13: What I already know

I took the first phone call the night my brother crashed his motorcycle. The friend he was riding with couldn’t get a hold of my mom. Or my dad. Or my brother’s girlfriend.

So he called me instead.

I remember everything about that night. What I was wearing and how my hair looked and the smell of the North Sacramento teen center where I was hosting an event for my summer camp. The shape of my bent knees and the way my right ankle landed in the arch of my left foot, like a ballerina in third position. I stand that way whenever I’m having an important conversation.

It’s instinct, automatic.

On the other line, an unfamiliar voice tells me there’s been an accident. My brother crashed a motorcycle on garden highway. He hurt his ankle and his shoulder and he’s in the ER.

“My brother has a motorcyle?”

There’s a sickness in my stomach when I admit, at first, I rolled my eyes.

The guy sounds calm and centered and his tone feels reassuring.

“But he’s awfully desperate to get a hold of my mom.”

The conversation ends and I get swept back up in the energy of what was happening before my phone rang. It’s noisy and my kids are demanding and minutes later, my racing heartbeat, starts to calm down. Within an hour, I’m laughing and talking over ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then, I’m three spoonfuls into my extra thick chocolate milkshake when I’m overcome by nausea, and dread. Out of nowhere, and without explanation. That deep, aching, immobilizing sensation, originating in my belly and radiating out.

“I have to leave.”

I throw cash on the table and get in my car. I’m out of the parking lot and on the road and I don’t even know where I’m going.

Somehow, I get there anyway.

At the hospital, my brother is in the ICU.

“I thought he sprained his ankle.”

They let me see him right away and sometimes,  I wish they hadn’t. He’s mumbling and delirious and as I make my way to the side of his bed, I see his whole body is bloody. It looks like Law and Order SVU when they first discover the victim. It’s gruesome like I didn’t know was possible in real-life.

I was up every, single hour of that, the worst night of my life.

In the morning, I cry. A lot. I cry driving to camp and for six hours after. I cry into my sweet dog’s fur as we’re both lying in my mom’s bed. I try to sleep, but just keep crying.

The night of my brother’s accident changed everything, for all of us. And in the months that followed, filled with “what could have beens?” and “is this really happening?”, I couldn’t shake the feeling that came over me and my milkshake. The why and the how of it, haunted me.

Six and a half years later it makes a little more sense. I have more experience tuning in to my intuition, my truth, and my authentic self. The places in my body that tell the stories my mind tries to ignore. I’m learning to pay attention. To quiet down and listen. To trust that what comes up as a sensation, has meaning in actions, and decisions and words.

Tightness and illness and fatigue and deprivation tell me something I’m doing isn’t working.

Lightness and inspiration and smiles and laughter and enthusiasm inspire me to do more of everything that fires me up.

When I keep running and stay busy and allow myself to get wrapped up in the energy of what’s already happening, I lose the connection to the message, that’s already in there. My knowing voice is silenced, before ever being heard.

When I take a deep breath, and let myself be still, and let go of the idea that something is wrong or bad or fixable, I connect to the knowledge, the wisdom, that’s already in there.

What I already know emerges, takes over, and shows me the way.

6: Dance it Out

I am personally responsible for the choreography of no fewer than five hundred dance routines.

In the early nineties, I was the foremost creative force behind countless memorable productions, set to the iconic music of the “Dirty Dancing” and “Top Gun” soundtracks, showcased at 1633 Gary Way. While my brother was doing all that reading, I was behind the closed door of my parents’ bedroom, planning and executing a series of breathtaking performances for an imaginary audience of critics and friends.

I preferred sound tracks over single-artist albums because of their musical variety. To think what I might have been capable of with access to an ipod. Or Spotify.

I offered my fans an up-tempo jazz performance, followed by a slow, melancholy solo, danced gracefully by a dramatic ballerina. The excitement always climaxed during the show-stopping-rock-anthem-ensemble number, right at the end.

