Soul Sisters

Anchored Drifters

We’re balancing precariously.

The ground is warm beneath our feet, the days propel us forward without encouragement, relentless and rhythmic. We can’t stop even if we wanted to.

Sometimes the routine feels permanent, cast in stone, like we’ll still be waking up in our three story walk up after our hair has gone gray and our bones threaten to betray us. Like there will always be another hour, another day to live this way, immortality for our handmade family. Maybe there will always be more questions than answers, and every conversation from now until forever will truly end with the indisputable “anything could happen” and the mystifying “who knows where we’ll be?”

Other days the routine feels fragile, and the slightest deviation from the norm threatens to knock us all off balance. We’re holding onto what was, mimicking as best we can the days when our entire existence was contained by a single square mile. The days where nothing made much sense because it wasn’t supposed to are becoming harder to remember now, between the bills we pay on time, the way our brows furrow at the sight of a parking ticket, and the nights we take ourselves home early because nothing sounds closer to bliss than loose fitting pajamas and the forgiveness of our own beds. The changes appear like fractures, painful and surprising. Sometimes I see us splinter.

What started in the pastel colored living room of a thirty bedroom colonial on a sleepy Midwestern street can be followed to many corners of the world, a web of invisible, intersecting and at times indivisible threads that are knotted together in our favorite places. When the future burns my fingertips and the past catches in my throat I like to think we’ll always be able to follow the line back to each other.

We’re drifting in different directions, but none of us are off course, not really. It’s hard to see that sometimes, like the moments when I pause and notice that the girl I’ve walked many miles with has started to run and soon she’ll be moving so fast that I’ll have to squint to see her. I wonder where she’s going in such a rush. I’ll ask myself what’s wrong with the length of my stride. I’ll feel abandoned, even sorry for myself, and I’ll wonder what I’ve done to make her go. And then I’ll look down and realize that I’m running, too.

In a few months I’ll watch two of my closest friends on their wedding days.To know my friends have found forever is both astonishing and entirely expected. Astonishing to know that I’ll bear witness to a promise that transcends time and space, that supersedes professional obligations and opportunities, that outweighs and outlasts disappointment and fear and shame and anger, that transforms what was once one heart beating for one person into one that beats for two. Entirely expected that as I bear witness my subconscious will pull at the edge of my dress and whisper “but you’re only thirteen, go sit down with your parents and let the grown ups get on with it.”

I’ll bear witness as my friends cast certainty into a future they know nothing about and trust that the way time weathers them and their partners will only reaffirm the love that first sparkled in their young, effervescent eyes, a love they managed to catch between the spaces of their interlaced hands and hang on to. I’ll bear witness to the fact that there is no greater gift than his and her idiosyncratic love, and the mesmerizing way it binds together even those filling the seats around the alter with yet another invisible knot.

So we’ll continue to splinter, to divide and multiply. We’ll continue to run our own way, maybe sometimes right into each other. We’ll continue to predict certainty in the uncertain, to assume fallibility in the infallible. We’ll spend more time wandering alone, because we’ve realized that the unnamed puppet master that was pulling the strings for so long doesn’t waste his time on minds that have imagined more, on bodies that have grown taller than his reach. But perhaps too,  we’ll spend more time making promises to the ones that matter, the friendships and relationships that have withstood our growing pains and our solemn vows. Maybe, even as the thread wears thin and strains against the distance and the boyfriends and the husbands (!) and the jobs and the bucket lists we’ll swear to always love and cherish the people that remind us of the way life sparkled in our young, effervescent eyes, of the freedom we felt inside of not knowing. We’ll promise that no matter how time weathers us, or how tired we get from all of that balancing, from all of that running, we’ll come back to each other as best we can, anyway we know how. Maybe it would help if we made that promise and cast certainty into a future we know nothing about. Because really, who knows where we’ll be? Anything could happen.

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On Love, Or A Lack Thereof

I Swear

“For a seed to achieve it’s greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, it’s insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

-Cynthia Ocelli

I’ve made a lot of promises that I can’t keep. Promises usually happen at beginnings or at endings, two periods of time where the only certainty is that nothing is certain. Two periods of time where I can’t find solid ground, so I’m forced to create it.

College good-byes were a lot like college hellos: uncomfortable and a little bit sarcastic, as the vulnerability that comes with change requires a certain degree of denial. My good-bye with J is best described as an awkward separation, the kind that happens between two people who are more something than they are nothing. We stood on the tired steps of my back porch and wished each other well in hollow voices, using words that when strung together sounded like lies. Still, his embrace was warm and lingering, it said what he couldn’t. When the door closed behind me as he stood still on the other side, I regretted it. “Come inside,” I typed with urgency. So he did.

The sun rose early on my last day in Ann Arbor, piercing effortlessly through the crooked blinds and highlighting the emptiness of my bedroom. My hangover was commendable, a constant, relentless pulsing in the center of my forehead. I lay perfectly still, trying to savor the last few moments of familiarity. When he could no longer sleep through the relentless sunlight he wandered home. This time the good-bye was quick, muffled by exhaustion and hazy memories of what had already been said. Somehow the few hours of sleep we fell into together were enough. Respects had been paid to our non-relationship, and as I studied the imprint his head had left on the pillow I was suddenly satisfied.

“You have to promise me three things,” I had told him the night before. The lights were off, but I could still discern the outline of his face in the darkness. “First, you have to become a doctor. Second, you need to leave Ann Arbor and be a real person someday soon. And third, don’t be a stranger.”

“I promise,” he said solemnly. “Although that second one is going to be really hard. And you have to promise not to change at all, not one bit.” I saw the shadow of a smile on his lips as he said this, although I know part of him hoped it could be true. If he could freeze the 22 year old girl who loved to listen, who couldn’t mask her attraction to his long hair and confidence behind the bar, who knew enough to expect nothing, who protected herself so that he didn’t have to, he would.

