No (Wo)man is an Island

Saturday, November 30, 2013

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This was a weird time to move back to Washington, D.C. By Monday, when I was finally settled enough to want to see people, there weren't many people in town to be seen, thanks to the fast-approaching holiday. I had drinks in Adam's Morgan with newlywed friends that first night & grilled cheese sandwiches at Tryst with another friend on Tuesday, & I worked from my old office all three days before the long weekend, so there were familiar faces to be seen & Starbucks-&-gossip breaks to be taken.

Still, it's been feeling more like a vacation & less like a relocation. Holiday travel has kept me from seeing many of my closest local friends, & to top it off, this week revealed some annoying (though ultimately meaningless) gossip about me that left me feeling like a lepery loser. Dramatic as it sounds, that nasty combination of social barriers resulted in my spending a large portion of my first days back wondering whether I have any friends here at all. More than once, I spiraled into a dangerous mental rabbit hole: "Why did I come here? Does anyone love me? Guess I'll go eat worms. I made the worst decision ever." (I told you it was a little dramatic, but transitions are difficult, OK? And I am a fragile flower.)

But then I start thinking of all the people who helped me get here, all the friends who went out of their way to be friends to me - people near & far who reached out to me in a billion different ways, letting me know they cared about me & supported me & were rooting for me. How dare I lament the absence of friendship in my life, when the last two months have shown me that I have more people in my corner than I'd ever realized?

And so, in the slightly belated spirit of Thanksgiving - & to remind myself of all the incredible people who grace my life - I want to take a minute to thank you.

Yes, you.

You, who said to me in passing, "You're an adventurer," & believed without an iota of doubt that it was true, even when I didn't.

You, who helped me look for apartments & furniture, who answered all my questions & addressed all my anxiety-driven worries, who painted a picture for me of what life could be like upon my return.

You, who recently decided your life's calling was to travel the world & who reminded me, whenever I thought I wasn't strong enough, that I, too, was brave enough to make big changes.

You, who broke up with your longtime girlfriend & struggled to regain your sense of self, who reassured me that I, too, could strike out on my own and not just survive but flourish.

You, who talked me down from the scariest panic attack of my life, who reminded me that we all go through periods of upheaval & that I just had to make it through today.

You, who checked in with me by phone or by text or by Gchat or by email, nearly every single day for a month, to be sure I wasn't falling apart like I continuously threatened to.

You, who I hardly know but who has a knack for taking care of strangers in need, who taught me the power of meditation & drinking games & relentless belief in myself.

You, who were worried by the tone of my vague tweets & sent me a private message to be sure I was doing OK, to offer support & suggestions.

You, who read my blog post announcing the move & sent me an email of support & concern, despite the fact that we hardly know one another.

You, who checked in periodically to ask, "Are you here yet?" & who offered to to help me shlep furniture in your SUV and bring over burgers & beer after I got settled.

You, who brought over bananas & and Pop Tarts & a block of cheese on my first day alone in my new apartment to tide me over until I could make it to a grocery store.

You, who organized a dinner with our mutual friends on my first night back so I wouldn't sit alone, wallowing, & who followed up when I tried to ignore the invitation to, well, wallow.

You, who took me out for drinks & offered me your old pots & pans to populate my empty kitchen cabinets, who invited me over for beer & friendship & cable & continued support.

You, who whispered to me in quiet, sincere confidence after my first two days in the office, "I don't know if I've told you how glad I am that you're back."

There are so many of you: you who left a comment on my blog post; you who sent me a quick text of good luck; you who reached out to make return plans or just to welcome me back. You - all of you - who reminded me that you care about me & that I am strong & that change can be positive.

On Sunday, I'll return to D.C. after a long weekend with friends in Virginia, & my social calendar will be waiting for me, more populated than its been in a long, long time. There are Hanukkah parties to attend, drinks to be drunk, movies to be watched, & lunches to be eaten, all with people whose presence & friendship enriches & brightens my life immeasurably.

