Sunny Side Up
"How do you like your eggs?"
That's the question Hannah Brencher asks when someone tells her they don't know how to find their voice.
"You need to find out what you like. So go to the nearest Waffle House, and order all the eggs on the menu. Start by figuring out how you like your eggs."
I'll take them pretty much any way they're offered on the menu. Sometimes I'm in the mood for scrambled, sometimes I only want egg whites, sometimes I'm a Sunny Side Up girl.
"How do you like your eggs?"
My heart's been beating for 22 years, but I'm still figuring it out.
* "How do you want your eggs?"
I'm sitting next to him on the patio of an IHOP in the rain, smiling too much and keeping my hands in my lap where he can't reach out and grab one.
If he notices the way I don't lean in for a kiss and cross my arms when we walk, he doesn't let on. He leans in for me, wraps his arms around me in my favorite bear hug.
He's quick to answer the waiter. He wants his eggs scrambled, a bottle of Tobasco sauce brought to the table, please. Now they're both looking at me, and my eyes are darting across the menu as if all the options would be laid out for me there, one of them brighter and bolder than the others.
"The same," I say when I've used up more than the appropriate seconds to make a decision. I'll just have what he's having.
We talk about his classes and my sister, about memories we've made and how delicious the food is. When I shiver he scoots his chair closer to mine and rubs my skin until the goosebumps fade. He grabs the check and we don't say goodbye. When he finally takes me back home, drops me off with tangled hair, more confused than when he'd first asked if we could meet for brunch after months of distance, my mom asks me how it went.
"Are you guys able to be friends now?"
I nod. I shrug. "I guess."
She knows not to press me for a story, but I wonder if she can smell him on me.
I sit in the shower, head in my hands, unable to understand why I did it. Wondering why, when I try to figure out what I feel, all I can feel is nothing. There's no anger, regret; no joy, relief. If I hadn't been there, I would wonder if anything had happened at all.
"Well, what do you want?" my friend asks me when I tell her how it went. "Do you want to get back together, or did it confirm how done you are?"
I don't know what to tell her.
I want to forget. I want to not think about anything. I want to zone out in front of Netflix and text him when someone says something funny and never get in the same bed as him again. I don't want to see him again, until maybe next weekend when we're both bored and looking for something to do.
I don't want him to think I want him. I don't want him to think I don't.
For as long as I can remember, there's only one thing I wanted to do.
"I want to be a writer," I tell my parents, friends, colleagues, Twitter followers. I've taken dozens of writing classes, read hundreds of books, filled thousands of pages in notebooks and Word documents with thoughts, characters, stories.
I've been writing the same novel since last January, with stops and starts, bursts of excitement and months of disappointment and frustration. When I read through parts of it, it's a novel of hundreds of different voices. There are parts where I'm trying and failing to be impressive, weaving in metaphors and dialogue in the same paragraph. There are parts where it reads like a children's book—terse diction and surface-level descriptions, stiff dialogue and cheesy love scenes. Once in awhile I catch something that sounds like me, but those moments become harder and harder to find, lost in a haystack of voices that don't belong to me.
I've spent the past few weeks reading through old notebooks, from the ones I kept when I was a seven-year-old writing the stories I played out with my Barbies, to the twenty-some Moleskins I wrote every college assignment in. I read through old documents on my laptop, short stories and essays, poems and novel chapters. A lot of the words make me cringe, a few make me laugh.
In all of those words, all of those pages of stories, a lot of it reads like this novel I've been writing. There are assignments where I was trying on Faulkner's difficult, expansive prose. Stories where I imitated Hemingway's short, staccato sentences. Stories where I had no idea what I was doing, stories where almost all of my paragraphs are clouded with adjectives that don't belong.
So many years of experimenting, trying and failing, figuring out what my voice sounded like—what made my voice different from all of the others that have existed over the past hundreds of years.
I've found, and lost, and found my voice so many times.
It always takes me so long to remember that the only way to find it is to say what I want to say, with so much honesty that it rips my heart in half to put it on paper.
"Why don't you take the kid gloves off?" my friend asks me when I tell him about the boy I can't seem to leave behind, no matter how many times I tell him we need to be done.
Because I love him.
Because I don't want to hurt him.
Because I don't want to lose him.
Because that kind of honesty would rip my heart in half.
Somewhere during a conversation outside a bar that ended in tears and hugs and not exactly an ending, but as close as we got to it, I stopped wanting to use my voice.
The voice that would tell him I can't wait for him to be ready. The one that would say as much as I care about him, something held me back from falling in love. The one that would point out our different cities, our unwillingness to move our schedules around to fit the other one into it.
I stopped using my voice because I didn't want to make a decision. Because I wanted my eggs scrambled and Sunny Side Up.
But dragging someone else through your own messy indecision leads to you sitting in your shower feeling empty, looking for the voice you forgot how to use. Knowing you're not giving your best to him and knowing that you haven't been taking care of the heart he so easily entrusted you with.
"How do you like your eggs?"
It's a simple question.
But if you want to find your voice—if you want to finally feel like yourself again—it's time for you to figure out the answer.