“I promise.” Because part of me wanted to freeze her, too. She was pretty brave and pretty lucky, after all.

But, thankfully, you can’t freeze yourself at 22. Your tastes change, you start to entertain the idea of enjoying a single glass of wine for the flavor rather than the buzz, and you discover that eating pizza once a week instead of three is an appropriate compromise. Your heart changes, too. You start to appreciate the guy who uses too many exclamation points when he texts and tells you that your beautiful without expecting anything in return. When you find out that he was a little bit of a loser in high school, the guy with braces and acne that you would have walked past without seeing on your way to join the crowd around your boyfriend’s locker, you’re overwhelmed with relief and a little bit of adoration. And as for your mind, I think you start to understand that maybe you’re good enough to have exactly what you want.

At 24, I know enough to expect everything. I still love to listen, and I’m still making promises, mostly during hellos and sometimes with good-byes. Maybe I should call them intentions because it’s less binding, less morally undesirable when I fall short.

I promise to be patient. I promise to speak my mind and be direct.

I promise to remember that I can’t predict the future.

I promise not to stand in your way if your aspirations take you across the world.

I promise to give you the benefit of the doubt.

And I promise not to keep any of these promises exactly the way I made them.

Because I promise to change.

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Everyday Magic

Sparks

He called her one night when he was standing in the middle of the shampoo aisle in a grocery store, studying the rows of bright conditioner bottles and scented lotions that each promised the same luster and incandescence. She was sitting at her kitchen table, shoes still on and her backpack strewn on the floor. He heard her answer, her voice light and tentative. He wanted her advice. The matter was trivial, a question of Pantene versus Garnier, but she wondered if he could hear her heart beating through the receiver. He wanted her advice.  He kept the phone pressed to the side of his face as he wandered past the toothpaste and paper towels, the Wheat Thins, milk and deli meats. Her laugh filled his ears as he picked through the heaping pile of bananas, searching for a bushel still slightly green.

A few months later she parked her car parallel to the curb outside of his apartment. She imagined what she would say when she saw him again, the first time in weeks. She imagined her voice splitting through the silence, high and perceptibly wavering, a melodic representation of the anticipation and uncertainty. She wondered if he would hear her heart beating from the passenger seat. He approached the car slowly, letting the soles of his feet drag against the sidewalk and hoping to catch a glimpse of her. He imagined her fingers absentmindedly combing through long strands of brown hair, her eyes trained on the world filtered through the windshield. She looked to her right just in time to see his hand raised, poised to knock. In his other hand was a holiday gift bag, red with a shiny green bow. He wondered if she would like it.

He took her to dinner, their first as a couple. She had been to the restaurant before and began to lead the way. It was cold outside and her walk was brisk to match, her strides purposeful and long. He paused to admire the product of many years spent walking alone, of waiting for no one, of not bothering to turn her head to see who could keep up, because no one could. So she was surprised when he overtook her, when he grasped her left hand and insisted that he walk curbside “just incase.” Playful words of protest bubbled in her throat, she’d been walking curbside all of her life. But she stopped short and leaned into his shoulder. Maybe it would be okay to slow down this time. Maybe I’ll get used to the feeling of walking around and knowing that I’m yours. Maybe it would be worth it.

They sat across from each other one morning, plates of eggs and toast and fruit between them, a steaming mug of coffee clasped between her hands. The restaurant was slow that day and only a few other patrons sat scattered at the simply set tables around them.  He took in her face, free of makeup, and she noticed his tousled hair, wavy and reluctantly brown, sticking up slightly in the back. The waitress approached and addressed him. She watched as he conversed, at the ease with which he connected to another, as he made the waitress laugh. When he turned back to her and smiled, the full smile that made the sides of his eyes crinkle and his strong cheek bones round, she started to believe in the togetherness of it all, in the unspoken communication of feeling and knowing that passes between two people who risk sharing their hearts as well as their minds. She locked eyes with him as they often did, neither being one to shy away. They didn’t need to talk, and instead they wanted to. They talked for almost three hours, until the coffee went cold and the bus boy had refilled their water glasses at least a dozen times. Still, they were rooted to their chairs. She felt hungry, not for her breakfast that had long since been devoured but for his voice, for the way he formed words and strung them together.

He maneuvered the car into the driveway, over the patches of snow and ice to park inches from the garage. He stared at her expectantly, hoping she wasn’t nervous. But naturally she was, meeting his parents simultaneously excited and terrified her. It’s been years, she had explained before, since I’ve been introduced to a boyfriend’s parents. She spotted his mom through the swinging glass door, smiling and waving. Inside they were enveloped in warm welcomes and she quickly shed the nerves with her coat that was swiftly hung in a hall closet. He gave her a tour and she paused at every framed photograph, taking in his bright blond curls and the same familiar, relentless smile that spread across his face as he watched her now. His bedroom was an embodiment of him, a tangible representation of everything he loved and had accomplished. She had never seen anything more fitting, more revealing, than the floor to ceiling world map, the area beneath the window that was elevated a foot higher to create a stage, the instruments, lacrosse stick, trophies and an overflowing bookshelf. He ran his finger along the well worn spines of his books, searching for a favorite. He handed a novel to her and she opened it at random to find a highlighted passage. He blushed slightly when she looked up in surprise. “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all…” The quote was about passion, about exploration. About him, she thought silently, as she placed the book back on the shelf.

