It's not the people doing something real

The house we rented in DC belongs to people who are less than a decade older than I am, but perhaps in part because my most recent experience with this kind of house took place 20 years ago, it feels to me like I’m a teenager staying in a grownup’s house. Our landlords really have their shit together. Marie Kondo would be impressed by their closets, their labels, the very legible systems they use to manage their lives and the lives of their kids. Everywhere my eye rests I see signs of their competence, and it makes me feel like an interloper and also like a fraud. This is so emphatically not my beautiful house.

The first week that we were here was airless and in the 90s, so humid that if you spent even a minute outside a film of mingled sweat and condensate would form on your skin as though your body was a glass of water. I felt feverish and clammy and my joints ached when I walked, but I still walked everywhere because I don’t know how to drive. I chalked my symptoms up to the weather, to some kind of full body inflammatory stress response brought on by the experience of moving twice in two months. Then the baby got a fever, and then Raffi got a fever, and by Tuesday I had a fever too. I was relieved that I was sick, because a virus is finite and self-limiting. I will feel better soon, I won’t feel this way for the rest of the summer, I told myself.

The houses are brick Colonials built in the 1920s and 30s surrounded by tall old trees and narrow sidewalks sometimes made impassable by overgrown hedges. Occasionally someone walks their dog, but I don’t see a lot of people like me, pushing a stroller over the bumps or walking just to get somewhere. About a ten minute walk away there’s a corner store that has an ice cream counter and prepared foods plus a tiny selection of meat, cheese and dry goods. It reminds me of the grocery store on Fire Island, with its $6 cans of beans. There’s a playground nearby too and I live in hope of striking up a conversation with someone there who will be my temporary neighborhood friend, but “underemployed freelancer temping as SAHM” is not as prevalent a demo in this neck of the woods as it is in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and so far I have only managed some “how old is he?” level chitchat with nannies and babysitters. After camp dropoff if I want to procrastinate or get some coffee I can walk to the best independent bookstore in DC, which is great! I’ve bought and read several books already since I’ve been here. But going to bookstores is kind of a mixed psychological bag for me; the mechanics of favor-trading evident in blurbs and shelf placement obscure the reassuring presence of books and people who like to read them.

One of my Politics and Prose purchases from last week was Is This How You See Me by Jaime Hernandez. It was shelved in new fiction right at the front of the store despite being a graphic novel, which I appreciated because otherwise I might not have seen it and bought it. I first started reading Love and Rockets twenty years ago, in the basement of a suburban-DC-area house not too dissimilar from the one where I’m currently living. The characters in Hernandez’s long-running series have aged twenty years too and are now in their early 50s; in this most recent installment, Maggie and Hopey are leaving their respective partners for a weekend to go to reunion show in Hoppers. Flashbacks of their teen years mingle with scenes at the mostly uneventful gig; not a lot of new ground is covered, but for people who’ve read the series for a long time it’s enough just to attend the reunion vicariously. I always think about how, when I was first introduced to these books, I thought: I will go to college and move to New York and find more people who like these books, and those people will automatically have something important in common with me. In pre-online life, liking the same obscure-seeming thing as someone else did loomed so large and was such a source of hope. It’s really hard to convey how that felt to people who never experienced it.

I went to college, I moved to New York. Now I’m back here, temporarily living a version of my future that some parallel-dimension Emily might have, though in that dimension I really hope she would have learned how to drive by now, it can’t be that hard (for me obviously it is psychologically impossible, perhaps a topic for another newsletter). It’s temporary, it’s temporary, it’s temporary. I won’t feel this way for the rest of the summer, or even probably the rest of today.