next year when everything is green

waiting for a movie and waiting for the future

this is part of a continuing series of pieces about The Green Knight and the color green that will eventually come together into one big coherent essay. the other ones so far are here, here, and here. this one kind of went off on a tangent, but sometimes that’s how it works.

I looked forward to The Green Knight for months before it arrived in theaters. Many people I know did. The trailer was so good, all those outlandish, dramatic shots of Dev Patel sitting still while half on fire, the vague familiarity of the poem, and the shadowy, cryptic, mystical hints at something both very old and very new. It was so lush, and gave so little away. I wanted to claw at the screen. It looked creepy and horny and prestigious, a movie that would turn me on and scare me and make me feel important.

I spend more of my time daydreaming than an adult person probably should. Maybe it’s gotten worse; this kind of forward longing is a bad habit that the last year and a half has encouraged all out of proportion. Over the last sixteen months or so, I spent countless hours — phone calls and FaceTimes and long walks and verbose, listless texting — talking to friends about what we were going to do in the future tense. When it’s different, when we can do this or that again, when things are better, when that’s possible, next spring, next year, in the next world. For months, every other sentence was next year in Jerusalem. Most of the people I knew were living on these little fantasies, as if they could build a bridge to a better future out of the strength of pure anticipation. Just wait, we all told each other. Just wait. 

I should have mistrusted it, and I should have known better. I can remember perfectly almost every instance in my life in which the thing I had looked forward to actually measured up to the anticipation of it. The reason I can remember each one is that these instances are so rare as to seem like magic. In 2014, after a grinding few years of making horrible choices with money and slogging through the consequences that followed, after living at the edge of panic every day, my luck started to change. Things got better enough that I was able to take an actual vacation, not a work trip that I pretended was a vacation on social media, for the first time in my adult life. I spent the month before it working eight hour days without a single day off, but after that month ended I had an entire three weeks free. I looked forward to those three weeks like a child anticipating Christmas in a movie, like a true believer in an ancient religion, waiting for the peerless rewards of the next life. 

The long month ended and I flew to meet my boyfriend in London where he was working. He picked me up at the airport, and I had that sinking feeling I almost always have arriving at the threshold of the thing I have spent a long time anticipating, the thing on whose future-tense promise I have lived my present-tense days. I felt nervous and unsteady and sick to my stomach. We took an unnecessary cab all the way back to his airbnb near the center of town. We sat in the back, holding hands, while I cast around in my brain for ways to ruin it, for ways that this was not what I had hoped for, for ways to be disappointed. When we got to the apartment, I was very jet-lagged, and I slept for an obscenely long time.

I woke up late in the afternoon the next day, and we got dressed and went out and took a walk along the nearby canal. The sun was setting in slow motion, lighting up all the late summer detritus and tourism, all the bare limbs and stupid outfits and other people like us, doing nothing in particular with this loose-ends month of their lives. We had an unmemorable little meal somewhere, sitting outside, looking over dirty water and the clatter of disorganized roofs melting into easy shadows at the beginning of the evening. The sky did that thing the sky does in August, when it makes you realize how far up north you are. Not just for a minute, but for almost a full week starting from that night, I grasped it and held onto it, the perfectly balanced present tense. For once, the thing I had waited for was as good as the waiting had promised it would be. 

In February of 2020, I took another trip to London, and it happened again. I had another run of days, or even of weeks, in which what I had anticipated and what came true lived up to one another and for once sang in harmony. I think about it far too much, and I try not to think about it at all. In February and for the first week of March in 2020, almost everything I had anticipated happened the way I had anticipated it, each day blossoming into the next. Everyone paid their invoices on time and I liked how I looked in my clothes. It was the last good time, and then, abruptly, it was cut short and I had to fly home.

Maybe those days in February and the very beginning of March in 2020 weren’t really as good as I remember. Maybe it’s just that they now represent a past era and another world. Time, of course, has moved forward since then, but it has moved forward as a different movie, as a different story entirely. The car has swerved into another lane and peeled off down an unknown exit ramp. For months afterwards, pacing out the square footage of my small apartment, I lived on my memories of those last few days before the clouds rolled in. The past tense was also the future. I told myself that all I had to do was get myself back there, back to the unfinished good days that had finally arrived, and were still out there somewhere in the hazy mess of time, waiting for me to return. 