On Valentine’s Day he knocked on her door, holding a rose and a gift bag, this one red and black. She fumbled with the envelope he gave her, anxious to see his handsome script on the smooth off-white card stock. She started to read and he apologized for the flood of words dotting the page. “I love the way you make me think…” she blinked rapidly to stop the well of happy tears that caught her off guard and threatened to ruin her makeup. She couldn’t help but think back to before, to those that had her all wrong. To the feeling of lying next to someone who fundamentally misunderstands, to the panic that comes with trying to explain and justify and convey who you are to someone who believes they already know. To the cold, ominous doubt that begins to infiltrate when you stand outside yourself, searching for the reasons why he said no, why he didn’t stay, how you could have possibly been too much or not enough, how you could be unforgivable. Now, tonight, when it was his words on the page, she heard his voice but she saw herself. She was the same through his eyes as she was through her own, and because of that she could finally breathe.

She knew he could hear her heart beating, slamming inside of her chest with vigor, and she knew that was okay. He made her feel things. She noticed herself as being alive, experienced a living awareness, as she often did with him. It was a rare sensation, the ability to sense every inch of your body, to notice the way your chest rises as your lungs fill with air and how the soles of your feet bend to become firm and sturdy as you stand on tip toe to kiss him. He grounded her in right now, quieted her mind that often fought to stretch past the moment and into the next one, craving clues and direction. With him she didn’t need the next moment, the future and all that it may or may not contain, and what’s more is she didn’t want it. She reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she whispered softly. Thank you.

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On Love, Or A Lack Thereof

Post Valentine’s Day Musings

I started a blog about all of my dating disasters, heart breaks, failed romances, and ex-boyfriends exactly nineteen days before I met S. I committed myself to writing down and sharing the intimate details of my relationships and my reactions to those relationships, and I was loving every minute of it. The words were pouring out of me faster than I could type, and people were actually appreciating what I had to say. I felt like I had finally figured it out, that I had finally hit on a topic that inspired the best of my creative energy to emerge and flourish. Who knows, I thought privately, maybe I could be a significantly less famous, hopefully much thinner version of Lena Dunham without the excessive nudity one day. At the time, I was fully immersed in my singledom, meaning that I regularly rolled my eyes when I saw couples walking down Armitage Avenue holding hands and sipping Starbucks, and experienced an overwhelming wave of nausea every time I scrolled through filtered picture after filtered picture of attractive, love struck couples on Instagram. Any engagement announcements on my news feed were met with loud proclamations of “you’ve got to be f***king kidding me!”

After S appeared out of thin air on that unseasonably warm, bright day in October (and my best friend H told me he was hot, to which I replied, “Eh, he’s not my type. You go for it”) I was still quite in touch with my cynical single side. After all, there was week after week of hot and cold, he’s not texting me oh wait he just texted me, he said he’s busy but he’s not that busy to get through before I finally arrived at my new title of “girlfriend.” Basically he was playing right into my preconceived, generally disappointing notions about twenty something men, and therefore my relationship writing flow continued uninterrupted.

But then something happened. Most of you know the story, but I’ll provide a brief synopsis for those of you that don’t and also for the dramatic effect. Basically, he went to New York City for the weekend right after our relationship had ramped up about fifty notches in the physical department, if you catch my drift. I don’t take that step lightly, and had made that fact abundantly clear pretty much from day one. So he’s in NYC, I’m in Chicago…staring at my phone. Waiting for a cute “I miss you” text, maybe a food pic or two…I would have even settled for a drunken snap chat. The entire weekend unfolds with a total of two relatively vague texts that required no continued conversation. To my credit, I resisted the urge to initiate conversation (even through a night of heavy drinking for my roommate’s birthday celebration that concluded with me passing out on the couch after dancing furiously to Miley Cyrus) until mid afternoon Sunday, when I knew he was headed back to Chicago. The conversation sucked, and I was pissed, sad, disappointed…consumed with thoughts of “Again? Seriously?”. It was clear to me that he was experiencing a particularly heinous case of what my friends and I like to call “The Freak Out”. The Freak Out is a predictable male reaction that always occurs right after the relationship intensifies in some way, either emotionally, physically, or in this case, both. It happens right after the girl mistakenly believes she actually found a good one. It happens right after she exhales her first ever sigh of relief. The Freak Out ensues as rapidly as oxygen converts to carbon dioxide, and in my previous experience, The Freak Out had always ended with me in tears and scrolling through Tinder. By Monday night I knew it was over. In a last ditch effort to save my pride, I drafted a lengthy, harshly worded text message that will forever go down in the history of our relationship as “The Text”. Yes, it deserves capital letters. It was by far the most direct, unflinching message that I have ever sent to anyone, never mind a guy that I was seriously falling for.

His response? “Wait…I literally have no words.”

But he found the words. A lot of words. Incredibly genuine, sensitive, vulnerable words that were completely unexpected. He actually leveled with me, he told me the truth, and, to my complete surprise, took the blame for everything that had happened over the past week. His willingness to accept responsibility inspired further brazenness on my part, and when we spoke in person the next evening I told him that I highly doubted he would meet any girl that he liked more than he liked me. I must have sounded convincing (and narcissistic?) because he agreed and we became “exclusive”. One day after that I was sitting between him and his father sipping beers and sharing stories at a piano bar. To say that things escalated quickly is an understatement. Two weeks after that, he called me one night (I was home for Christmas in Boston) and told me that he wanted to be able to call me his girlfriend.

Which leads me to today, a week after Valentine’s Day. Last weekend was so romantic and cliche I almost don’t want to write about it because I feel like I’m betraying the girl that was forced to keep a straight face when a happily coupled friend looked at her with pity and said “I really hope you find a guy like mine one day.” It took all that I had not to wipe the condescending smile off her face with an open palm slap. Out of fierce loyalty to that part of myself, which is the same part of myself that inspires my writing, I can only say that last weekend was the best 48 hours I have ever spent with anyone. We went to the Art Institute (you have my permission to gag, I get it) walked around for hours, daydreamed about what our dream house would look like and exchanged incredibly nerdy historical facts about Chinese and European pieces. We ate dinner at my favorite restaurant, and I couldn’t help but steal a glance over at the table I was sitting at four months earlier, completely unaware that S existed and would be appearing in my life ten days later.