Today, when I changed my Facebook profile to reflect my move & pressed "save," this is what it showed me:

Eighty-seven people in the District who I know & presumably love, plus countless others afar. How dare I feel lonely or alone for even a minute?
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The Magic Dragon

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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In the weeks leading up to this move, I was feeling pretty down. Actually, “down” is both a massive understatement & a bit of a misnomer; what I was feeling can better be described as “all-consuming panic” as I tried to come to terms with making the conscious decision to leave a life of relative peace & comfort for one of upheaval & unknown. Needless to say, I was not always in a great place, & while I tried to conquer those fears by confronting them, recognizing them, admitting them, the fact remains that I was… well, just not always in a great place.

In the interest of self-care, sometimes you need to do ridiculous things to try to make yourself feel better, even if they’re just Band-Aids solutions to much bigger problems. That’s why, last week, to try to raise my own spirits, I purchased a dragon onesie – adult-sized, you know, for myself.

Yep. A dragon onesie.

I’d read about, a onesie site, on Abby’s blog, & I’d been hankering to get in on the weird, fleecey, cartoon-costumed fun ever since. As it turns out, lots of other great people also own animal onesies, so either A) it’s not that weird after all, or B) I know a lot of weird people & am in good, weird company. Thanks, Internet.

I had my onesie shipped to my new address, & it arrived yesterday. What better way to begin a Monday? As it turns out, the extreme drop crotch makes me feel a little bit like a dragon incarnate of Justin Bieber, but overall, how can I complain about a dragon onesie?

That's right. I can't.

Brb while I rap Lil Wayne lyrics.

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MacGyvering My New Life

Monday, November 25, 2013

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Everything I brought with me to D.C. fit into a 10-foot U-Haul truck. I forgot a lot of things back in New Jersey - my Northface fleece  framed photo of my family, my grandmother's engagement ring, any books or movies whatsoever - but for the most part, I brought the important stuff (except for the boyfriend & the cat...), & I'm all settled into my new studio apartment.

What I neglected to consider, though, is just how many life staples I was leaving behind. Nathan is still living back in New Jersey, & the majority of our shared household items are staying there with him - everything from bath towels & trash cans to the Swiffer & the plunger. Cue "not prepared to live in an apartment alone" panic.

As we unpacked on Saturday, I kept a running list of Stuff I Need to Buy to Survive. While I hung clothes into my new walk-in closet (!), Nathan headed to the grocery store around the corner & purchased some food to populate my pantries - mac & cheese, tuna, beer, Diet Coke, bananas. He also picked up plastic cutlery & paper plates to tide me over until I buy real ones, as well as a small pot & rubber colander to begin my new collection of kitchen necessities. A few meager but vital items to get me started.

Still, when I began making Velveeta for dinner last night, I encountered a few problems.
  1. I wanted to add canned in chili, but I realized that without a microwave or another pot, I had no way of heating it up. Scratch the chili. 
  2. Upon adding the uncooked noodles to the boiling water, I realized I didn't have a wooden spoon to stir them with. I was wary of stirring the pot with a plastic spoon (because melting), so I used the one real knife I brought with me in lieu of the proper utensil.
  3. When the time came to eat my magnificent, healthy, adult meal, I realized I didn't have any bowls, either - which is how I came to eat a dinner that looked like this:

Oh, & one last issue. I don't own any Tupperware! Instead, I slapped some Saran wrap atop a Solo cup to refrigerate the other half of my "meal"- which I shall have to consume as cold leftovers, given my aforementioned lack of microwave.

When I was done with dinner, I headed to my building's workout room to watch The Walking Dead - because I don't have cable or Internet yet, & there's a nice, big TV down there for folks who are taking advantage of the treadmill & elliptical. I considered, you know, actually working out while I was down there, especially given my choice of dinner, but... well, I was tired, OK? Moving is exhausting. So this happened:
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There's No Place Like Wherever it is I'm Looking For

Friday, November 22, 2013

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I remember the night before I left for college, crying in the driveway of my childhood home while my mom hugged me close & kissed my hair & told me it would be all right. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop the tears, couldn’t fathom a life in which I did not live in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, like I always had; I couldn’t imagine being away from the people & places that had made up my entire 18 years. My boyfriend, Dave, showed up to help me pack, but when he reached the foot of the driveway & saw us standing there in that moment of raw emotion, he turned & left & came back after I’d calmed down.

