Chloe and I walked out of the market in Bridgehampton and we both knew he was someone. He smiled at us from behind his little round glasses, and I was sure I’d seen that expression. The key is to be cool, so we kept on walking, and when we were out of earshot, after we played it off because, in New York, there are “celebrities everywhere,” we stumped ourselves. Who was he?
The question plagued me all day and all night. Probably it was because I wanted to be able to say, “On my last stay in New York, I spotted Adrian Grenier and …” and I just had to fill in those dots. Then as the hours passed and my mind could still not conjure up a role or a movie, it became something more.
Finally, after a solid half hour of Googling combinations of descriptors, I stumbled into a blog dedicated to the glorious talent of so-called “B List Celebrities,” and I found him. I found his picture, I learned his name, I studied the parts he’d played. I won’t tell you his name, though, not after all that. It seems like a tragedy that his face could strike such vague recognition, but I really didn’t know who he was at all.
The other day I taught myself to make oat milk. I say “taught myself” when it really took about two minutes to learn and accomplish. I funneled it into the pretty amber glass bottle that I had thrifted specifically for that purpose and I put it in the door of the fridge. The job was done.
Every day, I do things like this. I try to add something new, something that seems worthy, something that seems important to the well-being of the earth and of my family, and I work on it until it becomes habit. It’s been a conduit for finding joy in homemaking. It’s how I started making my own countertop cleaner and laundry detergent. It’s how I learned to keep sourdough alive and bake from it. It’s how I started blending oils to cure ouchies and upset tummies.
No one could argue that it’s not important work and I’m doing my very best to do it all well. But I don’t have to convince the parents and spouses out there that it is sometimes thankless work. Not that I don’t do it on behalf of a grateful family; simply that it blends into the landscape of our lifestyle so seamlessly that I often forget to note the value added to myself even. No mother sets out to care for her child for attention. No wife loves her husband well for the praise. These are things we do naturally, quietly, powerfully because they are meaningful.
Still sometimes it can feel like being talented and recognizable without being called by name.
I never understood bathroom graffiti. It’s so destructive, though it can be slightly entertaining, a distraction from how disgusting your public restroom is. There is always that one person, with nothing vulgar or poetic to say. “So-and-so Was Here.” I used to wonder why. What could that possibly fulfill in someone, to carve their name into the side of a bathroom wall?
I have rolled over waves of settling since we arrived back in Colorado nearly three years ago now. It’s a lie when I say I don’t miss New York, but it’s less complicated to lie when people don’t really want to know anyway.
There was a hot and sunny afternoon a few weeks ago when Trevor and I were fighting our way through ridiculous traffic for a client meeting in our tiny little downtown. Someone tried to cut us off for a parking spot. Everyone raised their voices, their designated fingers, and in the end, Trevor navigated us into the spot that was rightly ours. My blood pressure remained sky-high though. If that had happened in Brooklyn, the stress would have passed in minutes because the amazing thing about city living is how vibrant you feel in the anonymity. But here, it isn’t autonomy. It’s lonely. It’s a roaring, deafening silence that people are simply choosing to not see you.
After we grabbed our table, I went to the bathroom. How many public restroom doors have served as a wall between the world and someone’s tears? How many women have escaped behind a shelf in a grocery store or slumped against the sticky window of a bus just to leak their emotions and restore inner order?
Crying in a bathroom when you feel like you shouldn’t be is the loneliest feeling. You know life moves on outside the door and you’re trapped in your tiny cubicle of sadness until you’re ready to face it all again.
I had the deepest urge to carve my name into the wall by the toilet. Sarah Was Here.
When I made the oat milk, I took photos of the process. It’s something I used to do, once upon a time, once when blogs were different outlets and my motivations to share were different too.
“I’m going to do that again,” I told Trevor the night before. “I just want to feel like there is some bigger meaning in what I do. Like it’s going out into the world.”
We all want to make our mark. It’s hard to figure out what exactly that is when we live in an era where people can get famous for having a grumpy cat or for finding time to curl their hair in the early stages of motherhood when you didn’t. It’s a time when “success” is just as easily found behind pomp and luck as it is behind focus and talent. Perhaps it has always been that way, but our current circumstances make it more prevalent.
I struggle with this when I write. Do I have something to say? Or do I just want to be heard? People will frequently ask why I don’t self-publish some of the books I’ve written. Literary agents will shrug at my “lack of a platform” and suggest, “What you need to do is start a blog.”
To be honest, even though sometimes it sounds fun, I think I would feel bizarre having a recognizable face—especially if it was only a recognizable face without a memorable name.
There would be a lot of pressure added to making weekly oat milk and bathroom cleaner if I did so for an audience.
And I hope that when I write, it is because I have something to say.
In my childhood bedroom, I wrote and read and did homework at a hand-me-down desk. It flips down and locks with a skeleton key and it belonged to my father when he was a boy. I’ve moved it with me from home to home. I’ve painted its exterior a deep ebony that chips away a little more at each location.
Around the time I was eight or nine, I scratched my name into its wood. Everyone thought it was so out of character, myself included. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe it was one of the most human things I’ve ever done.
I think when we put ourselves out into the world, it isn’t really a prayer for cheap fame or a superstar career. It’s not a cry for attention or narcissism at work. It’s a request to be known, us taking our shot at leaving a legacy, however big or small. It’s trying to bridge the gaps of loneliness or carve paths between ourselves and others.
It’s asking that sometime, a long time from now, maybe someone will remember: Sarah Was Here.