When my situation with S survived The Freak Out and The Text, when he grabbed my hand on New Year’s Eve and said “Let’s take a picture”, when he excitedly joined me on a triple date with two of my roommates and their boyfriends and held my hand the entire time, I started to let myself believe that maybe it was my turn to be one of those couples strolling down Armitage with Starbucks. And I also started to feel like maybe I didn’t know what to write about anymore.

When you start to fall in love with your boyfriend, and I mean a real, can’t get enough of you heart poundingly energizing kind of love, it’s kind of hard to write about the guys you thought you might have loved, the guys you wanted to love, and the guys you did love in an entirely different way. Not to mention the fact that it would be really unfortunate should S stumble upon this blog and have to read about my past relationships in all of their awkward glory.

So I tried omitting some of the details and writing a piece that I felt would be appropriate for S to see. The result? My most boring blog post yet and then a month long leave of absence from the blogosphere. Apparently my inability to lie transfers to the page as well.

Now we have arrived here at my next attempt. It feels a little bit like a coming out party (#transjenner). I’m no former Olympian ex-Kardashian with an emerging set of boobs, but I’m coming out as a girlfriend when I spent so long crafting my image as the sarcastic, kind of funny single girl with the entertaining stories about all of the messed up guys she’s met and weird situations she has somehow gotten herself into. Does that mean I don’t have anything interesting to say? For a little while I thought that might be true. I thought, “no one wants to read about me and my boyfriend. The girl I was four months ago would have closed the window on that blog immediately.” But then I remembered the night a few weeks ago when he texted me at two in the morning and said “hi! Love ya!” And subsequently proceeded to act like nothing of the sort happened. (The L bomb has yet to be addressed at press time). Or the night I overreacted to a text he sent that said “sure” instead of “yeah!” and picked a totally unnecessary fight that ended with my boyfriend gently reminding me of the fact that we are two different people who are going to think differently sometimes. “I think arguments are good in a relationship,” he said, “as long as we talk about them. And that is something that I love about you, you always tell me what is on your mind.” I realized the next morning that for the first time I was the one that needed a reality check, a maturity reminder of sorts. I was uncomfortable, and then I was relieved. I might finally be in a relationship with another adult who takes the pressure off and allows me to be a naive twenty four year old once in awhile. And that’s a pretty interesting thing to think about, to write about, to share.

So, in conclusion, maybe I do have some interesting material left in me, after all. And…maybe I will try my hand at a sappy post about how I’m definitely totally in love with S. You have my permission to skip that one if you are so inclined. Stay tuned.

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Everyday Magic

Double Take

I can remember almost everything, even the small, insignificant details. Like the way the day started early, in a rectangular cafe a few blocks from my apartment. The bagels we ordered were warm to the touch, piled high with cream cheese and bacon and microwavable eggs, the kind that the boy behind the counter pours out of a carton and tosses in the microwave for 45 seconds until they are hot and puffy. It was Saturday. My friend and I had woken up feeling simultaneously hungry and queasy, too hungover to sleep through the unfortunate side effects of one too many vodka sodas. We washed our faces clean, rubbing away the lingering traces of last night’s Snake Bite eyeshadow and tossing on some sunglasses to hide the tired lines and dehydrated skin. It was unseasonably warm that morning and the neighborhood was humming with energy. Couples walking dogs, pushing strollers, holding hands and plastic cups of iced coffee meandered on the sidewalks beside us. The trees were still mostly full, decorated with paper thin golden leaves. I stopped to take a picture, only to immediately delete it when I realized that the photo didn’t quite capture the beautiful contrast between the foliage and the sky.

We bit into our bagels too soon, wincing at the heat in our mouths. I remember how glad I was to have my friend all to myself, even for a short time. She was in town for the weekend, a quick visit from someone who used to live two floors below me. S has a way of bringing me back to reality, of pulling me forcefully back to Earth and making sure I have a soft place to land once I get there. I missed coming home and plopping down on her bed with my shoes still on, exhausted from a long day of classes and Greek Life drama and completely relieved to be back in the safety of her room, ready for her to remind me to be patient, ready for her to parrot the words of our favorite quote: “Don’t worry about losing. If it’s right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” The walls of her bedroom were painted a shade of pale green that was both soothing and energizing, kind of like she is. There were elephant figurines on her desk, souvenirs from a semester in Cape Town, that looked like they were smiling at me.

At the bar the night before I didn’t bother trying to decide if any of the dozens of twenty something guys pushing past me were cute enough to talk to. I knew I was giving off a less than approachable vibe, but I was too burned out to care. One boy, who was drunk and/or dumb enough to overlook my bitchy stare, put his hand on the small of my back and leaned close enough for me to smell the sticky, whiskey tinged cinnamon on his breath. I removed his hand and turned my head away in what I thought was a very obvious and dramatically uninterested way, but miraculously he didn’t get the hint. Seconds later I felt his hand return, and a little lower this time. I turned to his slightly less glazed over wingman and said through clenched teeth, “If your friend touches me again he’s going to regret it.” From what I recall that was the only interaction I had with the opposite sex all night, and the highlight of the evening was the exclusively female dance party when Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off came blasting through the speakers.

“I just don’t even want to try anymore,” I told S as we sipped our coffee. It had been a month and a half since the last predictable disappointment (the Avox).

“Then don’t,” she said simply. And I felt a little better.

We walked home, changed into appropriate game day attire, and headed to the local Michigan bar to reestablish the BAC we had only just rid ourselves of. And, as annoyingly cliche and serendipitous and predictable rom-com scripty as it is….there he was.

