Those Little Stickers

Those Little Stickers

On Tuesday, November 2, 2004 I had the early shift at the coffee shop where I worked. As the early morning turned to late morning and then afternoon, more and more people walked through the door with a smile on their face and that little “I voted” sticker on their lapel. This was in the middle of Los Angeles, so “I voted” meant “I voted again Bush.” After four years of George W., it felt good to think we were coming together to get him out of office.

My shift ended at 2PM. I went to vote stinking like coffee. I went home and took a shower. I took a nap. I started to watch the news, and then, damn it, he won again.

I found a website that was collecting photos of people holding up signs that said “we’re sorry”–Americans apologizing to the world for electing this man that was so obviously a poor fit for the presidency. I looked at the website every day for weeks. Maybe even for months and it made me feel a little better to know that I wasn’t alone. My fellow liberals weren’t wearing stickers, but they were out and proud on this website.

Yesterday I teared up while walking to my polling place as I saw my neighbors make the same trek, and thought about how I–me–got to vote in a historic election for the first woman to get this close to the White House. My brother texted me a photo of his red, white and blue socks and a tshirt he got his baby girl that said “why be a princess when you can be president.” My mom, a life-long Republican, texted to say how thrilled she was that Trump was about to be out of our lives forever.

I watched that video of the line of people waiting to pay tribute at Susan B. Anthony’s grave.

I hearted Instagram photos of my friends wearing white, or pantsuits, or taking their daughters to the booth with them.

But throughout the day, that parade of customers from 2004 kept flashing through my mind. I hoped it wasn’t a bad omen.

For 8 years I haven’t felt that old familiar shame whenever the president makes a public speech, or appears on the news meeting with foreign leaders.

The world is even more connected now than it was when George W. was president and now once again I’m cringing at the person we’ve selected to represent us to the global community.

At 10PM last night, I was sobbing in the bathroom. This morning I held a popsicle over my swollen eye lids while making a coffee and trying to get up the psychic energy to go to work. In between the sobbing and the popsicle, my wife and I made a plan to get through the next four years:

  • No travel to red states. We like to travel, but don’t have a ton of money, which means a lot of our vacations are domestic. But we will not spend our hard earned dollars in states that voted against the interests of minorities like us. We’ll miss you Austin.
  • When it comes to stuff, we’ll buy as locally as possible. There is a Gap Factory store a 15 min walk from my work and I’ve been known to sneak off there during my lunch break and buy some jeans, or a get my wife a shirt. No more.
  • When it comes to food, we’ll also try to buy as locally as possible. If we buy produce from farmers markets, we’re guaranteed to be supporting local farmers. Luckily we live in a city where there’s a different market almost every day of the week.
  • We will speak out when we are being mistreated and we will ask for what we need. On a small scale, this could mean asking a guy to make space on a Metro seat. On a slightly larger scale, this meant disagreeing with my boss at a meeting today after I asked that we include female composers in a film music promotion we’re planning and he started to argue that we’re trying to entertain our audience, not prove some kind of social point. And on a much larger scale, when the policymakers come for our rights and freedoms, we will speak out. Which leads me to…
  • We will join forces with others to create effective advocacy. We are both introverts, so it’s more our style to quietly donate to a cause than show up at a meeting. But we need to start showing up. And we will.

So we have a plan. But man this still sucks. It feels like a gut punch. It feels like a break up. It just feels awful.

60 Days! Tick Tock Tick Tock

60 Days! Tick Tock Tick Tock

Uncertainty can make me nervous. That’s why I downloaded a wedding countdown app, and I’ve been using it to track a couple of milestone dates, like the 60-days-before-the-wedding mark. And that’s today. It’s 4PM as I type this, which means in exactly 60 days, our wedding guests will be parking their cars and finding their seats.

Yesterday we did a walk-through at our wedding venue with our Day Of Coordinator. I really went back and forth on hiring a DOC. The friends and family of mine who used one really sung their praises, but as we started sketching out the details of our wedding, I questioned if it was a want or a need for our particular wedding, which was not going to be all that big or all that complicated. My definitions of “big” and “complicated” have evolved, and I’m very glad we went with a DOC.

We’re expecting about 100 people, which isn’t a “big wedding”, but it’s objectively a lot of people. And even though we’re forgoing a lot of wedding elements (cake cutting, a DJ, sit-down dinner), there are still so many moving parts.

That’s why yesterday, after our walk-through, we headed to Stone Tasting Room and quickly got ourselves a flight of beers. I asked my girlfriend how she was feeling and she said, “overwhelmed.”

