All The Women We’re Not

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The women who hold the most sacred places in my life, all love old things.

Antique tables, lacquered armoires, oak inlay, varnished sterling silver spoons, and sets of fine china passed down from their mothers and their grandmothers before that.

Me — I prefer IKEA.

Clean lines. Black. White. Wood. Unfinished. Disposable. Too rudimentary to overthink. Bare walls and sharp edges. I have always hesitated when it’s come time to decorate. In Portland, I lived in my last apartment for almost three years and never hung one thing on the walls. That kind of commitment was too much for me. — Monuments to the past always left holes in my walls.

I spent, and sometimes still spend, much of my time wondering how to pay homage to these women and thier antique sensibility when I have no desire to inherit or admire their aged tables, hang my clothes in their finely-crafted dressers, or eat off their chipped, precious plates.

In a recent, somewhat morbid, conversation with my mother, I told her that when the time comes, there was only one piece from her carefully curated furniture collection that I want to keep — the rest, I intend sell to the highest bidder.

She sat across from me, smiling, in her reupholstered, cream-colored, living-room chair, with her feet elevated on a mismatched hassock that belonged to the couch that I sat on across the room. I could tell, a part of her was sad to hear this news, but, there was a flicker of something else in her eyes, too. — As I’ve aged, I have become so incredibly different than her, and, for the first time, I saw that my deviance has managed to bring her some kind of joy.

As women, we so often find ourselves attempting to recreate the lives our mothers have led. We are chameleons that so desperately want to re-live the lives that have given us our own. Secretly hoping that, somehow, it will help us to better understand ourselves. In a curious way, it is a sort of thanks. And, sometimes, we rebel against it. We try to become anything other than what our mothers have been or would have us be. We ford new, wide rivers, just to say we did. But, in time, we learn that the nature of every river is the same.

As I walk through the last few months in my Year of Happiness, I look for themes. At the onset of this project, I was so sure that by its end, I would know the woman I am. But, in a strange twist of fate, I’ve been surprised to discover that, more than anything else, I’m discovering all the women I’m not.

My cousin, roommate, and best friend has furniture pieces from her parent’s log cabin, her childhood summer home, placed throughout her house (which, it bears mentioning, was built in 1885). Many of them are in disrepair and, these pieces, are some of her most treasured. Weathered, and laced with meaning I’ll never quite understand, her collection is a map of who she was and who she has become. She scoffs at my need for stark, assemble-it-yourself, Swedish simplicity. — “Cheap shit.” She says.

The older I get, the more I’ve felt myself retaliate against the need for things. The need for people. Forfeiting all that space can be dangerous.

But still, I collect all these women I’m not, in my own, quiet menagerie. The woman I’ve become in this past year is not nearly as significant as the women I’ve let go or the women I’ve chosen to keep in my company.

In the last year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be my mother. — An impressive career-driven woman with a laundry list of professional accolades that she’ll never share with you unless she’s pressed. The silent fortitude of a Japanese soldier. Caretaker to a feral cat colony in Brooklyn. Collector of snow globes. A woman who believes that the wrong rug can completely devastate a room. And, a beautiful mother who has, without knowing it, in her unique way, raised a daughter to mirror herself in the most unexpected ways.

In my quest to uncover myself, I’ve found it most useful to cast parts of myself aside. To become the like the old, weathered pieces my mother has carefully placed in every room of her house. For me, this process is different from my mother’s. — I had birds tattooed on my heel for my deceased grandparents, and, to me, this is far better than scraping my fork across their old china plates at Thanksgiving. And, while news of this development disappoints my mother, I know that the more often I let pieces of her go, the more like her I become. — Plates we’ve broken can be just as, if not more, beautiful when we glue what’s left of them back together.

When I move out on my own again, in the Spring, I look forward to sitting in my new space. My mother will help me move my cat up from Brooklyn and, then, she will likely spend the day cleaning my bathroom and kitchen voraciously, even though I’ll insist that there’s no need. — That is her way, and, I expect nothing less of her. She will begrudgingly agree to help me shop at IKEA for a MALM dresser (a piece that I have now assembled several times with expert skill) and she’ll weigh in on the various $20 area rugs, no doubt. And then, I will sit alone in my room, a beautiful canvas of barren walls, on a mattress with no box spring, beside my cat, who will stare up at me, as if to ask me — what comes next? A question for which I will have no answer.

