I wonder if it’s a coincidence that two of my favorite songs are titled “23:” one by Jimmy Eat World and the other by Blonde Redhead. They’re quite different not just in musical genre, but the lyrics touch on similar themes. Or, there are thematic similarities based on how I’ve listened to each song.
The Jimmy Eat World plucks on my nostalgia strings every time I listen to it. There’s a push and pull between a desire for things to stay the same, a ffear of loss and the desire to move forward and grow, hesitation vs. taking control over one’s own life and decisions.
Jimmy Eat World “23”
The Blonde Redhead song is more ethereal, opaque. 23 seconds is a brief moment, but everything can change in that moment. You can either lose everything or change your life. Yet no matter what you do, the world will keep moving, with or without you.
Blonde Redhead “23”
So what do either of these songs have to do with this entry other than the matching number? The years before 23 were chaotic and hedonistic. The years after were when I did a lot of growing up. Like in the songs, I had internal conflict about the growth and change occurring, but I can identify 23 as the fulcrum where the scales started to shift.
I made up for lost time regarding my sexual education in college. To get over the Swimmer breaking up with me without so much as a goodbye, I lost my virginity as soon as I was on the pill, out of spite. I had discovered online dating, met a guy who had his own place, which was nice because I absolutely hated my roommate freshman year. However, I didn’t even like him that much. He eventually figured this out and broke up with me. Looking back, I have no idea why I was so upset when he broke up with me via AOL Instant Messenger while I was home for Christmas break.
I had to go backwards a bit to provide context for twenty-three year old me. My ideas about sex were mostly about power dynamics, seduction. I made Freshman year boyfriend forget his own name and address with a blowjob. I wanted to think I held any sort of power over the guys I had slept with then, but I was only kidding myself, especially since I had a lot of less-than stellar sex then plus one particularly toxic entanglement I don’t feel like getting into right now.
So, there was twenty-three year old me, stagnating in an almost criminally low paying job that I hated and still living near campus despite having graduated the year before. On a whim, I decided to pack up and move across the country to a place where no one knew me just to take some semblance of control over my life, to make a decision that I would be responsible for. I had managed to save up enough money to get through three months if I couldn’t find a job. But so help me, I would make it work. I would write novels and get published and become a proper city girl with love affairs with all sorts of interesting people.
I fell into a coterie of other “ex-pat” writers and we hung out at our favorite collectively-owned coffee shop either chatting, or trying to get some work done. At a “salon” hosted by a friend of one of my group, people read aloud, performed music, and in one case, live-painted a giant canvas. You were as likely to find absinthe as PBR. I had some rather stimulating conversations with gentlemen that eventually led to dates, though oddly not to sex.
One thing I remember about that year was when I had first introduced myself to the writing group. I said I was 23, but I was an “old 23.” Well, 33-year-old me wants to go back in time and smack some sense into that pretentious little idiot. The group, for the most part, had an unspoken agreement that none of us would ever get involved with each other to not ruin the dynamic… which promptly got blown away by two of us moving in together after the third date and then getting married a couple months later. I often ate dinner with them and felt like the third wheel.
As for my own entanglements, there was a rather sweet would-be filmmaker that worked in a video rental store, a psych student pretender-to-the-throne that liked to dominate me and kicked me out of bed whenever he had an early workout the next morning, and a series of very terrible first dates. At that time, my belief that sex was a drive as natural and uncomplicated as eating and breathing was at odds with my desire for validation and romance.
Due to this, I had an identity crisis. In college, I was practically tripping over dick. Now, out in the “real world,” I would be lucky if I got a second date. I was flummoxed. I should have been at the height of my powers. I felt like I was at the height of my hotness too with my long hair, noir-ish wardrobe, and hipster sensibilities, but once again, 23-year-old me was a goddamn idiot.
That wannabe dominant, well, that was another area in which i was an idiot. I should have just left it as a couple nights of rather excellent fucking and then parting ways. But no. I caught feelings, even though we had specifically agreed that this wouldn’t be a thing. The things he told me to do got steadily more degrading and yet I would do them no matter how uncomfortable I was with it. Maybe it was because I had such a hard time finding suitable sex partners. Maybe I secretly liked and felt like I deserved the degradation considering my self-loathing has been a trusty companion since I was a teenager. Or, maybe, like I said earlier, I was a goddamn idiot.
Plus, I eventually found myself more or less back where I started, working jobs I hated, but at least I was making a couple more bucks an hour this time. My writing was going absolutely nowhere and time was starting to bleed together in that way where everything feels the same because you’re doing the same goddamn thing every day.
So, I did the natural thing: I got drunk and applied to grad school, jumping across the country yet again. That period was more or less a complete drought. It was as if my acceptance letter to grad school came with a vow of celibacy. Prior to that, I had gotten back together with the filmmaker and we thought we would try to make it work long distance. What an idiot I was to think that we could.
So now, I was alone in a city that didn’t know me, that I didn’t know and felt that I would never love. The path toward my warming towards the city, re-creating and reaffirming my identity, learning how to be ok alone and not need external validation eventually led to…
Thirty-three year old me