The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

Every day, after returning home from middle school, I sat at our kitchen table. Hours before my parents would arrive back home from work. I’d eat my afternoon snack and I’d wonder what it would feel like to be an adult. Long hours I spent there, in that square, wood, and wicker chair — wishing I was someone else.

Most days, I still feel like that little girl. Unsure of where I belong or how I’ll get there. I still wonder if all the things I waited on, after all these years, will really, truly, bring me the Happiness I dreamed they would. Yet, as ever, I look forward. There are things I know I will always have: An unfaltering curiosity. A deep, unprecedented faith in love. And, a strange belief that — somehow, despite the odds — everything will be OK.

As I write this, it is my thirty-third birthday. And, I’m not sure how to explain this past year. Everything changed. — My heart, the people who surround it, the dreams it dreams, and the place it resides have all spun forward into new realms of Happiness — places that, I am quite sure, I will never understand. And, I think, these gifts, and many more, are the real fruit of seeking out my own joy. — The little girl at the kitchen table could never have foreseen this.

After more than three years of weekly Wednesday posts, never having missed a-one, this will be my final blog post here at Saucy Sobriety. These past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how to leave things with you. What to impart that could possibly communicate or encapsulate everything I’ve come to understand from taking part in this process. — The thing that will comfort those of you who still sit, waiting and wishing, at the kitchen table. — But, to no end. Because, blog posts or none, there will be no end to this endeavor. Happiness and the discovery of self are pursuits I could never abandon, even if I tried. And, I remain steadfast in my advice, that — you, too, should continue to seek these things in life.

If this past year, heck, these past three years, have taught me one thing it’s this: Happiness is not something you’ll stumble upon. It is something you build. — Do not sit in wait. — No one is coming for you.

Brick by brick. Story by story. Friend by friend. Mistake by mistake. Place by place. Lesson by lesson. — We find our own Happiness. We find our own sobriety. We find our own love. — Within.

Inside each of you, is an incredible light. Something magical and intangible, that I cannot explain. I cannot explain my own light, either. But, as our time together comes to a close, I know that this blog has been one step of many in my unending journey to do just that — to find the hidden magic and bright light that reside inside each of us. My quest, is one that will forever seek out joy and understanding in this life that, otherwise, can be pitiless and cruel.

The day-to-day can be ruthless. Heartless. Thankless. Yet, I strive on. And, maybe, like the little girl in the kitchen, you too will recognize the small voice inside. — The one that tells you the next moment may carry with it everything that you’ve been seeking. And, sometimes, to your surprise, it does. And, it’s in those moments that we find reward, despite all the heaviness.

Happiness and sobriety are the same thing. They are gratitude — for everything — as it is. The present moment is the only tangible thing we’ll ever have. We can hold on to the past, so much so, it halts us, hurts us, and makes us ill. We can hang our hats in the future, but, to be certain, the future we’ve envisioned is NEVER the one where we’ll actually arrive. So, in the here and now, we must take what we’ve been given and find some way to treasure it.

In this moment, my phone bings and chimes. Friends and family send me birthday wishes. I open cards from my parents, my bosses, my grandparents, and in the background, I listen to music that makes me feel joyful. And, though I feel as old and out to sea as I ever have — I know I am a little boat who has learned to break the big waves. — I am surrounded on all sides. With love.

Today, more than anything else, I want to thank you.

If you were a regular reader, or just one of the few who click through these posts every now and then, it means so much to me that you’ve taken any time at all to take part in my story. To know someone has listened to me and heard me, is perhaps the greatest gift I could ever ask to be given. Your time, attention, compassion, support, and empathy have been the glue that’s held me (and this blog) together over the years.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being witness. Thank you for passing through.

I’ve said it before — I’m crap at goodbyes. So, I’ll leave you here:

Happiness is the reward for seeking. In its pursuit, you will discover who you are and where you’re meant to go.

Listen to the voice inside that never shuts up. — She is telling you something worthwhile.

Hear her. Write her. Sing her. Dance her. Read her. Cook her. Sell her. Sew her. Walk her. Run her. Drive her. Bathe her. Climb her. Swim her. Fuck her. Comfort her. Cradle her. Raise her. Plant her. Judge her. Dress her. Dream her. Hide her. Hate her. Find her. Feed her. Open her. Punish her. Shut her. Forget her. Forgive her. Starve her. Break her. Save her. Reward her. Release her. Kiss her.  Kill her. Cut her. Mend her. Bend her. Resurrect her. Love her. — But, never, never leave her.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, wherever she is — day in, day out — stick with her.

When you are bereft, she is your Happiness. When you are lost, she is your Home.

 

 

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I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

I have never been good at endings.

I don’t cry at funerals. I have stayed in relationships, long after things have been thrown at me. And even after years of sobriety, I still find it hard to know when it’s time to leave the party.

Goodbyes are always complicated.

My first thought, as I come to the end of something big, is to let it slide by, unnoticed. To watch passively as it easily drifts away. But, the truth is — nothing of note ever drifts away easily.

In the past, I allowed things to carry too much weight. Which, in many cases, I’ve discovered, has ushered in the beginning of several downfalls. Somewhere on the road, while I gained traction in my life and sobriety, I convinced myself that certain things should not matter — or, at the very least, I’ve pretended that they should not matter. As a result, I let things get swept away. But, in reviewing this year, I see how flawed that system has become. And, in my efforts to dismantle it, I’ve learned that, more often than not, one of the most solid bricks in the foundation of my new-found Happiness is the ability to say a proper goodbye — even when it is hard.

