Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reunion

I recently found myself back in Texas for a very short four day weekend. I had previously been only two weeks before to visit my family, so logistically, it didn't make much sense to return for such a brief stint, but, in early spring, an email arrived in my inbox from a friend who was attempting to rally our group of old college buddies to reconvene in Dallas in June to recreate one epic night out that would have felt par for the course a decade ago. These days, such happenings occur so infrequently that when I try to remember the last time we were all in the same room together, my mind draws a sad blank.  "Do what's right," Nick said. "Remember what it's like to be young. Remember the Alamo!"

June is less than an ideal time for me to be out of the office as I work on a fiscal calendar that ends on the 30th of the month. That said,  I am nostalgic to a fault and and I do remember what it was like to be younger - especially with Nick and a gang of friends that by some stroke of luck embraced me in my early twenties despite an awkward set of social skills that often found me sharing inappropriate information in large group settings such as the time confessed to a sex dream I had about Hitler (crickets) only to be followed by another, a week later, starring a threesome between Lance Bass, my female communications professor and me (more crickets). In both, I was aroused. With both, I still feel shame. Despite both, these people kept me around.

One of the happiest memories I have came to be right after Nick and his wife, my best friend Angie, bought their first home in Fort Worth. We all had been invited to another friend's wedding and after the reception ended at midnight, we caravaned over to their new place. They must have closed on the sale only a few days before - the whole house empty except for a stereo and a refrigerator full of beer. I remember an impromptu dance party, 15 of us decked out in dressy wedding garb, bouncing around the room until the sun came up. I don't recall an actual conversation I engaged in with anyone, only that I was having so much fun dancing and laughing and generally being in the company of these amazing people. It's a singular memory of one snapshot of elation in their living room, and that memory would reshape and show itself in different forms over the next handful of years with my old friends, until for better or worse, it finally shifted into simply the past.

It was a longing to recapture that moment which lead me to be somewhat spontaneous despite my inner arguments against it, and buy a plane ticket for a one night reunion with a group of friends that I don't speak to nearly as much as I should even though I still consider them some of my closest.  I imagined it like The Big Chill (less the suicide - my psychiatric medications are all in check right now, thank you) where we would each show up in different stages of stereotypical adulthood: one of us making business deals on an oversized, flip phone; someone checking in with the babysitter to make sure the kids weren't eating their own vomit; another emerging from a tragic divorce or major family riff; and then me...all but unchanged with only insights to offer on Netflix queues and how to tell if that guy you  made out with last week would make for a fitting second date (sweet nothings like, "Guuuurl, that shit was cray!!!" warrant a "no").  Then, we would all gather around a perfectly set dining table, drink wine and confess our shortcomings and truths until we were just a bunch of twenty-somethings again, singing Lean On Me with our arms draped around one another in a unified circle.

There is a reason The Big Chill and St. Elmo's Fire are movies. And that reason is because they are terribly cliche fictional representations of fantasy lives. When I arrived in Texas, the day before our scheduled get together, my great aunt fell unexpectedly ill and we had to take her to the emergency room for 24 hour observation. I texted Angie with the heads up that it was likely I wouldn't make it to Dallas the next night as I wanted to stay with my family and make sure my aunt was okay. She of course was understanding and added, "It's only going to be Nick, Claude and me, anyway. No one else could swing it." Between pregnancies, pre-existing travel plans and extended family happenings, all of us, through one channel or another, had bailed. I told Angie I was sorry and that I would try to see her before I left town but it was kind of like the second before you open a present from an older relative who notoriously delves out the worst gifts at Christmas. The envelope is right in front of you and you're praying when you rip it open there's money inside, but per usual, it's an expired gift certificate to Boston Market. I was disappointed in our failed reunion but not exceptionally surprised. Maybe we all are those stereotypical versions of adulthood; it's just more difficult to get us around the dining table.

On the evening before I left for Boston, I got in touch with an ex-boyfriend whom I dated right around the time of the epic dance party many years before. He still lives in Fort Worth and we've done an nice job of remaining friends long since the night I reclaimed the Playstation I gave him for his birthday because we were broken up and I wanted to prove how maturely I was handling the situation.

Hardin and I met at a bar in college when he made fun of my outfit. I was wearing a t-shirt that my previously mentioned great aunt had given me which showcased three sponge painted camels parading across the front - one pastel pink, one pastel blue, one pastel green. I don't know if it was supposed to mean anything, she does just really like camels, but I loved it and found it to be acceptable night-on-the-town wear back in the day. Paired with flip flops. And GAP shortalls. Moving on...