We spent about two hours working through the details of our rehearsal, ceremony and reception with our very helpful and organized DOC. We nailed down so many details and she answered so many questions. But still we walked away with our heads swimming.

I’m a producer by trade. Timelines and detailed plans are my bread and butter. Plus I’m a true blue Virgo, so I have lists of my lists. After a few silent sips of beer, I pulled out pen and paper and started making You, Me and Us lists. By the time we’d gotten down on paper everything we knew we needed to decide, or follow up on, or get a contract for, we were both feeling much better.

Never has this wedding felt more real to me. I know when I’ll take photos with my family (before the ceremony… when the baby flower girl will hopefully be fresh and smiley) and where the seating chart will be displayed. I know we’re booking our hotel for Friday night, in addition to Saturday, so we don’t have to worry about checking in after the wedding when we’re tired (and let’s be honest, drunk). I know when I’m getting my hair done and where I’ll be putting on my make-up.

I also know that after feeling no need to invite family friends from my hometown, I changed my mind two nights ago. I was working on our reception playlist which includes a tune from The Clash. I flashed back to when an old family friend was my brother’s soccer coach and he named their team The Clash. I realized that this family friend, his wife, and another couple from “home,” have known me since I was born and have witnessed, in one way or another, all of my other major life milestones. Good thing we ordered extra invites.

Sixty days to go either sounds like quite a while, or not long at all. What’s for sure is that I want to take advantage of all 60 of these days. My girlfriend and I will be staying away from grains and sugar for the next 60 days (with the occasional exception, I’m sure), so we feel good in our bodies when the wedding day comes. I have a charming back acne issue that I’m going to tackle, thanks to some tips from my dermatologist. And I’m going to be careful with my time, so I’m not an exhausted stress ball in 60 days.

My girlfriend and I have really been burning the candle at both ends. We also found a third end and are burning that one as well. Not only are we working our normal, busy jobs and living our normal busy lives (with holidays and birthdays to celebrate, laundry to launder and bathrooms to clean), we’re also planning this wedding AND taking a pretty intense writing class together. We’re either smartly giving ourselves a creative distraction that will save us from obsessing over the wedding (and the current presidential race … what the hell, man), or we’re very dumbly stacking another obligation on top of our already full plates. Only time will tell! But we had an opportunity for career development and we didn’t want to pass it up.

Apparently I’m the kind of person who repeats inspirational quotes from fitness professionals, because at my Cardio Barre class on Saturday, the teacher lead us through end-of-class stretches and said, “it’s within your power to slow down time. Just stop thinking about what you need to do next and how quickly you can get there and focus on what you’re doing right now.” How long can I make the next 60 days? Long enough to get everything done, take care of myself, give my relationships the attention they deserve and not lose my mind in the process? I hope so.

 

 

The Vena Amoris: Putting A Ring On It

The Vena Amoris: Putting A Ring On It

(photo: our rings and a great bottle of wine on the night we celebrated signing our venue contract)

Engagement rings are a weird thing. So weird, my sweet fiancee has yet to fully grasp the concept of them. I’ve defined “engagement ring” and “wedding band” for her many times, but even so, she pulled my band out of her pocket when she proposed.

For some reason, I’ve been against my girlfriend spending thousands of dollars on a ring since the subject first came up. A caveat: my opinions apply only to us. I don’t want to judge decisions made by others, just as I don’t want others to judge us. The Golden Rule of wedding planning.

I know for some people, picking out an expensive ring is part of the fun. It’s likely the first piece of investment jewelry a woman owns, so why not go for it, if that’s something you want (and can afford).

There is an engagement ring trap, though, and it’s the idea that the grandiosity of your ring is commensurate to the value of your relationship. That’s obviously not true, but it’s an easy rabbit hole to fall down.

My dad was raised in Oregon, and my grandpa still lives there, but my grandmother died of lung cancer several years ago. When we were up for her funeral, Grandpa handed my mother a small fabric bag of my grandmother’s jewelry, and eventually my mother gave it to me. My grandmother wasn’t ostentatious (understatement) and neither were her jewels. But I know they were special to her and they are special to us. There’s some silver she bought on a trip to Mexico, and a lovely set of opal earrings with glinting stones set atop a delicate golden leaf. And then there was a tiny art deco ring, unlike anything I’d ever seen. The delicate raised filigree was embossed with flowers, and the round diamond sparkled in a hexagonal setting. None of us could remember my grandmother wearing it, and the style suggested it was from an earlier age, anyway… probably the 1920’s.