He was sitting on the corner of a wicker couch, a nondescript piece of patio furniture situated in the middle of the crowded outdoor bar. The navy baseball hat on his head obstructed my view of his features, other than the thick strands of light brown hair that curled at the nape of his neck. H had told me to check him out, this new boy who came to the bar with our guy friend from Michigan. So I followed orders and dutifully scoped out the mystery man, but not really. My eyes flickered back to my (mouth dryingly, palm sweatingly handsome but unfortunately very unsingle) friend, who was smiling in spite of the fact that our college football team’s embarrassing performance was currently on display from every angle. I told him to come find our group by the back bar later and wandered back to my girlfriends, weaving through groups of familiar faces, people I was sure to have seen crossing South U or in line for Backroom Pizza but never stopped to talk to. The crowd of fans had lost interest in the game after the first terrible play, which meant the bar tenders were especially busy.

I was a little bored, my hangover was looming and threatening to return with a vengeance, and the soles of my feet were starting to hurt from standing up for too long. I shifted my weight from side to side and tried to look interested in the conversation H and I were having with an attractive 29 year old MBA. He was masculine with beautiful blue eyes, and he was also completely hammered. We couldn’t figure out which one of us he liked best, and finally decided that it didn’t actually matter. I politely excused myself and made eye contact with my friend who had ventured away from the wicker patio furniture to join us. Next to him was the guy with the navy baseball hat, which he now held in his hand. Up close I was certain that he didn’t look familiar, not like the dozens of people around us that sparked a kind of undefinable recognition, a whispering, gently teasing familiarity that floats in the back of your mind without an anchor. I would have remembered him.

First it was the sound of his voice, I would tell him later. It was kind of like feeling the words, touching them rather than hearing them. He introduced himself. Measured, even, smooth. The corners of his mouth turned up as he spoke, as he made me laugh without trying to. The way he told stories was unassuming, like he wasn’t quite sure if anyone was actually listening, or if his audience would catch on at the funny parts. To him I don’t think it mattered. When he caught me paying attention, when the corners of his mouth turned up in response to my gaze, everyone was standing right beside us, the patio was loud and I could hear humming televised conversation and clinking glasses and the splash of overflowing beer hitting the countertops. And suddenly my peripheral vision was gone, background noise silenced. I was captivated quickly, fluidly, without warning. There was nothing else to look at or listen to.

Then it was his eyes, a softer brown than mine. I wanted to know how to make them light up, I wanted to draw their stare, I wanted to see things his way, because it was different. I forgot all of the rules, stopped concentrating on batting my eyelashes, and instead lost myself in the kind of geeky historical banter that would have been entirely appropriate for a lunchtime appointment with one of my professors. But somewhere between Confucius and Benjamin Franklin it was…sexy. In the spirit of exchanging a flirtatious hair flip for a nerdy hypothesis regarding the failure of democracy in modern America, I also forgot that I had given up on boys just a few hours earlier over bagels and cream cheese. I forgot to be playfully uneducated, I forgot to be casually disinterested, I forgot to be guarded and skeptical and slightly unavailable. He ran his fingers through the front of his hair absentmindedly. His hands were wide and strong. My friends were behind me saying their goodbyes, the air had turned cooler, the crowd was steadily thinning.

“What’s your number?” It was my voice, not his. He grinned and I caught a flash behind his eyes. They were brighter.

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Dating Adventures

Buncha Rave Babies

Everyone has that “go to” story. That story they tell at parties with old friends, or over cocktails at dinner. That story you tell you tell your parents after being away at school or living in the city, if they are cool enough to handle it. You tell your story with dramatic flair, with suspense and just enough humor, making sure to bring your audience along with you through the rising action to the pivotal moment. Your voice changes at the funny parts, the serious parts, the part where you weren’t sure whether the night was going to end with you behind bars. A life story of this caliber is almost unbelievable. It is the story that makes you sound like a more impressive, daring, entertaining, interesting person than you know yourself to be. It is the story that makes your life sound exhilarating…because during those hours, it absolutely was.

I would like to think that my life is a healthy combination of the predictable routine and unexpected surprises. I thrive when I feel comfortable, when I can make a reasonable guess as to what is coming next, what is around the corner. I like taking steps forward towards a socially acceptable goal. The picket fence, two kids and a dog fantasy makes me ridiculously happy and I’m not ashamed of that. But there is also part of me that has always been drawn to instability, to people who push the limits, to new places, to adventure, to the release that comes from relinquishing control. I don’t like breaking the rules, but I had a fake ID and I wasn’t too scared to use it at the campus liquor store. I’m not a rebel, but I have a tattoo and a belly button ring. I’m not promiscuous, but I have dated the bad boy more than once (and there was that one time that I made out with two guys in one night…mostly because my best friend N made it look so inconsequential and fun). I’m not an explorer, but I moved away from home without knowing a single person. So how do I explain this contradiction in my temperament? My undeniable attraction to pulse quickening adventure despite the fact that these situations make me incredibly nervous and off balance?

I think it’s because, as my younger, wiser little brother recently posited:

“Who wants to die without scratches?”

My first response was an emphatic: “Me!”

He sighed, shook his head of jet black curls and leaned forward across the kitchen table, preparing to patiently make his point to someone who clearly needed to understand. “Scratches aren’t bad. They mean you really lived.”

I am hopeful that in 24 years I have earned more than one of these stories, more than a few life signifying scratches. But for now, I think this one trumps most others. It has all of the necessary ingredients: an exciting environmental backdrop, some unavoidable sexual tension and misguided affection, an upbeat soundtrack and a medical emergency that adds the perfect amount of suspense.