But, in this mild Winter, I remain, sitting happily at the counter in my cousin’s kitchen, laughing along with her and her husband. Murray, their dog, has destroyed four chairs, and counting, from their hand-me-down dining room set. These foam-less, gnawed trophies now sit at the sills of the dining room windows, where Betsy, Murray’s Chihuahua/Shiba Inu-mix sister, sits gazing out into the Albany yonder, barking viciously at any and all invisible intruders who threaten us. And, I think, this is a fitting end for these chairs, these family heirlooms. Unsightly, perhaps, but, fixtures of the house in their own right. — Old things, destroyed by those of us who can never, truly appreciate their past. — Yet, there the pups sit, upon thier shredded thrones and, suddenly, the chair’s purpose and past matter little.

We are all here, now, together, in this old house.

ARTWORK: Daniel Blagg, “Ms. Wright’s Chair” (2013), Watercolor on paper.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Not like a cut. Not any more.

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He didn’t love me. Not enough.

The first time I had the thought, and really acknowledged it, I was laying on the bed in his brother’s guest room.

I’d had that thought before. And, I’d had it many times after. But, that day, I remember, it was raining. I left the living room in tears, though, now, I can’t remember why. And, alone in that quiet room, I lay in our bed and I cried. I knew he wouldn’t come in to comfort me. I knew that for sure.

I have a vague recollection of the blanket being a blue plaid. Though, if I’m honest, I can’t really remember now. It’s funny what we’ll retain and what we’ll let go and what we’ll just overlook. Little details — and big ones. But, it had that smell. The smell that other people’s guest rooms have. Like the sheets have been washed, but, maybe a few weeks ago, an evening or two after the last occupant climbed out of them. It smelled like home, but, someone else’s home.

And that, I think, could sum Adam up. He was home. But, never my home.

On that rainy afternoon we were only two days into our cross-country trip, at our first stop on the way to our new hometown: Portland, Oregon. We’d packed up our Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment furiously the night before and left my mother and father standing at the curb of Nassau Avenue with boxes and bags to save for us and ship to us. We’d stuffed the car so full of our possessions, it literally burst at the seams. Weeks later, in California, we would blow a head gasket due to pulling all that weight, but, we’d driven on anyway, thinking it was a busted radiator cap until we took it in to the Honda dealership in Gresham, Oregon, the day after we checked in to our extended stay hotel.

Just two days into our trip, and only 6 hours from Brooklyn, I felt like we’d driven across the world. And, I knew. — I knew I’d made a mistake. But, there are some mistakes you have to keep a secret. There are some errors where you must hold your tongue. You must let them play out because — Maybe. Maybe it will be different than what you know it to be. Maybe it can all work out. Maybe.

He’d tried to leave me once before, back in New York City. But, I told him he had to stay. We’d figure it out. And he did. He stayed. He let the comfortable love we’d fallen into carry us across the distance that the love we’d lacked for ourselves couldn’t. We allowed something wrong to pose as if it were right, because, maybe we didn’t want to be alone and maybe we didn’t think we’d find anyone better. And still, even after all this time, I haven’t. I haven’t found anyone better.

Different, but, never better.

On his brother’s guest bed, I hugged a pillow to my chest. I could hear laughter in the living room, beer cans cracking open, the clink-clink-clink of the refrigerator door swinging shut. I remember hearing all that and wondering if he’d heard me crying.

He can’t blame me for wanting him to stay. And, I can’t blame him for wanting to leave. Time and space and everything that happened after him made blame useless. Now, it’s just hurt. Not like a cut, not any more. Like a bruise. Old, but tender to the touch. It still stains my arm a dark purple, and, I press it, hard, with the tips of my fingers, more often than I should. I know. — I know.