My great grandmother, Mary Amelia, had her first baby in 1923. She had my grandmother five years later. That same year, her husband committed suicide. It seems pretty likely that this ring was Mary Amelia’s–the token of a marriage lasting under 10 years and ending tragically, leaving her a young widow with two tiny children.

I lived a giant state away from my grandmother for most of my own life. I have memories of her, but not many. I know a little bit about her life, but not much. And nearly everything I know about Mary Amelia fits in the 56 words above. But when I say “I do”, her ring will be on my finger–this little piece of metal and stone that outlasted her marriage, her life and my grandmother’s life. It will outlast me too, but for now it’s connecting me, and the life I’m about to build, to a family history that is hazy to me but real. A wedding ring, and maybe this one especially, is a symbol of the bravery inherent in taking on marriage in the face of unknown risk. It’s a pretty reminder of the commitment made to a partner, when neither of you know what the future will hold.

These days, that is how I think about my ring. But it’s a significance that has built itself up around me since the day I got engaged.

In the beginning, I just didn’t want to spend any real money on a ring. This one was already in my possession and I liked it ok. But once I started wearing it, I began to feel insecure. It’s strange to know an accessory is broadcasting personal information to the world. And I think strangers will assume I’m marrying/married to a man, which bothers me because it isn’t true. But I’m also not up for regularly outing myself to entire subway cars.

The jeweler who sized my ring confirmed it was white gold and a real diamond, but he didn’t bother telling me the size of the stone and I didn’t ask. It’s very small. I think the setting is designed to make it appear larger, but it’s not an altogether successful illusion.

I don’t even like diamonds, but I got self-conscious about mine, because of the engagement ring trap. If people noticed I didn’t have a big hunk of stone, would they assume my relationship wasn’t worth much either? I grew a little afraid of what people would say about my ring.

But a funny thing happened when people did start saying something about it. My friends told me it was beautiful. A few said, “it’s so you”, which caused me to realize, yeah, it really is “so me.” My parents had no idea the ring even existed, but they both think it’s cool that we pulled it from near-oblivion and gave it a second life.

I bought my partner her own engagement ring. It’s yellow gold and has no stone, but it’s from the 1920’s just like mine. And, just like mine, it had a life before and is getting a new one now. She’d never worn jewelry, so wearing a ring every day felt foreign to her. We’d both look down during the day and… BAH! What’s that on my finger?!

A few months ago, we took a trip and decided not to bring our rings. We didn’t want to risk losing them as we traveled around. After a few days, we admitted to each other that the paradigm had flipped. Now, not wearing our rings felt weird. We’d both mindlessly touch our left thumbs to the base of our ring fingers and be surprised by the absence of cool metal.

We got back home and slid our rings on. It was a relief to be wearing them again. Those insecurities about mine floated into the ether. I stopped seeing it as anything like “less than” and saw it more as “so me.”

In the 1600’s, the idea of the vena amoris took off. That is that the vein in the finger next to your left pinkie ran straight to your heart. I like the idea that my ring finger is a direct line to amor, because I know the ring on it is a physical manifestation of the depth of feeling and history within me. I know that now.

On Lake Time

On Lake Time

There are three mosquito bites on the back of my right calf and they’re coalescing into one uber bite. Itchy. Angry red. Pants make it itch, so I’m rolling my cuffs way up.

When I was a child, my grandmother’s best friend (who we always called “aunt”) told me her mosquito bite remedy: use your thumb nail to press an X over the bite. Like many folk remedies, it’s a false wisdom passed through generations until it gains the gravitas that masks a sad fact: placebo.

Still, I’m tempted to scoot up my pajama pants and dig three Xs into my skin.

The bites and the remedy were given to me in Lake Tahoe. I’ve been here every summer of my life. The tradition feels anachronistic, but I’d never think of breaking it, even though the definition of summer shifts with age.

When I was a kid, the summers at Lake Tahoe felt endless. School would end and my parents would have me and my brother sleep in our clothes, so we could get in the car early early in the AM and make the drive to the Lake in good time. In college, I worked up here — at a deli inside a tiny grocery store where I learned what it was like to be on the other side of the counter.

Once these two dudes my age were waiting in line and I heard one telling the other about a place at school called “buck fidies.” Any good Bruin of a certain age will recognize the name of that Westwood sandwich institution. When they came up to order I asked the dude if he went to UCLA. He did. I told him I did too. He just looked at me askance.

