Mexico / Ohio

“Si Te Vas” by Shakira

You’re hanging out with these girls who eat literally everything: from crazy shit like oxtail soup and Szechuan-style frog legs to the cheesy bread at Red Lobster. You make pilgrimages from Oberlin to Cleveland to feed their cravings. There’s high-performing Sophia, editor of your campus newspaper and a concert pianist. There’s Ariana, constantly quizzed about where she’s ‘from,’ and her dry, unperturbed answer, “I’m Chinese Jamaican.” There’s Stephanie, from San Francisco, French-educated, super fucking fancy, and a real joy to party with. Drunkenly confesses your smarts once intimidated her during the political theory class you had together.

These are the girls who’ll offer you love and real-world knowledge when your shitty boyfriend unceremoniously dumps you over a bad cell-phone connection. When they look knowingly at you and say, “You need alcohol, lots of alcohol,” please believe them. You won’t always need alcohol, but for the next few days you’ll need a lot of it. After you’ve all gotten drunk off boat-sized glasses of rum, they’ll walk with you down the sandy avenues of this tiny Pacific beach town in Southern Mexico, and together you’ll find a real Italian restaurant. The owners will feed you reams of spaghetti soaked in pesto, and you’ll begin to feel your appetite again.

Washington, DC

“Perth” by Bon Iver

You’re living in a punk house that doesn’t have a roach problem yet. It’s a summer of outdoor cookouts and natural disasters. Hurricane Irene will hit soon, and you and your housemates will hole up for days with Buffy and pizza. But now it’s July, and you’re all fucked up over some Capitol Hill staffer. He’s sexy in a weird way, looks a little like George Clooney, if you strain your eyes.

But your relationship is going nowhere, just strong chemistry and uncomfortable conversations, an avoidant ex he just can’t shake. Your friends are all quick to mention how prone you are to make excuses for him. Looking back, you know you rushed things, from the moment you met him at a dive bar, to the kiss you prompted on the porch, to him crawling awkwardly into your bed that night.

You feel more stuck than ever — you know things can’t improve, but you’ve grown seriously tired of being alone. And there’s something beautiful and sad about this feeling, of wanting something to last but knowing it can’t.

He hates the phone, so you break up with him twice over g-chat. The second time you’re successful. You never see him again and move away the next year to California.

San Francisco

“Acabou Chorare” by Bebel Gilberto

You’re walking around North Beach on Saint Patrick’s Day. You’ve been staying with family for a short visit and desperately need to get out of their palatial home. You need to connect.

Things have been heating up back in DC with an old flame, but nothing’s for certain and as always when you don’t have a clear plan, a clear next step, your self-regard is a little low. You’re prone to wandering and feeling sorry for yourself.

Before setting out you read that City Lights Bookstore is open until midnight, so that’s where you go. You’re hanging out in the political theory section, because you studied it in college, and then you notice this guy asking someone for advice on where to sightsee. He’s cute — tall, skinny. Not exactly your type, but promising. You say something, in that way you have, which comes from a Southern, folksy mother and your irksome tendency of always acting like a yenta. He asks what you’re reading, and then for your number. You meet again, the next night, for pizza in your aunt’s ritzy neighborhood. He’s from Brazil and you speak together in Spanish. He’s nice, from Bahia, but sort of boring. Lingers over his food. You’re saying fairly obvious things about race and class, but he treats every statement like a revelation. Walks you home and says, “Wait…” in a way that makes you desperately uncomfortable after you decide to go inside without kissing first, except for that one-cheek Brazilian peck.

Philadelphia

“Can’t Hardly Wait” by the Replacements

It’s like you were 16 once, and so your 16-year-old self, in a way, is watching you. But you’re not 16 anymore, you’re 25. You’re dressed in a black thrifted t-shirt and some black jeans and sunglasses, and your friend just cut your hair. So you’re looking particularly countercultural, and the person holding your hand is the same person you secretly (and at times not-so-secretly) crushed on for many years.

And you guys are walking around in Philly, like some young hipster couple, and the weird thing is, you sort of are. But, as always, the truth is so much more complicated than what our vintage clothes and flannel shirts project. And your 16-year-old self, on the drive up, she’s so nervous she wonders if she needs to ask your best friend’s boyfriend to pull over, just for the option of stomach-emptying release.

But the thing is you’re almost 26 now, little Miss. So you’ve gotta pull it together, buck up, hold fast. Or something. You can’t be nerves vomiting like you did the day before a big algebra test, when your dad was putting pressure on you to just pass the class, Anne. Pass the damn class.

Inside there’s a raging pit of anxiety, and you feel scared to just ignore it. Like maybe it’s telling you that you really aren’t so far from 16 as you thought, or 19 or 22, for that matter. You are, in a sense, living your punk-rock teenage dreams, but it’s the little girl inside you that’s looking hard for some reassurance from the person lying next to you.

But something, some voice inside, is compelling you, no, telling you, to stay put. Don’t fucking move, that voice is saying. Because this is your life, right here. It’s not in five years from now, it’s not when you fully move to San Francisco, it’s not buried in an ancient childhood bedroom, it’s here, sitting right next to you.

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