First Love

The Thong Song came on in spin class tonight. It took me straight back to 2001. I pictured myself on the dance floor at homecoming. I felt a rush of blissful nostalgia as I thought about dancing and sweating my ass off in the Rio Americano Small Gym. My mind traced my favorite memories from my Senior Year. Throwing my first party when my mom was out of town. Listening to Incubus at my friend’s cabin in Alpine Meadows. Cutting class. The cold plastic seats at Jimboy’s tacos. Each image came and went quickly until I flashed on the night I met my high school boyfriend. I smiled. Relaxed. and soaked up his memory.

He was infamous. I knew of him long before I met him. He asked a girl to a dance by putting a giant banner across the biggest freeway overpass in my hometown. I was so jealous. And so impressed.
He had wild blonde hair and a tongue piercing. He was five foot six with the confidence of a man ten inches taller. He oozed teenage boy sexy.

He was yelling about something in the middle of a crowd of Senior boys on the side of a steep, grassy hill. I was aware of him immediately. Captivated. Intimidated. Totally enamored. It was October in Sacramento but unusually warm. The air was rich with the smell of fall and the energy of adolescent hormones. I remember everything about that night.

He grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye. “I’m Brad.”

“No shit,” I thought.

I was already in love.

That night, we had three, short exchanges. For the next four or five months I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I did everything I could to run into him, without telling anyone I was trying to run into him.

Finally, I caved.

We had dinner with a group of friends at Chevy’s. I ordered a cheese quesadilla and a diet coke. I wore my favorite light denim jeans and a striped yellow and blue polo shirt. I showed off my fake tan and flat stomach. We laughed hysterically about everything.

We watched reruns of “Friends” on VHS. When he left, he kissed me. On the street. By his car. In front of my friend’s house. It was soft and slow. When it finally ended I just about exploded from the excitement. And disbelief.

We had a beautiful, innocent, pseudo-grown-up love affair.

He lifted me off the parking lot pavement, whirled me in a circle and kissed my forehead the night I got accepted to UCLA. He was greasy all over and caked in mud from his rugby game. It felt perfect.

We were inseparable.

We ate huge plates of Mexican food and drank Venti Frappucinos. In large groups of our friends we disappeared into a secret bubble of intimacy and connection.

He loved me for my intelligence. For my funny, outrageous behavior. He thought I was beautiful and perfect and lovely. Throughout high school, I’d struggled to love myself. I battled anorexia. And perfectionism. and all sorts of judgement about how I didn’t live up to the unattainable standards of beauty, wealth and achievement in my community. When we met, I’d been starving for two years.

In his presence, I felt comfortable, appreciated and understood. Safe. Satiated.

We were partners. and best friends.

A decade later, the memory of him still fills me up. The way it felt to love and be loved. To listen and be heard. Witnessed and protected. The bliss of love without expectations, or baggage or fear.

First Love. Self Love. Beautiful, beautiful love.

Do you Bake?

I spent 7 hours alone in my apartment. I washed my sheets. I watched a four hour lecture on torts. I made an elaborate lunch. I looked at 72 cookie recipes.

I day-dreamed about what it felt like in the sunshine.

When I finally made it out in public I felt quiet and disoriented. It felt like emerging from a three month hibernation.

I wandered around Wholefoods aimlessly for twenty minutes. I was sweaty, and hungry and reluctant to go home. I was barely conscious, staring at gluten-free cookie mixes when a young woman interrupted my zone-out.

“Do you bake?”

I froze. I couldn’t remember. I’d been out of body and not present since early this morning. It took at least thirty seconds to feel my feet, breathe in, and respond, “YES!”

I looked up and saw a young woman with a bright smile. She was carrying a gluten-free yellow cake mix box and was clearly on a mission. She needed to know how to make Funfetti cupcakes. She had inadvertently stumbled upon an unofficial expert. I’ve probably made four thousand Funfetti cupcakes in my lifetime. Maybe more.

Without hesitation, she told me the whole plan. There’s a boy. It’s his birthday. He eats healthy and “likes confetti.” Immediately I can tell she wants to marry the guy. Later she admits, “I obviously have a crush.”

I give her the five-minute rundown on the art of rainbow sprinkles. I hit the finer points of brand preference and color balance. I recommended she add a little at a time, get an even distribution, then repeat the process until she looks down and thinks, “yes. it’s perfect.” Then, in an unexpected moment of complete, twenty-eight year old woman honesty, I laid it down for her.

“Girl. Lemme tell you. I spent years trying to get boys attention by being pretty and skinny and giggly and well dressed. The truth is, none of it ever worked even close to as well as giving them food I made with enthusiasm and love. You’re on the right track. Keep up the good work.”

