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.

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.

My Life in Boxes

Right now I’m staring at my life in boxes.

It’s got me thinking about my life, in boxes.

In the box marked “regret” is the day I gave up on myself as a yoga teacher. And every minute I’ve spent in a tanning bed. It contains the moments I’ve yelled “what the fuck?!” in traffic or refused to let someone merge. It has a pile of aggressive political conversations and years of using feminism to harass my closest friends.

In the box marked “works in progress,” I pack my unfinished dreams: to learn how to speak Spanish, and play the guitar. To write a children’s book, and a trendy, stylish blog. To fly to Antartica and get my hands on a penguin. To be nice to strangers. And my family. And myself.

There’s an empty box marked “romantic relationships.” I keep trying to stuff my male best friend into it. He keeps wriggling away and insisting he doesn’t fit.

The “fears” box is overflowing. It’s like my closet, perpetually overstuffed. I’m in denial about its fullness and unwilling to purge it. The contents are so deep and dense I’m not even sure what’s in there. I can name a million reasons why I don’t need to find out.

There is a box for my happiest memories, one for my cherished friendships and another full of things I’m saving to some day spoil my brother’s kids.

There’s a box for lessons my mom taught me, like how to bake the perfect cheesecake and why mayonnaise is essential for moist garlic bread.

There are boxes I’ve moved all eight times since I left college. Others I’m moving for the first time. There are boxes that have been sealed since the last time I moved.

There are boxes I think I can’t live without, and others I pretend don’t exist.

Moving is part cleanse, part intervention. It’s an unavoidable confrontation with everything I’m carrying. It’s an opportunity to clear my life of clutter.

Or pack it away.

Some things are easy to discard, like t-shirts with stains and dresses I haven’t put on since 2008.

Some things are difficult to part with, like decisions I can’t make peace with and mistakes I’m still trying to understand.

In my imagination I cling to nothing.

In my living room, I have boxes and boxes of stuff.

I’m reminded that life is always moving. That every uncomfortable conversation, encounter or maneuver in traffic is a chance to let go. Or hold on. I can give it a label and put it in a box. Or I can observe it and leave it behind.