When I felt deep and emotional, I chose “Dirty Dancing,” and focused on my technique. I’d make beautiful, sweeping movements with my arms and big, impressive leaps with my legs. I always imagined sharing my routine with a strong, confident partner. He’d lift me effortlessly to the ceiling and twirl me, with one hand, high above his head. On days where I wanted to go hard, bust it out and kick some ass, I’d throw on Top Gun and spend twenty minutes with “Danger Zone” on repeat. I’d always start off stage and burst through the invisible curtains to the pounding beat of the introduction. It was epic, every time.

Occasionally I’d feel nostalgic,and reflective, and throw on “Beaches” to shake things up.

It’s funny how our behavior patterns change in expression.

It’s funny how  in all other ways, they stay the same.

One of my spiritual teachers, Martha Beck, insists the key to unlocking our adult happiness is re-discovering the activities and experiences that filled us with joy as kids.

Dancing my ass of is that, for me.

It is a no-fail solution to all of my, many, spiritual ailments.

When my best friend and I lived together, we’d unwind on a Friday night. After a long-week of public school atrocities, idiotic district-wide emails and multiple failures to save the world, we’d turn up the volume on my “dance party” playlist, open the door to our apartment, then glide, spin and shake, up and down the second floor.

Once in a while, in the early morning, if our summer camp staff felt sluggish and stale, we’d take them out to the parking lot, open up the doors of my mini cooper and teach a new generation of young people the important lesson of moving bad energy out and away.

During my third year of law school I lived alone in an old apartment with a giant living room. One, entire wall had floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The view from my couch looked like the dance studios I’d grown up in. Three or four times a week, I’d turn down the lights, burn a few candles and play out the lead role in “Flashdance,” the musical.

One time a neighbor knocked on the door to ask me a question about the “parking garage” and, as he was leaving, slipped in, “Is someone singing in there?”

He sounded humiliated for me.

“No,” I lied.

Unphased, and undeterred, I resumed “what a feeeeellinnng,” before the door even clicked shut.

My friend Parker used to complain about the absence of a coffee table, and felt particularly inconvenienced when trying to both watch the Nuggets and consume a meal. I can’t remember whether I ever fessed up to why I needed the extra space.

I knew my career as an attorney was doomed when I couldn’t even shake my hips to Rihanna while cleaning the kitchen sink. I dug out “Hey, Mr. DJ,”  by the Backstreet Boys and “I Want You Back” by NSYNC. I’d manage to press my feet to the floor but didn’t have the energy, or inspiration, to do anything with them after that.

The nail dropped squarely in the coffin the night I couldn’t help myself off my bedroom floor for Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits.

As a karmic reward for the years of  hard-work and dedication spent honing my craft, I found a job where I can perform a new routine, on a beautifully polished wood-floor, any time I want.

Each time is still just as satisfying as the last.

Damn, it feels good, to dance it out.

3: “I am enough.” A work in progress

I watched Tina Fey accept an award once by thanking her parents “for giving me disproportionately high self esteem for my looks and talent.”

“Damn, sister” I thought, “preach.”

I am the kid that people are writing all those books and blogs about, lately. The poster child for the “me” generation, a woman in her twenties who sincerely believes I am awesome. Exceptional. Unique.

Destined for greatness.

Entitled to: a fabulous, creative, challenging job where I make loads of money and travel for three months a year; immense personal and global responsibility, a personal voice in local decision-making and a seat in Congress; a book deal, a talk show, and eventually, a movie, of course.

My mom taught me I could be anyone and do anything. No exceptions, no limitations. Begin, excel, master, End.

The first time I heard the phrase “I am enough” in a yoga class, I thought, “Damn right I am.”

“Where’s the work in that?”

Like everything else in my yoga-life, and not like everything else in my other-than-yoga-life, the learning came slowly. With difficulty, and resistance.

At first, I paid attention to the whispers of self-judgment that play on repeat in the back of my mind, each day:I don’t date enough and I don’t eat healthy enough and I don’t brush my hair enough, either. I don’t make enough money and I don’t have enough travel miles, and someone my age should have a bigger retirement account than I do, right now. I haven’t been to Europe and I still hate airplanes and I’ve never driven a car my dad didn’t buy me.