Oddly, I have almost no memories whatsoever of the day in my junior year when I left Ohio University to transfer to Kent State. I know that no one came to help me move & no one was there to say goodbye, either, because I didn’t have a lot of friends by that point. I know that I cried alone in my car as the little town of Athens faded behind me, certain I would never return to it. What I do remember, vividly, is the phone conversation with my mother in which I decided to transfer – screaming & crying & heaving & hyperventilating, telling her I couldn’t & shouldn’t & wouldn’t, & then ultimately deciding to forget ahead & do it anyway.

I remember the day I moved to Maryland, less than 24 hours after commencement, to start an exciting new job in Washington, D.C. My mom & my aunt loaded all my belongings into my Honda Civic & my aunt’s minivan van, & together we made the seven-hour drive to my new, sight-unseen home, a condo I’d found through the short-lived Facebook Marketplace. I held it together while they helped me move in, & as soon as they drove away, their van just out of sight, I opened the floodgates & spent my first two hours in the Old Line State crying alone on my bedroom floor. As excited as I was for the new beginning, I was also terrified for it. (I only made it three months in Maryland before upgrading to a studio apartment in the city, just a block away from the National Zoo, in a move that was far less traumatic & emotional than any of my others before or after)

I remember the day, three years later, when I left Washington, D.C. to return to Ohio, because I’d quit a job I hated & my roommates were moving out & I didn’t know what else to do. I sold my bed on Craigslist & spent a week sleeping on an air mattress; I packed all my belongings into boxes while listening to Jimmy Eat World’s “Movielike” on repeat, sobbing intermittently as I said goodbye to my best friends & the city I’d come to call home. And again, my mother arrived in a white rental van to take me home, just the two of us, loading & unloading everything I owned as I started anew yet again.

I remember the day, just a few months later, when I moved to New Hampshire, waiting for Nathan to pull up in front of my mom’s house to help me take my stuff up north to move in with him. Before he arrived, I wailed to my mother, “I don’t know if I should do this!” but I did it anyway, moved to a state whose existence had never even permeated my consciousness because I wanted to try to make a go of a relationship that came with geographical tethers. I didn’t cry when I left Ohio, & I didn’t cry when we reached New Hampshire, but I cried a lot afterward, trying to make a life in a place that never quite felt like home, much as I grew to love it.

I remember the day I moved to New Jersey, driving the five hours alone in the dark to meet Nathan at our new apartment (sight-unseen again), where he was already living. There were no tears that time, only a midnight arrival & deep, permeating sense of exhaustion. Eight moves in less than 10 years is a whole lot of moving.

And I’ll probably remember tomorrow, too, the day I leave New Jersey to return to D.C. I don’t have any explanations or excuses as to why this move is happening, & I know that you, whoever you are, reading this, will interpret my story as you see fit. All I can say is that I am tired – so, so tired – & that I can’t keep living in places that don’t feel quite right. There are so many things & people I miss that life in this admittedly adorable New Jersey suburb just can’t provide me, try as I might to find them here. And I have.

So I made a choice, to go back to the one place, in the last 10 years, that has felt like the best fit for me. I don’t know if it’s the right choice, but it’s one I made, & just like each of the choices before it, it fills me with terror & sadness, clinging to the past while trying to bring the future into focus. Just like every other time I’ve done this in the last decade, I’m absolutely paralyzed by fear of the unknown, by fear of making the wrong decision, by fear of never in my whole life finding a place that feels like a goddamn home, a place I can stay.

