I spoke so few words in D.C. last weekend that I posted a Snapchat story just to prove that I hadn’t died in a ditch. That I was still breathing and walking, even 300 miles away from my friends. Does that make sense? And when I checked Snapchat again, several hours later on the train back to New York, I learned that 14 people had seen the image and I felt quiet relief. I was alive!
The Snapchat story is just a picture: it shows some of my face and some of the sky. Artful. Bright light cuts along my cheekbone. The Snapchat users who tapped on the image saw my necklace, my earphones and the edge of my glasses. They did not see my features, but they did see some clouds: distant and ever-thinning high up in the sky.
So what? I don’t know. I also put a filter onto the picture, the temperature one. Sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 20, 2016. California weather. I spoke to three other humans that day — two museum attendants and a woman named Laurel. But I did not say this, what I was thinking, to any of them: “I am glad to be alone in this place at this time. I have not seen any skyscrapers or any familiar faces. A stranger sat near me in a coffee shop. His shirt read: OBEY PROPAGANDA. He had a goatee. He ordered a quiche and drank way too much water. I am full of facts and interesting things! Full of silence, too.”
After the man with the goatee and before the Snapchat story, I went to the Phillips Collection, which calls itself “America’s first museum of modern art.” I stared at a Cézanne, then a Kandinsky, and on the third floor I entered the Laib Wax Room. In 2013, Wolfgang Laib, a German artist, spread 400 pounds of melted beeswax onto the walls of a small storage closet, where a bare bulb still hangs from the ceiling. The room smells as sweet and rich as honey. I stood there for a couple minutes. I wondered if I had spent 10 dollars on this ticket just to tell people that I had been to this museum and entered this room. I also wondered if I would ever find a job. I wondered if I was a toxic person.
When I emerged from the museum, the air outside was warm and generous. I took the picture to remind myself that I was alive (am alive?). But, also: all of my sudden happiness was contained, preserved, within that image. Sun, solitude. I wanted everyone to know that I was self-sufficient, not needy or messy. That I was sealed within myself, inaccessible and clean. I guess I wanted to say: I am not bothered by all the shitty things we’ve said and done to each other since freshman year. I wanted to tell them that I didn’t want to tell them anything. It wasn’t enough to feel warm, alone and free; I still needed everyone to know I didn’t need them.
Right now, my life is a catalog of small triumphs and disasters. I am late for a meeting. I land a joke. I shatter a glass. I eat a donut. Do I hold all this within me? Is it private information? When I was in love, last year, I told the boy about everything within my line of sight. I wanted to know about his life, too. Describe the ceiling over your bed, how you feel when the sun sets at 3 p.m. And now I think: so what? Or else I think: like a gaseous substance, hurt will expand to fill any space.
I am not sure if an act of communication can be a disavowal of itself. Probably not. Anyway, I posted the picture because I was feeling vain and lonely — the next morning, when I woke to New Haven, I deleted it.