“Come over and watch me pack,” she said. Jo was leaving for Poland the next day. It was 10:30 at night and I was feeling bored and boring. “Come over,” she repeated. And so I did.
I rode my bike along the water, Manhattan passing on my right. Every single stupid, pent-up thought I had over the last three hours, sitting in the darkened quiet of my apartment, disappeared like plumes of smoke into ether. What was once thick and gray and dense disintegrated into nothing. It would come back, surely, but I felt distanced from myself for the moment.
The streets were empty, save for the occasional car, and the breeze was cold but not biting. I tucked my scarf into my jacket, in and around my neck. I listened to my thin rubber tires against the road. I pumped the brakes with my hands around corners. And into ten minutes, I was there.
Her hair was fresh and clean and brushed in her distinctive way – bleached blonde hair tousled at the top, voluminous and unique. She pulled shorts and tops out of a closet and placed them into a bag. My smoky brain had come back. I lay on her white bed, groaning about a variety of self-obsessed calamities. I thought about getting a real job with responsibilities and schedules and a ladder that I could at least pretend went somewhere. Modeling was a slide that started at the top and only led you down if you didn’t get off it quickly enough.
You’re going through this stage to get to another, she told me. It’s like you’ve been lying on one side of your body and it’s gone numb. She said that, too. You have to move over to the other side to balance it out.
My friends were filled with good advice. It was just about whether I chose to listen. The other week, when I was scraping a bottom I had become familiar with over the last few months, my friend told me that the depths of your lows match the reaches of your highs. What we saw as a manic pendulum, was actually indicative of our emotional reach, the level of emotion we were capable of. Those who felt the lowest lows were the only ones who could feel the highest highs. It was a bit sick, really. The fact that I could feel so horrifically, awfully, irredeemably sad was a good thing. It meant I was capable of great feeling, for better or worse.
I was waiting for the better.
Jo continued to pack. Denim shorts. Cream tops. Tie-dyed parachute pants and a donut sweatshirt for the plane ride there. She showed me presentations she had given at work that week, singular words written over and over and over again on big, stiff pieces of white paper and then turned into something polished on her computer screen. She had conference calls with people in Europe. People weighed in on her work. She made changes and then responded with the alterations. It made me realize how quickly we turn into adults by default, how you become good at something, how people eventually pay you for your talents and abilities. Years ago I hadn’t realized the importance of this – the self-worth that is derived from work. All I ever had to do was show up and look good.
The previous week I had done an interview about modeling. I talked animatedly and with weighty opinion on the industry and my thoughts on it. I was candid and honest and likely sounded a bit ungrateful to someone who didn’t know the business. Afterward, I felt overexposed, by no one’s fault but my own. I emailed the editor, asking if I could read the piece before he ran it.
I could tell plenty of sob stories about nerve wracking self-esteem issues, but at the end of the day, as intense as it has been on my emotional well-being, the industry has been better to me than most. Because of modeling, I have been afforded the ability to travel on a whim, pay for my life, meet interesting people and any other host of wonderful things. Most importantly, it exposed me to the possibility of an unconventional world. Life didn’t need to be so black and white. There was beauty in struggle. Struggle was the gray area. Seeing the world as I have, living the way that I have been able to, was proof that I could build my life in any fashion I wished. And though this new paradigm filled me with a massive anxiety, it came with it a freedom of mind many of my peers did not possess themselves.
Still, I was waiting for the next move, the next thing. I was waiting for the tingling numbness to go away. I was waiting to move on.