I’m tired of moving, but I will keeping doing it until it feels right to settle down & just live
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Sorry I'm Not Sorry: A List of Things I've Apologized for This Week

Monday, November 18, 2013

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Because I have a notoriously terrible memory, I'm prone to keeping lists of things in my phone, just so I can keep track of them. Sometimes the lists are "important," like workout routines & stuff I need to pick up from the grocery store. Most of them, though, are less vital: to-do items before I turn 30, things I'd rather spend my money on than car repairs, scenes from Dawson's Creek that have made me cry. Recently, I added a new list to the, uh, list: "Things I've Apologized for Lately." After a week of keeping this list, here's a peek at what it looks like.

I have apologized for:
  • Taking more than one tweet to finish a sentence
  • Telling someone my name was Kate when my account was listed under Sara
  • Missing the initial call when a delivery guy rang to let me know he'd arrived
  • Pushing my cat off the couch
  • Using an exclamation point in a text where no exclamation point belonged
  • Spelling my name too quickly when the Apple guy was making an appointment for me
  • Being a huge bitch to the two Apple employees who were trying to help me get a new phone after I shattered mine 
  • Ugly-crying at the Apple store in front of a lot of people
  • Walking sort of in the vicinity of another person on a public sidewalk
  • Leaving work an hour early after I had a legitimate & terrible panic attack
  • Coming home from work early on my boyfriend's day off (you know, in case I'd interrupted his me-time)
  • Asking a busy barista a totally valid question about Starbucks' Veterans Day discount
  • Not responding in a timely manner to a text asking about Nickelodeon's GUTS
  • Almost being slammed into headfirst by a guy who was texting & walking
  • Being too busy during the workday to have a full & focused phone conversation with my mom
  • Gchatting with a friend & rambling about some things I've been stressed about
  • Canceling a session with my personal trainer
  • Napping for an hour longer than I meant to
  • Not making pumpkin cheesecake for my boyfriend to take to work, like I said I would
  • Taking five days to respond to a personal email
  • Not knowing the difference between registered & certified USPS mail
  • Asking a stranger at Starbucks to keep an eye on my laptop while I ran to the bathroom
  • Following up with someone for a third time after I didn't hear back from her on a fairly time-sensitive request 
  • Saying something to my boyfriend that hurt his feelings
  • Eating a sandwich during a video chat meeting
  • Taking sort of a long time to remove files from my iPad & reset it
  • Not being prepared to discuss something my boss sprung on me at a meeting
  • Emailing the IT department with a sort-of-dumb question
  • My debit card inexplicably not working & a cafe worker having to manually type in my card number instead
  • Working late (er, 6:30pm)
  • Not having the emotional energy to travel home to Ohio for Christmas
  • Tweeting while drunk
  • Being sick on a weekend 
  • Dragging my boyfriend to Urgent Care with me on a Saturday
  • Not turning on my video during a conference call because I was sick
  • Arriving two minutes late to a conference call
  • Muting myself on a conference call because someone was mowing the lawn outside my apartment window
  • Asking my boss to re-send me a password because the one she'd previously sent was incorrect
  • Asking a coworker if we could have a one-on-one call to discuss something he needed me to do for him because I wasn't totally clear on it after a fleeting team conversation
  • Using the phrase "Twitter famous"
And these are just the ones I thought to write down. Do you know how many of these "apologies," out of the thirty-nine of them that I recorded, were actual apologies that needed to be made? Two. Yes, two. I shouldn't have made that comment to my boyfriend that hurt his feelings, & it was rude of me to yell at the Apple folks who were trying to help me, even if they were telling me I owed them $300. The rest? Were wholly unnecessary.

It's colloquial, I suppose, the word "sorry." We say it when we mean "excuse me"; we say it when someone is going through a difficult time, even if it has nothing to do with us; we say it about little things & big things alike; we say it about things that certainly don't require us to be sorry or even apologetic; we say it when what we really mean is, "I know this has been a small inconvenience upon you & I want to absolve myself of any guilt for my involvement in that."