March 2012. Brussels, Belgium. Wtf? It was dark when we got out of the cab. The driver, in a barely comprehensible, thick Dutch-German-French hybrid accent, explained the way to the hostel where we would be spending the next two nights. He sped off a little too quickly and we stood there in the middle of the cobblestone street with absolutely no idea what to do next. The only saving grace was that we had forced ourselves to pack light. Throughout our time abroad, my best friend A had risen to the occasion and proved to be exceptionally gifted at finding her way through European cities. N and I had affectionately nicknamed her “Garmen Elektra” as she fearlessly led us through Barcelona on our first night in Spain (our first stop? The Spanish equivalent of Nordstrom’s for hangers and comfy blankets and peanut butter …you can take the white girls out of America but you can’t take the America out of the white girls). So naturally I turned to A and handed her the tiny map print out detailing the location of our hostel reservation. I shrugged my shoulders and waited as she studied the paper, confident that she would get us to safety eventually. I knew my limits and it was more helpful for me to stay silent while she pondered.

Myself, N, and A made a surprisingly successful traveling trio. The assertion that you find out a lot about a person by traveling with them is entirely true, and the experience only made me love and appreciate my best friends even more. Between the three of us we had managed to conquer six cities thus far, hitting more monuments, museums, restaurants, clubs, bars, clothing stores and parks than anyone thought possible. For this excursion I had booked our hostel and ensured that we made it to the airport on time, which meant that by this leg of the journey my responsibilities had been fulfilled. N would take over the next day with our meticulously scheduled itinerary, assuming that we found the hostel and didn’t have to call our guy friends to rescue us. Not that they would even if we asked…they were always the ones in need of rescue. Take London, January 2012: the boys had booked a disgustingly dirty hostel where they slept in a room with twelve strangers and the showers were not unlike what I would expect to find at Cook County jail. We returned from a leisurely brunch in South Kensington on our last day of the trip to find one blow drying his socks, one toweling off in the bathroom, and one in bed under the covers using my laptop. How they managed to break in without a key to the building or knowledge of our room number is still a mystery. We were staying with friends at the time and I was mortified as I explained the situation to our hosts while the guys took the liberty of dumping their suitcases in the middle of the room and taking off for lunch (“Hey, so where can we get a good burger and beer around here?”). The boys recognized my embarrassment and reassured me:

“Don’t worry T, just send them a fruit basket.” Right.

Fast forward approximately twenty minutes and only one wrong turn, and we were settling in at an adorably charming bed and breakfast. The manager was a sweet natured middle aged man with a tuft of gray hair and an endearing smile that triggered a pang of homesickness for my own father and made me feel right at home in an otherwise entirely foreign city that I knew nothing about beyond  the promise of the best waffles, chocolate and french fries in the world. The three of us enjoyed a magical two days exploring Brussels before the main event: Sensation White is an all night rave concert featuring six electronic music artists. Concert goers dress in all white and spend the night “raging their faces off” to techno beats and hypnotic light shows while making out with literally everyone. My best friends and I are far from hard core ravers. We like Alesso and Afrojack as much as the next Kappa Kappa Gamma, but we were content to enjoy the music at frat parties or in our bedrooms while getting ready for a night of bar hopping. However, electronic music is a cultural centerpiece in Western Europe that we couldn’t afford to miss. So we agreed to masquerade as sweaty Euro rave babies for a night, sans drugs. The boys were in on the plan as well, and after changing into our rave clothes (white H & M tanks, sparkly headbands, and glitter eye shadow) in the train station bathroom, we boarded a non-stop freight to Hasselt, Belgium.

The arena was throbbing around us, tangles of limbs reached up and out as we wove our way through the masses. I scanned the crowd with skepticism, lifting my chin above the crowd of identically dressed, bobbing ravers in search of a boy taller than the rest. I was looking for J. We had a tumultuous relationship, J and I, that dated back to the first week of freshman year. He was an overly confident, exquisitely dressed fraternity pledge with a crop of soft blonde hair and a mischievous grin that disguised his insecurities well enough to fool the untrained observer. I, however, was not convinced and correctly interpreted his swagger and loud, inappropriate jokes as a diversion from something deeper and much more compelling. He was surprised when I wasn’t offended by his teasing, and I was surprised when he dropped the act and told me, in a quiet, reflective tone, that he loved to draw. He was handsome and complicated with a hardened exterior that promised to reveal remarkable sensitivity to the person who held her ground long enough to figure him out. Which of course meant I was hooked, for better or for worse. We pushed each other back and forth for years, dangling other relationships and casual bar hook ups as bait, hoping to inspire a flare of jealous attraction. During the summer before we went abroad he claimed to have finally ended an on-again off-again relationship with a high school girlfriend, and looked to me expectantly, certain I would assume the position as the safe, reassuring rebound. I didn’t believe him, and I didn’t want to be his second choice. So I spent the summer with one of his best friends. Despite feeling certain that he wasn’t ready, that his wounds were too fresh and too sensitive, I couldn’t resist winking at him from across the table while we played drinking games or squeezing his hand affectionately on the day a group of us visited the local amusement park together. I couldn’t deny the thrill I felt when we shared a private joke, as we silently poked fun at the others using only our eyes. By the time we arrived in Barcelona six months later, his attitude towards me had noticeably cooled. My fling with his friend was long over, but whenever I tried to hold his gaze or sit beside him on the Metra, he turned away. I gave him the space he wanted, but as our time overseas passed I was more and more determined to crack him. I wanted to hear his anger, his frustration, anything was better than the uncomfortable distance he created to keep me away.

He was wearing white sunglasses, his blonde hair streaked with perspiration and stuck to his forehead. N, A and I slipped in with our friends and prepared to enjoy the rest of the night as the only three people in the venue that could pass a drug test. We danced and jumped with enough enthusiasm and flurried energy that no one could tell the difference. J was next to me. He was childlike and giddy, his eyes wide and gleaming. He took my hand and spun me around. My long hair flew in front of my eyes and I stopped, breathless. He swept the strands away, tucking them behind my bedazzled headband, and I knew this was an opportunity to fix whatever had been broken. The manic energy of the music and the closeness of bodies all around us was encouraging. Soon my muscles were burning and I needed to catch my breath. I stopped moving, prepared to take a break, but he would’t let me. Instead he hoisted me onto his broad shoulders and suddenly I was above it all. The hazy, purple glow of the fluorescent concert lights cast a supernatural fog over the room, over the carpet of humans extending in every direction. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. I was scared, I pictured myself tumbling to the ground and being trampled, and I motioned for him to put me down. He shook his head and kept swaying, and finally I stopped protesting. I was soberly raving, and I was loving it. When he finally lowered me back to earth, he wrapped me in a hug and didn’t let go. Was this the love drugs talking, or was I back in J’s good graces? In a rare moment of restraint I kept my mouth shut. I was a rave baby, and rave babies don’t engage in relationship defining conversations in the middle of Afrojack’s set. I was a rave baby and I was going with the flow.

