Tag Archives: growing up

You’re A Failure

I wanted to tell you how 2012 looked for me, but can’t begin.

Instead, I will tell you six things made my cry this year: a book, a phone conversation about my late grandmother, graduation, the five minutes after my family left me in my apartment, my broken printer, and a funeral.

I’d be lying if I said there were only six things. But, truthfully, I cannot count the ones that made me laugh. As badly as we’ve got down on hands and knees and thought it’d be nice to just stay there on that itchy, sort-of stained cheap carpeting, we’ve really dug our own holes because we (well, me) don’t know six little things that made us laugh.

I read this piece, A Literary Flyover by Roxane Gay, that reminded me how distorted our views are. It’s about how this notion that writers? Well, all the great ones are sitting in cafés in Brooklyn sipping lukewarm tea and counting the number of people who walk by in red hats or cream-colored mittens or holding an iPhone so intently they walk straight into a taxicab.

Or something like that.

Don’t we kind of do that with our own lives?

You’re a failure because you don’t have an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy S III or six pairs of TOMS shoes. You’re a failure because you didn’t wash your dishes right after dinner and now the rice is stuck to the pan so you’re soaking it and it’ll probably soak overnight and maybe until tomorrow night when you stick your hand in there and it’s cold and mushy and gross but you’ve got to clean it.

You’re a failure because your clothes are sitting in the dryer for two days. And you haven’t opened those bills yet, even though you had time to empty the mailbox. You’re a failure because you came home and didn’t spend enough time with your friends. You wasted all night reading essays about being alive instead of actually getting up and doing jumping jacks or step aerobics or Zumba (or anything else that would be classified as Doing Something That Makes You More Alive).

You’re a failure because you don’t remember how to do Soulja Boy even though you haven’t heard that song in four years. And you can’t beat your twelve-year-old cousin in Wii Tennis. And your sister got a Christmas bonus at her minimum wage job. And your hair’s not straight but it’s not really curly—could you make up your mind for the love of all things holy?

You’re a failure because you slept in the sweatpants you had on all day. And your book’s in the bed with you all night—not the nightstand. And you didn’t turn off your alarm so it went off on Saturday. And you accidentally took Benadryl because you didn’t know it’d make you drowsy.

You’re a failure because you keep touching your face and making it break out—even though your mother told you not to how many times? And you probably should’ve ironed that shirt before you put it on but it’s too late now, you’re running late. You’re a failure because you don’t know all the words to any movie and you can’t insert yourself in those family discussions about the Walking Dead episode last weekend.

You’re a failure because you Googled whether to use who or whom in that email and then they replied with six or seven glaring typos and no punctuation. You’re a failure because you spelled somebody’s Twitter handle wrong when you mentioned them.

But you’re not. Not even close. Because you’re human. And humans, we’re pretty freaking awesome at a multitude of things: like unabashedly loving stuff and making our own scarf organizers and writing letters to strangers and making friends via Twitter and kissing someone because we really really want to (and don’t feel bad about it).

We’re also pretty freaking fallible. And I forget that. You forget that. We let ourselves climb into our beds exhausted and over-stimulated and dwelling on all the failures we’ve committed already and those we’ve yet to commit.

And it’s not fair.

Can I tell you a secret? I have failed at all those things and a couple thousand more. If there is anything I want for 2013, it is for us to stop counting and just keep churning onward. Because life, like I said, was freaking hard this year. Cut yourself some slack.

The Saddest Reason To Buy Taylor Swift’s RED

It was supposed to be for boot socks. Wool ones in fun, speckled colors. A two-pack of knee highs for eight dollars. But that isn’t what happened. That was never the plan. Not really.

On the way over, before I even so much as saw the red neon sign, Anna Nalick lied to me. She said I could just wait it out, this temporary storm, and wake up in a couple thousand days.

It was my own voice that cracked beneath that promise, my car idling at a red light. Anna was wrong. I knew that. I knew there was no hide-and-seek for 20somethings. There would be no hiding for the girl who doesn’t come home to someone else’s muddy boots.

How nice it would’ve been to turn the bronze key, unload my belongings, and catch the smell of something on the stove or a candle flickering on the countertop or the washing machine sloshing a load of whites.

True Confession: Some nights, I turn the dishwasher one and head back to the cold air. When I return, half an hour or forty-five minutes later, it is like my apartment has lived without me: moving and bustling emptily. This is, arguably, the most relieving and undermining feeling in the world.

So I chose HEATED DRY and found myself halfway to broken. There’s nothing you can do when you find cracks in your day that you cannot fill with someone else’s sorry days, someone else’s needs.

