If 2012 was the year of upheaval, then 2013 was the year of recovery. I had a seemingly simple goal: to take time to pause, reflect, and allow my body to heal after a traumatic experience of complete heart block and two operations. I sold my house in Logan Circle, and moved temporarily to Petworth, hiding away in a Batgirl Cave on a street where sweet kids played on their bikes and friendly neighbors cooked out on the sidewalks. It felt like another city, one of families, far away from my usual frantic mid-city pace.
It felt like exile, too.
I’d lived in the same house for twelve years. It seems a luxury in urban living to have had the same address for that long. Then there I was, holding the splintered remains of my former life, feeling raw and broken and alone. Only I wasn’t. My city was still there for me. Eventually I would leave my little sanctuary and move back to Shaw, able to walk by my old house without flinching, happy it was loved by someone new. My mind can now be filled with snapshots of my DC in 2013: of a sunny patio, an audience’s gasp, passionate conversations, and much happiness over friends’ successes. Art, cocktails, and coffee. A lot of coffee. And late nights. Too much, probably, for someone struggling with major arrhythmia. For every moment I tried to rest and heal, I also pushed my body to deny it had failed.
Until finally, I forgave it.
It’s spring, and I’m sitting at a wooden picnic bench outside. A warm, yet breezy day. The sound of a coffee grinder, the smell of roasting beans. It’s Qualia Coffee’s back patio, with mischievous cats begging for scraps of my smoked salmon. A writing sanctuary. Or it’s autumn, and I’ve moved back to mid-city, writing with a friend on the rooftop at my new apartment. We’re laughing about statistics and checking off to-do boxes. I can see my old house’s peaked roof from this new roof, and it feels all right to finally let it go. The west of the city is spread out before us, illuminated by sunset.
It’s night, and fairy lights are twinkling in a secret garden. Adams Morgan, a wood-burning grill piled with Argentinian beef cuts, and bread to drench with duck fat. Or it’s day, and the grill is covered with cast-iron pans holding eggs, the table spread with sherry bottles. One of my early interview subjects at the start of We Love DC, my friend Ben Eisendrath, is treating us to another amazing feast. A gathering of local entrepreneurs laughing, teasing each other, raising glasses. We all can’t believe our luck.
A rooftop party, filled with costumed revelers. A cellist plays in the corner. We’re eager to hear a music lecture on Stravinsky, on Nijinsky, on the anniversary night of a performance that electrified the art world. Jason McCool leads us all in loudly clapping out one of the most difficult rhythms in musical history. It feels explosive, chaotic, subversive. Just as it should. A communal experience validating the importance of art.
A theater, and an actor is coming towards me with a question whose answer sucks the air from the room. It’s dog & pony dc’s Beertown, and we audience members are part of the show. I’m asked if I’ve ever thought about dying, and though I’m honest and sincere in my response, I’m also performing, as it’s too raw not to coat in calmness. I realize I do this all the time, hold the full horror of my near-death experience back from others. I can see my friend on stage look pale as it unfolds. But we both know, theater holds the mirror up to life, and it’s a moment of true power. It is also the moment I resolve to forgive my heart.
Bars. Many bars. Am I a barfly? Or a butterfly? It’s Spirits in Black at the Black Cat, packed with people, metal mayhem, pyrotechnic drinks. I’m trading Star Wars quips and resurrection tricks, feeling magnetically alive. It’s The Passenger’s anniversary party, and I’m laughing with delight watching brothers Tom and Derek Brown belt out “My Way” – proud of their success and grateful for their friendship. It’s 80s Night at Black Whiskey, with a malfunctioning HVAC leaving old friends all swimming in sweat as we dance dance dance to the radio – or rather, the DJ prowess of Neal Keller, who keeps us forever young. But it’s also the times outside the bars with the people I’ve met there. A day of sailing on the Chesapeake, lazily drifting in the warm water, the boat captained steady and true.
I’m alone in front of a masterpiece. Van Gogh has painted his tiny bedroom, the colors so cheerful I want to cry. His lonely life humbles me. I feel selfish and honored, that my life affords me the privilege to see such beauty, created from such pain. Wandering the rooms of the Phillips Collection, surrounded by quiet magnificence. I can feel my heart beating, regulated by a defibrillator, another privilege. “…for here there is no place that does not see you,” Rilke’s poem echoes in my mind, “You must change your life.” So. I take a deep breath. And I finally forgive.
The more I sift through these moments, the more others accumulate, until I’m overwhelmed by the richness of the year. Panic too, that I’ll forget, or have forgotten, or cannot fully capture everything, everyone – for that is the nature of touching your own mortality. Not all moments are happy, either. Some are embarrassing, ridiculous, humiliating. That’s only right. Acceptance of failure is a kind of triumph, after all. Thank you, my city, for reminding me that the value of experience is not a burden. It is an honor to live among you. Ever onward then, to another chapter, another year.
Beautiful, as always Jenn
So that book idea we were talking about at Quill? This, right here, is your Prologue. ;)