No Children on Halloween
A couple of weeks ago I drove myself to Albion, Michigan to give a short and sweet talk to a group of teenagers about writing, creativity, and imagination. The talk went well, but my favorite part was watching the teens get recognition for the work they’d done long before I stood before them. They’d just spent months reading, then creating community discussions around the book Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. I hadn’t read it, but quickly added it to my reading pile. Unfortunately, I won’t have much time to read it until closer to the end of the month. The fall is always a busy time for me, and even though I love doing events just like the one in Albion, traveling stresses me out.
The trip to Michigan kicked off a few weeks of traveling. This past weekend, I was back in New York City for the first time since we moved away. In fact, it had been almost two years since Kel or I had set foot in Manhattan. Arriving at LGA was enough to remind me why I moved away, but the drive through the city reminded why I came in the first place. The energy that moves through that place burns hot. Some people can live in the center of that flame, take what it gives them, and use it to set their own fires. I used to think I might be one of those people. I’m not.
The heat warms me, even comforts me, right before it burns me all the way up. A four day visit with one birthday party, one bookstore shopping trip, and one friendly hang in the hotel bar wore me out. It was fun when I was with these people, my friends, laughing, talking, drinking, and catching up on what the last year had been like for us all in our own separate bubbles of existence. They asked me the question people always ask: do you miss it? With joy bubbling up from my toes, and wine loosening my tongue, I explained to them that the moment we were having would be even more rare if I lived in this place full time. And they got it. They remembered.
The day before Halloween, Kel told me he wanted to go to Brooklyn, to our former neighborhood, walk the streets a bit and buy some records at an old favorite shop. I had every intention of going, but when morning arrived, the thought of leaving the hotel at all made me cry. It was Halloween! I’ve seen first-hand how cute those costumes can get. I wanted to go. My body did not. This happened to me more often when we were in in the old apartment in Brooklyn. When this place was where I lived, worked, and tried to to be myself at the same time. And I really did try. He got it. He remembered. He went off on a solo adventure, and I stayed in my pajamas, wrapped in blankets, watching Tik Toks on my phone, and thinking about taking a shower.
There’s a new-ish trend on the clock app that uses the song No Children by The Mountain Goats. It’s an old favorite of mine, and all you other sad bitches out there, I’m sure. I clicked on the sound, so I could scroll though all the videos using it. I watched as many as I could stand, then set my phone down, and walked to the bathroom. There’s something about that song that reminds me that in my sadness, overwhelm, and even at my most stressed, I am alive. Truthfully, I was tired, but I wasn’t really sad. Maybe a little disappointed about missing the quick trip to BK. I wasn’t so overwhelmed I couldn’t get out of bed, shower, and hit reset on the day. It was still Halloween. There was some stress in my life, but nothing that couldn’t be managed by eating a whole meal, drinking an entire glass of water, and going for a walk. Or at least I hoped that was true. And that seemed good enough for the moment. Hope is usually a good enough reason to try.
The song No Children is a sad song. It lasts for two minutes and forty-five seconds. The first time I head it was during the worst bout of depression I’ve ever experienced. I was in college, around twenty-two years old. Recently heartbroken, familial issues, and school was on top of me. I started running just to feel the burn in my legs afterward, to feel something. I ate so little, a friend came over with a bag of rice cakes, and a jar of jam. I watched him spread the jam over the little flat disks, and tried to summon the energy I would soon need to chew and swallow. He fed them to me, one by one, while I sobbed uncontrollably for reasons I couldn’t find the words to explain. I didn’t miss a day of work during this time, but one day, a colleague walked me back to their small office, put their headphones on me, and played the song. Again, I wept. These were the words I didn’t have, and the sound mirrored the pain and chaos spinning around inside me.
That’s all I could hear then, in No Children. The pain so like my own. Bone deep and spreading to all my other parts. But of course, the depression dissipated over time. It went to wherever it goes to gather its strength before striking again. Oh, the relief to be free of the heaviness for however long I got in the in-between. I didn’t listen to No Children again for years. Then I moved to New York City. I arrived to the city on crutches, with very little money, less of a plan, but more of a “let’s see what the fuck happens now, I guess.” One of the first events I attended was a book signing by John Darnielle. I was overwhelmed again, this time the city was on top of me, and I really liked Wolf in White Van. I listened to No Children the whole way there.
Because of my crutches, John invited me to sit next to him while he signed books. We chatted a little, and at the end, he took a really sweet photo with me (the one at the top). He seemed anxious in a pretty common way, but kind in a rare way. I’d run into him at least one more time, at a conference in Minnesota, and he remembered me. The anxiety and kindness still there. I was still living in Brooklyn at the time, but beginning to think maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I needed something different. But I finally had a job I loved, and yes I was overwhelmed, but I wasn’t always sad and that was progress. I was even finally off my crutches.
Fast forward several years, and I was standing in the shower, in my hotel room, listening to No Children on a loop as loud as my phone would play the song. The hot water melted the tired soreness in my muscles, and the food I’d ordered to the room was on the way. I’d laid out an outfit for myself, spread out across the bed. Instead of being sad about missing an outing, I allowed myself to be excited to hear about everything Kel did while we were briefly apart. I sang until my own voice, and the rushing water, filled all the space in the bathroom. I counted how many times the song No Children, the sad sing-a-long for the melancholy, used the word hope. In two minutes and forty-five seconds, John sings the word twenty times. Because sometimes you do hope they die. Sometimes you hope you both die. But maybe the important part is just that you can still hope for anything.