The boot socks didn’t have flecks. They were black and grey and white and I needed a little dab of color, even if no one else would ever see them. That’s how I ended up in ELECTRONICS.

And it’s the saddest reason, really, I’ve ever bought a CD: I needed to know that those of us on the cusp of 23 were broken not because we were weak, but because we gave slices of ourselves, limb by fragile limb, to the whipping wind and the turquoise sky and tornado warnings scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen. We gave ourselves to the kids who died too young and the ones who forgot how to love us.

I needed to know that not every story ends with Should’ve Know or Nice Try.

I needed to know that there was a spectrum of alternatives not printed on fortune cookie inserts or shaken to the surface of a Magic 8 Ball.

I needed to know that I wasn’t just a blue-eyed girl with frayed jeans and hopes that would always be too high.

I started thinking about the way we see ourselves and the way others perceive us. And I wondered if the cashier would look at me and see a broken girl with a broken budget and a conveyer belt full of all the words she wanted someone else to tell her. I wondered if my eyes were tired, if my feet were dragging across the tile floor, if I had stood long enough in front of that display and debated whether or not I needed a confidante who wouldn’t even bother to call me for coffee.

I decided that I did.

It’s the saddest decision, when you are alone and so desperately waiting for someone to listen, to get it, even if that someone has never so much as tried your name on her lips. Even if that someone has too many heartbreaks to worry about yours.

Target and Taylor have never let me down. But man, I wonder how I would’ve felt to say I didn’t need that, just could use some socks to keep my feet warm, just some socks please. Would it have felt better?

Leave My Light On, Even If I Never Come Back

I want to own the entire Eastern shoreline, but it’s just not possible.

The strip of land just south of Miami, the only place in the world where the wind whipped my hair into my face and I just didn’t care.

The curves of NC-69 I hugged, the ones that plopped me down by a small town university and carted me off to sorority girls with red Solo cups.

The forests in West Virginia that told me that yes, for 24.5 miles, I could drive more than 70 miles per hour and get away with it.

The string of slush in the center of the Interstate, swooping my back tires into  frenzies and sending me head on into the valley of grass between North and South, between one home and another.

The etched names of those who had made it safely to an island in New York State, bringing with them a measly supply of belongings and a heart that beat faster for freedom.

The sound of WFAN playing well south of the Brooklyn Bridge, in a town that held those kinds of people, the Sports Radio 66 kind, hostage just by looking at them on Sundays in the grocery store.

I wanted to own them all, the places I’d been, tell you that I was not a Marylander, but a Philadelphian, a New Yorker, a real Jersey girl.

That I had lived for weeks in houses dotting the Carolina coastline, rode the Chesapeake Bay Bridge enough times to know how many tunnels and bridges I had to cross before I reached a home that smelled like salt water and white bread.

That the best view in all of Virginia is atop a hill in a small western town, in a dining hall that doesn’t open on Saturdays anymore, in a university that plays its football games without my cheers now.

But it’s just not the way that life goes.

We cannot stretch ourselves into arms and legs and elbows and knees, amputate them and leave ourselves bloody and broken, always feeling the phantom limbs no matter where we set our luggage down, no matter where we light a pumpkin candle and turn on the front stove burner and make a home-cooked meal.

I wish we could light these candles and send them off to the places we’ve been, flickering for us even if we cannot ever come back to see them burn out.

We can be here. We could be there. We once knew that.

But I worry that we’ll crumble into a pile if we try to hold all of Carolina and New Jersey and New York and Pennsylvania and those two years in Connecticut and four in Virginia and the bumper-to-bumper traffic in West Virginia and that time we slept in the New Castle County Airport parking lot until the sun came up in Delaware.

The middle and the edges of Florida. The panhandle of Maryland that almost took us away from this Earth forever. The Eastern side where we only know a small section of roads.

At some point, we have to pick our homes and our houses, our memories and our come agains, our this-will-always-bring-me-back versus our I-can’t-think-of-this-without-my-stomach-aching.

There will be cemeteries where we never want to return. Flowers that will always smell like funeral homes. Hospitals that will be the only thing we see of this town.

There will be cars that, no matter how many times Apple pulls a new gadget out of its pocket, will always drive away when we hit the play button on our iPhones.

The phones we lost that broke more than screens but hearts and text message memories and the sound of sweet dreams when you’re only sixteen.

There will be all of that, but we cannot possibly take it all with us. We cannot.

Wearing Home Around My Neck

There’s a reason we will buy best friends forever necklaces for our eight-year-old daughters; and it has nothing to do with the way they sparkle and catch the lights as they swoosh back and forth on the jewelry display in Claire’s.