The EDM magic between J and I wore on, but eventually I realized that I hadn’t seen N and A in too long. The other boys were also noticeably absent, so J and I took off to find them. We found them huddled around the medical tent with worried looks replacing their previous euphoria. One of the boys had a little too much fun and quite literally seized in the middle of the dance floor, lollipop and all. He would be okay, the scantily clad, Dutch male nurse informed us, he just needed some water and the tranquil rest that a rickety cot in the middle of a blindingly bright room with vibrating walls and the echoes of electronic beats provided. I was worried, I thought maybe we should cut our losses and head back to Brussels early.

“Go back and do what? It’s three in the morning and none of us have a place to stay tonight!”

Shit. We had decided not to book hotels for the third night in an exceedingly rare effort to be frugal, and our flights back to Spain didn’t leave until 9 am. J surveyed us, a group of forlorn, dejected American kids dressed in yellowing, sweat stained white, the makeup melting off our faces and our mouths dry. N was missing one of her feathered earrings, my legs were streaked in dirt, A’s hair was tangled around her beaded necklace…and the boys weren’t looking to hot either. Our night had taken an unfortunate turn and our ability to rally after losing one of our own to an unexpected neurological episode was questionable at best. To my surprise, J rose to the occasion and took the opportunity to present himself as our fearless leader.

“He would want us to keep partying! We have to do this, we have to finish the night for him!” His voice was booming and persuasive. “For D!” We all shouted in unison. We put our hands in like a rag tag softball team determined to usurp the formidable defending champions and left our man, gone but not forgotten, to rest with the medical rave specialists while we enjoyed the last performer of the night. J made it his mission to keep everyone hydrated, and appointed me as his water girl apprentice. The two of us jogged back and forth from the water tables to the dance floor, monitoring the water to sweat ratio as closely as we could. During one such hydration run, J laced his fingers through mine. I wasn’t sure what any of this meant, or how I had mutely danced my way into his heart, but with D recovering from a potentially serious brain situation in a remote Belgian town in the wee hours of the morning it didn’t seem like the time or the place to get answers.

During the last song of the unbelievably long night, my friends were ready to go. We wanted to get a head start and beat the rest of the concert goers onto the train. I started to say my good-byes and J pulled me close. “I don’t want to let you go,” he said, his words heavy with emotion. It was sweet and romantic, adorably sensitive and almost completely attributable to the rush of ecstasy induced endorphins coursing through his veins. I planted a soft kiss on his cheek and replied, “You’ll see me at the airport in three hours.” He laughed and shook his head. Apparently I was missing the point.

I did see him three hours later, where I fell asleep on his shoulder on our flight back to Spain. I saw him almost every day after that. And I let myself wonder, as I strolled through Barcelona and felt the old beauty of the city, as I watched sunsets and drank wine and danced in the sand with J. What are we? Anything? We tried to talk about things, to explain what happened at the concert and recreate it. But we couldn’t. On our last night abroad we said good-bye with a question in our voices, leaving room for the possibility of reconnecting back at school in the fall. But we wouldn’t. J and I were better without words, we made sense when we weren’t trying to make sense of it. Our view of everything, the world, relationships, the future, was opposite and conflicting. He saw me differently than I saw myself. Our connection was visceral, a felt experience that was often fleeting and circumstantial. I think maybe J knew that before I did. He realized the intimacy between us as fleeting, as directly tied to the foreignness and the pulsing music and dazzling light displays. It was real but it couldn’t last. When I see him now it is the same, we are drawn to each other’s presence but not much else. And that’s more than okay.

Thankfully, D lived to see another rave, and another after that. My trip to Belgium is a (long winded) go-to story with all of the necessary ingredients. It is a rare time that I let myself live in the moment, that I didn’t ask questions because questions would have ruined it. It is, like many other boy centered experienced in my life, another lesson. First, the obvious: don’t take Molly in Belgium. And second: there are times when words are insufficient, adding unnecessary clutter to the experience of being. Sometimes it’s much better to shut up and risk the scratches. They mean you really raved. They mean you really lived 😉

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Soul Sisters

Who Runs the World?

“I know that when I am dying, looking back, it will be women that I regret having argued with, women I sought to impress; to understand, was tortured by. Women I wish to see again, to see them smile and laugh and say it was all as it should have been.”  Lena Dunham

I hung up the phone with shaking hands and pulled myself up of off the hardwood floor, uncertain if my knees were ready to support my weight. I was exhausted yet again by my endlessly dramatic romantic pursuits, angry one minute and elated the next by a handsome, intriguing person who made me care about him before I could stop myself. I opened my bedroom door to find the three of them, seated cross legged in the hallway and staring up at me expectantly, their faces reflecting every piece of my worry, my hurt, my confusion. Their expressions made it real, reassured me of my right to feel things. Their recognition and empathy made me lighter somehow, their physical presence made it easier to breath in and out. I knelt down next to them, slowly folding back into myself, deeply grateful that I didn’t have to pretend. They were on the ground with me. They wouldn’t force me to stand up. And they would sit there for as long as it took.