Letting things go is important. Incredibly weighty. So much so, that I’ve tugged these blog posts around with me, written and unwritten, like little balls on chains. Stories and lessons that I’ve needed or wanted to share, but, many times, have been too scared to cut loose. But, this year, the more open I became — the more truth I blurted out — the better I felt. I suddenly had more space to occupy than I’d had in years. — Sometimes, the things that we keep too close are the things from which we need the most distance.

That distance can be difficult to navigate. There have been times during my Year of Happiness where this blog has felt like an extension of my person, another limb. Other times, it’s felt empty and unfulfilling — a blank page, begging for an explanation that I’ll never have. But, recently, I’ve discovered that, no matter what place the weighty things hold, we owe them. We owe the things that have been constant in our lives. Good and bad. Homage must be paid to the people, places, and things that have become a part of our day-to-day, regardless of their placement. Truly, it is these little things that make us.

You can never know how long something will stay with you — even after it’s left you. And this year, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is: You must learn to say your goodbyes. Even the ones that are long overdue. That can mean a host of things — revisiting old love, tending to old wounds, beating on your steering wheel in parking lots, crying for pieces of your heart that can never be retrieved, writing letters that you’ll never send because, no matter what you have to say — some words aren’t meant to be read or heard or even said at all.

This week, I was telling a friend how, when I was a child, my parents would correct me when I’d say that someone had “passed away.” — “They died,” I remember my father saying, “they didn’t pass away. They’re dead.” It sounds harsh, cruel even. But, it’s true. Taken out of context, and applied here, to the general idea of letting go, it still holds true. Letting an ending slide doesn’t serve anyone. Goodbyes are severe. They cut and bleed. But, they remind us we are still here. Alive and breathing. And, so long as we are still here, fighting the good fight, all wounds heal, even if we are left with scars.

It would be easy for me to let my Year of Happiness go. To slide right by it.  To say that, even if I don’t write my life out in so many words — it will go on. But, it won’t. Not in the way I’d intended.

This goodbye is a death, of sorts. But, it’s an evolution too. A Year that has carried me from one place to another. There is no way for it to slip away seamlessly. It it was never the organized syllabus of lessons and revelations I’d planned on documenting. It has been messy and painful, and on many days, it has been decidedly Unhappy. But, it has taken me to all the places I hoped I’d go — and to places I could never have predicted. For all this, I am eternally grateful. But, the Year is dying — it isn’t passing away. And, it is only right to mourn something’s death by celebrating its life.

Even as I struggle to write an appropriate ending to what feels like its own era, in these final weeks, a part of me knows that by seeking out a way to properly say goodbye to this Year of Happiness, and to all the parts of myself that will disappear along with it, I have gained something beautiful — in simply letting it go.

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth, “Benny’s Scarecrow (Jim Loper’s Coat),” Watercolor And Black Ink Over Graphite With Scratching Out On White Wove Paper, 1955

 

Thor, For A Day

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I’m flexible.

People LOVE hearing this. — When you’re making a hair appointment. Scheduling a business meeting. Booking a trip. Meeting up for drinks. Planning a date. Nailing down an interview. Mastering a yoga pose. — Everyone just loves to know that they’re working with a little (or a LOT) of wiggle room.

Man, what is it about all that wiggle room?

I was having a moment last week. One of those “Happiness Doesn’t Exist and Love Is Dead” moments. Yes, I’ve had quite a few of those this year. It was Wednesday night, and after driving away, as fast as humanly possible, from a “flexible” second date with the World’s Most Boring Man, I found myself walking down the shoe isle at a strip-mall Marshall’s around 9:00PM, for emergency-nocturnal-retail-therapy. My hair was a mess and my eye make-up was all smeary from tearing up in the car while listening to The National and feeling sorry for myself. And, as I stared at myself in the Marshall’s full length mirror, wearing a pair of brown, clearance ankle-boots with three inch heels, I felt the Earth beneath the white, linoleum floor of the strip mall, shift. I’m not sure if it was my anger or my peace that sent the high-wattage volts of badass-ery flowing up through my curvy thighs, but, I decided then and there: I’m done making concessions for myself this year.

With just two months left in my Year of Happiness, I often find myself wondering how “Happy” I’ll really be when it’s all over. When I turn thirty-three, will I have learned enough? Changed enough? Seen enough? — And, the truth is, I don’t know. Probably not. But, I do know this — for a lifetime, I’ve let flexibility be an excuse more often than I’ve let it open me up to possibility. Time and again,  I’ve said, “Hey, I’ll hang on to this crappy, little relationship/job/hometown/apartment, because, it’s OK, for now. I’m flexible. I can always make changes later.” But, here’s the thing. — I don’t make changes later. — I think about making changes later and never do.

So, looking in the mirror, legs parted in a Thor-like stance, wearing my new clearance boots, with tags still dangling from the zippers, I decided that Happiness isn’t about getting what you want — it’s about asking for it — and not being flexible. I strutted over to the triangular, mirrored bench, unzipping my boots at the anklets, realizing, it’s high time I threw down my own hammer.