I think about it now, and, long before I’m sad or angry, I’m sorry. Sorry I didn’t let him go the first time, when we’d stood arguing on 1st Avenue in the East Village. I just couldn’t let him go. And so, we got back on the L train and we made it work. Stupid love. But, the biggest I have ever known. The kind you know so well, you can remember every detail. — Each, like one of his socks strewn across our bedroom floor. After he left me, I found his socks for months. Under the bed, in the closet, beside the couch at the lip of the electric heater, and fallen between the washer and the dryer. I washed them all again and I wore them as if they were my own.

I’m sorry for things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing him into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing him in every one of my blackouts. And I am sorry, most of all, for the things I couldn’t remember. The words I said that he would speak with his eyes the next morning while he sat on the black couch, head in his hands. I knelt on the blue carpet and begged him to stay. And, all I could think while I was on my knees was how my mother once told me: “Never beg a man to do anything.” But, I did. And, I still don’t regret it.

Before he left, I drank to forget. To forget that he didn’t love me. Not enough. I drank to forget the words he never said, but, I wished he had. And, I drank to forget that I’d let it all happen. I drank to forget that rainy afternoon in his brother’s guest room. To forget that moment of knowing it was too late for us, but, knowing it was too late to turn back, too.

After he left, I drank to forget. To forget how much it hurt. To forget how empty everything felt. The living room, the kitchen, the bed, the car. I drank to forget the way I knew every piece of him. The curve of his wrist. The beds of his nails. The blue pools of his eyes. I drank to forget all that, and more still. But, it didn’t work. Even with a different man laying beside me, he always lay there with us. Like a ghost. And, eventually, I stopped wishing he would go. Sometimes I drank hoping that, maybe, he’d stay forever.

4 years sober, and, he still hasn’t left. The last time I saw his face it was February, 2012. But, in a strange way, I still see him everyday. I press the bruise and watch as it whitens at the edges. I still  feel it. So old. But, it still aches.

People tell me that — it’s over. That it isn’t worth the pain or the time or the regret. But, with all my wits about me now, for better or for worse, I’ll decide. I’ll decide what I want to keep and I’ll decide what I want to let go. And I’ll decide if when I told him that he would never find someone that could love him as much I as did, do, did, do, did, that I was right. Because, as cruel as it sounds, even now, it still feels true. It feels as true as the sickness that swells in the pit of my stomach when I wash my hands at my mother’s kitchen sink because the smell of her soap is the same smell that lingered in our kitchen the day he walked out of it.

I am so sorry.

I’m sorry for the things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing you into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing you in every one of my blackouts. And, I am sorry, most of all, for the things I can’t remember. The words I said, that you would speak with your eyes the next morning while you sat on the black couch, head in your hands.

But, I will never be sorry for how I knelt on the blue carpet and how I begged you to stay.

Eating Humble Pie

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Ten years ago, I became obsessed with baking pie.

This obsession came years before I got sober or became a vegan. At twenty-two years old, the fire-water-fuel for my pie-baking frenzy was almost exclusively pint glasses filled with vodka-cranberry. And, all my pans were slathered with rich, Irish butter.

My pie-making phase was the result of, what can only be described as a difficult time in my life. I had just graduated college and I had no idea what I was doing. Thrust into the world with a BA in Creative Writing and Irish Studies, I was well equipped for absolutely nothing. And so, I sat in the living room of my apartment and read every pie crust recipe I could get my hands on.

Even with absolutely no direction, I did know one thing: I was going to make the best damn pie ever baked. And so, it began. I spent the first few months perfecting my crust. First, one made with butter. Only butter. Then, shortening. Only shortening. Then, a combo of the two. Then, back to butter alone.

There was a time, I made a pie almost every day, but at the very least — three times a week. My boyfriend and I had friends over for dinner several times a week just to avoid the sheer surplus of pie. Banana Cream. Raspberry Chiffon. Chocolate Mousse. All-American Apple. Blueberry, with a lattice top. Pumpkin-Pecan. Cranberry-Pear. Sour Cherry. Lemon Meringue. — I could go on.

