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green like the internet in a movie
maybe the greenest place is whatever allowed you to transform
Good morning, griefbacon readers. I’m taking a small break from the series on sickness and love stories I’ve been doing the last few weeks (it’ll be back next week). Instead, today’s letter is sort of a companion piece to this recent essay, maybe just in that they’re both about summer and the color green, and loving things even after you know you shouldn’t, and staying in one place too long.
I have no excuse for this newsletter being late, except that it’s very hot out. It’s so hot. I know you know this, but it’s so hot outside, so hot outside that it’s hot inside, too. It’s too hot. There’ll be a very special heatwave letter for paying subscribers tomorrow, though, so if you want to read that (and commiserate about the temperature together), now’s a great time to subscribe. Hope you’re keeping cool some way somehow. xo
It’s summer and then it’s June and then it’s July and I never know how I got here, how I let it get away from me, how I let it get this far. We’re deeper into summer than we were ever supposed to be. I meant to get out ahead of it, to gear up for it, to be ready when it arrived. This time, I was going to do it right. I was sure I had a plan for feeling everything correctly this summer and then I looked around and most of the summer had already happened and I hadn’t done anything at all.
Inside my apartment, the air conditioner roars. If I open the window instead and put my face up against the screen I can smell a thick over-ripe green smell, trash and asphalt and sweat and gossip, coming up from the pavement, like steam rising off the tops of the trees below. It smells like every other summer I can remember, and it is almost like I haven’t missed this one, except that I have.
Every year the green comes around again and I think oh god really do we have to. I love it, and I wish I didn’t have to love it. I wish I had a choice about it, that I could get over it, grow up, move on to something else, stop feeling all this useless something just because it’s summer again. Love is the biggest inconvenience, striding into the middle of the room and demanding I stop everything else I’m doing. I wish it would just leave me alone. But every morning I wake up to the view of the big green tree across the street growing up around and over and through this year’s scaffolding. Here I am again, overwhelmed by love, turning my life over to it, like a party host staying up waiting for an oblivious houseguest to leave.
On Monday, a thunderstorm arrives in the morning like the chorus of extra voices in an opera, cracking open the sky and blurring the view to a green and grey blur. Rain comes in through the windows and gets all over the wood floors. Instead of closing the windows I put down towels and move the plants so that they can soak in the storm. The whole room bathes in green. For a minute I feel lucky and full of wonder once again, and then I feel embarrassed about it: Look at me, falling for the same scam every time.
It’s just summer. It’s just green. It’s just rain. It’s just the same as it always is, coming up out of the exhausting riot of spring that wants so badly to prove something about itself. I am too old to be taken in by it again; I should no longer get that feeling like this green season is a costume change behind a curtain, like this is the green swamp beneath whose surface a fish silently grows legs, crawling up onto land and away into the world when the colder months come. I am too old to go into the forest and come out with a new identity, in love with the right person instead of the wrong one, unable to speak about what happened there, knowing who I am for the first time. But summer turns green again, and again each morning I wake up into it thinking this is it, this time, this time, this time, this time.
Two months ago, at the green turn out of the spring, the year smoothed and slowed down, wily and humid, sleek and bloated. I got on a plane and ended up at Aaron’s house again. In the backyard there, a wall full of big white roses erupted through the skin of the second week of May, blooms enormous as a family of ghosts. We threw the back doors open, and the skinny lawn painted the daytime as bright as hope, as bright as not remembering. But all I could do was remember; every summer, it seemed, was the same summer, and every summer came back around just the same, standing at the lever where the ride stopped, asking if I wanted to go again. I wanted to go again, and I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to watch the backyard get greener as summer aged across it, pretending nothing else would ever happen.
Green is the color of movement, though, and a means of transportation. It’s the color of the things that don’t stay in one place, the seasons that creep in across the cold and over top of the flowers, the rain that arrives and washes away the morning. Green is growth and new life and rebirth in its relentless, unsentimental cycle. New things keep being born, and getting bigger, and growing legs in the swamp, and crowding in at the windows, demanding to be known. The trees on the street keep changing color; the green always returns and never stays. We get to keep nothing. Summer feels slow and static, a long stoned afternoon floating in somebody else’s pool on a weekend, but it moves like a fast train across its short months, the way a green species of vine takes over a landscape, eating all the yards and gardens and farms, remaking the telephone wires and the neat hedges and the lawn chairs and the freeway medians in its image.
