18: For Life

I’ve had the same best friend since I was thirteen. Before we could drive, we ordered in pizza on Friday nights. We used disposable cameras to snap pictures with the delivery guy and giggled through the aftermath of his reaction. We played Mario Kart in the back bedroom and threatened to call the boys each other liked.

Almost two decades later, every Friday night, we meet for dinner at one of three restaurants in our hometown. We talk about grown-up jobs and our Facebook friends who are having their second baby. We end the night at my mom’s house, raiding the cupboards for homemade dessert and cracking each other up, sprawled across big, leather couches.

We look a little older and occasionally sound a little wiser but everything feels the same as it did 17 years ago.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I mate for life.

With my friends and my summer camp family and what I eat for breakfast.  I’ve bought the same groceries every week since I was 22, and I have a meltdown every time Whole Foods stops selling my favorite peanut butter. I call my mom at the same time every day and we have, pretty much, the same conversation.

I hate change and I fear loss and when something feels right, I do everything I can to make it last forever.

I love the hell out of people, but only once I know they’re a keeper.

Three years ago, on a Friday night, I decided to marry my best friend. Not the lunatic from the pizza delivery photos, the handsome, funny, stylish law student I met in the lobby of the UCLA guest house, two weeks before the start of my second year. That morning, through a slurry of F-bombs and dismissive remarks about the legal profession, I made the worst first impression of my life. My mom, a witness to the disastrous interaction, scolded me for my lack of sophistication, and colorful vocabulary.

“If you want to get a boyfriend, you better clean up your act.”

Months later, Nick forgave me for my unruly mouth and unconventional social skills. We bonded quickly over the perils of growing up wealthy and our shared respect for the virtues of stay-at-home-moms. I made the marriage decision while  sitting cross-legged on his couch, watching him sing and dance through dinner preparation. When he wasn’t looking, I closed my eyes and pictured our life together. Our house was a little bigger, the music louder and there was a dog in my lap.

But it looked and felt just like it did, that night.

And it’s been hard to imagine anything else, ever since.

Year thirty is teaching me about change, flexibility and impermanence. About surrendering, and accepting and learning to “go with the flow.”

Like when I leave the most stagnant profession on earth to explore the wild world of possibility, mobility and a career path I can dream about, but can’t guarantee . Or when I make friends for life at lululemon, then, months later, watch them move across the country, and around the world.

Last week, I spent twenty-four hours with my would-be husband. Seated across from him, on a rustic, sophisticated arm-chair, I remembered the future I’d attached myself to, three years earlier. I looked around his open, neatly appointed, ultra-fancy loft and watched myself disappear from it. I felt myself get swept away in the changing tide of career aspirations and adult values. The life together I saw so clearly, was suddenly foggy, clouded by the people we’d become and the lives we were currently leading.

Tucked into a corner seat on the airport shuttle, I caught up on my work email and reflected on my brief adventure. An uneasiness came over me, like that feeling I get when I first dip my knife into an experimental jar of peanut butter. Newness and expectations and a terrifying sense of “who knows what happens next.”

I tilt my head back on the seat, take a deep breathe and make space for the unknown.

I sit uncomfortably in the emptiness and try to stay open.

For life.

Love in Southeast Asia: One Last Thing

Five months ago, I landed in Los Angeles on a plane from Seoul, Korea. Twenty Eight days of international travel. Eleven flights. Four Countries. Nine Atavan.

Countless lessons.

Writing about my trip has been a way to relive it. To soak up the powerful moments and deepen their meaning.To share my experience, and my insight.  To feel gratitude for the courage (and everything else required) to spend an entire month abroad.

Writing my final blog stirs feelings from my last night in Cambodia: reflection, sadness, humility, love.

My deepest love is for my seven travel partners.

In Bangkok: the fearsome foursome. Parker, Edward, Werner and Me.