It is apparently a widespread myth that the Eskimos have an unusually large number of words to mean "snow." Still, I can't help but think of this claim when I think more about the word "sorry." How often are we really sorry? What does "sorry" even mean? Isn't there some other word we could use for "I know this has been a small inconvenience upon you & I want to absolve myself of any guilt for my involvement in that"? Because that's too many words to use 39 times a week, but I'm also tired of saying I'm sorry when I'm not really sorry at all.

When we say we're sorry for 37 ridiculous things that do not require our apologies, do we demean the two that do? Does "I'm sorry" lose its meaning when we use it for everything? Because I don't think "using an exclamation point in a text where no exclamation point belongs" & "hurting the feelings of someone I care deeply about" deserve the same reaction from me.

I'm tired of apologizing for my existence. I'm not sorry anymore - unless I am, in which case, you'll know that I mean it.
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Hobo Clothes & an Ego-Crushing Consignment Shop Experience

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

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Consigning clothes seems like such a genius idea - make money by throwing stuff away! It's like eBay with less of the work (& admittedly less of the profit, but hey, less work.) My little New Hampshire town boasted no fewer than five adorable consignment stores in the downtown area alone, & here in New Jersey, I often end my workdays by walking from Starbucks to the chain consignment boutique next door for a quick look at whatever's new. At this point, about a quarter of my wardrobe comes from such stores, so it makes sense that I should also finally try to consign some items of my own.

You can only do this, of course, if your stuff is nice. I happen to think mine is, though it's not particularly high-end - mostly GAP & LOFT, with some better & worse brands on either side. I've recently lost a bit of weight, too, so everything that once fit is now too slightly big (what a terrible problem to have, I know), including a number of pieces I bought just last winter, when I was at my heaviest. It's nice, new stuff, like striped sweaters & crisp button-downs & brightly colored cords, stuff I would wear if it fit me; stuff I would buy again if it fit me, especially if I found it at consignment prices. There's jewelry, too, these pretty statement necklaces, & shoes, like a pair of brown leather boots & green, snakeskin Nine West stilettos I've never worn. I have good taste, I think, certainly good enough to consign at a store that also sells brands like J. Jill & Lands End & stuff you'd find in the section of Macy's reserved for middle-aged moms.

I lug an overstaffed bag into the shop on a Monday afternoon, taking a quick break from my workday. On the walk there, I'm the target of a few "What are you doing?" looks from passersby who surely wonder why a put-together girl in Frye boots & a "BE AMAZING" sweater is lugging what appears to be an oveersized hobo bindle down main street. When I get to the store, I find that the staffer who's doing the consigning isn't particularly friendly, but she isn't rude, either, just kind of overworked & focused on efficiency. Still, as I set my boulder-sized bag on the counter to begin the process, I realize my hands are shaking a little bit & tingling, like they do when I'm really nervous. Because this all feels kind of judgmental, doesn't it? Here's a total stranger, about to tell me exactly why my wardrobe is or isn't good enough to be shared with other shoppers. I don't particularly want to hear her reasoning behind the pieces she rejects, so I wander through the store while she goes through my items, taking to the sweater rack & hoping for the best.

After 10 minutes or so, she calls me back over. "We can take this jacket & these four necklaces," she tells me, gesturing toward five items laid carefully upon a table to her left. In front of her is the discard pile, practically towering, my sweaters & jeans & those fancy heels all in a heap that announces they have no worth, aren't fashionable or well-kept or desirable enough for resale.

The store employee is looking at me expectantly, as though I should know the rest. And I do: Suddenly, I remember that the store's policy is that you must have 10 items to consign.

"So..." I begin.

"So collect some more stuff," she answers flippantly, beginning to stuff my items back into the bag. I stop her, ask if I can take a minute to refold them, & as I ready my reject wardrobe to return home, she pipes up again.