I’m likely the biggest failure among the high achievers in my graduating class.

Then, the bigger stories seeped in: Like straight A’s on all of my report cards or a week of nausea and years of shame as a consequence. Like the experience of feeling paralyzed by even the thought of failure, and playing it safe to avoid messing it up. Like no matter how good I was at everything, for my dad, it was never enough.

Quitting my job as an attorney was a gigantic spiritual leap towards “I am enough.”

Who will I be without the fancy degree and the impressive job and the ability to showcase how brilliant and special I am by casually slipping in what I do for a living? Who will I be when I give up my sophisticated apartment with the granite counters and stainless steel? What will I tell the people who expect more from me, who know I’m better than this?

How will I make it clear to them, to myself, that “I am enough.”

Some days when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them “I used to be an attorney.”

It sounds better than refusing to answer the question.

Other days, I wake up completely satisfied with my income and occupation and relationship status and the contents of my Roth IRA. I beam with pride and love for myself, standing in the truth of what I know is real for me.

I thank my mom for my confidence and swagger, and my yoga practice for “I am enough.”

Turn Around

That summer, Michael Phelps swam for nine gold medals. We watched every race, screaming our heads off, in Amy’s living room.

“We” are me, my best friend Amy, two of our summer camp counselors, and one under-achieving junior counselor who is the only person ever to crack into the Camp Have-a-lot-of-Fun inner-circle without being an extraordinary stand out of skill and motivation at work.

We spend our days chasing tiny kids around the world’s best summer camp. At night we turn “Footloose” on high volume and dance like we’re Kevin Bacon, alone in an abandoned warehouse, in 1984.

In between, we drive around Sacramento blasting this cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart. It’s the theme song of the summer: passionate, epic, completely ridiculous. We sing with the windows down, even when it’s one hundred degrees outside. We play air drums and pound on the dashboard. When the chorus comes up, we close our eyes, tilt our heads back and belt it out like it’s the last time we’ll ever sing it.

We are an unlikely group of inseparable friends. We range in age from 14 to 25. Out in public, we look like a throw-back family singing group or mixed bag of step siblings with varying degrees of babysitting responsibility.

We make each other laugh and hold each other up. We throw a slumber party, almost every night.

Some nights we are just the three of us. Me, Amy, and Jaimie. Jaimie is fifteen. Amy and I have been best friends since junior high school and are notoriously incapable of sharing our relationship with anyone else. We are college graduates moving towards demanding, professional careers. Jaimie is barely a junior in high school. Amy and I are agonizing over “who are we?” and “what is the purpose of this?” Jaimie wonders who she’ll have algebra with and if that boy she likes will text her back.

We are drawn together by a sisterhood that transcends time and age. By issues with our dads and striving for perfection. By being “good girls” and independent women. By discovering how those two identities intersect. By our love for puffy paint and elaborate costumes. By working with kids and our awesomeness at camp counseling.

By the type of strong friendship that’s rooted in unconditional love.

When the summer of 2009 begins, our family is reunited. Amy and I make space in our lives, and the backseat of our cars, for when Jaimie finishes her high school finals and we pick up where we left off. We all look forward to late night talks sharing a single, king size bed. To chocolate milkshakes at Jack in the Box after nighttime events. To feeling complete, again.

Two weeks later I’m in the most challenging conversation of my professional life. Amy and I are seated next to each other in the almost empty conference room at Mission North Park. We’re face-to-face with the first Camp Have a Lot of Fun employee we’ve ever had to fire.

I speak first because Amy cries just thinking about it. We all know what’s about to take place, but even up to the moment it happens, we hope, somehow, it won’t.

When Jaimie leaves, Amy and I burst into tears. We hug each other and take deep, cleansing breaths. The pain is raw and sharp. My face is hot and my shoulders are heavy. The tightness in my stomach becomes sharp and stinging, right around my heart.