No one has ever claimed me to be a fashionista, mostly because I would eye roll that word into oblivion if given the chance, but more rightly because I'm not one. I could provide many examples to further this point but I feel wearing a sponge painted camel t-shirt any time after 1988 all but closes the book on my case. Nevertheless, I was put off by Hardin when he opened with a sarcastic, "Nice shirt." but over the next two months and a handful of run-ins, I warmed to him until one night at a party he said, "That's my white Camaro across the street. I'll take you anywhere you wanna go." It wasn't his Camaro but the joke made me laugh and we ended up in his bed after a ride in his Jeep.

Hardin was a year older than I, and was graduating in December with a planned move to New York. We had a month together before he left, and by the time he did, we were fully on. I got an internship in the city for the coming summer so we could be together and we spent May through September running around New York, being young and in love in the most amazing city in the world. Those four months are the closest experience I have had in real life to a sweet, little love story perfectly wrapped and delivered for your viewing pleasure. Everyone should spend time in New York with a person they love. There's absolutely nothing else like it.

I eventually returned to school after my internship concluded and my bank account was pulled off life support. Just over a week later, September 11th happened. Hardin was home by October.

In the interest of your time, the Cliff Notes version of our relationship goes something like this: We dated for the next four years, we were the best of friends, until one day we realized that was actually exactly what we were...best friends. The other parts had faded and we acknowledged that we could get married, but both deserved more.

It was in the winter of last year that Hardin called and told me he was going to rehab. When you're 25 and you drink like a fish, you don't think anything of it because everyone else is drinking like a fish too. When you're 35 and you drink like a fish, it tends to mean you have more going on internally than the debate over whether or not you should skip class in the morning. I hadn't seen him in the year and a half since he got sober and he invited me over for a reunion.

It was a late Monday night and I knew he had work in the morning. We sat on his porch and talked for awhile.  One could take this scenario and play out the rest like another scene in a movie; we visit and reconnect on a humid Texas night, so far removed from what we once were together,  yet coming full circle to this moment between us before hugging and saying something like, "You're one in a million, kid" or, "I won't say goodbye, I'll say 'see ya later" and then drifting off to our separate beds in different cities. The truth is that yes, we're pals, but we're not best friends anymore. We're two people that had a shared experience that we value, and the time since then is much greater than the time we spent in it. It doesn't mean we don't care about one another, it just means we're different people now with different lives. And we're happy for each other. You can claw and pull as hard as you want, but time is a moving river and there's nothing to grip.

At 11 o'clock, I told Hardin he needed to go to sleep and he agreed before walking me out and making sure I got safely into my car. Because that's what friends do.

Those four days in Texas didn't unfold in the way that makes for the best story but it reconfirmed a feeling I've been struggling with for awhile now. Living in Boston means I can dream of the big reunions and even see a few of them come to fruition - like Christmas and the week my mom got a facelift. What? That's not a thing in your family? Oh. But it also means I miss almost every other moment in-between. All the parts that equal the sum of change and time -- for five years, I missed more than enough of those moments. I don't need to rage with my friends in Dallas for one night. What I need is to drive into town for the weekend and hang with Angie and Nick's kids, go see a movie with Rae, paint the kitchen with my mom and check-in with Hardin over lunch. I'm not moving back to my hometown but I am moving back to Texas. I'm going home and it's the greatest reunion I've decided to attend in a long time. Not because it's about revisiting the past; but because it's about starting the next chapter in the place where I know it will best be written.






Thursday, June 19, 2014

Metamorphosis

Here in Boston, we are finally emerging from one of the harshest winters anyone can recall in perhaps a decade. Seeing as my time in the city has been half that, I can't swear to it but I'm all but certain that I'm correct as even seasoned New Englanders spoke of this one with profound astonishment - the sun that seemed to permanently set in October and not rise again until May; the relentless cold that demanded you wear three pairs of leggings when venturing out for firewood and wine; and the old, dirty snow that wouldn't melt, instead morphing into displaced and disfigured black caves that daily, had to be strategically maneuvered in order to avoid introducing ones face to the pavement during any outdoor excursion.