"This Old Navy stuff? No. We don't take that. But maybe try bringing back some of the GAP & Banana Republic stuff in the spring." I keep looking down, don't make eye contact with her judgy face as I neaten my pile & pack it away. Her colleague chimes in: "We'd also be very interested in your Longchamp bag," she says, pointing at the massive tote I'm trying (& failing) to stuff all my clothes back into.

"It's..." I should just tell her I'm not looking part with it, but my brain takes the more honest route. "It's not real." In fact, it has the name of a California synagogue stamped on the side she can't see, a gift from a colleague I once helped & a surefire giveaway that it's a knockoff that's not even trying very hard. Upon my response, both boutique employees look at me with what can only be described as thinly veiled disgust. One of them opens her mouth, as if to speak, & then, thinking better of it, closes her lips with a wet-sounding purse. In coordinate heel-spins, they turn away from me & return to the front desk, leaving me at the back of the store to clean up the mess that is my fashion sense.

I give up on folding. There's not enough room in the bag anymore, because my tingling hands have made me clumsy, so I shove the boots & stilettos into my purse (which is, by the way, an actual Longchamp bag). My eyes are burning now, too. Desperate to leave, I slink behind a rack of dresses & winter coats, but my necklaces, the ones I shoved into the bottom of the bag, are tangled together in a mass that jingles when I walk, & their sound gives me away. I pass the boutique employees on my way out the door & they say nothing; is this better or worse than if they'd chirped, "Thanks for coming in!"? I can't decide. I cross the threshold back onto main street for the long walk of shame back to my car, & as I pass some of the same people who watched me walk into the store, I can't help but feel like I've got a scarlet letter upon my chest - a U for unfashionable maybe, or an R for reject.This is stupid, of course, because no one is paying attention, but try telling that to my wounded pride.

I discard my snubbed clothes into the trunk of my car, where they'll remain in hiding until I drop them off at Goodwill next week. I wish I could hide, too, but the closest I can get is to sequester myself in my home until I'm confident that I don't look like a hobo & feel qualified to reenter the world. In the meantime, for today, there will be no coffeeshops for me as I work from home & nurse my damaged ego in leggings & UGGs & an oversized grey sweater. Because, hey, sometimes looking like a hobo is sort of cathartic.
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Waiting for Daylight

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

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There's no easy way to come to terms with the revelation that the life you've planned for yourself isn't going to pan out. It's just... not that kind of revelation. Once you realize it, allow it to sink into your skin instead of just hovering in the air around you, it becomes this painful, all-consuming reality that has to be dealt with, acknowledged, lived.

That's where I am right now. There's too much happening underneath the surface - too much to talk about, too much to think about, even, & I wake up out of breath, struggling to catch up before the day's even begun. I'm in a constant state of panic. The questions never stop, just beget more questions, & no answer feels secure enough to satisfy me.

Sometimes, it feels manageable, surmountable. Some days, I'm able to sort of float out of my body, away from this moment, to look at this point in time from one further down the road. A year into the future, what will I think about right now? Will it feel worth it? Will I be OK? I know I will be - at least, I think I will be - & for a few minutes, that brings me pacification, is enough to calm the static that eats through the soundwaves. It doesn't last long, though, & soon, I'm buzzing again, trying to breathe again. I've always believed in futures but I've never been particularly adept at planning for them, & so for now, there's only this. There's only fear & self-doubt & did I mention fear?

Right now, I'm not OK. I will be, soon, because that's how life works - either you're OK, or you're dead, & there is no in between, not for long. So I'm trying to focus on that moment, months or years from now, when I'll look back at today & think, "You did that. You made it through, again, & goddamn it, you are strong & brave & admirable." I wish I were the sort of person with enough perspective & peace of mind to recognize those things right now, but I'm not. I never have been, & now's not the time to try to change myself, not when I'm trying so hard just to survive.