After a slew of awful dates, and some not-so-awful dates with guys who couldn’t give a shit about me or my happiness, would you believe that I’ve only met one person in Albany that I’ve had any genuine interest in? And he wasn’t on an app. I met him like real humans meet. At a Friendsgiving dinner way back in November. We didn’t even talk to each other. You know, the way most, awkward, normal, non-bots act when they meet each other. And, later, I asked my roommates about him when we got home. — I heard later that he’d inquired about me as well.

After some mixed, non-communication between our mutual friends, it fizzled. I decided to leave it up in the air, because — Fuck it. — I’m flexible.

But, last Wednesday, in Marshall’s shoe isle, months, and many bad dates later, me and my Thor boots were having none-of-it. When had I become such a chicken shit?

So, under Marshall’s florescent lights, in my socks, I looked up Friendsgiving guy’s Facebook profile and friended him. And, in a not-so-twisty twist of fate, he accepted my request. And, I sent him a message asked him out to coffee. — Under totally dubious, and transparent pretenses, of course. — But, it felt really good. And, in a matter of minutes, after months of being disappointingly “flexible about everything,” all it took was three minutes of being brave to feel somewhat hopeful. And, now, it’s ceased to matter how it all turns out. For now, it only matters that I asked. — Everything else, is just icing on the cake.

And that’s the the thing about Happiness. The greatest lesson from this year, the one I hope I’ll always remember is: Happiness is about what you actually give yourself when you stop being so flexible. Sure, give an inch, but — fight for the mile.

It doesn’t matter if, in the end, everything goes to shit. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. It only matters that you show up — and go for it. — Stop making concessions in the name of flexibility. If there’s anything that you should be inflexible about it’s your own Happiness.

So, I walked out of Marshall’s at 9:30PM with a pair of cheap boots and a new lease on my own Happiness. By 10:30PM, I had made a coffee date with someone I’m fairly confident isn’t insane (or boring). Some things are better when you’re flexible, like, diving for the best-you-can-get-boots at the bottom of a clearance bin. But, some things are worth more. — More time. More effort. And, yes, more risk. Which, sometimes, will involve forcing yourself to move around in a room with a little less flexibility than you’re used to.

You never start out batting 400. Trust me, I know better than anyone, you won’t hit every ball that gets tossed your way. Not even close.

But, your best bet is to swing. Take a strong, inflexible stance. And, bring your hammer down.

 

Carlee, Carlee, Carlee Chameleon

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Carlee, the beauty school director, tells me that she loves my glasses.

“Those are fabulous. I have a pair just like them! I love them!” She squealed. She is thin and wiry and impeccably dressed. A button-less, coral cardigan is draped around her sinewy, sculpted arms. Her white-hot-blonde curls dangle like tight springs at the tops of her shoulders. She was complimenting me, of course, because it is her job. But, I don’t mind. And, she’s right, my glasses are fabulous.

In the true spirit of chameleon-ism, I’m touring an aesthetics institute because, I’m thinking about changing color — again. I’ve been chided, warned, and scoffed at for entertaining this idea, but, I’ve also been patted on the back and encouraged. And, in managing other people’s responses to what I’m thinking about doing, I begin to realize just how much I’ve learned in this past year. And, not just about me.

When you’re a chameleon, color bleeds. You step on one leaf and your leg turns a waxy green, and then, in your next step, your webbed toe turns a bark-y brown. Then, you’re standing on a yellow blossom and your whole torso blooms along with it, igniting like a burst of sunlight. — Our surroundings change us. People. Places. Circumstances. Situations. Everyday, we step onto a new palate of incredible color. And, I can’t help but think, for so many years, all I wanted was to remain in one place. To understand myself in one color. — But, try as I may, it can’t be done.

Carlee holds the grey door open for me as we walk into a stairway of floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is our new space,” she says, “we just moved into this building, only a few months ago.” — I figured as much, because I made it to my interview on time only because I saw the shiny, new building, with it’s giant windows and inviting sign, as I drove by it on route to the old location — the location Google maps still deems accurate. At the top of the stairs, we walked onto a floor filled with classrooms. White, dry-erase boards lined the walls and book bags sat in chairs at empty desks. “The students are taking clients in the clinic today,” Carlee told me, pulling her cardigan tightly around her tiny frame. “And, it’s a good thing! It’s darn chilly up here!”

Carlee is the type of woman you’d expect to say “Darn chilly.” She is peppy, and, her breed of chameleon is chipper and bright. She is wiry, I suspect, because she is designed to pounce on you with unsolicited positivity and cheer at well-timed intervals. Her eyes are an icy blue, and they actually look at you, really look at you, when she is talking. “I hope I’m not going too fast,” she said, “I get kinda excited to show people around the new building. I graduated in 2008. And, I still can’t get over this new space!” Her tiny, one-inch heels click-clacked across the the top of the linoleum stairwell. “Let’s head back down to the clinic. Then, we can chat in my office.” Her eyes sparkled when they met mine, as if to hypnotize me, before she ushered me, with her twiggy arm, toward the stairs.