I didn’t know it then, but, looking back, I see how my great pie obsession filled some great need within me. The need to excel. The need to perfect. Pie gave me something to strive for, something to be great at, and when I felt helplessly alone — something to snack on.

As I’ve grown and changed in sobriety, my perfectionism, my drive to achieve, and my need to create things seamlessly has changed quite a bit too. I’ve learned about the unhealthy patterns we create in our desperate attempt to save ourselves from the thing we fear, usually — the unknown.

During my great pie period, pie was more than just a relaxing evening in the kitchen. It was tangible evidence that I hadn’t failed. My truth was baked in, and, you could taste it in every flaky, buttery slice. If nothing else: I was a fucking baker of pies. And, even when I did fail — yes, some of my pies were completely inedible — I had a new goal. I was going to make that pie again, and, this time, it was going to be so good it would make Martha Stewart weep.

Almost exactly a decade later, I’m starting to realize that if you want to learn, grow, and truly change there’s only one kind of pie we should strive to bake perfectly: Humble Pie.

I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling to do things on my own. Because, I always thought that asking for help was a weakness. I thought that admitting that you couldn’t be perfect on the first try was a sure-fire way to get overlooked. But, sobriety has taught me that if we are going to strive to be perfect at anything, we have to be open to letting others tell us what they see (and taste). We have to be open to criticism. We have to fork over a piece of our pie and be comfortable with being told that the filling is way too jammy and the crust is far too soggy.

Humility is a confusing word. It’s often accompanied by negative connotations. And, that’s why I’m devoting the seventh month in my Year of Happiness to Humility and its nuances. Humility isn’t negative when it is practiced in it’s truest form. Being humble is being able to step back and appreciate that something supersedes you — it’s accepting that fact that you’re not always the absolute authority. Humility is possessing the ability to learn, with grace.

So often, we lump Humility in with martyrdom. We step back for show. We let someone else take the stage because we think it will look good for us — but, false Humility stinks of insecurity. And, insecurity is one of the main reasons that we find it so difficult to admit that — THE PIE JUST ISN’T ON POINT.

In the dictionary, Humility is synonymous with “meekness,” “modesty,” and “unassertiveness.” But, I don’t think that’s always true. I think that being able to step back from one’s self and see where there is room to grow — is straight up ballsy. I think it’s inwardly assertive. I think it requires a strong backbone, grace, and confidence to be truly humble. Learning isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all be experts and scholars. Change requires facing the unknown, and, being willing to fuck up.

These days, I don’t bake as much as I used to, but, I still love it. And, even though I perfected my crust ten years ago, a few years back, I had to start from scratch when I went vegan. I’ll be the first to admit, margarine isn’t the same. But, I’m learning. And, I can still make a vegan lattice top pie that would make Julia Child proud.

The truth is — I don’t need pie anymore. I find comfort in knowing, I don’t have to be the best and neither does my pie. And, if people don’t like my aquafaba meringue, fuck ’em. More snacks for me. But, I know I still have to bake, and eat, a Humble Pie on occasion. Because, unlike ten years ago, today, I am open to suggestion and I’m ready to fail.

So, take the pie or leave it. But, if you take it, I recommend the Pumpkin-Pecan.

 

 

Photo: My All-American Apple Pie, Lattice top w/stars.

 

 

The Light In The Attic

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Be Open, they said. — And, so, I was.

Open to opportunity. Open to new experiences. Open to the road less traveled. Open to new teachers. Open to difficult lessons. Open to all these external things, places, people. — Open. Because if I wasn’t, I knew I’d regret the things I’d miss.

This past month, I challenged myself to “Be Open.” And, I realize this goal may appear to be a lofty one. But, this month has been, by far, the most meaningful yet in my Year of Happiness. What does being Open even mean, really? The answer, I discovered, is not what you might expect.

I opened myself up to a lot this month. I did things that, for me, were risky. I moved to a new place that I was unsure I’d love. — It turns out, I do love it. I committed to a business venture that scared me. — It paid off. I made myself available to people without expecting anything in return. — I was paid handsomely, in gratitude. I allowed myself to receive generosity from others, avoiding my route response of tit-for-tat. — And, I have come to know and appreciate a new kind of humility.