It doesn’t matter if she pulls on your t-shirt, begging you please please please we need to buy this for my best friend in the entire world because it’s her birthday next weekend do you want me to go to the party without an awesome present, Mom?

It’s because we knew, already then, that there would be an ending to the proximity. The closeness. The shared wooden slab in the corner of the sandbox just big enough for both of us to sit.

You could sit in that spot, legs scrunched up and head bent over, building an entire world without ever moving an inch, without ever losing the sound of your best friend’s heartbeat inches from yours.

Most of our lives are spent dishing out infrequent Hellos and bittersweet Goodbyes for the people we once shared a sandbox with. The people we once shared a sofa with. The people we once shared a sad, sad evening on the bathroom floor with.

And maybe, at eight, we already know that. Maybe our daughters will want those best friends forever necklaces, the jagged heart already broken, not because of the shine or the engraved curliques or the way it feels to hand someone something and say, “Promise you’re never going anywhere?”

Maybe they’ll know they’re handing over a piece of their heart. Maybe they’ll know that someday those once-owners of the other half of that two-for-one necklace will scoot on down the East coast on a sunny day in mid-August, only a few months after the principal hands her a high school diploma.

They will know the ache the minute that yellow truck shrinks to a speck on the road that connects their houses, the hollow feeling when all there is left to do is sit on a trampoline that isn’t even yours and wait for childhood to magically return.

Maybe they know that won’t happen, even if they forget it a decade later.

There are some best friends we count on never losing, so we pack up cardboard boxes with things we’ll never need again: our Skip It, Barbie’s corvette, slap braces and those shared and jagged silver heart necklaces.

But then your first best friend, the one who used to wake you up on Christmas morning and ruin the surprise for you, decides she’s got to leave.

You’ll want it back, then: the necklace and those ten years and the sound of her voice before she learned how to curse and drive stick shift and be old without you.

Your heart will scatter itself like dandelion seeds along the Eastern coastline until it feels so thin, so fragile, that you’ll sit up in the middle of the night and clutch your neck, wishing so badly for that necklace.

And the eight-year-old across the street will teeter by on her pink bicycle and you’ll wonder if forever can be wrapped up in a piece of jewelry you never leave home without, if home can live and breathe in that metal scrap around your neck, brushing right past your heart with each forward step.

That Sunday-Monday Feeling

I grew up believing in stretching Sunday mornings because evenings just weren’t so fun to deal with. I’d sit in my church pew, all the way at the front of the congregation, or more likely on the altar, one foot tucked behind the other, and think about all the ways I could mess up. All the people who could etch my mistakes into their brains.

Later, they could cackle over coffee cake and hot tea about how I tripped over that too-long white robe, how I dazed out and forgot to hold the book, how I stood up when everyone else kneeled.

There was this anxiety that didn’t float away like it should have. And it felt like those moments stretched on forever.

The after, the part that came only once I hung up that white robe and slid into the backseat of my dad’s car, still smelling new even when I was in high school, held the moments where I could breathe again.

And then, they’d stand outside the car, chatting about something coming up, and I’d just want to roll onward to breakfast.

My sister and I would be buckled in already, twisting around to peer out the back window as if maybe, at any minute, the car itself might roll uphill across the gravel parking lot. Of course, it never did.

We’d fight with each other because we’d been quiet, so quiet and contemplative, for almost two hours by then, and our butts hurt from sitting on dark-stained wood and our stomachs growled and the car felt like an oven as the sun strengthened and the world buzzed and what were we missing? What on earth were we missing outside those four doors?

We found the answer in the Wawa parking lot, while my dad poured black coffee and my sister swung open the clear plastic pastry doors and tucked a donut or a muffin or anything with icing and sprinkles into it.

And then we’d rumble the quarter mile to our house, up one hill and down another, her fingertips messing the melting icing as she tried to get a pinch of sugar, too impatient to wait.

We’d run inside and use napkins as plates and my dad would come strolling in, The Philadelphia Inquirer in hand, sitting down at the head of the table, the two of us with only morsels and crumbs left on our napkins.

It always started that way, the waiting and worrying and bickering colliding with late-morning breakfast. But the worst was the moment after, when the donut was gone and the fingertips were sticky and the clock held too much time and not enough.

We’d slug upstairs, crashing into our rooms to do homework, busy through the afternoon, waiting for a Sunday night dinner that might make up for school the next morning.

For the first time in sixteen years, I didn’t feel that. No more Sundays stretched with schoolwork. I am not in the backseat of that car anymore. It sits in the second spot outside my apartment complex, waiting for me to trickle down three sets of stairs and into the driver’s side where I’ll coax it on and pray it gets me where I need to go. Where I want to go.