There were so many ways, and reasons, to feel sad.

Amy and I had two more magical summers at camp. More special kids, of all ages, became forever a part of our beautiful, growing family. There were other theme songs and new dance-moves. There were sleepovers, and milkshakes, and puffy-painted clothes.

But we never replaced what we lost, with Jaimie.

We watched Jaimie walk across the stage at her high school graduation, but didn’t participate in her celebration. Each year we brought together every generation of camp counselors for Thanksgiving, but could never convince Jaimie to come. Our friendship became a distant memory and she became someone we followed on social media, a girl we used to know in real life.

This summer, we recruited the best of the best of our alumni camp counselors to compete with the current staff at Camp Have a lot of Fun. The brainstorming stages generated so much excitement we got overly ambitious with the invitations. We immediately dismissed the idea that Jaimie would participate, but couldn’t resist the urge to include her.

Minutes after Amy presses the send button in Sacramento, I get a call on my cell phone in Tahoe.

“Jaimie is in.”

I’m wandering frantically around the Southshore Raley’s looking for a private place to yell through the phone. Amy and I spend 15 to 20 minutes exchanging expressions of disbelief, intermittently interrupted by declarations of triumph, and excitement, and happiness, and relief.

We meet Jaimie in person, for the first time, outside of the conference room where we all thought it ended forever, four years before. We hug, cautiously, still wondering if the romance of this reunion is real.

The next five weeks are filled with friendship flashbacks, and fast-forwarding through updates from four, transformative years of our lives. Jaimie is twenty-one now and lives on her own. She bought a car and pays her bills. She’s survived more personal tragedy than she can share with us in a single sitting. She is a confident, strong woman, changed by the passage of time and the demands of maturity and life lessons. She has the same light, and humor, and spirit. And connection to us.

Over plates of Nachos at Dos Coyotes, we finally cry the tears, we’ve all been holding back.

We cry because we haven’t been there for Jaimie when she’s struggled so much. We cry for the time we’ve lost and the memories we could have made together. We cry for judgements, and mistakes and assumptions. We cry with gratitude for the chance to be together again. For the sisterhood that shaped us all, that’s survived so much. The love that lives on, that endures, that remains unconditional, no matter what.

When my phone makes the text message noise, I look down and see the names of my two best friends, side by side. I feel complete joy, all over my body. I think about the rarity of the miracle that brought us back together, the gift of forgiveness and the healing power of love. I reflect on the many stories in my life that ended differently than this one.

The ones where I lost track of someone I love and wondered how their life turned out. The times when my ego overshadowed my compassion, or completely got in the way. The relationships where I’ve refused to forgive, or let go, or move on. The places where I store resentment and anger. The hesitation to make amends and the refusal to take responsibility. An uneasiness in squaring up to the uncomfortable, when it’s so much easier to run away.

Back in 2009 we were all a part of it coming undone. We were all wrong, and all right, and all responsible. We were all hurt, and sad and angry.

And in 2013, none of it mattered.

All that mattered was our second chance: To hug and cry and sing out loud. To talk about boys, and our careers and drink chocolate milkshakes. To do all the things we’d always done, and all the things we thought we’d never do again.

That was a tough goodbye

A week after my seventeenth birthday my family took a road trip to Redding, California to watch my brother graduate from boarding school. It had been two years,  two weeks, since my brother left home. He’d grown eight inches. He looked healthy and muscular, almost unrecognizable from the pasty, acne-faced, alcoholic teenager who departed in a terrifying frenzy of aggressive resistance and law enforcement intervention. I hadn’t grown at all but I’d learned to drive, taken the SAT and survived more than half of high school in the time he was away. My parents had separated.  Each of their faces wore the lines and expression of ten years passing, not two.

My mom drove my red 4runner north on highway 5. My best friend and I serenaded her from the back seat with impassioned  covers of tracks from  Garth Brooks’ album, “Sevens.”