She grabbed my arm and screeched with delight. “I’m going to top them with fondant and make them extra pretty. I think he’s going to love it!”

We shared a few more moments of uncensored womanhood before I wished her good luck and proceeded purposefully to the check out line. I loaded two packs of strawberries and a bag of pretzels on to the conveyer belt, paused and felt a warmth of love come over me. I felt deep gratitude for human connection. For sharing myself. For connecting to another woman in a uniquely feminine space.

Not so many years ago I would have never connected with anyone in the baking aisle. If another woman approached me she would have been met immediately and abruptly with sarcasm and dismissal. I would have never encouraged anyone to bake their way into a man’s heart.

Today I feel grateful for growth, perspective and my love for cooking. I feel grateful for that young woman’s wide open heart and determined spirit. I feel grateful for Funfetti cupcakes and all the boys who have ignored my flirtation, but eaten what I’ve baked.

12 hours in Vegas

I got on a plane this morning at 6a.m. By 9, I’m in the checkout lane at Walgreens on the Vegas strip. My friends have the cart behind me. It’s filled with champagne, vodka and diet squirt. Half an hour later, we’re mixing drinks in the suite and the fun is beginning.

It’s the fun I’ve been trying to have since I was 16.

My high school friends drank wine coolers and keystone through a beer bong. I’d watch them get happy and affectionate with each other. Everyone yelled and sang and danced.

I always felt left out.

In college, I got drunk for the first time. Immediately, it was awesome. I finally felt like I was on the inside of the world’s best private joke. In those early weeks of frat parties and stumbling around Westwood on the weekends, I must have made six million friends.

It wore off quickly.

The novelty. The excitement. The six million new friendships. I mostly regretted my behavior and couldn’t ever adjust to the full day aftermath of feeling like a shadow of my actual self. I got drunk maybe ten more total times before I graduated.

Worst college student ever.

Still, as an adult, I don’t like drinking. But unlike other things in my life I dislike, I keep going back to it. I haven’t had mayonnaise in two decades, but every six months or so, I decide to frolic with the normal people by getting shitfaced and going out.

I always regret it.

Las Vegas is a difficult place to just be who I am. It demands excess and consumption and performance. High heels and heavy eye liner. Binge drinking. When I booked the trip I was certain I could be like everyone else. The email chain was overwhelmed with “can’t waits” and “so stokeds” I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to feel like I’m just like everybody else. How could a trip planned with so much enthusiasm be anything other than the best trip of my life?

Because it isn’t. Because no matter how much I want to love what other people do,  sometimes I don’t. I like to cook dinner in my apartment and hang out on the couch with my best friends. I like to drink one glass of wine. Talk. Laugh. Connect. I like to eat healthy, go to bed before midnight and wake up with the sunrise. I don’t like drinking. I dread wearing eye liner. I know these things about myself and still came to Vegas.

Apparently all the self awareness in the world doesn’t guarantee self acceptance. I judge my friends as normal and myself as other-than. I have some deep down delusion that my life would be better if it looked more like the ones I think I see around me. I compare myself to other people almost incessantly. I’ve created this narrative where difference translates to defective or delayed or otherwise wrong or bad. If I wasn’t so dysfunctional, I’d be married or engaged. I would have a better career, live in a different city, post pictures on Facebook of my exotic travels and my huge group of stunning female friends. I’d be happier. More fulfilled.

Deep inside, I know it’s garbage. My comparisons are lies. There is no normal to which I’m not living up. The people and lives by which I measure myself aren’t even real. They are stories I’ve created based on my own perception and experience. They are reflections of my unwillingness to love myself fully the way I am. Single. Sober. No eye liner.

Self love is the highest purpose of my spiritual practice. I know the power of it and still I struggle. The way I feel this morning in Vegas reminds me of why self acceptance is so important. It is the foundation of feeling awesome in my every day life. Being and doing “me” fills my soul with happiness and love and contentment. Creating and emulating an imaginary ideal of myself is a barrier to all of it.

Spiritual lessons in Las Vegas? I must be some kind of freak.

Feelin’ It

I left my last law school final at noon today and immediately did a cartwheel. I ran to hug two of my very dear friends and yelled an enthusiastic WOO! I’M DONE! I threw in a cheerleader kick for good measure, and because even after three years of professional school, it’s still something I feel like doing.

I. feel. incredible.

Like, out of my mind euphoric. I feel like I want to hug and kiss and high five and butt slap and fist pound every person I see. Because whatever it is that’s going on inside of me I want to spread it around. I want to walk up to total strangers and tell them, “trust me, you need some of this.”

I can’t even remember the last time I felt this kind of in-your-face-explosive-excitement.

Maybe never.