By nature, I am a homebody and an introvert. Living in Boston has been difficult in this regard as the winter challenges even the most socially determined when it comes to making the call as to whether or not to go out and mingle with other people. So, for me, given this choice in 20 degree weather, eight months out of the year, I almost always elect to forgo bars and parties and whatever else people do, in favor of laying low, preferably in my own home. The part of my brain that I should listen to, but seldom do, knows this behavior is not ultimately good for the psyche. But the other part of my brain, the one that loves pajamas and blankets and movies and not combing my hair, always prevails in the winter months. It's a very legitimate reason for why I will have to leave this city one day. The possibility that should I stay, I would be discovered, mummified in my Bart Simpson t-shirt, sometime in July after having passed back in November because I refused to leave my house for ramen and orange juice, hovers right around 88-90% likely within the next five years.

My winter mostly consisted of me waiting for my friends, John and Evan, to text about weekend plans and then, carefully manipulating them into thinking the most desirable activity would be to come over to my house and build a fire while we drank and smoked cigarettes - exhaling directly up the chimney stack so we could avoid opening a window and contracting immediate frost bite. This arrangement became so predictable that by February, I wasn't even getting dressed to have them over anymore. Instead, I would layer long underwear under my bathrobe and call it cocktail attire. Then, when they would arrive, I would simply throw the keys out of my 4th floor window, down into the street so they could let themselves in and I could avoid having to, god forbid, welcome guests at the front door of my building.

Inevitably, as our evenings wore on and the liquor warmed our bellies and softened our logic, we would begin to pass my iPod in a small circle - each of us having to pick our favorite sad song, or our favorite dance song, or the song we used to play on repeat when we went through bad breakups years before, and at least in someone's case (I'm looking in my direction right now) perhaps got a little carried away in a bad journaling phase. By the next morning, I could seldom recall how we concluded this game, but my iPod history would indicate I reverted to Tori Amos again and everyone knows it's been a successful evening when you end up crying to China in your beer and your bathrobe.  If only those cheerleaders from high school could see me now.

Come March, I had figured out that the local Domino's was open 24 hours for delivery, which if you know anything about trying to eat late night in Boston, is all but unheard of in this town. And while Domino's might not be your idea of fine dining, I still consider the Olive Garden date I went on for my 9th grade homecoming to be one of the fanciest I've ever had, so upscale is a relative term. After John and Evan would leave me and fade out into the black winter streets, I would ring up Domino's for an order of breadsticks, two cokes and three sides of marinara. I had this order  down to a science as I had perfectly deduced the ratio of soda sips to breadsticks to marinara dips required to complete the ultimate midnight eating-in-bed experience. This routine was operating like a well oiled machine until one night, upon receiving my delivery order, I discovered that the marinara had not quite made its way into my takeout bag. Well, this would not do; one cannot create a symphony in their mouth when half of the orchestra is napping in the green room.

I called Domino's and told them what happened before requesting they come back and redeliver the marina sauces. Understandably, they weren't too keen on this idea as driving out to someone's home at 1 o'clock in the morning to drop off three small containers of marinara doesn't, in theory, sound like the best use of someone else's time. That said, my theory is that breadsticks simply cannot be eaten without complimentary dipping sauces and while the 50% of my next order offer was tempting, I turned it down in favor of the marinara. "It's okay," I said, "I can wait."

30 minutes went by...45...an hour. I called back. "Hi. I called earlier about the missing marinara. Can you give me a status update on an arrival time?" "You still want us to come out there?" It was clear they had deemed me such an inexperienced snacker that they wrongly assumed I would eventually give up and fall asleep, or even forget about the mishap all together and eat my breadsticks without any sauce. No, it doesn't work like that. I'm not good at most things but if snacking is a sport, I'm the whole goddamned Olympic universe housed in one hungry body, dripping in gold medal tin wrapped chocolates.

I stressed again that yes, I would still like for someone to deliver the marinara and yes, I would be happy to continue waiting.

30 minutes went by...45...I called for the third time. They assured me they were on their way and finally, as the clock neared 3:00am, I received my marinara. The story would end there if I had simply gone on to eat the breadsticks in bed, resumed day-to-day life the next morning and then, like clockwork, waited for John and Evan to be in touch so we could pretend for a moment that we were going to entertain the idea of doing anything else but reconvening at my house on the approaching Saturday. But the story doesn't end there because while all of these things did happen -  after the wine was drunk, the firewood burned, Purple Rain performed in a bathrobe on top of an ottoman - when it came time for me to call in my delivery order, Domino's refused to answer the phone. I let it ring until the automated operator came on and politely advised me to hang up. I tried again, I tried again, I tried again. I called another Domino's to ask if my Domino's was closed. "No," they assured me, "let me transfer you over." More ringing, more ringing, the kind but assertive operator again.  Domino's wasn't answering my calls, and it was just established that Domino's was indeed open, 1 + 1  = Domino's was screening me. Apparently, the marinara incident left the staff so irate, they flagged my phone number in their database. A few weeks later, I made another desperate attempt to be reunited with my breadstick and marinara order. This time, elated as I was when they answered the phone, my hopes were just as quickly dashed when, upon reciting my phone number to the guy on the other end of the line, I was told they were currently on a seven hour wait. When your estimated delivery time is quoted to take longer than the time it would take to fly to Europe, it's safe to assume  your business probably isn't wanted anymore.