I watched the students in the clinic. Some were much younger than me, some, much older. They wore scrub-like uniforms with white, slip-on shoes. It was very clean and quiet. I found the whole scene very calming, custom-made for my OCD-like tendencies, tending toward cleanliness and the minimalist. I thought about one of the instructors from the the beauty school I worked for in Portland — Erica. — I recall her flawless skin and her immaculate attention to detail. For Erica, aesthetics were about so much more than appearances. They were about order. Beauty was her way of commanding the universe. And, there, standing beside Carlee, I felt bad for having thought Erica was an emotionless stickler. I see now, this kind of order, this clean and untouched universe, kept her sane.

Back in Carlee’s office, she sat behind her desk gathering materials to place in a white folder for my consideration. Tuition information. Financial aid applications. Course outlines. Scheduling options. And, should I decide to apply, a form to be completed by the person of my choice, serving as my letter of recommendation. She handed me the folder, closed, and looked at me, I mean, really looked. She was like a beautiful, delicately styled, praying mantis. I was not sure if she was going to hop across the desk and eat me, or gaze upon me with her big, icy eyes until I said something. And, then, I felt my color change right in front of her — I became, suddenly, a deep, peaceful, navy blue — a perfect match to the freshly painted, silky walls of her tiny office.

“Carlee, can I be honest with you about something?” Carlee tilted her head to the right, looking at me as if the answer to my question was obvious. “Of course,” she said.

“I’m thirty-two. And, I’m not sure if I’m going to apply for this program. But, I can tell you, I really like it here. The thing is, I’m a NYU graduate. And, that probably sounds like a snobby thing for me to say. But, when I think about investing in attending this program, I think, maybe, I’m too old or too something — like this is a non-sequitur — I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think I am. But, it would be a huge shift for me. And, I just wonder if you’ve had a student or students here that, maybe, sound like me. Because, I’d like to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about doing this. And, it’d be nice to hear it from someone who isn’t, you know, related to me.”

Carlee paused. She laced her manicured fingers together over a stack of manila folders that sat in front of her on the desk. She leaned in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret, but, instead of talking, her eyes met mine and softened. Now, she appeared more like a lean giraffe than an insect, her neck craning, gracefully toward me. Her swooping curls, tumbled forward from behind her ears and fluttered gracefully at the sides of her cheeks.

“Sarah, I know you probably think I’m here to sell you a seat in this class. And, technically, I am. But, the truth is, whether you apply or not, whether you enroll or not, or whether you walk out this door never to return again — or not — this class will be filled. And, I want you to be here because you want to be here. And, that’s up to you. You’ve got lots of time to think about that. But, here’s my answer to your question. I graduated from this institute in 2008. I was thirty-four. And, when I got here, all I knew was — it sounded good. It sounded like something different. It sounded like something fun. And, it sounded like changing. Changing my life. And, since then, I’ve worked in this amazing industry, and now, I’m the director of this school. I love it here. I enroll girls who are eighteen and I enroll women in their sixties. And, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: You’re never too old to want something new, to do something new, to be someone new. It’s great that you have an undergraduate degree. Really, I think that’s great. But, do you think it’s great? Because, if not, you’re never too old to learn something new. — And, if you want to do that here, we’d love to have you.”

In the parking lot, I sat in the idling car and I drank the cold, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I’d left in cup-holder to the left of the wheel. The little, plastic, Oregon license-plate-key-chain that reads “SARAH” dangled from the rear-view mirror where I’d hung it the day I drove out of Oregon for the last time. My eyes welled up with tears as I stared down at my shiny, white folder. Filled with clean, white pages, begging for navy blue ink.

The truth is, we can’t know what color we’ll turn next. We can only know that we’re changing. Learning. Painting legs and toes and torsos — with every, beautiful step.

ARTWORK: “Chameleon 2” By Tilen Ti

(www.etsy.com/shop/tilentiart)

Maybe I’ll Be Her For Awhile

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The last time I remember knowing exactly who I was, I was seventeen years old, sitting at my parent’s dining room table.

NYU had made an error. They’d sent out an email, congratulating recent early decision applicants on their acceptance to the university before the applicants had actually received their official acceptance letters in the mail. And, the evening I got my email, I sat in front of my PC, staring at my AOL home page, elated.

That night, long before becoming a drunk, sniffing, snorting, or smoking a drug — my whole body buzzed. I was more of an energetic mass than I was a person. And, for the first time, in maybe my entire life, I felt worthy. The vision of myself, one that I had carefully cultivated and constructed, had not only been validated, but, better still, handsomely rewarded.

I’d bust my ass in high school, and, with one click of my mouse, the Universe — and the the university of my dreams — had granted me my every wish. Suddenly I had become the one thing I had always dreamed I would be. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care that I had no one to tell.

I sat at the dining room table, my arms folded on my mother’s textured, green tablecloth, the day’s mail piled beside my right elbow and the large, white, water-pitcher-vase, that served as the table’s centerpiece, beside my left. My parents were still at work. I had two, maybe three hours before they’d arrive back home. Shaking, the news bottled up inside me like lightning, news that I knew was to good to relay over the phone, I didn’t quite know how to contain myself. So, I cried. I cried for a really long time. It felt like hours. Sitting quietly at the table, just feeling. Feeling everything. I felt the possibility in my future. I felt the satisfaction of having been rewarded for performing the hard work — work that I was never really sure would pay off. And, I felt like, maybe, having accomplished this one thing — I could be easier on myself.