But, the big payoff for allowing myself to be Open, was not that my risk-taking resulted in joy, success, and kindness. The big payoff was that, in making myself Open to all these other things, all these outside things — I became Open to myself.

In the past month, it feels as though I have walked, heavy footed, through the dusty attic of my soul and have flung open all my windows. Little flecks of dust that sat, stagnant on my floorboards, have risen up from under my feet to dance in the sun. Even at my best, I have never felt this available or eager to explore my own hopes and dreams. I am no longer frightened by things that once seemed too big for me to comprehend, much less achieve.

Being Open to myself has made me realize that, win or lose, success or failure, home or just another stop on the road — this is what we are here to do. We are here to experience. We are here to be lofty. And, perhaps, that is why we shy away from things that seem imperfect or leave us with questions and doubt. Being Open is not about the outcome, though it can be wonderful to be rewarded by your Openness — being Open is about the pursuit.

Since I was a small child, I’ve stopped myself. I have always been pragmatic. A thinker. An over-thinker. And, while this may have saved me from a few scraped knees and helped me to ace a few tests, it also stopped me from falling, failing, and getting back up.

My sobriety has taught me that failing is the best thing we can do in our lives if we hope to change and grow. Failure is its own kind of intelligence. It builds a kind of confidence that no amount of safety or studying can assemble. We cannot let fear outweigh everything else, we must use it only to shine light on the destinations where we should be headed. This month has helped me to see that standing still for perfection’s sake won’t get you any closer to the things you’ve dreamed up. Action, with reckless abandon, can bring us to wonderful places in the world — and, can also bring us to wonderful places within ourselves.

Being Open is like telling someone to take whatever is right in front of them — always — no questions asked. Don’t wait for the best offer. Don’t research everything down to a science. Don’t scheme and plan and manipulate the outcome. Being Open is like a scavenger hunt that keeps getting better. Whatever is in front of you, will take you where you need to be — maybe not to the end — but to what’s next. You don’t have to like every stop. You won’t like every stop. But, being Open allows you to get where you’re going without halting completely. Pragmatism and perfectionism have their place, but, not in the pursuits of day-to-day living. — Draw a map today. But, be Open to throwing it out and starting again tomorrow.

Today, the attic of my soul is lit by an Autumn sun. The same one that has set its match at the foot of the Catskills, where the color of the trees will soon set the horizon ablaze, and with it, something inside me, too. For the first time in my life, I am truly Open to burning. To letting dead leaves wither and fall. To letting cold winds whip through all the rooms that live within me. To leaving behind all these old things and walking bravely toward new ones.

And so, I commit to, in every kind of weather, flinging open my attic windows wide.

 

 

 

Hacking Into Easy World

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What if everything were easy?

I catch myself having this thought as I drive on I-90 toward the doctor’s office. I’ve had a nagging cough. And, I know it’s bronchitis. I’ve known it’s bronchitis for 2 weeks. But, I’ve put off seeing someone because every time I hack up a phlegm-ball, I’m always hopeful that it’s my last.

I concede to my illness at 6PM on Sunday. Inconvenient timing, sure. But, this is America. — Something is open, somewhere. I know it. — So, I find an urgent care center in a strip mall not too far from the house that’s open until 9PM and I hop in the car.

Before I start the engine, I call the receptionist to make sure all their information is correct. “It is,” she assures me. I can feel her smiling. It’s genuine. Like she’s excited I’m coming in to see the doctor. And, she almost sings into the phone before hanging up, “Ok Sarah, see you in a few!” As I pull out from the driveway, my new neighbor waves at me from across the street, where he stands in his front lawn beside the wood he’s chopped. — Upstate New York, man. — It feels so easy.

I pull onto the highway and the traffic is light. The sun is just beginning to dip beneath the horizon and the clouds are a pink-purple-orange color that makes the sky look soft and edible, like a giant bowl of sherbet. The cars in front of me and behind me, keep the speed limit. No one is ploughing ahead in a rush here. — Tonight, between bouts of hacking, the world is simple and comfortable.

