pruned of their blossoms.

This is an impressively poor angle of the houses, but you get the general idea.

I missed playing in our backyard, in the kids’ space under the addition, where we had the secret and illegal “flat feet club,” named not for the height of our arches, but for the ability to plant your entire foot, covered in wet mud, on the whitewashed ceiling while swinging at scarily high angles on the swings. It made terrific bangs if you were inside of the house listening and the footprints were very difficult to wash off with the jet of the hose alone.

I missed playing “Laura Ingalls Wilder” for hours on end in brightly printed calico dresses as we watered the “fields”–my mother’s herb and vegetable garden–or made corn cakes on the stove, dribbling batter all over the floor to Louie the Dog’s delight. I was Ma, the ringleader and boss of the game, Pippa was Mary, Joseph was Frederick, Laura’s brother who died, Lee was Laura, Beth was Carrie, and Beth’s and Lee’s two-year-old younger sisters both played Grace.

I missed playing baseball in the front yard for hours. Like most of our sports games, we didn’t play with regular rules. The bases were all about six feet apart and the pitcher, which was me about ninety percent of the time, played all the positions except catcher. All the other kids would line up behind home plate and choose between the thin yellow wiffle bat, the big, flat-sided plastic bat, or a kid’s metal bat that made a satisfying ping when it connected with the ball. It was impossible to strike out, and instead of umps, we duked it out by seeing who yell the loudest and most intimidatingly. There were no teams, and we’d go for hours.

It was almost as fun as the World Cup soccer games we’d play across the street under the oldest oak tree in D.C. When we weren’t arguing over who got to be Djibouti, Ghana, or France, we were all charging around the ball, elbows wildly swinging, trying to get a goal. Tripping was common, and we’d frequently end particularly vigorous games sporting purple bruises all over our shins. But the bruises were battle wounds, and we wore them proudly, pointing at them and explaining in excessive detail exactly how that one was gotten when we had made a particularly impressive play.

But here in this new place, I didn’t have any of those endless hours of outdoor playtime. People in this town mostly stay inside and go to scheduled activities, and so I did too. I learned that you could use the internet for more than just buying American Girl Doll clothes and checking your email. I switched from play dates to “hanging out” and “going over” to other people’s houses. I cried a lot, and it sucked. But I adjusted. I began to really like it. This new era became me and who I am, and not some uncomfortable place where I didn’t want to be. Sure, I miss being a kid a lot. I feel a weight and a slight tingling in my solar plexus every time I think of how much I miss it. Sometimes, I tear up. But being here became good and sweet just like the center of that candy.

I’m still solidly in the super sour candy phase right now. I cried this afternoon. And unlike when I was ten, I can’t force Pippa to deal with it for me. But if I did it once before with some amount of grace, I know I can do it again. There are exciting, new, and shiny things ahead, I just need to keep eating the candy long enough to get to the sugary part.

*Well, George is still here, but she’s leaving for Durham in the U.K. in a few weeks, and she’s busy working a lot of the time.

**Which, along with most of trinkets I was fond of during my childhood, now sits, carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in shoe boxes, underneath my bed.

***This incident along with the time I gave her chemical burns from spraying air freshener (I thought it was hairspray. I was five.) directly onto her scalp gets brought up anytime Pippa needs proof that I am a “mean person.” I never meant to cause her harm, I just didn’t have any idea what the consequences would be.

Bright Skies and Salt-Scented Air

Let’s hope this gets my mind off of all of these sorrowful goodbyes, If being at the beach doesn’t work, I can always lock myself in my room and watch Frost/Nixon and Miracle over and over and over again.

Ella and the Backpack

Everyday for over six years, my backpack has lived on a chair in the back of the kitchen. Sometimes, I keep a pair of shoes tucked underneath, and one or more of my purses hangs off the back. It’s “my chair,” and no one else is allowed to mess with it.

About a week ago, when all of my family was arriving at my house, my dad removed my backpack so people could sit in the chair. It was a totally reasonable request–I’m not heading back to school in the fall, and I don’t have anything hefty that I need to regularly carry around on my back–but it made me really angry. That was MY chair he was messing with. It was MY territory with MY sacred things, and I might have well stuck “Keep Out” and “If You Touch This You Will Suffer a Painful Doom” stickers all over it, the way I did with Post-It Notes on my dresser when I was nine.

I suppose I’m angry about moving that backpack because removing it would feel like the final admittance that everyone is leaving. As long as my backpack stays on that chair, it just looks like I’m home on break and that soon it’ll be time to go back to school and catch up with everyone about what they did over the summer. All my binders are exactly the way I left them on the last day of school. I haven’t touched a single paper. I’ve raided the pencil pouch a few times, but I always put everything back the way it was because it still feels like I’m going to need it for class later.

I say that I’ll deal with everything in the backpack when my parents buy me a file cabinet–I need some place to put all the paper, because those 250-word reactions I wrote about democracy quotes are going to be really important to have at some point. But I don’t know if even then, when everything is all set up, if I’ll have the heart to do it.

I don’t want to let go of high school quite yet, no matter how much life tended to suck while I was in it. I was always surrounded by such lovely, lovely people who made me so happy; I got to see my friends everyday; I had really great teachers and fun classes; I got to be a part of amazing clubs with awesome people; and I had finally become friends with every secretary in the school, guaranteeing me preferential treatment in every office. Things were wonderful when I wasn’t dealing with mental illness.

And now all of that’s gone. Some people have already left for college and by the end of the month it will be everyone. Even if I still keep my backpack on that kitchen chair, my sham will be utterly destroyed.

My lie to myself becomes more and more obvious as time wears on, and I find myself become more and more withdrawn. I spend even more time than usual on the internet reading. My research of various topics becomes more and more intense, and I’ve begun to let my room get messy. I owe Cecelia a bunch of letters. I talk to the cats more, and one of my favorite parts of the day is when the AC starts blowing. But I will not move that bag, no matter how ridiculous it’s getting.

On General Unhappiness

Somedays the world around me becomes so overwhelming that I just want to crawl into bed and pretend that all the pressure doesn’t exist. Putting a pillow over your head and wiggling your way down so that the covers go over your neck creates a nice soft noise-dulling barrier for crying, and the cats will always come sit on the end of the bed.

At least I have a system for being miserable.

Small Victories

Whenever I feel like my challenges are innumerable and have no will left in me to fight, I need to remember that this too will pass. Today was pretty rough, but I didn’t have a panic attack on the bathroom floor like I did every night in February, and I didn’t spend all week in bed à la December and January.