While I won’t deny that I spend much of my time considering the various ways that men have colored my life, inspiring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, something occurred to me as my best friends and I huddled together at the top of the stairs late into the night. The truth is that the influence of the women in my life is in many ways much more significant, more sustaining, more vital to everything that I am and who I hope to become. Female friendship is a unique kind of love. Female friendship, the kind where you sleep in each other’s beds, ramble on for hours about your darkest fears, your most embarrassing moments, your paralyzing self doubt, your shame, your wonder and your secret, selfish desire to forget about the rules and be impulsive and reckless because doing everything right is fucking exhausting, is refreshing and replenishing. I’m talking about the female friendships that make you laugh so hard you feel it in your fingertips, friendships that consist of sharing in one another’s triumphs and joys as though they are your own. I have revealed myself to my best friends in a way that I have done with no one else in this world, aside from my mother, who is the best friend I was born with and is comparable to none. The hallmark of an intimate relationship is mutual vulnerability. You don’t waste energy on saving face, on beautifying your flaws, on selectively sharing. You just are, you just exist, and sometimes terrifyingly so. It is in those moments of terrifying humanness that you learn the depths of your relationship to another. My best friends know the vast range of who I am, and they are still here. They aren’t going anywhere. They make it okay.

I have always marveled at the quiet strength of women, and of how incredible it is that somehow, from the beginning of time, men have managed to convince the world that the very essence of that uniquely female strength is simultaneously her Achilles heel. Women are capable of absorbing the emotions of another person, of many other people, and instead of the sheer impact of this emotional energy knocking her over, incapacitating her, she keeps moving forward. She asks for more. While many men are crippled by the suggestion of emotions, instantly shamed and angered should they realize that they are operating from a place of feeling rather than a place of rationalization, defensive and distant when the heart overwhelms the head, they have successfully perpetuated the myth that women are the weaker sex. That women can’t see clearly, that women are soft and unrealistic. That women are inferior.

In the face of this incredibly misguided, pervasive cultural assertion my three best friends exist in complete opposition. What follows is how I see them, how they have shaped me, inspired me, supported me. It is a long overdue love letter to my favorite people, and my way of saying thank you. For everything.

My best friend H is unshakable. She is certain of many things in life, but she is most certain of herself. She is brave, she is honest, she owns her faults in a way that makes it impossible for anyone else to use them against her. She is often the first one to speak, to tell the truth, to accept reality with just enough optimism that makes her convictions both plausible and hopeful. You want to believe her, you want to follow her, because she knows the way. Two and a half years ago I was at home, waiting for her to pick me up for a dinner. My mom and I smelled smoke and ran, and then we just watched. Through my panic and my fear I waited for her. Suddenly she was there, among the firetrucks and police cars and black, angry, choking billows, among the heat and the sound of burning. She sat next to me on the grass. She didn’t force me to stand up. She sat there for as long as it took. The next day she stood with me in the middle of what used to be my bedroom. We looked up and could see the sky, the ceiling having collapsed onto the floor. I was not aware of very much that day outside of my own pain. But I was aware of her next to me, her face calm and reflective, certain that there was nowhere else she should be. And she is always there, and because she exists I am never, ever alone.

My best friend N is masterful. I have yet to find a problem she was unable to solve. She is unassuming and incredibly powerful. She is a force. She maintains a sense of control over herself, her thoughts, and her plans that makes it impossible for anyone else to control her. She commands respect, attention, and deep admiration. She is selectively soft, and in those moments when she truly lets you in you feel lucky. It is a privilege to know her. From the very beginning, N has been there in a way no one else has. She is present even when she is miles away. She is a selfless friend, fiercely loyal and accepting. She is the friend that hears the wildest, most outlandish and incomprehensible inner workings of my mind and instead of correcting them, minimizing them, dismissing them, she dives right in with me and we find our way back out together. She is the reason I have taken the biggest risks of my life, decisions that were far more intimidating to me than I think she realizes: wandering around Barcelona for four months, moving to Chicago for two years, putting myself out there with others when it seemed impossible. She is my rock.

My best friend A is soulful. She feels deeply, she allows herself to be consumed by life in a way that is incredibly trusting and courageous. She is willing to let others truly see her, and she truly sees others whether they are aware of it or not. She has pulled herself up and out time after time, only to become more compassionate, softer, more open to change and new experiences. She is the friend that hears you and no one else when you desperately need to be heard. She is my parallel life partner, the person who has lived through my happiest and saddest moments while experiencing her own tumultuous ride. She picks me up without my realizing, she makes me believe that I will be okay no matter what because she is living proof of overcoming. She refuses to close herself off, she will not be hardened or cynical or a permanent skeptic. She creates light and laughter and calm whenever I need it. She knows me as though we are family, the ebbs and flows of me. She gives me hope.

“I have been envious of male characteristics, if not the men themselves…But I also consider being female such a unique gift, such a sacred joy, in ways that run so deep I can’t articulate them.” – Lena Dunham

I admire the apparent ease of male friendships, the physicality and the simplicity and the unspoken bond between them. But sometimes I question their authenticity. I want to challenge the depth of these relationships, to chip away at them and test their durability. I am not sure they are as strong as they appear. However, I am entirely convinced that the female bond is infinitely stronger. I will always be fascinated by men, infatuated by them, made more alive and invigorated by my connections with them. And yet, to be perfectly honest, it is only because of the women in my life and the safety and protection they create, that I can tolerate them, experiment with them, allow them to know me and affect me. It is obvious to me why women have more longevity, often living longer lives than their husbands. We are better insulated against life simply because we have each other. Of course I believe that there are few men who are exceptions to the rule, men who can learn to rise to the occasion and cultivate their relationships in a similar way. However, if given the choice, I will always trust women first, I will always respect women more, I will always follow her lead rather than his.

There is nothing better and more freeing than the realization that you have found your soul mates already, that the search is over. And it has been for years.

To H, N & A…thank you.

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