I was in college, and, since I measure my life in Facebook posts, I have an idea of what I was up to ten years ago.
On January 29th, my second-semester self shared a deep analysis of a film I’d just seen:
“Requiem for a Dream. Intense.”
I didn’t post about my mother’s birthday. I didn’t even watch the movie with her.
I probably watched it with “the family,” our group of hippie-hipsters living in the University of Arkansas honors dorm. The film was likely Andrew’s idea. During movies he’d ask if I’d caught various details/symbols— “I’m an English major,” I’d assure him.
Perhaps I was assuring myself, too. I was always questioning whether I had chosen the right major. The truth is, I decided on English over Environmental Science because I thought it would be easier. So much of it’s subjective, I told myself. Underneath, it was really that I felt I wasn’t smart enough for anything else—I never understood how I managed to succeed in high school, never felt I deserved any praise I received. I was just trying to lie low.
And I’d just become a B student. Turns out, if you rarely make your 8:30 class and the syllabus states you can’t get an A with bad attendance, you probably can’t. This wasn’t high school precalculus, where maybe you spent class talking to cute upperclassmen and never did the homework, but your coach-teacher who sold deer jerky let you turn in the work the last week of the semester for an A. No—I was in a new world now, where peers discussed symbolism for fun. I’d either be found out or I’d shine.
Before college, I’d tried desperately to be good. This was the best way not to stand out. My family knew addiction well, so I’d been afraid to party. But a typical story unfolded: I discovered whiskey, and though now I mourn the less abrasive hangovers I experienced then, I know 19-year-old Cassidy felt she had no choice but to spend many of those mornings in bed, in total darkness. Finally I was beginning to understand the push and pull of all my mother’s vodka-cranberries, my father’s Stroh’s, Red Stripes.
Ten years ago, we were dealing with the death of my mother’s father. When I heard the news, I was with “the family” in the dorm lobby, probably after a drunken game of ping pong. I remember feeling loved, supported, by them, but I also remember a bratty desire for a lover, someone closer. I worried I’d never have a conventional romantic relationship. I was too inward, too far away despite my desire to be close, too afraid. Desire leads to desperation leads to destruction, as Requiem shows.
Last Saturday I rewatched the movie. What I didn’t remember is how much of the story belongs to Harry’s mother, Sara—maybe my post on Mom’s 2010 birthday was an unwholesome nod to this connection. I finished the film as my ex, Ethan, awoke, ready to move a load of our belongings to a new rental. We’ve just broken up, but we’re moving together, downgrading to roommates for two months till he leaves for the Peace Corps. Maybe I was correct to assume that not much of my romantic/relationship life, at least in my twenties, would be particularly conventional—but I got pretty close with him.
Moving has been a trial, and not only because it’s with my ex. The house is cheap, shitty. That Saturday, we found the new storage room flooded from rain. I broke down. He embraced me, and I calmed a little. “It could be worse.” His words faded into my frizzed curls. “You need some perspective. You should watch Requiem for a Dream.”
And what’s Requiem about? Drug use, sure, but at the core is that same old question about the American dream. Am I really at my lowest low, or is that what the systems in place want me to believe so I’ll pull myself up on their terms, adhere to their conventions, for the promise of staying above water? My ex was right: it could be worse. I’m drowning in debt from my M.F.A., but I got my Master’s. I still joke about how creative writing was the easy path, but I’m finally losing some of that I’m not smart enough, not good enough.
The decrease in self-criticism has come from some internal work guided by a counselor. It also comes from loved ones, like Bailey from grad school, who visited me last October. We cried over our respective familial pains, over self-doubt and generational trauma, a conversation she punctuated by scolding me: “You need to love yourself more.”
Later, we’ll try to remember what prompted her to say this, but all she can offer is, “You have a hard time not being an asshole to yourself.”
Despite being a bit of an asshole to myself, I think I’m getting to where I’m going, and I’m glad to be doing it my way. Let me desire fearlessly, let me love myself a little more, and let me do better this year, this time with a January 29th post that reads
“Happy birthday, Mom.”
Cassidy McCants is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is Managing Editor of Nimrod International Journal and creator/editor of Apple in the Dark Journal. Her prose has appeared in/is forthcoming from The Lascaux Review, Liars’ League NYC, Gravel, The Idle Class, filling Station, Witch Craft Magazine, and elsewhere. She received her M.F.A. in fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Cassidy would like to encourage folks to donate to Stop Harm on Tulsa Streets. Click Here.