Stephanie Rogers is a twenty-four year old human being living and existing in Asheville, North Carolina. She spends her free time nurturing various addictions which include caffeine, the Internet...
New Years Eve, 2005. I was thirteen years old holed up in my bedroom listening to the radio. This was the latest I’d stayed up, maybe ever! It was 12:30, and I watch the acorn drop in downtown Raleigh with my parents on television. George W. Bush was serving his first term as POTUS, and everyone I knew was obsessed with the new Kelly Clarkson single.
“I’m SO MOVING ON! YEAH YEAH! THANKS TO YOUUU, YOU SHOULD KNOW! THAT I GET! I GET WHAT I WAAAAAANT!” I flung myself wildly around my room, hairbrush in hand, screaming at my pretend lover. I’d never had anyone to move on from, but it seemed exciting! When it was time to dump someone, I’d know exactly how to do it.
I’d already made my New Year's Resolutions, scrawled in pink ink on the inside cover of my diary:
Make Joel notice me
Think about my feelings less
Write more poetry
I examined my reflection in the mirror, scanning myself for potential beauty. My cheeks were soft and pink, but dark circles were already pooling beneath my eyes. I had one large eyebrow, instead of the usual two. Not promising, but maybe greatness lay in store for me. At the time, I thought of puberty as a horror story with a surprise ending, which I had little to no control over. Watching my body had become both a competitive sport and an ever-present reminder of the drudgery of time. I was either going to be hot and cool, or ugly and lame; but if I tried hard enough, I could manifest my very own holistic hotness. I was more New Age-y at thirteen than I am now, living in the Paris of the South on an actual crystal deposit. I wish someone had taken me to a head shop when I was thirteen. I probably missed my calling.
The operating logic was once I completed Resolution #1 (getting pretty), Resolution #2 (getting Joel to notice me) was in the bag! I was devoted to him, devoted to his blonde curls, sensitive sighs, and ability to play multiple school sports. A mysterious warmth spread between my legs when I thought about him on the basketball court, burning down my legs and through my hips until my face flushed. I didn’t know what it meant. But it sure did make me feel alive. Surely, if I could manifest hotness, I could manifest him noticing me!
But despite my best efforts to be silently alluring and psychologically enticing, it became clear by spring that my powers of manifestation simply weren’t panning out. Joel still just didn’t….talk to me? I wasn’t getting prettier, I was just getting older. Another blow came in April, when he started dating a girl on the basketball team, which in turn caused me to majorly fail at Resolution #3: Think about my feelings less. Suddenly, ALL I could think about was my feelings! There were so many of them! I cried myself to sleep every night and wrote weird, self-deluded entries in my diary about my “situation.”
MARCH 27, 2006
Today in algebra class, Joel LOOKED at me!! There I was, quietly solving equations, and I looked up to see him staring at ME, NOT Abby! After school, I watched him play basketball with Ian and Caleb. I felt like a girl in a movie, watching her boyfriend. Then Abby walked up and she and Joel walked away together. Movie moment over. I think he really likes her, but there is a small but sure part of him that is in love with ME! Hopefully that part will get bigger and bigger. Haha!
Yesterday, Dan said that I look like an ape because I haven’t started shaving my legs. I didn’t cry until I was home—success! I’m reading this book about being French that says that French women never cry in public.
WHY IS EVERYTHING SO TERRIBLE
Sad, sad, yes. Middle school is such a tragedy. But don’t feel too sorry for me! My 2006 failures haven’t discouraged me one bit. I still obsessively make resolutions, each and every New Year, all of which revolve around my psychotic desire for self-reinvention. Over the years, I’ve resolved to become a professional photographer, start painting, learn French, subscribe to the New York Times, write every day, get a “real” job, move abroad, and a whole slew of other things that I have pretty much….not done. Which is fine. Whether I complete my resolutions or not is irrelevant, because either way I’m unsatisfied. Nothing is enough. Nothing ever makes me feel good. I demand perpetual, quantifiable progress, and I want all my Facebook friends to see it happen. I imagine myself as some kind of art space cadet, drifting further and further through the cosmos of cool art, better writing, hotter content. The real tragedy isn’t middle school, but my failure to extricate myself from the mental mindset of middle school. The resolutions aren’t working, and they haven’t been for awhile. I am exactly the same as I was in ‘06: I still suppress my feelings, obsess over boys that obviously don’t care about me, and wonder whether or not people think I’m hot. But somehow, I don’t really care. I continue to make New Year’s Resolutions because ultimately, the potential for self-reinvention intoxicates me.
But this year feels different. Setting aside our current political climate and being unable to tell the difference between Onion articles and the news, 2017 was substantially more tumultuous than I expected. For all the years of flexing the semblance of control over my life, I still haven’t figured out the appropriate response to that which is not within my control. And after a calendar year that involved nearly every type of major life transition (long and painful breakup, changing jobs, moving twice, traveling across the country), I have very little energy to invest in my usual absurd resolutions. Last week, my friend Josh asked me what my 2018 resolutions were.
“To save the customer copies of all my receipts and check them against my bank statement,” I replied solemnly.
He laughed. I think he thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.
Half of me wonders if this is a loss of essential youthfulness, but the other half just feels....tired. I don’t know if I really care about curating my identity anymore. I’ve found myself thinking less of the future, and more of the past. "How strange to return to a place unchanged only to find how you yourself have changed," writes Nelson Mandela. How strange to remain fixed in the same location in space, to feel yourself become someone else while the world turns. Perhaps I’ve become a person that cares less about who I am, or who I think people think I am.
Melissa Broder writes in her Vice column about nothingness, the fear of erasure we have if we extricate ourselves from the labels that seem to give us shape. I imagine myself stepping out of Asheville and the identities I’ve created for myself here and sinking into a hot bath of nothingness. Nothingness seems...not good. I hate the void, and I never want to look into it unless I have to. (I’m worried that all I’ll see is yawning emptiness, a Polaroid of Morrissey, and my own tombstone.) There’s no room for New Year’s Resolutions within nothingness, since, ultimately, goal-setting is a structure that we all impose on the formlessness of our twenties. There is no guidebook for what to do next, a fact which I find to be unfair, alarming, and thrilling in equal measure. I don’t want to find the answers within myself. I want to order the answers in an ePacket from China. I want two-day shipping on my life purpose, but there’s just not a fucking website for it yet.
Still, perhaps it is a small victory in and of itself that I no longer lose sleep over becoming beautiful, or making the Joels of the world notice me. I like the Mercury Retrograde more than I used to, and I keep seeing this bumper sticker on Priuses around town: NO DOUBT THE UNIVERSE IS UNFOLDING AS IT SHOULD. My dark circles are fine.