For the first time since this all started three years ago I’m letting myself sink into it. All of the stories of negativity and resistance are evaporating in the heat of “holy crap I did it!”Today it doesn’t matter whether law school was right or wrong for me. Today it doesn’t matter how the rest of my life turns out. Because it happened. Exactly the way it did. Without judging it, or qualifying it, or diminishing the weight of the accomplishment, I am feeling it.

And it feels good.

To My Brother

I took an unusually ambitious study break yesterday. I made Black Bean and Roasted Sweet Potato tacos with avocado and cilantro. Pretty fancy for my single-lady-life.

I felt confident and accomplished. Like a sophisticated grown-up. Not two years ago, the only edible thing to ever come out of my kitchen was a peanut butter sandwich-no jelly.

In a moment of self-congratulatory inattention, I mangled my right-hand pointer finger on my cheese grater. There was blood everywhere. The cutting board, the sink, the pepper-jack. This morning I found blood on the inside of my blender.

I had tortillas on the stovetop, sweet potatoes in a skillet and a half-carved avocado open on the counter. I swiftly wrapped my finger in a bulky papertowel (something I’ve seen my mom do 800 times in my life. It would appear this kitchen-specific clumsiness was inherited).

I spent the next thirty minutes fumbling around the kitchen, more helpless and clueless than the first time I cooked anything. I burned the sweet potatoes. I dropped black beans all over the floor. I got avocado in the tip of my ponytail. It was a total disaster.

Once I’d half assembled my pathetically unsophisticated tacos, I sat down to eat them.

Assuming the blood flow had been contained, and predicting I was going to be challenged by one-handed taco-eating, I unwrapped my finger.

Blood gushed immediately. The paper towel was soaked.

I would have to soldier on, one-handed.

I re-wrapped my finger and sat down to enjoy my tacos. My forehead was sweating, my mind plagued by my inadequacy and the wasted time of this unexpected obstacle. Digging deep in my memory to my wilderness medicine training and in hopes of stopping the bleeding, I held my right hand above my head.

I could barely squeeze the tortilla sufficiently to lift the taco off the plate. Once I had it airborne, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get it into my mouth without releasing the contents into a waterfall-like failure.

The whole debacle was ridiculously frustrating.

When I finally finished, I slumped back into the kitchen to face the mess I’d created. I couldn’t do it. I left all the food out and every dish unwashed. Cleaning was clearly a two-handed job.

Defeated, I sat back down at my desk to keep studying.

In the stillness, I thought about my brother. Five years ago he crashed a motorcycle and paralyzed his right arm. He does everything left handed. He makes it all look effortless. He drives, he cooks, he folds laundry, wraps presents, ties his shoes. I’ve seen him move furniture, hold babies, even clap with one hand. He is remarkable. and resilient. and inspiring.

I felt humble. And a little humiliated. And immediately I was filled with deep love and admiration for him.

I felt like sending him a hand written (with my left hand) note that says: To My brother: It’s harder than it looks.

I picked up a sparkly blue ball-point and failed to even connect pen-tip to paper.

Today, my wounded finger hidden by a mickey mouse band-aid, I write this, with both hands.

To my brother: You are incredible. I love you.

You Can Do It

I feel lonely and nostalgic during finals. I miss hanging out with my friends. I mostly study, eat and practice yoga in my empty apartment. I laugh less. Hug less. Complain more.

Last night, huddled in my bed, I closed my kindle and started reflecting on love-filled memories from other days of long hours studying and limited human contact.

My mind landed on my bedroom wall, two years ago, at 1501 16th street, in apartment 202.

During Spring semester of my first year of law school I had five finals in 10 days. Five finals. Ten days. It was insane.

The mere act of taking that number of exams in that short a period is enough to just about kill a regular person. Ask any law student how they think they would handle it. Listen as they tell you, “I need a drink.”

I slept at my mom’s house the night before the first one. The madness had barely begun and I was already feeling strung out and overwhelmed. When I stumbled into my room to grab my belongings,  I glanced up at the wall above my dresser. There, on an ordinary yellow post-it, in her giant, less-than-elegant, but very distinctive handwriting my roommate had written:

You Can Do It.

I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up.

Yes I can.

Over the next ten days, I took a careful, deliberate moment to look at that post-it every time I was in my bedroom. I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up. I could feel my roommate squeeze me and look me in the eyes. She believed in me. It felt like she was holding me up.

It was a small act of love, but, even in my reflection, I feel the strength of it.

Four months after my last final we moved out of that apartment. The post-it was the last thing to leave my bedroom.  I was plagued by feelings of loss and fear and sadness for the end of two incredible years living with my best friend. I’d been crying for almost five hours straight. As I peeled it off the wall I paused. I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up.

You Can Do It.