I don't fault Domino's for this. I imagine, had it been me charged with delivering marinara to a lady in an oversized bathrobe at 3 o'clock in the morning, upon returning to headquarters, I would have likely suggested we help said lady out in the long run by cutting her off from our services like, now. And in fact, I might even owe Domino's a thank you as being involuntarily weaned from my late night addiction made zipping up by jeans much easier once May came to town and the bathrobe was retired to the trash can.

Recently, I was talking to my father and telling him how relieved I was that spring had arrived in the Northeast. I gave him the speech about how emotionally exhausting the winter was, how it kept everyone locked up and hidden away from meaningful human interaction and how now that summer was on its way, I was committed to being a better me by spending more time at the farmers market, stepping up my exercise routine and registering for a 10 day juice cleanse.

The farmers market I used to visit has moved and I have no idea to where; I tried the juice cleanse but by day two, I was sneaking chips and not telling anyone; I went for a run earlier this week but half way down the street, I tripped on a brick and busted my knee open. A little boy walking nearby pointed and laughed. His dad told him to be quiet. It was too late.

So, when all else failed, I decided to try my hand at CultureCube again. I remember liking it here...maybe even more than breadsticks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's Me, CultureCube.

I have lived in my current apartment for five years next month. Mostly I love it; it has a working fireplace, hardwood floors, big bay windows with a killer view and a bathtub. Also, within twenty paces outside of my front door I can find the dry cleaners, the hardware store (which sells great candles and hand soap, coincidentally), the deli, the liquor store and the pharmacy where I usually buy aspirin on the mornings after I've visited the liquor store. In my most recent past life, I had jumped between four apartments within the same amount of years which left me exhausted, resentful and swearing up and down that when I found my next place, I would stay put. And time has shown that I did, in fact, do just that.

There are things about this place I'm not crazy about; those big bay windows are lovely in the summertime but come winter, the ledges are often coated with snow - on the inside - meaning I literally shovel indoors; my kitchen is nothing more than a tiny counter space with a small stove top and an attached mini fridge. I haven't purchased a pint of ice cream or put ice in my drink since 2009. The building is old which means it has "character", but also means dust bunnies are weekly critters to be managed in addition to the occasional mouse which one time found its way into my oven just as I reached inside to retrieve a baking dish I had intended for nachos. I still sometimes cringe at what would have been had I elected to preheat. The bathtub isn't particularly deep and the paint is chipping around the drain exposing rust and many layers of lead that I'm sure can't be good for you, but almost every night since I first dropped my bags here, I have bathed in it.

A few years ago I dated a guy I met at a book club gathering which turned out to be less about books and more about booze. I was head over heels mad for him, and I'm fairly certain that those feelings were driven in large part by not only his willingness to indulge me, but his actual enjoyment of baths too. He found the soaking to be as meditative and clearing as I did and we would wake up on Saturday mornings, pick up chocolate milkshakes from the deli and sit in the tub - talking and waiting for the water to cool and naturally drain a bit before filling it back up and continuing on with what felt like the perfect weekend activity. There were even the occasional nights when we would come home, build a makeshift stand beside the tub, prop up the computer on top and watch old episodes of Murder She Wrote on Netflix with the lights off...like our own personal drive-in except the car was a bath and clothing was prohibited. There was no sex and truly, no want for it in that space - just the bath,  the conversation, the chocolate milkshakes and our pruned digits. It was pure bliss.

Somewhere in there we started fighting, I threw a tube of lipstick at him outside of a restaurant, he moved to Los Angeles and I cried out loud to a friend, "Do you know how rare it is to find someone who wants to watch TV in the bathtub with you!?!?" I replaced the milkshakes with beer and sulked many a night in the murky, soapy water, the ends of my hair getting wet but never fully submerging my head because I didn't have the energy to actually wash it anymore. It was love and heartbreak and all the shit that comes along with it housed in this old, porcelain bin. It's the church of this apartment and I've worshiped and repented there religiously since our introduction.

