“Because every day there are back-alley puppy mills breeding more of these little guys! Getting the same poor dogs pregnant over and over again, producing litter upon litter of puppies with genetic mutations that make life hard and painful. Not to mention all the pit bulls doubled up in kennels, rotting in puppy prison!”
“Are you saying I should get a dog?” I say. “Because the whole travel-journalist thing kind of precludes pet ownership.” Truthfully, even if it didn’t, I’m not sure I could handle a pet. I love dogs, but I also grew up in a house teeming with them. With pets come fur and barking and chaos. For a fairly chaotic person, that’s a slippery slope. If I went to a shelter to pick up a foster dog, there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t come home having adopted six of them and a wild coyote.
“I’m saying,” Rachel replies, “that purpose matters more than contentment. You had a ton of career goals, which gave you purpose. One by one, you met them. Et voilà: no purpose.”
“So I need new goals.”
She nods emphatically. “I read this article about it. Apparently the completion of long-term goals often leads to depression. It’s the journey, not the destination, babe, and whatever the fuck else those throw pillows say.”
Her face softens again, becomes the ethereal thing of her most-liked photographs. “You know, my therapist says—”
“Your mom,” I say.
“She was being a therapist when she said this,” Rachel argues, by which I know she means, Sandra Krohn was being decidedly Dr. Sandra Krohn, in the same way that Rachel is sometimes decidedly Art School Rachel, not that Rachel was actually in a therapy session. Beg as Rachel might, her mother refuses to treat Rachel as a patient. Rachel, however, refuses to see anyone else, and so they remain at an impasse.
“Anyway,” Rachel continues, “she told me that sometimes, when you lose your happiness, it’s best to look for it the same way you’d look for anything else.”
“By groaning and hurling couch cushions around?” I guess.
“By retracing your steps,” Rachel says. “So, Poppy, all you have to do is think back and ask yourself, when was the last time you were truly happy?”
The problem is, I don’t have to think back. Not at all.
I know right away when I was last truly happy.
Two years ago, in Croatia, with Alex Nilsen.
But there’s no finding my way back to that, because we haven’t spoken since.
“Just think about it, will you?” Rachel says. “Dr. Krohn is always right.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll think about it.”
I DO THINK ABOUT it.
The whole subway ride home. The four-block walk after that. Through a hot shower, a hair mask, and a face mask, and several hours of lying on my stiff new sofa.
I don’t spend enough time here to have transformed it into a home, and besides, I’m the product of a cheapskate father and a sentimental mother, which means I grew up in a house filled to the brim with junk. Mom kept broken teacups my brothers and I had given her as kids, and Dad parked our old cars in the front yard just in case he ever learned to fix them. I still have no idea what would be considered a reasonable amount of bric-a-brac in a house, but I know how people generally react to my childhood home and figure it’s safer to err on the side of minimalism rather than hoarding.
Aside from an unwieldy collection of vintage clothes (first rule of the Wright family: never buy anything new if you can get it used for a fraction of the price), there isn’t much else in my apartment to fixate on. So I’m just staring at my ceiling, and thinking.
And the more I think about the trips Alex and I used to take together, the more I long for them. But not in the fun, daydreamy, energetic way I used to long to see Tokyo in cherry blossom season, or the Fasnacht festivals of Switzerland, with their masked parades and whip-wielding jesters dancing down the candy-colored streets.
What I’m feeling now is more of an ache, a sadness.
It’s worse than the blah-ness of not wanting anything much from life. It’s wanting something I can’t convince myself is even a possibility.
Not after two years of silence.
Okay, not silence. He still sends me a text on my birthday. I still send him one on his. Both of us send replies that say “Thank you” or “How are you doing?” but those words never seem to lead much further.
After everything happened between us, I used to tell myself it would just take time for him to get over it, that things would inevitably go back to normal and we’d be best friends again. Maybe we’d even laugh about this time apart.
But days passed, phones were turned off and on in case messages were getting lost, and after a full month, I even stopped jumping every time my text alert sounded.
Our lives went on, without each other in them. The new and strange became the familiar, the seemingly unchangeable, and now here I am, on a Friday night, staring at nothing.
I push off the sofa and grab my laptop from the coffee table, stepping out onto my tiny balcony. I plop into the lone chair that fits out here and prop my feet on the guardrail, still warm from the sun despite the heavy cloak of night. Down below, the bells chime over the door to the bodega on the corner, people walk home from long nights out, and a couple of cabs idle outside my favorite neighborhood bar, Good Boy Bar (a place that owes its success not to its drinks but to the fact that it allows dogs inside; this is how I survive my petless existence).
I open my computer and bat a moth away from the fluorescent glow of its screen as I pull up my old blog. The blog itself R+R couldn’t care less about—I mean, they evaluated my writing samples from it before I got the job, but they don’t care whether I maintain it. It’s the social media influence they want to keep cashing in on, not the modest but devoted readership I built with my posts on shoestring-budget travel.