I know, though, that for better or for worse, I'm the kind of person who excels at retrospect, & a year from now, or two or three or 10, this will be one of those times that stands out as life-altering & praiseworthy. In the meantime, I breathe & panic & breathe & panic & repeat, indefinitely, waiting for the day I can take in air without choking on it.
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The Time I Had a Tarot Card Reading

Sunday, November 3, 2013

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Hokey though I recognize it may be, I've long been fascinated by all things psychic. As a kid, my best friend & I even created a fake guide to psychic activity, authored by Ima Foné (genius), to try to... I don't even remember. Trick her brother into believing that psychics existed? (Sorry we were sort of mean to you, David. I love you.)

It follows, then, that I'm fairly obsessed with the idea of visiting psychics. Don't worry, I'm not doing it on a regular (or even a semi-regular) basis, but I like the idea of it, & so whenever I pass one of those "PSYCHIC READINGS, $5" signs on the front of some hole-in-the-wall joint with beaded curtains, I'm sorely tempted. Occasionally, I give in - which is what happened earlier this month when I forked over $12 to have a tarot card reading done at a hippie store in downtown Red Bank.

Let me set the scene for you: This store sells dreamcatchers & incense & tumbled-smooth rocks & palmistry books & lots of handcrafted silver jewelry & small stone statues of faeries. I like it because it reminds me of my college town, where old beatniks abound, but I can't think of a single thing I'd ever be likely to buy there. And yet... it was a Saturday, & the sign in the window read something enticing & succinct, like, "TAROT CARD READINGS TODAY!" & I fell for it. I paid my cash, put my name on the list, waited 15 minutes or so, & was eventually ushered into... a dressing room with beaded curtains.

My psychic - can I call her that? I'm gonna call her that - was a slightly disheveled but friendly-looking woman of unidentifiable age, clothed in black velvet. [Sidebar, if I may. If I've never told you how I feel about velvet, here it is: I think touching velvet feels like petting a cat backward. It shouldn't be done, it's horrible, get it away from me. However, because I recognize velvet as a culturally important fabric to those who believe in the super- & preternatural, I tried to overlook this grievous textile offense.]

Her cell phone alarm went off. "Sorry about that!" she exclaimed. "I just got my first iPhone, & I'm not sure how to use it yet." I leaned forward, ready to try to help her out when I realized that it was actually an Android phone. This was the moment I learned that technologically unsavvy individuals sometimes refer to all smartphones as iPhones, even when they're not of the Apple variety, since confirmed by a friend who works for Verizon & lists that as one of her primary pet peeves. I assigned negative two points right off the bat to my psychic, although I suppose a psychic doesn't necessarily need to have a profound mastery of modern technology.

She asked me a lot of questions, more questions than I think a psychic should have to ask, but I'm not in the business of telling people's futures, so I tried to be helpful while staying as tight-lipped as possible. I didn't want to give her any emotions or added commentary that might color my reading. You're the psychic, lady, you tell me. I'm not giving you anything to work with! When she asked me how old I was, though, I answered ("29."), & she seemed taken aback. "Wait, really? I thought you were a lot younger. I'm 32 &... well, I thought you were a lot younger than me." Now, I don't look particularly young - in fact, I'd say I look exactly 29 - but in fairness, if pressed, I would've guessed that she was about 42, so maybe one or both of us has a skewed perspective.

Anyway, the reading went well, I think, in terms of her not telling me I was about to kick the bucket, or anything. The first card I pulled was "Chaos" (of course), so she spent a lot of time talking to me about the mess that is my life & all the things life has planned for me in the near future, & it was all so alarmingly spot-on that I had trouble hiding my surprise. In fact, it was actually a reassuring experience: Oh, the stars say everything will turn out OK & I won't end up financially destitute & miserable? Thank God. Then again, she also told me she can see that I'm very close to my parents (Note: My father died in 1995), which helped ground me in the recognition that such readings are to be taken lightly. Still, I left her fitting room - er, psychic lair - equal parts rattled & reassured.

Have you ever been to a psychic? Do you want to hear about the time one freaked me the hell out by telling me about my personal guardian angel slash child ghost? How about the time I got a reading in a New Orleans park by a turban-clad woman who called me "my dear" every five words, such that I couldn't pay attention to the rest of what she was saying?