Just one email in my AOL inbox, sent in error, suddenly gave me express permission to believe in myself and my ability — wholeheartedly. I felt solid, a beacon of myself, and, I cried because I’d been holding onto all that emotion for years. I’d been waiting. Waiting to be actualized or noticed or forgiven. And, there I sat, and — I didn’t have to wait anymore. At that table, I became everything all at once.

I let it enter me and exit my lungs in loud, lonely sobs. I was everything I had set out to be. And, in that moment, I was the most grateful I had ever been. I thanked God. I whispered promises into the air — promises that were meant to assure the powers that be:

I would hold up my end of the bargain.

***          ***          ***

Six months later, only one semester into my dream program at NYU — I dropped out. Promptly changing schools within the university.

Ever since then, I have waited for a night like the one I spent sitting at my parent’s dining room table. I’ve waited for the moment where I’ll feel  sure about who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve moved from job to job, relationship to relationship, city to city. But, I’ve never sat so still as I did that night, waiting for my parents to come home. Never since that night have I had a moment where I have been so proud to share something with them — with anyone. And, I have never had the Universe so perfectly deliver me my true heart’s desire the way that email delivered me my childhood dream.

Breaking into 2017, I think about the three months that remain in my Year of Happiness. I think about how, in one of the Christmas cards my father gave me this year, he told me that his wish for me is that my Year of Happiness extends into forever. And, I think about what it really means to know who I am and what direction I’m about to move in next.

As someone who was always the “good girl” — an exemplary student, a well behaved daughter, and a loyal friend and family member — it still baffles me that I ended up being the fuck-up with so little direction. It still surprises me when I remember that, there isn’t anything that lights me up today the way getting into NYU lit me up back then. And, I still feel it in my gut every time I change gears — the ambiguity of my purpose here. Where can I begin to find meaning when I don’t have the slightest idea where to look?

In a way, my Year of Happiness has given me something back, even if it is just a fraction of what it was — not purpose, but, a renewed sense of meaning. So far, these nine months and, I expect, the three that remain, have shown me that purpose isn’t always something specific. And, meaning is relative. Maybe it was always the Universe’s intention that I be an entirely new woman every few months. Maybe the God I thanked, those now fifteen years ago, always intended me to be lost and found and then lost again. Maybe it was never about the goals I set and failed to meet. — Maybe it was always about being the chameleon. — Changing with ease.

New skin is easier to grow into and slip out of these days. And, while I may have dropped out of the acting program at NYU, I am still a master performer. I’ve played many strange and tragic roles. I change casts and costumes whenever I like. I see someone I want to be, and, I don’t think about it — I become her. I move in and out of my own scenes, project new heroines, and think: “Maybe I’ll be her for awhile.”

This January, the tenth month in my Year of Happiness, I intend to celebrate my Chameleon — the actress I became without ever really becoming. Things I have always hated — the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the disappointment — maybe these are all functions of my greatest role. The one I have played so well, that the lines separating us are hardly blurred any longer. Her stage is set, and, I know my mark.

The truth is, you can’t know anything at seventeen. You can’t know who you’ll be or what you’ll do. You can’t know if your dream today is the dream you’ll have in six months or sixteen years. You can’t thank God for something that you delivered to yourself. And, it should be obvious, that you can’t expect anything that arrived in your AOL inbox back in 2001 to be worth a damn in 2017.

But, you can always sit at the dining room table.

Change color.

And, feel it out.

A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

Going Postal: Christmas Edition

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Before pulling into the parking lot of Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Center on Powell Boulevard, I stopped at the liquor store and got a big bottle of Jim Beam White Label.

It was a Tuesday. I was going to put up my Christmas tree. And, Goddammit, I was going to be drunk.

I threw the bottle, in it’s slim, brown, paper bag onto the passenger seat and drove down the road blasting a Nat King Cole Christmas album with the windows down. It was cold and my windshield was dirty. The Winter sun glinted in my eyes and I pulled down the sun visor as I turned off the road and into Dennis’ lot where three Mexican men were tying a tree to the top of a forest green Subaru.

Inside, twinkling lights were strung up under a white, plastic canopy that housed flocked, white Christmas trees, lined up by size, in tidy rows, as far as the eye could see. Red, glass ornaments reflected the glare of silver tinsel. Life-size Santas stood guard in every doorway. And, the woman who stood at the cashier’s counter wore a green sweater laced with cheap, golden threads and had glittery silver snowflakes dangling from her ear lobes. “Can you tell me where the Fraser firs are?” She looked up at me smiling her big, toothy, smoker’s smile, “How tall, hun?” She croaked. Unsure how to answer, I considered inquiring what height she thought might fill the loveless void my living room had become.

“I don’t know. Six feet?” I asked her, not really concerned with height, only with getting something to convince myself that the holiday season of 2011 was not, in fact, the fifth ring of hell. “Carlos!” she shouted across the store, “Can you take this little lady over to the Frasers? — Go over there with Carlos hun. He’ll help you.”

Carlos stood behind me while I pushed my way through branches and needles in an aisle at the far end of the lot. “You like that one? I can open it for you, so you can see it,” he said stepping forward. “That’s ok. I’ll take it. It’s fine.” He looked at me as if he understood why I was there — a look that acknowledged both my indifference and his pity for me. “Ok. No problem. Which car is yours?” He picked up the tree before I could answer. “Black Honda Civic. The one with the busted tail light.” He nodded, leading me down the aisle and back under the heated canopy. “Ok. You pay inside.” I handed him my car keys and walked back to the cashier with the white ticket Carlos had ripped from the top of the tree and handed to me.

