Churchill Carnations

In 1998 I was in eighth grade at Churchill middle school. I was five feet tall and weighed eighty pounds. I had gold braces and long brown hair I didn’t know what to do with until a decade and a half later when my brother married a hairstylist. My woman curves were barely detectable until well into my twenties.

I hadn’t gotten much attention from boys since my glory days as a playground all-star and renowned capture the flag champion. As a result of some unknown catastrophe during the summer of 1996, every boy I knew was no longer impressed by my extensive knowledge of professional sports or tenacity on the soccer field. It seemed sarcastic wit and a love for the 49ers were no match for the allure of big boobs and well-tamed hair.

Junior High is tough on “late bloomers.”

My mom did her best to remind me that I was still smart, funny and academically accomplished. She told me I was pretty, that boys were stupid, and that some day I would be every man’s dream come true.

Big boobs were overrated anyway.

In February, the school student government advertised a carnation sale leading up to Valentine’s day. Spunky, well-developed, popular girls came bouncing into English class to describe the romantic details of the sale. I hunched my shoulders and sunk down behind my desk. I prayed I would disappear until the whole thing was over. Maybe I’d be reincarnated as one of my confident female classmates.

I dreaded every day leading up to February 14th.

In Junior High, I rode to school with my Dad. Our morning drives were a departure from our otherwise disconnected existence. We listened to morning edition on NPR. He referred to it as “the commies” and it wasn’t until years later that I understood what he meant. I don’t have many specific memories, but looking back now I know it must have been a special time for both of us. A unique moment of father-daughter normalcy in an otherwise unusual relationship.

Somewhere between high brow talk radio and the three mile commute, I must have mentioned carnations.

On Valentine’s day, in sixth period science, the bouncing student government girls appeared again. This time they were rolling one of those plastic carts that resentful teachers used to haul cumbersome audio visual equipment between classrooms at public schools.

It was spilling-over with carnations. I cringed.

And just when I least expected it, a delicately tied ribbon with three carnations plopped down on my desk. I felt my face flush and my palms sweat.

I peaked at the attached note.

It was simply signed, “Martin.”

My best friend looked about as shocked as I was. We spent the remaining forty five minutes of the period trying to decide who they were from. Was it a code name? A secret admirer? Some squirrely, scraggly P.E. classmate who was inordinately impressed with my seven-minute mile?

I was part ecstatic, part terrified.

On the way home that day it hit me.

Martin. “I’m an idiot.” “Duh.”

The carnations were from my dad. He must have used his first name to save me from humiliation. I was, of course, humiliated.

The sixth period mystery never came up with my friends. I’m ninety five percent sure I never mentioned it to my Dad. But about three years ago, on Valentine’s day, I flashed on the memory. I felt immediately overwhelmed by tears as I thought about the tenderness and love that moved my dad to buy me the carnations. I mentally scolded my fourteen-year old self for her lack of gratitude and appreciation. I reflected on all of the ways my dad told me he loved me that weren’t always easy to recognize.

I thought about how sometimes we miss the opportunity to receive love because we don’t understand it.

At five o’clock tonight I was standing in tree pose, in my kitchen, pouring over products liability note- cards when I heard a knock at the door.

A less than bouncy, elderly Asian woman handed me a delicate bouquet of vibrant summer blooms. The richest, most lovely colors bursting out of a rustic glass vase.

I swelled with joy as I read the card. “Congratulations on Making it to the Home Stretch.”

Love,
Daddy.

I was reminded of so many years ago when my dad felt like a stranger. When it took me three hours to connect his first name with his face.

Tonight, I feel gratitude and appreciation.

For my dad. For our relationship. For healing and forgiveness and possibility. For new beginnings. For unique and conventional expressions of love.

Corporations

My friend Parker and I are the same age. We graduated the same year from high school. And college. We are both UCLA J.D.s, Class of 2012.

Sometimes when I hang out with him I feel like I’m 8 years old. Like my mom is paying him 15 dollars an hour to make sure I don’t electrocute myself in the microwave before she gets home from work.

Parker owns property and a BMW. One of his favorite pastimes is “watching his net-worth increase” on mint.com.

My net worth is the sum total of my measly student checking account and the retail value of the 2012 Ford Focus my dad bought me.

Today, reclined on wicker chaise lounges on the rooftop patio of my apartment building, Parker taught me about Corporations.

There’s that feeling again, “I wonder what time my mom gets home?”

Cresting towards thirty, with a professional degree, I’m having my first encounter with the basic, grown-up fundamentals of how the world works. “Man. My twenties have sure been a waste of an upper-middle class upbringing and an elite college education.”

Later, slightly sun-burnt and significantly dejected, I sank into the worn-out corner of my big, red couch. I mentally added the Ikea list price to my personal net-worth and settled in for an indulgent session of self-shaming and personal regret.

In periods of peak self-doubt and anxiety about the future, I cringe at the thought of how I spent my twenties.

Where I come from, people graduate college and immediately pursue the most lucrative career they can think of. The smartest and most distinguished become doctors. The best looking women and former fraternity presidents go into finance.  Everyone else spends a year or so bewildered by the work force, panics, and starts studying for the LSAT.

After college, I ran a summer camp with my best friend.

For five years.

In the midst of several public education jobs and learning to be a yoga teacher, I applied to law school.

I spent three years dreaming about how to run a summer camp with my best friend.

And a J.D.

I didn’t care to learn about shareholding or preferred stock.

Today felt like I was paying the emotional… and financial… price.

I got out my computer to write about my should-haves and wish-I’ds. I had just snuggled back into the pity spot when the phone rang.

It was my best friend.

“Maybe she’s calling with an update on that summer camp I’ve been dreaming about.”

In 20 minutes, 5 years of memories washed over me.

My 120 pound body squished in the center of a teary-eyed group hug.

Weeping over a note from a teenager telling me I’d “changed their life.”

Laughing so hard, for so long, I worried I might die because I couldn’t catch my breath.

Beaming with the joy and pride of an eager parent at countless high school graduations.

Watching gawky middle-schoolers become confident college kids, and later, my intimate adult friends.

Sharing in personal growth, moments of greatness and experiencing the rare sensation when everyone, and every thing, around me is shining.

Being Immersed in energy and intimacy of a group of people, the uniqueness of which, makes it indescribable.

Feeling the fullest, most unconditional, most powerful expressions of love.

A year from now, I’ll likely be unemployed. I’ll be a year closer to retirement but not a dollar closer to my first, real purchase of stock. Property and BMWs will be things “I’m saving for my forties.”

Maybe I’ll be having my third mid-life crisis. Maybe I’ll be sitting on my couch wondering, what might have been.

Maybe I’ll sit in gratitude for the unforgettable moments that have shaped my twenties.

Gratitude for each and every member of my summer camp family. The unforgettable, loves of my life.  Each of whom taught me how important it is to: be myself, love myself and keep growing.

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