Werner, the storytelling, sarong-wearing, little brother I never had. The sweet and sensitive boy who is a compassionate, middle-aged man inside. Traveling together, I could picture him in the future, vacationing with his kids. Creating goofy traditions and friendships out of chance encounters. He will both embarrass and enlighten them. He will tell them about reading Steve Jobs’ biography on the Indian Ocean and how we almost died at sea. He will teach them how to say “we own the Green Bay Packers” in all the languages of countries they visit. He will make his whole family feel cherished and loved.

Edward, the center of our social universe, locally and abroad. The most considerate man I have ever met. Edward is part frat boy, part diplomat. In Sri Lanka, Edward taught us about “fan death,” the mythical child-killer of Korean-American parental folklore. In each new destination, he attended to our diverse group’s spectrum of needs. He balanced all the emotions, intentions, desires and quirks. He handled every. group. check. He indulged me in mid-Ocean heart-to-hearts as we dove through cresting waves (Phuket) and relished the glassy stillness (Phi Phi).

In Sri Lanka, our group swells to seven:

Diana, the source of an unexpected female friendship. Within hours of being together, I wanted her to be my best friend. I fell in love with her the way women of my generation attached themselves to the fictitious Carrie Bradshaw. She is soft and confident, doesn’t take herself too seriously, and is visibly present in each moment the way I can only struggle to be while meditating. I will cherish connecting with her on our trip long after the memories of our moments together fade.

Manal, the would-be mean girl who isn’t. She is open-hearted, loving and accepting. She is one of the most gorgeous women I have ever met, effortlessly stylish and flawless. She was the President and social chair of our law school, a woman who could easily be catty and exclusive, but instead is warm and inviting. She gives me hope that we can all be good to each other.

Priyan, our tour guide and native host. A man with a perfectly executed hairstyle, even in ninety-percent humidity. Priyan educated us about Sri Lankan culture and history, occasionally exaggerating for dramatic effect (“that’s Pride Rock, where The Lion King was filmed”). He is brilliant and sophisticated, high-brow with a social justice sensibility. A rare combination of elitism and a lightweight sense of humor. I adore him from the depth of my soul. I could make a life as his partner if only our gender and sexualities aligned in a more practical way.

In Southern Thailand, Fred made a triumphant appearance. He is a survivor of monsoon-season jungle trekking and under-vaccination. Fred gives the best hugs of anyone I know. He wraps everyone up like a treasure, holds them firmly against his heart. He has easy-going energy that relaxes everyone in his presence. He is sincere and genuine, thoughtful and smart. He made us laugh and surrounded us with love.

And of course, Parker.

Every day. Every meal. Every flight. Every hotel room. Every night and every morning. Every, single, minute.

Parker was there.

He is both my alter ego and my other half. We are simultaneously soulmates and adversaries. He is relentlessly practical and efficient, I am whimsical and disorganized. He is fearless and task-oriented, I am anxious and easily distracted. He is worldly and well traveled, I was brand new to every experience on our trip.

To him, my biggest thanks. For planning every detail of our incredible adventure. For his patience with my fear of flying and picky-eating. For looking out for me like a big brother, and for telling-it-how-it-is like a best friend. For listening and understanding. For talking about feelings, over and over again.

Even early in our friendship, I knew I could trust Parker with everything. There aren’t many people who could get me on a twelve-hour flight to spend a month away from the comfort of familiarity and my compulsive routines. Parker lives his life saying yes to opportunity. Yes to change and newness and progress. He dives head first into everything, without hesitation. With him leading this way, I found the willingness to follow. Following him, I was able to take the most incredible journey of my life.

Love in Southeast Asia: A Yanni Concert and Old French Fries

“How are your fries?”

“They taste like McDonald’s.”

“Oh, YUM!”

“They taste like McDonald’s shipped them here three weeks ago and they’ve been sitting on the counter in the kitchen ever since.”

It had been a long day. We’d traveled many miles into the Sri Lankan high country during a five hour van ride. Each one of us was weakened from multiple battles with car sickness and bladder control. We’d seen a culture show, the country’s most sacred temple and a tooth from the Lord Buddha.