I paid Sissy Snowflake sixty-five bucks for the tree and another twenty for my impulse buy: A big, red, light-globe that sat on the edge of her counter. “Happy Holidays, Hun,” she said handing me my change.

Carlos saw the bottle of Jim Beam poking out from the brown bag on the passenger seat. “You throwing a Christmas party?” He asked, smiling, as he tied the twine taunt around the roof of my car. “Yeah,” I said, “something like that,” handing him a ten dollar tip.

Back home, I pulled into our driveway which, now, was just my driveway. I looked at the tree strapped to the roof like a dead body and did everything I could to stop myself from breaking all the car’s windows. I held my bottle of bourbon, like the baby Jesus himself, and left the tree atop the Honda. — First things first.

In the kitchen, I didn’t even bother to pull down a glass. I opened the bottle, letting the click of the breaking, plastic seal sound the coming of my lord and savior: Jim Beam. I drank from the bottle in gulps. It burned the back of my throat and sent a shiver up my back that started in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, and, the warm liquid sloshed in my empty stomach like an angry sea. I felt my cheeks flush red and, after a minute, I could breathe again.

I put on Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Songs By Sinatra” and sat on the arm of the couch with my open bottle and my green, Rubbermaid Christmas bin at my feet. Inside the bin were smaller boxes of ornaments my mother had packed up for us before we moved, a tree skirt, old lights, stockings, and a Glade cinnamon-apple scented candle that we hadn’t finished burning the year before. I dug out the plush snowman with a hook at his feet and placed him on the fireplace mantle and hung my cat’s Christmas stocking. She sat watching me from her window perch in the sun, nonplussed.

When I was drunk enough, I decided to get the tree. Carlos had already put it in the stand, so, I just had to cut the twine and get the thing from the driveway, through the garage, and into the living room. It seemed easy enough, but when I got out to the car, the tree seemed bigger than when I had poked at it’s branches on the lot. I stood there for moment with my scissors, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver the sappy beast into the house. And, as I walked around the side of the car, snipping at the twine on the back, passenger side, the mailman turned the corner.

I’d seen him many times before. He’d always waved to me as he wheeled by during the Summer, while I sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. He was a fit, older guy with salt and pepper hair in a tight, military cut. Tall and lean, he walked quickly, and that day the dusty blue of his Postal Service uniform contrasted his red cheeks in the cold. He watched me fumble as he counted out my neighbor’s holiday cards and placed them in her slot. I struggled, sliding the tree off the driver’s side, almost falling. The plastic stand hit the asphalt, hard. It didn’t break, but, it startled me. “Godfuckingdamnit,” I spat out in frustration under my bourbon breath.

“Need a hand there?” The mailman asked in a warm, kind voice, as I dragged the stand over the gravel toward the garage. “No. That’s ok.” I said, tripping over the cement lip where the garage met the driveway. “Jesus. Fuck.”

“Here.” He said, walking toward me. “Let me help you there. You really need two people to do that job.”

“I’ve got it! Jesus.” I shouted. The sound of my voice reverberated off the walls of the garage and out onto Cora Drive, hitting the street like a piece of metal. “I’ve fucking got it.”

“Alright lady. Fine.” He said, putting his hands up, conceding. “Just trying to help you. Jeez.” He walked back to his cart at my neighbor’s front door and wheeled it up to his little truck around the other side of the circle. And, I stood at the garage door, wondering who I’d become.

***          ***          ***

Later that night, after the sun had gone, the apartment was dark, save for the lights on the tree. After the mailman left, I’d struggled for another ten minutes, but managed to get the tree up the single step and into the living room where it sat, undecorated, while I wept between swigs of bourbon.

As my Sinatra album repeated for the fifth time, I strung up the lights. I hung my favorite childhood ornaments. And, as tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled out the little angel my mother had wrapped for me, specially, in paper towels, and placed her at the top. — She looked down on me softly as I sunk to the floor where I grabbed at the blue carpet beside my now near-empty bottle. Even in that, the saddest and most desperate of moments, my tree was absolutely beautiful. — A light in my darkest season.

Completely blotto, I held myself up at the kitchen counter and pulled out a notepad and a pen from the junk drawer and wrote a note to the mailman. I stumbled to the front door and clipped it to my mailbox outside.

THANKS FOR TRYING TO HELP ME WITH THE TREE. I’M SORRY. IT REALLY WAS A TWO PERSON JOB. BUT, IT’S BEEN A CRAP YEAR, AND I REALLY NEEDED TO DO IT MYSELF.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

SARAH

The Rotten Fruit

2ripeand1rootenapple I was taking big breaths. In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

That’s what you’re supposed to do when you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I don’t usually leave the house before having my coffee, but, on Sunday, I did.

I slipped into my sneakers, pulled my green sweatshirt over my head, and I walked out of the house into the cold. I stood in the center of  the overpass at the highway crossing and let the sound and smell engulf me. Moving air and gasoline. People, all flying forward at sixty-five miles an hour, and me, standing perfectly still. I allowed all the noise to surround me, humming as it rose up from underneath me. And, in that beautiful mess of movement and sound, I let my fingers feel cold and my ears feel numb. I melted. Into place. Into Albany. Into the fence that stops people who are about to lose it from leaping into the traffic below. And, every thought I had, just one more car on the thruway — I allowed a final chance to make its noise.

