Tonight, I sat beside a concrete ocean and watched the stillness of the city at night. The sky, bathed in an orange glow from countless streetlights, moderated the austerity of the gray building beneath it. From my vantage point, the concrete seemed to stretch on for miles.
I should preface this post with a nod to the anti-landscaping project that is the reconstruction of my apartment’s parking garage. Now going on 8 months, the garage that lurks beneath what was once a grassy knoll in front of my apartment has been re-cemented, drilled, and otherwise mangled in order to become structurally watertight and able to withstand the mild barrage of winter in DC. So far, no noticeably beneficial progress has been made, yet the incessant drilling has achieved an almost animalistic quality, harkening to the days when I would wake up in my bed in north Idaho and listen for geese honking across the water of my lake. (I own ‘my’ lake in the same right that all of America is owned—gaze upon anything long enough and it becomes yours.) Surprisingly, the drilling is equally cacophonous and annoying. Luckily for me, anything can sound beautiful if heard by the properly trained ear, just as anything can look beautiful to the properly trained eye.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I am certainly beholden to my apartment. This April will celebrate year two of my marriage to this ramshackle, rent-controlled townhome, and while I loathe my ill-trodden carpet, outdated light fixtures (existing in the realm untouchable by any Pinterest-mediated salvation), and mismatched furniture, I am painfully aware of how lucky I am to be so young and so centrally located in a city that those sequestered in suburbia only dream of visiting. I grew up in Middle America, and the gratitude I feel from escaping it at this current place in my life is ineffable. (There is a direct correlation between how hip one feels and how few casseroles one eats; this much I know to be true.) I also love the construction workers, tirelessly chipping away at the concrete, day after day. There are three I greet every day. It’s silly to regard these interactions with so much fidelity, but when one is shiftless and drifting, the daily interaction with a reliable stranger means more than can be quantified.
Which leads me to the last and possibly least profound reason that I am bound to this concrete ocean, utterly unfashionable townhome: it is reliably home. They say home is where the heart is, but when your heart is bound to no one, home is a physical location. It’s a concrete ocean in the middle of a middling metropolis. It’s funny, but the cliché is true: you don’t realize what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I’ve (alright, painfully) realized that right now, all I’ve got is this apartment. And there are many things that are gone, burned up in the transformation that has been my life over the past few months.
It wasn’t until I lost (okay, quit) my meaningful job and broke up with (okay, was dumped by) my long-term boyfriend and was faced by this seemingly unending “lack” that I realized it was those two things that were holding my life as I knew it together. Now, I am faced with an emptiness, although it is not as crushing as one might expect it to be. I find it truly is all a matter of perspective. I have nothing, yet I have everything at my fingertips. I have no one I am tied to; I am alone, yet I have never known as many friends as I do in this very moment. My plans for the future are loose. My commitments are loose. I could burst like a lotus from the mud at any moment and become literally anything.
My life the past 6 months has been burning through all of this potential, peeling the layers of my life away like an onion, simplifying, simplifying, simplifying, until I have reached where I am now: sitting alone by a concrete ocean. And I am reminded, being here all alone, that I am nothing, yet everything, all at once. I am blown by the air just as the concrete dust moves over the vast expanse before me.
I’m waiting for an email. I’ve applied to graduate school, and I’m waiting. I try to keep up on my schoolwork. (I’m taking a couple of classes in preparation for the off-chance my email arrives.) I go to my uninspiring, low-paying job. I see my friends. I try to keep up my workout routine just in case I happen to meet Mr. Right tomorrow. (It’d be wildly unfortunate to be accidentally fat upon that occasion.) I try to convince myself that after 9 months of not meeting Mr. Right tomorrow, it’s still a good idea to work out.
But on the whole, I’m alone. Alone and solid, my existence mirrored by the potential-filled, lifeless, loveable slab in front of me. Alone and waiting for my life to take hold, for the tendrils of my future to spring out of wherever they are incubating and take root in some loose soil, looser than this concrete, maybe here, maybe in another part of the world. Until then, I’m waiting, passing time. Letting the days go by.