A noun meaning pleasure mixed with pain. An emotion of joy and sadness mingled. An atmosphere with Etta James, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding playing those blues that feel so good they hurt. The taste of cherry-flavored bourbon, the smell of fall leaves in the cool night air, the click of the telephone after a phone call with the man you love but can’t be with. The cartoonist Jack Kirby once said, “life is at best bittersweet,” and he’s right.

I find this emotion permeating the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. My last week and a half in New York was amazing – filled with magic and laughter and struggles. Lazy brunches at Alice’s Tea Cup and Mon Petit Cafe; dessert at Serendipity; walks through the Met, Union Square, Washington Square, and across the Brooklyn Bridge again; celebrity sightings at Bryant Park during Fashion Week; a lecture by Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life; drinks at Winebar and KGB Bar finally! It was fantastic and I am glad I had MS, LB, and IT to share it with.

However DC was calling to me, and I’m so happy to be back. The clean streets, classic buildings, green spaces, and blue sky fill me with joy. This is a day city, no mistake, and I may miss the after-hour recreational opportunities provided by the Big Apple, but truthfully, I’m getting a bit old for that sort of thing! For the first time in my life I feel like I am home. And it’s not just because I’m living with my parents again. It actually feels good to have roots and a community.

Unemployment is my least favorite situation, and I’ve already blanketed the World Wide Web with my resume and cover letters. The economy in DC is never quite as dismal as the rest of the country, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into better job opportunities! Yesterday I interviewed with a company with Top 40’s hits playing in the bright green and orange walled lobby; false enthusiasm ringing from the motivational posters on the wall – Success, Leadership, Perseverance; a dying tree in a large container in one corner; an unfriendly Boston terrier in another. All of us girls waiting to interview had bare legs under skirts, some shorter and tighter than others, with high-heeled feet that tapped absent-mindedly to the beat from the boom box. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fit for me and my sarcasm. I sent out about ten resumes tonight and am excited to see who responds.

But the night, for all its opportunities, is filled with this bittersweet emotion. New York was my Mecca, my Holy Grail, the city of my dreams. Yet it didn’t live up to my hopes, and it joins a long line of dreams fulfilled that end in disillusionment. Maybe if I had a job, money, and friends, the city would have been accessible to me. As it was, it was hard, dirty, crowded, and expensive. I’m not sorry I went, but I so wanted more.

Simone de Beauvior once wrote, “The sparkling hope I nursed so long has changed into the definite past. For all my expectations, I’ve been given one more memory, only a memory. I think with satisfaction, ‘I’ve done what I wanted to do.’ But it’s an ambiguous satisfaction, the kind that the wise man feels on his deathbed when he consoles himself for dying by telling himself, ‘I’ve lived a good life.'”

Just because the fulfillment and possession of my dreams has always resulted in disappointment and frustration doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to fulfill my dreams. Nor does it mean that I should tone down my dreams. I need to make peace with the bittersweet, attempting to find joy in the unexpected, not focusing on what doesn’t measure up.

A life is passing – my life. And I don’t want to miss it. I don’t know if the future holds an overseas assignment or local jobs; familiar faces or new friends; communications work or teaching. But whatever may come I am eager to drink deep. This is all we have, my friends, and it is enough if we are willing to let it be.



One thought on “Bittersweet

  1. B says:

    If dreams fulfilled end in disillusion, have they truly been fulfilled?

    Bittersweet is my favorite music. Nothing else resonates quite so.

    Thank you for this discourse. The tension between potential and reality, beginnings and ends, is what keeps me seeking something higher than the immediate. It keeps me interested and engaged. Well, that and all the little fishies…

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