Thoughts. This past month, I wrote them. Spoke them. But mostly, I thought them. I’ve carried some of them around with me for what feels like centuries, luggage I’d never opened. Because I knew that, if I did,  I’d have to shove every unruly thought back into that damn suitcase. And, they’d never all fit back inside the way they had before. All my thoughts, old and overripe. — All rotting fruit.

I wrote the stories that had been permanent residents in my head, for years. And suddenly, they were all outside me. My bag of fruit, strewn across the highway. And, out of nowhere, came waves of forgiveness. Everywhere I looked, I had been forgiven. Crazier still, I was able to forgive. Finally. I forgave. — The people. The places. The circumstances. — All of us, redeemed. Drenched in blessed water, burst from my leaking pipes in some holy absolution.

When I woke up with a start Sunday morning, I felt them. — New thoughts. New weight. So, I walked out onto New Scotland Road and I stood on that overpass and dumped everything I had, the old and the new, my suitcase of rotting apples, onto the highway below.

Vibrating along with a thousand engines, I let the person I’ve pretended to be fall into the traffic below, with the rest of my trash. And then, I started walking.

I learned to walk in Portland, after my first, traumatic event in sobriety. Miles and miles. Every morning, before I went to work. Every night, when I got home. I walked, dragging my fruit-filled baggage around Reed College campus so many times, I swear to God, there are still grooves in the sidewalk from my worn out Brooks running sneakers. I walked because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to be done. My therapist at the time told me to stop walking. Both my Achilles had severe tendonitis. She was worried about me. But, I kept on walking. — Because, I knew, medical advice be damned, that I had marathons to trot before I’d feel any better.

And, that’s just it. As the old adage goes: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Sometimes, you have to carry the rotten fruit. Walk with it. Walk to China and back. It’s only after you’ve dragged your bag behind you long enough that you truly know which stories will truly eat you alive. And then, you have to tell them. In your head first, and then, to everyone. You have to let go of the projects you were never meant to have. You have to be the crazy girl who changes her mind about everything ten thousand times before settling on the right thing, which will, inevitably, end up being wrong. You have to forgive. Don’t forget, because, the whole point is learning. But, forgive. Please. Forgive everyone. And then, forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being: Stupid. Selfish. In over your head. A punk. A liar. A child. A cheat. A recluse. A thief. And a fraud. — You have to remember that everyone on this planet is just as fucked as you are, and, you have to learn to like that about humanity.

You have to stand over the fucking highway and drop all of your rotten fruit over the edge, because none of it is going to save or serve you. Not one thought or person or memory is going to save you. It’s you who’s going to save you. Your story — however you tell it — is the thing that sets you free. It can be sad or funny or desperate. It can be humiliating or humbling or hammy. But, the thing it can’t be is: Silent. So, scream it. Your stories aren’t meant to be thoughts that bounce around like a pinballs between your ears. It has to be messy. Rotten fruit on the highway.

Sunday, I didn’t end up losing it. I started walking. New Scotland Road to Whitehall to Delaware Avenue. Mascara running. And then, I walked some more, to a coffee shop in Center Square, Albany.

I stood in line with my raccoon eyes, and got an Americano brewed from beans that, as it happened, were from a boutique, Oregon coffee roaster that I used to frequent when I lived in Portland. The barista thought I was cool because I’d heard of them. I fought the urge to tell him how decidedly uncool I am. But, I didn’t. Because, some thoughts — are trash. And trash doesn’t make good banter, but, it does make a good story.

This month, the ninth in my Year of Happiness, and the last in the year of 2016, is about the Stories. All the stories. My stories. Pent-up stories. Maudlin, sad stories. Trash stories. Every story that’s fit to print, and even better, those that are completely unfit. Because, when this year is over, I’m starting over again. And, likely, again after that. I need room. Room for new stories. All the room I can find.

So, if your going to lose it, start with the old thoughts, the old stories — all of them.

Start fresh. Empty your bags onto the highway.

And, when you’re left with the stories you can’t lift high enough to toss over the edge — tell them.

Start with the fruit.

Artwork: “Two Ripe and One Rotten Apple,”  Daniel Worth;

http://danielworthart.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-ripe-and-one-rotten-apple.html

 

 

 

 

Notes In Her Kitchen

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When I arrive, she is standing slumped over a clipboard in her kitchen.

In an hour, the restaurant will be buzzing. Cooks, bartenders, servers. But, for now, it’s just the two of us, and, she hasn’t seen me yet. I’m standing, trying not to breathe, pressing my spine into the doorway, worried that she’ll smell the liquor on my breath.

Though, I know, even when she does, she won’t say anything. She keeps my secrets as well as I do.

 

I watch her for a minute. Scratching out her lists. Her notes. Counting heads. Imagining her plates. I know I have to tell her. But, something about the way she is standing begs me to wait until tomorrow. Something sad and tired in her movements, makes me hurt for her. We are both so tired. — Different things  have left us exhausted.

I decide to wait. It has to be the last thing she hears from me. Not the first. I can’t tell her. Not yet.

Her husband walks up behind me and startles me. He’s got a big plastic tub full of ice. “Hey you! Are you ready for today?!” He shouts, rocking his head back and forth like he’s at a metal show.