Maybe whatever place changed you, or allowed you first to change, is forever the greenest place; maybe that’s why Aaron’s house, and this hideous city where I run my air-conditioner all day, both seem so green to me. Maybe the green world is simply wherever you crossed the border from one thing into another, wherever you were young and then not quite as young as before. It’s the same green world Shakespeare wrote about, throwing unambitious townie kids into the eager maw of transformation when the summer comes around. This is how you grow up: Go into the forest and never tell anyone what you did there, go into the green place and hope that it saves you from your own life. It was Brazenhead too, even though Brazenhead did not even have windows and not a single natural thing could have grown there. But I grew up there, and I grew up at Aaron’s house, with the doors open to the green backyard, and I grew up here in this stupid city in which I’ve spent the rest of this too-fast summer complaining about the humidity and ignoring the green outside.
Green is whatever offers the possibility of transformation. It’s the small magic of disloyalty to one’s own past, and the big mysteries that lurk and hum under the surface of the day. The trees along my block are almost exactly the same color as the green lines of computer code in movies about the internet from the 1990s and very early 2000s. The Matrix is one of the greenest movies there is, because it’s about transformation, set inside the forest inside the computers. But it’s still the forest, the hidden place where the rules don’t hold. Deep in the forest, the true world emerges out from under and within the small, dull thing you thought was the world. The internet was green in its early days because it was the forest. It promised possibility and change, danger and thresholds and transformation. The internet was always a site of adolescence, not in the actual age of its participants, but in the sense that this was where we might pass from our known identities to whatever unknown self was next, waiting up ahead, obscured in all the green.
When I got back to New York at the beginning of the summer, I was unhappy about it, grouchy about the city and how it had changed, and about my life and how it hadn’t. Sometimes nothing feels green anymore at all; sometimes it only feels like worry and like checking the mail. I feel nervous and uninvited here lately, like I have stayed too long and like I can no longer keep up with the things that are supposed to matter. But when I took the train back from the airport and emerged up out of the subway station in my neighborhood, the green globe lights at the top of the stairs shown out into the early evening like a lighthouse.
Once this was the forest in which I grew up, where I went seeking transformation. I’ve stayed too long but so has everyone. It’s hard to leave the forest. Rain comes late night but nobody goes inside. Everyone is hoping the heat will break. Past midnight people sit out on the benches near the park in twos and threes and fours, spilling over from the bars on Amsterdam and the big rich family buildings near the river, gathered in little knots of yearning. Noise and longing and somebody else’s party stay up all night, smeared like neon paint against the flat, damp canvas of the city. I hold my breath and let the green lines of text and foliage reel down the dark screen, and every summer is that first hazy summer that was the greenest summer of my life until all the other ones.
As I get older it is easy to feel like nothing changes anymore and never will. Maybe that’s what still gets me about the summer and the green of it all, the trees on my block and the subway poles glowing in the humid early evening when I come home, the internet and the month of July, and anything else making the whispering promises green makes.
It doesn’t mean I have to love it though, and even if I do, loving things doesn’t mean they have to love you back. Sometimes change is new shoots out of the dead earth, and sometimes change is kudzu, eating up the landscape around it, obliterating the known world with green. Lines of code fall vertical down the screens in the old movies about the internet. Green rewrites whatever it takes over. Aaron’s house looks nothing like it did when I first arrived there and neither does any part of New York. The forest is still the forest but the forest doesn’t know me, or care how I feel about it.
It doesn’t really matter; I’m going to love it anyway, no matter how much I try to stop. It has given me nothing at all in exchange for loving it, and the bargain has been worth it. In the middle of the day, I turn off the air-conditioner and put my face against the window screen. Here we are again at the bottom of July, in the short nights when even the darkness is green, where we always say we are going to do something about the summer this time, and then we never do anything about it.
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