I packed a pink turtleneck, my black J. Crew pea coat, a pair of dark denim and side-zipper, heeled black boots. A carefully chosen wardrobe, selected to display my junior-year sophistication. To illustrate to everyone just how much I’d grown up.

For the car ride I wore sweatpants and my River City Magic hoodie. In my lap, I kept safe the stringy remnants of my childhood blanket, mostly a tattered wad of disintegrating fabric.

I called it “blanky,” and even then, it was my most valued possession. I inherited blanky as a hand-me-down. My brother failed to recognize its magical, healing powers and passed it up without ever getting attached. At seventeen I felt like my brother robbed me of many things, but blanky, I stole from him.

Blanky survived countless family vacations. I battled my fear of flying by anxiously poking my fingers in and out of the spaces between the cotton threads. When anxiety turned to terror (frequently) I’d clench all ten fingers together and hold the fragile strands up against my face. I’d breathe in it’s comforting smell, slow and deep. My mom swore it emitted a fragrance of filth and decay. But to me, blanky smelled warm and safe. Before and after harrowing plane excursions, I schlepped blanky in and out of rental cars and between hotels. I slept with blanky wrapped around my wrists, or snuggled beneath my nose, every night.

I took blanky on overnight school field trips and to sleepovers with friends. When I got older, I’d hide blanky in my pillowcase, take it out when no one was looking, and stash it discretely under my shirt or between my legs.

Somewhere between a gas station pit stop in Red Bluff and our accommodations at the Best Western Inn, blanky disappeared. My first sensation was panic, followed by the launch of frantic phone calls to every place we went that weekend. For forty-eight hours I held on to the hope that blanky would be recovered. Every time the phone rang, I heard the miracle in my head. The voice on the other line assuring me blanky was safe, promising to fold it gently in a fed-ex envelope, and ship it, unscathed, to Sacramento.

A week passed, and nothing.

I cried myself to sleep every night. My mom was helpless and distraught. She couldn’t even look at me, so sad and pathetic.  I’d wake up disoriented at 2a.m. and reach into my sheets, desperately feeling for blanky. The race in my heartbeat would settle when I’d brush against something warm and soft. Then, awakening to clarity, I’d realize it was all imagined.

Blanky was gone.

I was heartbroken.

It was the deepest, most painful loss of my life.

Blanky had been my last shred of sanity and security, and comfort. The only thing salvaged from the wreckage of my brother’s alcoholism. The sole remaining artifact from the life I was living before everything came unglued.

The days after my brother’s graduation were dark, and long, and difficult. I felt both inconsolably sad and indescribably angry. I held my brother responsible. For all of it. The loss of blanky was both the “final straw” and the ultimate symbolism. If only he: wasn’t such a fuck up, finished regular high-school, hadn’t ruined my life…

Everything would be different. And blanky would be safe.

On Easter Sunday, twelve years later, my brother and I reminisce about blanky. He shares that his favorite childhood toy is still tucked away in a hall closet at my dad’s house. I admit I’m still angry that “funky” survived and blanky didn’t.

In the discussion, I feel a surge of old emotions. Heartache and longing for something I haven’t seen, or smelled, or touched, in over a decade. Resentment, sadness, anger, grief.

On the car ride home I blast the a mixed CD my best friend made me. It begins dramatically with the lyrics, “that was a tough goodbye.” My eyes fill with tears.

It sure was.

Tough goodbyes still haunt me. The struggle to gracefully move through endings, and peacefully accept loss. The mirror image is me clinging to old: feelings, relationships, ideas, even when I know it would serve me better to let them go.  I think about about the hurt I was burying, every time I picked blanky up. The emotions and sensations that I wadded up, and tucked away. I gripped blanky like it would stop time, or speed it up. The illusion that if I could dig in deep enough, everything around me would evaporate, and I would be “o.k.”

I roll the windows down and turn the volume up. I sing as loud as I can and when the tears come, they pour down hard. My face is red and swollen and my throat is parched. I feel all of it.

That was a tough goodbye.