How to Plan for a Better Spring
by Richard Lawson
1. Move. In January. Move into a new apartment high in the sky that you have to walk up six flights to get to. Have it be small, have it be full of your sibling’s furniture, your sibling who moved away from this small place to the big wide yawn of California. Have it be haunted by their ghost, by strange noises, by loud neighbors who shout like murderers at football games, who scream with strange pain when they climax with hookers. (Yes, they have to be hookers. They can’t be girlfriends. These women, these girls, have to sound young in the hallway through your door, they have to seem smoky and lazy, they should probably be named Dina, but they can have other names too.) Make sure there is one cockroach, you think it’s the same one, the one your sibling told you about, who appears sometimes on the kitchen counter, sneaking around inspecting the dirty dishes that no one else will clean, because you live alone for the first time. Begin to almost find this little bug cute, to treasure its odd, clicking, menacing company. Begin to think that maybe living alone isn’t as fabulous as all your friends promised it would be.
2. Record the entire season of Whitney on DVR because no one is around to see you watch it.
3. Go to brunch! Oh god, go to brunch. Go to brunch when you want to, especially go to brunch when you don’t want to. Go to brunch when the thick, mucusy fingers of last night are still prodding and squishing at your brain. Go to brunch feeling a little bit to the left of yourself, go and see your friends and smile and share in some tired laughs and poke your fork at the cold eggs in front of you and envy the french fries on the plate of the person next to you.
4. Steal one of their french fries. Make it seem cute or coy if they catch you. Especially do this if you have a small but abiding crush on the person sitting next to you, even though their boyfriend or girlfriend is sitting next to them, seemingly not paying attention, guzzling their own mimosa, laughing at some other conversation, but of course they are watching, always watching, noticing. Put the person sitting next to you in danger, continue to be coy, to be cute, touch their shoulder. Feel if they pull away or if the warm pulse of them seems to draw closer toward you.
5. You must go to a bar! After brunch, you must stagger off with a few of your brunch friends and you must sit in the darkest corner of a quiet afternoon bar and you must have serious, nodding, hazy conversations about the intransigences of life, you must try to remember what weekend it was — When you were all upstate? When someone broke that vase? — when all those funny things happened. Sigh when you remember, feel a little old, but also cozy that you are all feeling old together. Feel okay about the winter. Hope that there’s some snow falling when you leave.
6. Stay out. It’s imperative that you stay out for, oh, many more hours. You should, if possible, bounce from one group of friends to another, and then maybe to just one friend, who lives in some little corner of the city and with whom you can burrow for a few hours. Or many hours. Drink sour wine named after a black cat or its yellow tail and begin to feel thick and hungry.
7. Don’t eat! You already ate brunch, remember? You’ll be fine. Potatoes are fortifying! You had so many potatoes.
8. Decide, eventually, that it’s time to leave. This can be done once your friend has fallen asleep on their sad, crumbling temporary couch that has been temporary for five years, or it can happen just on a whim, a little dull electrical flash in the brain that says “Go home.”
9. On the way home ask a stranger for directions in an accent that isn’t yours. Revel in the way they seem proud of themselves for giving you, foreign made-up you, the right directions in this sprawling city.
10. Get in a cab and maybe fall asleep, you’ve had a long day. Or don’t. Maybe fiddle on your phone and send an ill-advised text or two, someone must still be awake, or just stare out the window and watch all the buildings, there are so many buildings here, as they lurch by beyond the glass. If you do this last thing, think about home while you do it. Look at the sky for snow, find none.
11. When you get out of the cab, run across the street toward your apartment, barely miss traffic, and then, just as you’re almost to the curb, slip or dip or stumble or fumble or do some stupid thing, something that your tired, wine-heavy hands aren’t quite ready for, and land face down on the sidewalk.
12. Feel the strange feeling of your forehead resting on cement.
13. Pull your head up, check for broken teeth, find none, feel relieved, but then see the steady spatter of blood as it drips drips drips onto the sidewalk.
14. Stand up, put your hand to your forehead, pull it away and look at it. Is it covered in red? Good. You’re on the right track.
15. Freak out! Oh man, freak out! Make a sound, from the back of your throat that presses through your pursed lips like a dying motor’s hum, and try to get someone’s attention without, really, trying to get someone’s attention. Decide what’s worse: Creating a scene or bleeding out right there on this street, at four am, when the day had started so auspiciously, with stupid horrible brunch.
16. Decide that it’s a hospital you should go to, not home. Hail a cab. Make sure to wave your bloody hands in the window, be sure that the driver sees them, sees the panic in your dripping face, so he can drive away.
17. Walk your damn self to the hospital instead, sit there for hours, thank yourself for having a job, thank that job for giving you insurance, grow bored, sober up, fiddle once again with your phone. Sit more. Sit some more. Sit forever. Watch the drunken yelling bums wheeled by in the ER, feel not that much different from them. Watch the nurses. Think about hospitals, the general idea of them. They’re nice, aren’t they? All these people caring for one another? Just because they should. Finally fill out some forms and get stitched up. Feel embarrassed. Walk home. Squint in the sun and stare at everyone enjoying their mornings. Wonder what it would be like to be them, looking at you.