We’d staggered into “The Pub” and taken our seats at a long, rectangular table in the middle of the room.

We’d passed around menus and ordered drinks.

We’d silently perused the small selection of Western food.

“How long before it’s appropriate to go back to our hotel?”

My french fry ordering friend could barely keep his eyes open.

One beer and eight stale french fries into our evening, the giant projector screen on the wall of the bar started humming.

Three minutes later I look up and see Yanni, standing in an orchestra pit surrounded by keyboards.

“Is the pub making fun of us right now?”

My memories of the nineties are dotted with images of Yanni as the biggest cultural inside joke of the decade.

“They can’t be serious about this.”

I order a plate of roasted cashews. Moments later,  I’m glued to the screen.

At first I resist it, like romantic feelings on a first date with a known womanizer.

I try to cover up my immediate infatuation by making sarcastic remarks and witty jokes.

I’m powerless against it.

Before the cashews arrive, we’re all enthralled.

The Yanni concert is mesmerizing.

Yanni stands at his keyboards making seductive faces with his pre-hipster, non-ironic, mustachioed grin. His likeness to my best friend Nick Stamos is making the entire experience twice as good.

He points at various musicians to cue them to go to work. Smiles. Occasionally moves his hips.

It’s a phenomenon.

I’m like a middle aged housewife home alone on a Friday night in 1995.

We toss around guesses about how Yanni got so famous. We collectively wonder how he’s captivated our attention more fully and dramatically than anything else on our otherwise spectacular trip.

We are all baffled.

“He doesn’t sing.”

“Or play an instrument.”

“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even write this stuff.”

For an hour we fill the pub with joyful exuberance and, at times, uncontrollable laughter.

I have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.

When it’s over, we give digital Yanni a standing ovation.

It’s better than hologram Tupac.

It’s the weirdest. Most unexpected. Best night of the trip.

Love in Southeast Asia: "I’m not going"

“I’m not going”

I posted a sign on my bedroom door a week before our family vacation to New England. I used red marker and underlined each word individually. I concluded the sentence with three exclamation points to convey the seriousness of my position.

In the summer of 1995, I had already survived two airplane flights. On flight number one bound for Honolulu, I unbuckled my seat belt and attempted to charge for the exit as we taxied away from the jetway. It took my mom thirty minutes to convince me that I’d missed my opportunity to get off the plane.

During our flight home, I tortured the middle aged woman next to me by crying uncontrollably and shifting anxiously back and forth in my seat for four consecutive hours. As soon as the plane landed, I decided I would never fly again.

I’m still not sure what combination of motherly voodoo and parental control of my free will got me to Boston, but it was the last trip my family took on an airplane. It was the last place I flew anywhere for vacation.

In the weeks leading up to my trip to Asia I made a mental “I’m not going” sign ten or twelve times. I imagined all of the terrible things that might happen to prevent me from making the trip. I’d calculate how much money I’d already spent and immediately decide that my emotional well being was worth at least that much. I’d sit wide awake in bed and count the hours before my first flight.

The morning of my departure, I indulged one more time in the contemplation of bailing on my trip.

“My friends will understand.” “I have the rest of my life to travel” “Maybe I’ll get therapy, or hypnosis.” “I’ll get on an airplane when I’ve recovered from the fear.”

I pictured my eleven year-old self in the Salem Witch Museum on that New England vacation. I remembered feeling completely transported and totally mesmerized. It was my favorite stop on our trip. My mind flashed on every memory of my childhood that required me to get on an airplane.

I counted seventeen years that I’d refused to fly.

I got out of bed and started moving.

At 10 a.m. my friends arrived at my apartment to pick me up.

At 11, I checked my bag to Bangkok.

I shoved my yoga mat through security, ate a yogurt parfait and texted my mom.

I kept moving.

I buckled myself into seat 16G. Before I could even think about escaping, we were up in the air.

“Shit,” I thought.

I guess I’m going.