In the early years after college, I could usually only scrap together a few free days to go to the lake and my parents would pay for my flights from LAX to RNO and back.

I’m older now and can afford both the flights and more than a few days’ time off from work.

So I fly to Reno, someone picks me up and on the drive to my family’s condo, I get the rundown on who’s currently at the lake. The numbers ebb and flow like a tide, depending on the amount of visiting cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends, buddies, aunts and uncles (biological and honorary). We have loud nights with post-dinner games, or quiet evenings watching movies and telling stories. During the day we go for hikes and boat rides. I read on the beach, or chat by the pool. I try to outsmart the constant threat of sunburn with layer after layer of sunscreen and increasingly wide-brimmed hats.

Me and my cousins have all been laid to bed as babies in this place. Warm after a day in the sun with hair wet from our baths. Stories and kisses from the assembled masses, then drifting off to sleep with the soothing sound of adult chatter muffled from down the hallway.

But there hasn’t been a baby in a while. The youngest of us just turned 19. Bedtime stories have been replaced by cocktails… although that’s about to change. My brother’s wife is pregnant and she’s due any day now. We’re waiting for a sign and then I’m packing up and heading to San Francisco to welcome my niece.

Next summer, there will be a crib in one of these rooms.

Being a kid in the summer swimming with a school of cousins is an excellent experience. Growing into adulthood with those cousins is great too, because while we were once just a mass of youth, we now get to know one another in a new deeper way: as adults and as individuals.

And now that we’re the adults, we’re slowing become the young parents smearing sunscreen on squirmy kids. Wrestling their water wings into place (if people still use those). My brother is going first, but there are a few of us who will be quick to follow. A new generation spins into an old place. A new crop of memories just about to be born.

Passover: A Short Desert Memoir

Passover: A Short Desert Memoir

I took a UCLA Extensions class called “Writing Creative Non-Fiction” a few years ago and I wrote this for that class. It’s about roughly the same period of time as Part 2 and it’s always slightly horrifying to go back and read something you wrote more than a year ago.

The sun slunk down behind whatever mountains those were and brought the temperature down with it. The heat of the day slowed its fatal pace. The sandy dirt beneath my bare feet lost its burn and felt just pleasantly warm. Next to me, my girlfriend of five months sat in a new, collapsible chair, identical to my own.

We’d wandered into the desert to go camping and so I could meet her closest friends. All of them. Dozens of them. Hundreds. Or maybe just six.

Since we were the first to arrive in Joshua Tree, we picked the campsite we liked best. I’d borrowed my parents’ big old tent, the same one we camped in when I was a kid. It was as dusty as it was unwieldy. We had to convince one of the poles to stay in place with liberal amounts of duct tape. When the tent was finally tamed, my girlfriend got out her cell phone to text the others our location, but we were way out of range and our phones were useless. We walked past lines of better-behaved tents baking in the sun to the wooden welcome sign and bulletin board—sprouting like faded brush beside the campsite entrance. We wrote our initials and campsite number on a paper plate tacked to the board.

“I guess we’ll see if that works,” said my girlfriend.

We spent the gloaming in our camping chairs drinking warm cans of Tecate and wondering if The Friends would find us. My girlfriend wished they would. I wished they wouldn’t, because I knew these friends made up my girlfriend’s ecosystem, her climate, her environmental niche. But where was I was on their food chain? They knew we’d been together just a few months and I was pretty sure they knew I’d been with my boyfriend for much longer. In this strange place, awaiting the judgement of strange people on a relationship paradigm that was unusual at best, my cell phone was not the only one out of range.

Just when it seemed we would stay a party of two out there under the stars, The Friends pulled up in a car with the brights on. They honked the horn and piled out, all hugs and hellos, firewood, coolers and tent stakes. There was a great shaking out of nylon and sleeping bags. And then The Friends closed around me at the campfire my girlfriend was poking with a long stick. I considered making a run for it, but I am way too pale to survive a weekend alone in the desert.

“What is everything we should know about you—that’s a good question, right?” asked the photographer from Vienna. I put my hands in my jeans pockets. Then in my jacket pockets. I traced sand with the toes of my sneakers. All I could think of were things not to say. I took a breath and stammered out an innocuous list—hometown, job, favorite author.

The Friends hadn’t been all together in a while, but they fell quickly into old patterns. I watched them fill their plates and tell old stories, revive old jokes. I watched my girlfriend in her native habitat.

Two women with headlamps walked past our fire. They wore matching khaki shorts, and plaid shirts with the sleeves cut off. As they looked at us and ran their fingers through choppy short hair, the Eagle Rock dog walker whispered “desert lesbians.” We giggled like girls half our age and they made each other laugh until the fire died.