I lived on that anticipation until it ran out; I understand now that I am not going back to whatever version of my life I thought I was living in March of 2020. Our lives simply do not work like that, not even under the best circumstances. Time has moved on, and the past has been churned up and spat out and lost to memory. There are no do-overs. Nothing is kept, nothing repeats, and there are no holds on anything. Nobody saves my seat at the banquet I had to leave; somebody else sits down, and the food gets cold and then goes bad, the table gets packed up and the room dismantled. Neighborhoods and houses and cities remake themselves, businesses and storefronts and relationships and residences and loves replace one another. When I pass by them now, the memory of what was there before does not come back when bidden. Whatever we anticipate arrives in a different world than the one in which we imagined it; when we get what we want, we get it in a strange country, in which we know no one, and do not speak the language. Our gifts may not be relevant here; our keys may not open any doors. 

I looked forward to The Green Knight for months because it looked like a good movie, because the trailer was beautiful and cryptic, because, like a million other people on the internet and out in the rest of the world, I like when something makes me feel smart because I sort of remember the books that I read in high school. I looked forward to it because it had been so long since a brand-new movie had mattered in a big way. Seeing a big, new movie in a big, real, air-conditioned, first-run movie theater felt like a symbol of better days coming, back when we all panted toward the summer and made up stupid bright-eyed names for it.

Then it was an afternoon in July, and I went uptown and found my seat in an empty air-conditioned room without windows. Here it all was: the movie was in theaters and the future was in the present tense. Thomas and I bought snacks, and got there early, and snuggled our shoulders into our big seats, and the lights went down and the movie started and I had that same seasick feeling of knowing I had set myself up for disappointment. 

If we wait for things long enough, we almost always change during the waiting. Waiting for the thing we want, we end up living forward into our lives. It is almost impossible to arrive at something the way we hope and imagine that we will, because we cannot predict all of the other changes that come along with it, all of the constant bargains we do not even know we are making. Change is just the way forward motion happens; I can almost never have the thing that I want, because when I wanted it, I imagined the future in the conditions of the past. 

Here I was in the future, in the big air-conditioning, hoping this one little movie might be green enough to drown me, and knowing how unlikely it was that this or anything could ever live up to the waiting for it. Thomas put his hand over my hand; my fingers were already cold and his were still warm. I wanted to be in love for so long before I was; I wanted someone to go on dates with and tell stupid jokes to and talk to in bed half asleep at the beginnings and ends of the days. Now that I have that, so often I can see only the itchy parts of it. The miracles turn pedestrian in close-up. The movie started, and I tried not to notice that I was slightly disappointed that it had. It is always just a little bit sad not to be waiting anymore. 

I looked forward to this summer and now it is ending, without ever really having happened at all. The days keep on barreling down past themselves, the sun sets earlier and then earlier again and then it’s dark before eight. I miss every deadline that I set for myself. Nothing arrives, and everything does. I stand at the edge of verb tenses, waiting for a time when wanting and having will sing in harmony again for even a day. I wait for the next thing worth waiting for. I loft something up into the air, as high as it will go, the sun bright in my eyes, blotting out my vision, and wait for it to fall back down toward me again. I live in that moment before the descent starts, in the first rush of wanting, building a bridge into a blank-bright future. 

this is the public edition of griefbacon. it’s free for everybody, it happens once a week pretty much. if you enjoyed this, maybe consider subscribing? subscribers get a weekly discussion thread (this week’s is coming tomorrow!) and a weekly-ish subscriber-only essay (here are the two most recent ones). This is part of a longer piece about The Green Knight and the color green that I’m writing over the course of several posts, and that I’ll stitch together into one longer, reworked essay at the end of next month (much like the Couch essay from June/July). Griefbacon is still on sale (40% off!) for one more week, so if you’ve considered subscribing, perhaps now is the time. see you tomorrow if you already do. xo