Like I said, um, I'm prone to falling for these things.

Top image: Candles And Cards by Katrina Joyner. All other images my own.
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Remembering Bill

Friday, November 1, 2013

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I got a text message this afternoon from a childhood friend letting me know that my former neighbor died. To say it took me by surprise is an understatement; certainly you never expect to receive such devastating news via such a casual delivery method on a sunny Friday.

My neighbor's name was Bill, & right up until I left for college, he & his wife, Christie, lived in the house next door to the one where I grew up. They moved sometime shortly afterward, to a condo in the next town over, & we didn't see them much after that, but throughout the years, I've thought of them with some regularity. In such a small, tight-knit Midwestern neighborhood, they were a huge presence during my childhood, part of so many of my memories.

Bill was a big personality, always quick with a joke & a loud laugh - our Wilson next door but without a fence in the way. He worked nights at the local newspaper, something to do with printing or delivery, so he was often home during the day. My parents used to joke that Bill knew everything about everyone on our street, always the first to relay the scoop on who among our other neighbors was having an affair & whose kids had gotten in trouble with the law & all the other small-town goings-on that people try to keep under wraps. Today, when I blog about things like drug dealers next door & neighbors who have loud sex, I sometimes think fondly of Bill; I like to think that he would get a kick out of what a busybody I seem to have become.

Bill kept their lawn meticulous, & sometimes he'd mow ours, too, though maybe that was just so we didn't make his look bad by proximity. Often, I'd go to their house after school, doing homework at their living room table & playing with their dog, Brandy, until my mom came home from work. Their home was full of collectible pigs, which Christie loved, & I made a habit of counting how many I could find, oftentimes more than 100 of them. One year, after they'd built an add-on room with high ceilings, they brought home a towering, monstrosity of a Christmas tree & decorated it straight out of a Martha Stewart catalog, the most beautiful Christmas tree I'd ever seen. Within a day of setting it up, though, they noticed that it was emitting an occasional pop, pop, pop sound, one that had everyone concerned an animal was living inside. Bill, BB gun at the ready, was going crazy trying to figure out the origin of the noise. Imagine his relief when they discovered it was just a bunch of tiny pine cones, opening up along the branches!

When my dad was sick, & later, after he died, our neighbors helped take care of my mom & me as much as they could. This meant that more than once, Bill stepped in to rescue us from sure disasters - & he always did it with a laugh & a friendly tease. There was the time we returned home to find our back door wide open, afraid someone was lurking inside, & he came over to inspect it before we went inside. There was the time my mom called him, frantic & terrified when she discovered a bat flying in circles around her bedroom, & he ran over, armed with a giant fishing net, to catch it. And there was the time my freshman year of high school, when my mom & I tried to set up a Christmas tree & found ourselves in a state of near-collapse. Bill came over that time, too, fishing wire in hand, & he tied that sucker to the window frame, tight enough that it wouldn't tip over.

Isn't it funny how you can think you don't remember much about a person from your past? And then it all comes rushing back, like it was just yesterday - full, colorful versions of a lifetime ago. When I got that text telling me that Bill was gone, that he'd died at a hospice care facility I didn't even know he was in, suddenly I was 10 years old again, trying to climb the big tree in his backyard & smelling that cigar smoke from his porch & excitedly accepting the blank rolls of newspaper butcher paper he brought home from work for me to use for extravagant craft projects. He was a good man, someone I loved & trusted & whose presence in my life was constant & positive, & although it's been a long, long time since I last saw him, I'm surprised to find that I can still recall his voice, that laugh, & all kinds of packed-away memories I'd nearly forgotten.

I don't know whether I believe in heaven, that there's some happy, shiny place beyond this world where we pass on & spend eternity laughing & singing & dancing with angels, or whatever it is that other people believe about life after death. I know, though, that if such a place exists, there's an old neighbor & a chocolate lab waiting there with a smile, welcoming Bill to join them.
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