I knew the desert would get hot, but I had no idea it would get so cold. We shivered through the night, barely sleeping. My girlfriend and I pulled nearly-numb fingers out of our sleeping bags to feel each others’ frozen noses.

In the morning, we discovered I was the only one with coffee and a coffee maker. Having something necessary to contribute made me feel more comfortable. I made pot after pot of coffee and filled The Friends’ cups. They started to spin increasingly absurd plans for keeping warm the next night. They got sticks and poked diagrams into the sand of where we would place heated rocks and blankets woven out of cactus needles and lizard skins.

The yogi from San Francisco, suggested we take a hike before it got too hot. She knew a good one, she said. It’s pphhewwww, she said, moving her hand evenly across her field of vision.

“Smooth sailing, not even a hike, just a walk.”

She was right, it wasn’t a hike, it was a death march. I walked miles in a t-shirt and torn jeans up a narrow trail with the bright, hot sun inches from my fair skin and long, heavy hair. When I was brave enough to look down, my stomach dropped and I could swear I heard vultures calling my name. My girlfriend and I defected when her asthma and my vertigo became too great. We draped ourselves over the front seats of my girlfriend’s car with our legs out the windows, waiting for the others to return. I leaned my head back, and felt my warm body relax in the semi-shade. I felt my eyes shut and inhaled the smell of heat and sage

Back at camp, we played Scrabble, set up a badminton net and chatted. Topics covered included: who is Tasha dating, why isn’t Tasha dating, celebrity gossip and Things I Heard on NPR. We passed around magazines and found common ground. There was no plague of questions about what exactly I thought I was doing, which was a huge relief considering I wasn’t really sure. There was another fire, another dinner. A less frigid night. Time to go home.

“So,” I said to my girlfriend while buckling my seat belt, “what did they think of me?”

“I don’t know, but I bet they’ll talk about us the whole ride back.”

My girlfriend drove us back to Los Angeles with the windows rolled down. We watched the Joshua trees give way to palms and then street lights and we held hands. I released her warm fingers, the same length as my own, only when she had to shift gears and when we kissed goodbye.

On the other side of my apartment’s front door it was cool and quiet. The shades were drawn in the living room—like they always were, keeping the light out, keeping the smell of weed in. I expected my boyfriend to call out “hello” when he heard the door open. He wasn’t planted, as per usual, in the dim living room wearing the scrubs I took from my brother and his own “free Burma” t-shirt, so well-worn the ink of the shirt’s clenched red fist was peeling away from the black jersey. He wasn’t in the kitchen or our bedroom.

The apartment wasn’t just silent, it was stripped of sound. It was a Monday in Hollywood, but too late for morning traffic and too early for evening traffic. There were no honking horns and slamming car doors. No tires screeching to a halt behind a car that had suddenly pulled into a vacant parking spot.

As I started setting down my stuff, I realized I’d brought the ghost of our campfire home with me. I hadn’t known our apartment to smell like anything other than the weed we smoked and the food we cooked, but here was a campfire, long since extinguished, alive in my grey hoodie and dirty blue jeans. There was desert sand in the bottoms of my shoes, I could feel it with every step—a gritty reminder beneath my heels and between my toes that I had been away and now was back. But maybe not totally.

I called his phone, but there was no answer and I started to get the drift. I was meant to find this space barren and unwelcoming. The cool and the quiet tacked up either end of an invisible banner that read “this is the beginning of the end.”

I dropped my backpack on the bedroom rug and took the wadded up tent out back to the trash. I took a shower and washed my hair twice. But as it dried, I could still smell the campfire and the apartment grew pregnant with the sound of my boyfriend not calling me back.

So … What Are You Now. Part 2.

So … What Are You Now. Part 2.

Part 1 is here.

In 2006, I’d been out of college for three years and my life was starting to feel a little more organized and a little more adult. Instead of chasing several jobs around the city at random times of day or night, I had one job with regular hours. My weekends were actually weekends. I lived with my longterm boyfriend and we quickly got to that point of domesticity where you have favorite brands of products like detergent and toothpaste. I ate vegetables on a regular basis.

But as these facts of my life settled in around me, I started to feel squirrely. With a “normal” job, I felt too square. And as I inched past my mid 20s, I wondered what I had traded by staying with the same person for the first half of that decade. The question “is this it” started to insist on being answered.