I keep rolling the word around in my mouth, like a cough drop — “Simplicity.”

I wonder when I started to believe — to expect — that the world was a complicated and an unforgiving place? Did growing a up a Brooklynite jade me? Was it the heartbreak and hard knocks in Oregon? Is it genetic, or a learned behavior, this feeling that everything has to be difficult before it can reach some kind of meaningful resolution?

Then I wonder — have I chosen to be complicated?

I’ve had many revelations during my Year of Happiness, but, it strikes me as I drive toward the purple sky on I-90, that maybe, amidst all this peace, I’m about to get smacked with the biggest piece of truth yet. — I’m starting to think, that, all this time, I’ve been making things hard on myself. Because, somewhere deep down, I’ve chosen to believe that everything is difficult.

Now that I find myself in a simple place, a, dare I say it, easy place — I have to ask myself — can I be Open to things being truly simple? Do I need things to feel difficult for them to have meaning? If I let go of my strain, will I still have a sense of accomplishment when I complete tasks, goals, dreams? Or, can I allow myself to live with ease, to keep life uncomplicated, without feeling unremarkable? — I find that I can’t answer the question, which, may be an answer in and of itself.

My journey in sobriety, thus far, has be a trying one. But, when I look at these past 4 years critically, it’s plain that my expectation, from the onset, was that nothing about what I had embarked on would be easy. I assumed I’d have to fight tooth and nail for what I wanted, and so, I did. Goals became challenges. Average accomplishments became feats of valor. Because, allowing things to arrive with ease comes with its own set of complications.

If the expectation is that life is difficult and that things are hard, then, it’s not a disappointment when we find those things to be true. But, if we remain Open to the possibility that life can be simple, what would happen?

I’m finding that when the expectation is ease — so, too, is the reality. It’s difficult to admit that much of my hardship has been a result of my own, negative expectations. It’s woo-woo and I know it. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.

If I am Open to ease and simplicity, ease and simplicity Open themselves up to me. When I assume things are painful — I’ll go into situations swinging. And, my blind fear of the world has caused me to miss out on something easier. — Simplicity.

As I drive home, my prescription bag from Rite-Aid flung into the passenger seat, I know that I’m on the right track. I’m making myself well again. And,  I’m not going to debate the merits of this new move with myself any longer. Because, for the first time in my life, I realize — it’s easier than that. It’s so much easier. I just have to be Open to the possibility of joy, without discomfort as a precursor.

So, I keep the speed limit. And, I drive back home, toward the sherbet sky.

PHOTO: @igercatskills via Instagram

 

 

Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

I mean, I really, really, fucking loved to compartmentalize, you guys.

And, while I was living my past life, as a raging drunk, I found out that compartmentalization can be both a blessing and a curse.

As a functioning alcoholic, it’s a skill you need to survive. As a functioning, emotional human, it’s a sure-fire way to lose yourself completely.

While keeping my many personalities in in their designated places helped me to keep my job, maintain (most) of my professional and platonic relationships, and to pay all my bills on time — it had its dark side. The flip side of the coin was, when I was in real trouble — no one had any idea that I was up Shit’s Creek. Because, the part of me that was drowning was, well, compartmentalized.

When you’re able to separate the good and the bad elements of your personal life into neat, little packages, ultimately, it ends up holding you back. Compartmentalizing keeps you from being Open. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, per se, when you keep different parts of your life siphoned off from each other, it’s a way of lying to yourself and to the people around you. You can never show up and be all-In. You have to assemble yourself everywhere you go. You have to decide which part of you is going to show up. And, depending on your audience, you have to keep all of your different costumes straight.

When you get home after a long day of changing in and out of different personas, it’s hard to remember who you really are. And, when you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know if you really want to get sober. — One part of you is desperate for change, but, the other nine parts will happily drag you out to the bar and sit with you until last call.

At some point, you have to start dressing up as the real you.

