The Big And

feature image by Tanja Ivanova via Getty Images

Home for the holidays last week, I sat on my bed, in the room where I lived from ages 12 to 18. The laundry machine sang its song, signaling the end of its cycle, and I, without thinking, sang along. I smiled at the familiarity, the sounds of childhood, the sounds of home.

And then I remembered, this wasn’t the laundry machine my parents had when I was growing up, when I lived in that room, when I was ages 12 to 18. They replaced the laundry machines sometime when I was in college, I think. I frowned and tried to remember the song of the laundry machine before this laundry machine, if it even had a song. Nothing came to mind.

***
When I was growing up, my family went out to breakfast every Friday morning before school, which sounds more extravagant than it was. We woke up twenty minutes earlier than usual, drove to Javaholics a few blocks away, and got pastries and coffee. I would get a chocolate croissant, and my mom would get a cranberry scone, and we would usually go splitsy-splitsy, so I would eat half a croissant and half a scone, as would she, except for on the mornings when I exclusively wanted a chocolate croissant, in which case the deal was off.

Sometime in middle school, or high school, I’m not sure, someone drove their car into Javaholics. It closed.

We tried out a few places after that, and none of them felt as right as Javaholics. I went to college.

After a few years of cafe-hopping, my parents discovered this new place, called Arsicault. My brother went to college, too. I moved to New York; he moved to New York; my parents still go to Arsicault every Friday. I’m not home as much, but when I am, on a Friday, I eat a chocolate croissant, and it’s the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had, every time.

***
I have always loved new year’s resolutions, not because of how they ask me to look forward, but how they ask me to look back. The future is hazy and unknowable, but the past is a historical document, full of data and information.

So as 2023 drew to a close, I found myself wondering, what did I learn this year? What’s my biggest lesson? Over the summer, I started a newsletter called Questions I Have, in which I explore — you guessed it — questions I have. So you can imagine my surprise when I asked myself the question of what did 2023 teach me? and found, shockingly, that I thought I had an answer.

The answer is “and.”

In 2023, I felt worthless, and loved myself more than I ever have before.

In 2023, I admitted how badly someone hurt me, and I forgave them, and that process is over and ongoing, and it changed me privately, and it changed me publicly, and I stayed the same.

In 2023, I talked to myself for hours, and I gave myself permission to shut the fuck up.

In 2023, I read a lot and got high a lot and watched artistic movies and watched a lot of reality TV.

In 2023, I realized how well I know myself and how much more there is to learn.

In 2023, I gave up, and I strove for improvement.

In 2023, I was a kid and a grown-up.

In 2023, none of it mattered, and all of it mattered, and some of it mattered, and some of it didn’t.

It’d be so much easier if it was “or” instead of “and”, wouldn’t it? If every pain really could be traced to one specific catalyst, or another, and not to both. It’d be more clear-cut, and there would be a lot less hemming and hawing, at least from me. I spent a lot of 2023 trying to decipher what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, who is to blame and who is innocent, who’s on my side and who is not, only to realize it’s all and. This realization makes me angry and relieved and excited and scared.

***
On New Year’s Eve this year, I sat on the couch with my fiancé and my besties, reflecting on 2023. We’re all in our thirties, and it shows.

“I’ll never get medicated for the first time again,” one of us said.

“I’ll never get laid off for the first time again,” another of us said.

“My mom will never die again,” another of us said.

***
In college, probably right around when my parents found Arsicault, I took a playwriting class with Sarah Ruhl. She taught us the six forms of plot in playwriting, something she learned from her teacher, Paula Vogel. The one that confused and inspired me the most is called “synthetic fragment,” also known as the continuous present. In this form, all time exists at once. The play takes place in the past and the present and the future.

If time is blurry, and I think it is, then so is everything else. A friendship that ended is a relief and a tragedy and a detail. A lover lost is a lesson and a mourning and a motivation. Death is awful and inevitable. Cats are loved ones and mysteries and apex predators.

I feel a distinct desire to narrativize life, to divide it into categories and sort it accordingly. I don’t think I’m the only one. But there is something compelling about the blurring. When the categories — of time, of emotion, of memory — obfuscate and intertwine, what is left?

Us. I find myself thinking, we’re all just little guys (gender neutral), living our little, big lives.

I am sitting on my bed, on the couch, eating a croissant, eating a scone, eating a different croissant, loving my family, mythologizing my family, creating family, loving myself, hating myself, learning, growing, shrinking, embarrassing myself, making myself proud.

Welcome to the new year. Embrace the and.

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Anya Richkind

Anya is a writer, a Pisces, and a huge fan of Survivor. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Jess and their kittens, Buckett and Tubbs. She writes a substack called Questions I Have in which she explores questions big, small, medium, and more. Check it out here: anyarichkind.substack.com

Anya has written 35 articles for us.

10 Comments

    • She was, unsurprisingly, such a lovely teacher and person. I still can’t believe I got to study with her!!!

      And thanks so much for reading the piece and for your kind words! I so appreciate it.

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