Earlier this week, after a day at work and a night of forcing myself through a podcast while I ironed in an ill-fated attempt to be smarter despite my debilitating boredom, I made my way to the bathroom to pee, take a bath and go to bed. And then, just as I pulled back the shower curtain to run the water, I saw him. He was big and black and definitely not a man waiting to watch TV with me. He was a cockroach and the first of his kind that I have encountered in my apartment since inhabiting it.

I can say, unequivocally, that on my Top Ten List: Reasons I Like Boston More Than Texas, the absence of cockroaches in ones home, depending on the time of year you might be asking, falls somewhere between the #2 and #4 spot. I would rather have a run in with a rat than a roach and I mean that with every last drop of sincerity in my body.

This horrible creature was in my bathtub, my safe haven - scattering all over its surfaces, leaving its vile, disgusting, unholy mark on my church. It was like watching the person you love get another girl's initials tattooed on their arm and I had no choice but to throw myself in front of the needle.

As a woman of 34 who lives on her own, my cabinets don't house things like bug spray and WD-40. I'm typical and perhaps a tad repugnant in that I use storage for things like too many samples of eye cream, books I forgot to read and serving utensils for that dinner party that I swear, one day I'm actually going to host. The closest weapon I have for which I can assault a cockroach is a travel size bottle of cheap hairspray that I smuggled home from a hotel room once upon a-I-don't-know-when.

And as a woman of 34 who lives on her own, on this night, I found my full body outside of the bathroom doorway while I aimlessly waved my arm inside, attempting to take down a cockroach from the walls of my bathtub, with a can of Loreal Professional Hold. This went on for a good five minutes or so - me, peeking my head in to evaluate his position, aiming, spraying, watching him wiggle and seethe, regaining his footing and starting the whole process over again. Finally, at some point, he caved behind a small tub-side stool, falling out of my line of sight. I stood there a bit longer waiting for him to reemerge but he stayed hidden, not letting me know if he was dead or alive or really alive and just waiting for me to turn my back before he came looking for revenge. I didn't dare venture into the bathroom to look for myself - I was too afraid - so I retreated to my bedroom, still desperately needing to pee but unwilling to put myself in harms way and thus deciding, worst case scenario, I could go in the water bottle by my bed in the middle of the night. I closed the door, piled pillows up around the bottom crack and buried myself under the sheets to wait out the night.

This is the moment when there is no one to call. No one cares that there is a bug in your bath tub. No one wants to hear, that despite how stupid it sounds, and you know how stupid it sounds, you're afraid to go to sleep - you're contemplating unrinating in a bottle because you're so afraid! - no one is around at 11 o'clock at night to talk you through your nonsense.

It is in this same moment that you are transported back to another apartment, the one in which you lived when you were 24 years old, in Texas, one week after you and your first love broke up at a Sonic drive-thru at midnight on a Saturday. You said, "We can't do this anymore..." while desperately ringing the car hop because you knew you were going to need that Route 44 cherry lime-aid and tater tot order stat if you had any hope of getting through it in one piece.

You're in your bed again, and there is another cockroach scurrying across your floor and you can't kill it. You're too afraid. And the boyfriend is gone, you're alone, there is no one to call now. You don't cry, but you're overcome with sadness as you remember the essay you read where the author quoted his friend who had just lost someone she loved...she said, "I have plenty of people to do things with. I miss having someone to do nothing with." You sleep with the light on.

The next morning, back inside of my barricaded bedroom, I pulled back the pillows from door, crept out of my room and very, very slowly made my way into the bathroom to see if my previous evening's dueling partner was mortally wounded by the tub. I couldn't spot him so I kept on, delicately moving the shower curtain, gently pushing aside the bathmat, carefully lifting the towels...there was nothing, he had escaped.

And here's the bit I stumbled over again as I painfully regained the courage to reach inside my cabinet for my toothbrush, wash my face with one eye open and finally, finally, finally pee. I do this every day. Every day I do this. I go to work, I carry heavy groceries home, I walk my dog at 6AM when it's snowing out, I assemble my own furniture and I've even taught myself how to install an air conditioner - I'm pretty damn self-sufficient. Women like me will meet you for a beer, tell you that they're happy, they're proud - and for the most part, I believe them, I really do. And they should be, because they've earned that. But I also believe that women like me still wait for the person who will answer the call when the cockroach returns. And in the meantime, we invest in a can of bug spray, we bleach the bathtub, we sink back in, we pray.