18. Stay inside forever! Or what feels like forever. Hide your sad, bandaged face from the world for a few days. Order delivery. Thank the internet for all that it’s given us but specifically for the way it can conjure up food with a few wordless clicks. Begin to feel crazy, but beautifully so, operatically, like a novel. Fancy yourself Emily Dickinson, wasting away somewhere in western Massachusetts. Change your bandages, examine your scabs, wonder about scars. Secretly hope for scars. Be oddly glad when one starts to emerge, a purple crescent moon right at the widow’s peak center of your forehead. Wait. Sleep.
19. Begin the next week like you own it. If possible, you should have gone away for the weekend to see your family and now be glad to be back in the city. Your face has cleared up for the most part, maybe you are Wolverine you heal so fast, and you’ve ordered new glasses (the old ones are serviceable, but scratched, and you didn’t like them anyway), and this is a whole new week.
20. Have Monday.
21. Have Tuesday.
22. Begin Wednesday with the same odd enthusiasm. Sit and do your silly work.
23. Hear the phone ring. Look down at it. See that it’s a friend, an old friend, a really good friend, calling from California. Answer with a bright hello.
24. Then have the bottom drop out. Make sure you can’t tell if you’re sitting or standing. Make sure you don’t understand, that you stammer dumb questions, when your friend’s boyfriend tells you that your friend has died, that she’s suddenly just — What is the noise? The action? A pffft? A whiffff? — left the Earth.
25. Make sure it’s a good friend, a unique friend, an infuriating and difficult and creative and challenging and altogether irreplaceable friend. Make sure she was doing so well the last time you talked to her. Don’t forget to immediately regret how long ago that was.
26. Be numb. See friends. Gather close. Huddle. Pretend to light a candle. Want to take a bath, though you haven’t taken one in years. Dream that it’s a dream. Wake up on your couch. Drink, rinse, repeat. Eat food. Eat a lot of food. Spend money. Take one walk to the river or lake or ocean or whatever bit of water is nearby and look at it and wonder how old the water is, wonder how many times it’s just lapped up there while someone stood looking at it, thinking about time.
27. Forget you were ever worried about your stupid face that you fell on.
28. Drive north to a funeral. Rent a car in the city and make a road trip of it, you and your friends. Try to forget what it is that you’re driving toward. Fiddle with the radio as stations go in and out, sing along to old songs that you remember, sing along to new songs you will now never forget.
29. Make sure it snows. Make sure it snows so that, though you’d like everything around you to be flat and easy and smooth, a sea of calm asphalt, everything instead is slow and skidding and lurching and cold and hard. Realize the obvious sad metaphor. Chuckle grimly at it. Drink in your hotel room. Try to forget why you’re in a hotel room.
30. See her body. See her family. See her boyfriend. See old friends. See the snow. See the sun, peeking through the clouds in a cemetery near a Rite-Aid. See the mud, see the long slow line of cars, see the food at the reception, see the podium where people will line up to speak about this friend. Be sure to say something halting and awkward yourself. Be sure to tremble as you do it. Be sure to try to forget why you’re standing at a podium in a hotel conference center in the first place.
31. Drive home. Feel things, feel her, getting farther and farther away from you as you drive south. Look at the big sky in the windshield and remember for a brief guilty second how much you like driving, just being in a car, zooming away from one point to the next, a little bug, a beetle, some scurrying thing chasing the light.
32. Get back to the city, admire its strange gray teeth, the jaws of its bridges. Look at that same ocean or lake or river and remember the water. Feel tired. Feel blue. Feel older. In order to do this properly, you must absolutely feel older.
33. Drop off the rental car, walk back to your apartment, juggling your luggage and clothing on dry cleaner’s hangers. Show sympathy to a friend when the subway they need is blocked off by mean plastic tape. Shrug your shoulders. Hug goodbye. Say see you soon. Press into each other. Walk upstairs.
34. Put your things down, sit on your bed, and finally, after a week of frustrating dryness, why couldn’t you do it when everyone else could, cry. Just cry. Just cry so much. From tiredness, from ache, from realizing how smart and stupid and ephemeral we all are. Make a promise, there by the window curtain, to do things differently from now on.
35. Don’t do things that differently, that’s too hard. But do go away. Go to California, go to Peru, go to the middle of the ocean on a big white boat. Go somewhere, for a week. Try to wriggle out of the past like a snake from its skin, flee from your old self, wave goodbye. Goodbye! Say goodbye a lot.
36. Get back early in the morning a week later, take a cab back to your house, marveling the whole way at the city waking up. Lie down, sleep. Later when you go to get coffee or cigarettes or food or to just be with a friend and quietly sit, notice that there are white buds on the trees. That everything has suddenly flowered while you were gone. Smile at that. Be sure to smile at that.
37. Begin the next week with a new thump in your heart. Enjoy the longer days. Look up at the sky and be surprised by its blueness.
38. Give your seat to a family of tourists on the subway.
39. Go see a musical.
40. Nod your head when someone says it was such a mild winter. Not because you agree, but because their saying it means that it’s over. Means it’s April. Means we’ll all soon put on shorts and sunglasses and, if we’re lucky, if we’re the luckiest people alive, head off to brunch.