“Hell yeah!” I shout back, pumping my fist, as he walks past me into the main dining room. But, I’m not ready. And, before I can face them, I run back to the office and take a long swig out of the bottle of cheap vodka in my handbag.

It’s the hottest day of our Portland summer. We are all sweating, even in the air conditioning. And, when we walk out to the street to set up the restaurant’s booth for the street fair, it feels like walking into a stick of butter. Thick and oily. Even my cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a net. And, as we walk toward the shade of the tent, I have to talk myself out of dying. Not just for my own sake, but for hers.

***           ***           ***

As a drunk, there are moments that you know, without a doubt, that you have let yourself down. But, until that particular day, during that particular summer, I had never truly felt the weight of letting someone else down.

It wasn’t because of something I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t because of an unpaid invoice or because of the liquor that poured from the restaurant’s shelf into my glass. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hack the job, or the people, or the place. — It was because I couldn’t handle myself any longer. I couldn’t be available for all the things that I said I could be. But, how do I explain that to her? How do I explain that I’ve become unhinged? Every time I see her face, it kicks me in the gut. I couldn’t have known giving up on her would hurt like this — giving up on her dream would hurt like this.

She struggled with the blue awning at the left corner of the tent where we sat in the shade. It gave us little relief from the heat. She handed me her stainless steel coffee thermos. “Sare Bear — It’s time. Get me a vodka-soda.” We both laugh. But, my laugh is more an exclamation of my relief than my amusement. I’ve been drunk since this morning. But, now, I have her permission. Permission to forget the heat. — Permission to forget everything.

Under the tent, I sit next to her in a canvas folding chair and we drink our vodka-sodas from thermoses. The crowds haven’t arrived yet. But, the prep cooks keep delivering hotel pans of fried chicken and noodles for us to serve to people that aren’t there. “Fuck this shit! This is total bullshit. We’re not doing this next year,” she says surveying the near empty street. But, I know she’ll do it again next year — because she does what she has to do for her dream, even when she hates it. Even when the process pains her, she is the most utterly committed person I have ever met. I take a sip from my straw and watch her for my cues. I wait for a sign that I can read, because I have learned to read them all.

That’s the thing that kills me about it. I know her. I know when she says one thing and means another. I know when she’s playing it tough, but is headed for a breakdown in the office. I know when she’s going to smile kindly in someone’s face and tear them to shreds the second they walk out the door. I know that she is in love with her kitchen clipboard more than any of us humans. I know how this place tears her apart and lights her up in every minute she stands at her post in expo, looking out over the dining room like it’s the Serengeti, with a line of servers migrating across an empty floor. I know her. And, I know her kingdom is beautiful and tragic. And, there is so much of me that wants to stay.

But, I can’t. I can’t pull it off. Not in the way she deserves. I keep coming back to that promise I made. — I told her I could. — And. I. Can’t.

We press through the day, hot, tired, and drunk. My mind wanders. Floating in front of me like the little clouds of cigarette smoke. Her dreams. Her faith in this place. Her reckless abandon. Her laughter booming through the dining room. Her frustration, held back only by the sliding black door of the the tiny office. Her silhouette, forever bent over a clipboard full of lists. And me, with only one:

Drink. Drink with abandon. No matter who or what you abandon. Drink.

The sun sinks  and my heart with it. I sit alone in the office waiting for her to come back and meet me. My hidden-purse-bottle is empty now, and I bury it deep in the bottom of my bag. I’m still tired and hot and broken. And, I fold myself over my secondhand IKEA desk and weep into my folded elbows. She walks into the office and slides the door closed behind her, because — she knows.

And, she begins to cry too — before I’ve said anything at all.

***          ***          ***

We both sit at the bar with tear stained faces. “Connie, make us both something good,” she says to Conrad, the bartender who watches us lean into each other at the end of the bar. “I love you Sare Bear. And, I’m gonna miss your drunk ass,” she says looking at me and my puffy eyes. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out and  my eyes well up again. “Oh, get over it, Bitch!” she shouts at me as she pushes my shoulder playfully. Connie places two cocktail glasses in front of us. “Shooter boots too?” he asks, placing little, boot-shaped shot glasses in front of us and pouring out shots of whiskey before we can answer. She smiles at me in her wild way.

Our sentimental moment has passed, and now, like I’ve seen her do a million times before, without complaint, she will regroup and rebuild, as I crumble beside her.

***          ***          ***

When I picture her face, even now, I feel my heart drop into my stomach like a piece of lead. There isn’t a sufficient apology for walking out on her dream, even under the guise of making myself well again. It never seems enough. I read about her in the paper, online, and in magazines. I get a link about her on Facebook. She likes one of my Instagram photos. I send her a viral video of a pug I know she’ll love. But, my unspoken betrayal lurks. It stagnates, like a moat between us. What we shared, is gone.

To make myself feel better, I imagine going  back to the restaurant, early in the morning, before she or anyone else arrives. I creep into her kitchen, still clean, untouched from the night before. And, I slide a note onto her clipboard at her station before slipping out the door forever.

I imagine, when she finds my note, she whispers “Whatta bitch!” And then, she tapes it to the wall above her mise en place, next to all her other love notes and drawings. And, she even smiles a little before returning to her clipboard, where she begins today’s list with: “Cilantro.”