It was an unusually hot summer—not just in Chicago, but my apartment felt like the whole world at night, teeming with sweaty bodies, even though it was just me and the ceiling fan and the traffic outside, unrelenting against the red lights, honking and screeching to a stop. I gave myself two nights of wilting insomnia before I took to Craigslist with seriousness. Sixty dollars, he wanted for it, which seemed like a lot to me even though they cost twice as much new. More importantly, he lived only four or five blocks away.
I can carry an air conditioning unit half a mile, I reasoned.
Transaction accomplished, cash transferring sweaty palm to sweaty palm, he watched me as I slipped my fingers through the handles of the large box and lifted, as much with my knees as I could. It’s not so bad, I said, perhaps aloud, smiled, nodded my way through the apartment door and down two flights of stairs. I pushed the box with my foot through two entry doors. I made it down the steps and across the brief stretch of sidewalk to the front gate of the apartment complex courtyard before I had to stop and rest for the first time. Not for long, because I was concerned that he might see me through the window and attempt to help, offer to drive me, think I wasn’t capable.
These are the sorts of thoughts that I was entertaining while I rested momentarily from carrying a fifty-plus pound air conditioning unit.
It was heavy enough that I couldn’t lift it up chest high, had to hold it down at knee-level with my arms straining against the weight of it, had to walk deliberately, box banging against my knees with each step, making bruises. At the end of each block, sometimes a few times a block, I set it down, rested. In the middle of a crosswalk a girl stopped me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that looks heavy, but can I just ask you, how much did you pay for that?”
There’s a shortage, you see, come the beginning of July; you’ve got to swipe them up. The man who sold mine to me told me he’d had several offers and that the first person who arrived at his place at 1:30 PM would get the unit. I’d waited nail-bitingly all morning, looking up spells to conjure a bigger rolling suitcase or a Radio Flyer red wagon. I arrived first, because I always do. I’ve never once been late without trying, have never once pressed the snooze button. “At least I’ve still got the box,” he chuckled.
There’s a Buddhist temple about a block away from where I live and I paused in front of it as one of their meetings adjourned. The odor of incense spilled out onto the sidewalk. I picked up my box, walked. When I set the box down again, this time with my front door in sight, my hands were trembling and I couldn’t bend my fingers properly.
Initially I was very upset that none of the people I passed on the street offered to help. You see a woman struggling with what appears to be a very heavy box, and you let her pass? You watch her as she walks by, maybe smile, maybe comment on the load, but you don’t have the decency to give her a hand?
All of which is, of course, a mask of self-righteous anger over deep insecurity. Why couldn’t I just call a friend to come help? Why was it so important for me to prove that I could do it on my own, that I would be “just fine”?
It’s easy to be twenty-four, to want to plot and star in stories that I’ll later use as entertainment, place in a repertoire of self-deprecating truisms that resolve nothing. The general war cry is that being in your twenties is not easy, which is unfair to all twenty-somethings and to everybody else. Of course it’s not easy being in your twenties, but it’s not easy being any other age, either. What gets easier about getting older (perhaps) is the fact that you can hold all of your other ages in your hand, take from them tidbits of wisdom and insight and experience. The thing about being in your twenties is that you’ve got nothing but a high school diploma and a college education (maybe) and a few books and songs under your belt to educate you about the world.
At every age, we “know everything there is to know”. Of course this isn’t true of any person, young or old, but it’s even less true of those of us who are so young. We seem surprised, even shocked when life doesn’t go the way we planned, when relationships fail and when we couldn’t foresee the lessons we can now recite backwards from memory. It’s not wrong, or even false, to feel this way, but it’s short-sighted. It lacks perspective and grace and empathy. It lacks depth.
I’m so young. So very, very young. And I used to feel old but I don’t anymore. I’ve felt more like a child this year than any other year of my life, fumbling around, inexperienced and small. The more I find out about myself and others, the more I feel that there is a complexity to life that I will never grasp. I won’t be able to know everything there is to know, this year or any other year. I will reach the end of this season with the same questions and very little in the way of answers. I’m frightened and exhilarated and humbled.
I don’t know anything for sure anymore except that it is not worth trying to find anything out alone. And I’m bad at loving, but I want to learn.