***          ***          ***

I moved this past weekend. And, when you head into new, uncharted territory, it’s easy to convince yourself that compartmentalizing will ease your unstable feelings and make it easier to transition into a new stage of your life. But, I learned preparing for this move, that, the only thing I really needed pack up — were my clothes.

As I settle into my new room, hang out with my new roommates, and explore my new town — I’m suddenly hit with the relief of knowing — All of me is here. — I’m all-in. I don’t have to check-in with ten, different personalities to decide if I’m OK. I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to screw everything up by merely being myself — because, for the first time, I feel unified.

Before I got sober, I used to be terrified that someone might see me in a down moment. I was scared that my fragility was a sign of weakness or incompetence. But, today, I know that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in (or appear to be in). — What matters is how you show up for yourself and the people around you.

Being one with yourself doesn’t mean that you have to ditch your schizophrenic emotions. You’re still allowed to feel great one day and like shit the next, but, the difference is, when you are united within — you can own it. And, owning where you are in your life is something that I’m still learning to do, but, the longer I practice, the more comfortable I become.

While I’m no expert in the art of moving, I’ve had some good practice in the last year. I’m getting really comfortable with letting go. I realize that moving is just another exercise in being and becoming Open. When you land in a new place, even if you have a home-base and people to show you the ropes, you still have to step into your own and be fearless.

There’s a lot of scary stuff about new places. There’s basic logistics — Figuring out how to drive around. Finding the best grocery store. Learning the shady areas in town to avoid. And then, there’s the emotional turmoil — Meeting new people who are already comfortable in their lives and routines. Wondering if I chose wisely. And, of course, there’s the inevitable feeling of: Fuck, I’m starting over, again.

But, as I embrace being Open — to myself, to my sobriety, and to the point I’m at in my life — I’m realizing that starting over is kinda my specialty. So, I’m not sure why I dread it so much. Since getting sober, I’ve been diving into new situations, relationships, jobs, and places all the time. And, I just keep getting better at it.

When I was a compartmentalizer, I had a bunch of little, safe havens that I fled to when I needed to hide. Those places kept me safe. And, in retrospect, I can see why I made those choices. Back then, it was smart. But, in sobriety, we grow. And growth, for me, has been the gradual building of just one safe haven — Myself.

When you like yourself, you can go anywhere. You can meet new people. You can discover new places and things. And, you can make mistakes.

Before getting sober, I couldn’t be Open with anyone else, because I couldn’t face myself. I left places, people, and jobs thinking I could outrun unhappiness — but, compartmentalizing was just a way of sweeping my pain under the rug so that I didn’t have to face it every day.

This weekend I learned that my compartmentalization skills can still come in handy. — I packed for this move like a pro. — I may not be able to pack up my emotional baggage like I used to, but, man oh man, can I pack up three, giant duffel bags, six Rubbermaid bins, and a banjo like a fucking boss.

As I lay here, sprawled out in my new bed, watching the morning sun spill down from the skylight onto the wall, I finally understand that I can be anyone I want to be in this new place. I’m grateful for my own willingness to be Open to and excited for my new adventures. Clean slates are unnerving, but, they are also incredibly exhilarating.

No more sifting through costumes. This time, I’m only picking one outfit.

And, as it turns out, the one I like wearing best of all — is little, old me.

 

 

A Ghost With A Chip On Her Shoulder

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4 years later, and I’m debating whether or not to go to an AA meeting.

My sobriety “birthday” arrives at the end of this week, and, every year since I stepped away from 12-Step, I have the same debate with myself. — I ask if my sobriety anniversary is really worthy of a special celebration, because, at this point — it’s all the same.

Sobriety: Day in, Day out.

If you had told me during my first year sober that I’d be having an internal battle about whether or not my sobriety “birthday” had any real meaning, I would have laughed at you. Back then, my timeline was my everything.

When I received my 1 Year coin at my AA home-group meeting, I was elated. It was, and may still be, one of the greatest moments of my life. — My energy was so heightened, I thought I might levitate. I had never accomplished so much just by giving something up.

