I have these moments of intense nostalgia, usually triggered by one of my senses. A summer camp smell, certain songs by Phish, or a glimpse of The Breakfast Club on cable can recall a time and a place when I was a different person. So pure in their ability to create longing for a past life, these moments feel like the impetus for an artistic epiphany or something – like I’m supposed to do something tangible with these powerful memories. But I can’t paint or sculpt or write a song or make a film. I wish I knew how. Or had the time.
Recently I was waiting for my husband to meet me in Chelsea for a friend’s art opening. It was a Thursday, late afternoon, early summer, and the kids were home in Brooklyn with a sitter. I planned to walk around and check out some galleries, since I never do that kind of aimless cultural wandering anymore, but I was thirsty and ducked into an Irish pub instead. I sat at the bar and drank two beers and got kind of buzzed as the place started to fill with people. As I listened to conversations around me, couples and clusters of friends having their first drinks of the night, getting ready to go to a show, a party, a restaurant, I felt a pang of envy for my younger self. There was a time where I regularly sat in bars like this one, alone, sipping a whiskey, reading a magazine and waiting for a friend or a boyfriend. There was nothing this twenty-something unencumbered self had to accomplish, short of getting to my job and doing my laundry. Go to the gym, maybe.
A night like this — the first warm one of summer — would be languid, anticipatory, pulsing with potential. Maybe I’d meet someone hilarious or make out with a stranger. New York, and the world, was open to me. I didn’t know where I would be in ten years. Looking back now, my only anxiety was: who and where do I want to be and how in the hell do I get there?
I wouldn’t have guilt about leaving the kids. Or worry about ruffling a babysitter’s feelings by staying out too late. Or wasting money on a stupid night out. Wondering if I bicker too much with my husband. Or if my kids will be as lucky as I was to enjoy a mostly happy childhood.
I likely know where I’ll be for the next ten years, and most days I feel incredibly lucky. But now I have the worry of staying lucky, not screwing up. Being an example. Keeping my marriage strong. Being a good mom. Trying to enjoy my blessings without the crushing anxiety that can go along with having them. Because at a certain point all that languid, pulsing-with-potential business begins to get tired, and you start looking for the next thing, which begets the next, and the next thing you know you have a mortgage, two kids and four kinds of insurance (health, life, condominium, auto).
So sitting in a bar every once in a while is a definitely a good thing. It’s just a very different thing if you don’t get to do it with regularity.