So, I try to return to that moment. — Try to feel that coin melt into my fingers. I try to remember what sobriety meant to me when it meant something different — something more.

Back then, I was open to anything. I was ready to take myself on and turn myself over, part and parcel, in exchange for freedom. And, as a result, I made promises that I still continue to keep. — And, that’s the ticket. — Never let freedom out of your sights.

As I pull into September, facing a new move in just a few days, starting a new year in sobriety, and, trying my best to create a whole, new, happy me — I realize that I have to return to the state that allowed me to step up and experience myself and my life — fearlessly. This month, I hit the half-way mark in my Year of Happiness, so I’ve decided to devote it to being Open. And, I don’t mean Open in a wishy-washy way, I mean — Open to the things that terrify me.

When I got sober in September of 2012, I was so, incredibly scared. Some people knew that. But, most people didn’t. I am a decent actress. And, I’m also a tough girl. I’ve been applauded by many of my employers and friends for being “even-keel.” Which, in my world, means that I keep a smile painted on my face while, inwardly, I’m melting down. It’s a trait common to us people-pleasers. And, the more I recognize it in myself, the more I realize it’s just another form of self-destruction — not a skill worthy of praise.

Getting sober forced me to be Open to my actual emotions. For the first time in a long, long time, I let myself be angry. Tired. Fed up. Lonely. Miserable. Scared. Heartbroken. And, I let it show. After a year of letting all that garbage I’d bottled-up ooze out of my system, I sat in my “birthday” meeting. In a room full of people, strangers really, who had watched me boil over, I felt accepted, in spite of myself. Not only did they accept me — they applauded me. They handed me a coin and told me that I was amazing. And, for the first time, maybe ever — I believed them.

I remember a group member sharing about me that morning, in my “birthday” meeting. He told the whole room how he’d seen me walk in, the first day I showed up, with my hoodie pulled up over my head. How I’d slumped in the corner and looked at my feet. How I hadn’t said hello to anyone, and, when that meeting ended, how I’d rocketed out of the room to avoid having to talk.

Those first few weeks, he said, I’d been like a ghost with a chip on my shoulder. I’d been mad at the entire world, but, I wouldn’t show my face or open my mouth to tell the room why. — But, I still showed up. — Sobriety: Day In, Day Out.

He’d watched 12-Step go to work on me. He noted how I starting to stick around after meetings, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. He’d watched me push my hoodie back to reveal my long, brown hair. He’d heard me laugh at other group member’s stories. He’d witnessed my walls as they started to crumble and how I’d let them. And, that morning, he watched me sit at the front of the room, in from of him — in front of everyone — holding my 1 Year chip, tears of joy steaming out of my Open eyes. “That’s what we do here,” he said. “We bring ghosts back to life.”

I’d like to tell you that being Open is a decision. Something easy. A task that you just “do,” like any other. But, it isn’t. It’s a process. And most of the time, you don’t even know when or how you’ll be cracked Open. For me, being Open has meant making myself available for things that are ill conceived, unstructured, and unlikely to pan out. Being Open, is being uncomfortable — and showing up anyway. Because the only way you’ll find something new, or better, is if you’re willing walk into something you can’t predict.

7 days into September, and, this month is already scary. New destinations, uncertainty, gigs that may or may not pay off, saying hello to people that are new, saying goodbye to people that I love, letting my heart feel stretched — maybe a little bit too thin — and allowing it, because the alternative is too difficult. But, allowing nonetheless.

So, I send my buddy a text message and let him know that I’ll be attending the meeting he runs in Brooklyn, which just happens to fall on my anniversary. Because, I don’t have have to be a 12-Step devotee to be Open to what the program has already given me.

I don’t need to pick up a 4 Year coin to feel sober or proud. The coin is just the bait. — Fool’s gold. I only need to hold my place in the chair. To take up space in the room. To pull down my hoodie and reveal my, now blonde, hair. To cry. To smile. To clench my fists. — To levitate.

Because, being Open — that’s what gets you to the front of the room.

Image: 7 months sober. On a really, really, angry day.