Anyone who knew us then probably thought we had a great relationship. And they weren’t totally wrong. We got along great most of the time and when you’re a kid that’s what makes a relationship great. One of my uncles once told his daughter “you can’t help who you fall in love with, but you can help who you build a life with.” I was starting to build a life and it felt like I was building it around, not with my significant other. The detours were wearing me thin.

So we had serious conversations about who we were and what we wanted, as individuals and as a couple. We came up with what felt at the time like a practical plan. Ultimately, it was more like an escape hatch and, with the hatch door open, I agreed to meet up with a woman I barely knew.

In my mid-teens, I found myself, almost by accident, on a tour of the UCLA campus and was caught off guard by an electric connection to the ground under my feet.

In my mid-20s, I found myself, almost by accident, on a date at a coffee shop and was caught off guard by an electric connection to the person sitting before me.

I’d like to say that was that. The path was clear, so I hopped right on and marched confidently in the direction of a better, more fulfilling life. Instead, it’s tough for me to write about what happened next, because it’s tough for me to think about what happened next, because it was tough for me to live through what happened next.

My first years after college were characterized by general chaos and I was constantly buckling under the weight of the decisions I had to make about who I wanted to be and what kind of life I wanted to have. All those options were scattered around my feet like jenga pieces and it took years to start assembling them into a structure that could hold steady. Then over the course of a few months, it wasn’t so much that I pulled the wrong piece and the whole thing tumbled down, it’s more like I realized I was on the wrong side of the structure and just pushed it over, so I could get on by.

Once again, the pieces lay scattered at my feet and I fought to reconcile two urges–one was to get on my hands and knees and start reassembling so I could save the people around me the pain of change. The other was to just kick that shit out of the way and sprint past the debris.

What I ended up doing was moving into a tiny studio apartment without a kitchen, and sitting for hours on my stoop smoking whole packs of Parliament Lights while listening to Bizarre Love Triangle and Don’t Fear the Reaper on repeat. I went to work, but I barely worked. I bought groceries, but I barely ate. I went through a lot of motions.

I was cut off from my ex, from his family and from many of our old friends. I started to cut myself off from my family, because I didn’t think I could explain what was happening to me. And for a while I cut myself off from my girlfriend because I’d experienced so many emotions in such a short of a time, that I made it a goal to just stop feeling.

And I must admit, I ended up being pretty good at not feeling. It came rather naturally, especially because I felt emptied out.

This one day, I was walking from work to my bus stop and I just stopped halfway there. I sat down on a busy sidewalk and had no desire to move. I just couldn’t do “it.” What “it”? Any of it.

“I just can’t” became a common refrain in my head and looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t fall into a catatonic state, because that’s all I really wanted. I knew there were any number of things I needed to sort through, (like, oh wait am I gay?) but I just wanted to opt out of all of it.

Life went on around me, though, and luckily for me, many of my friends didn’t leave me alone. I’m not sure anyone truly realized what a bad state I was in, because I think I kept it hidden. But people picked me up and took me to dinner. A friend asked me to start writing for a website he was running. I started to get my sense of self back. I started to get my sense of humor back. And I got my girlfriend back.

I was going to say “I don’t know what I would do without her”, but I do know, because I was without her for a bit and it became quickly unbearable.

My grandparents got married when they were 18. Then they got their marriage annulled and lived in separate cities for a few years. After a chance meeting, they reconnected and decided to meet on a park bench just to talk. They told my mom that as they sat on that bench, they realized they never wanted to be apart again. So they got married.

Just as friends, my then-ex-girlfriend and I decided to go see a terrible vampire movie together. Sitting side-by-side in the dark theater, a thought became so clear in my mind I had to speak it out loud. I didn’t want to be “just friends”, I only wanted to be girlfriends. Only. Not a single part of me wanted anything else. I realized I never wanted to be apart again. So we’re getting married.

So … What Are You Now? Part 1.

So … What Are You Now? Part 1.

In my early 20’s, I lived on a diet of candy, cheetos and the occasional 1AM bacon-wrapped hotdog, but always fit into my jeans. I could work my two jobs, change shirts and head out to catch last call. I could sleep erratically for days and days without losing brain function. When I did sleep, I could sleep anywhere (couch, floor, pile of laundry). There was a great density of random, bizarre experiences.

Sometimes I look back with envy at the life I lead back then, but I never miss the person I was.

I feel like I’m part of a last generation. We grew into cell phones and social media, but we didn’t grow up with them. Our first computers didn’t even have a mouse, let alone an internet connection. Being a small town teenager before the internet made it effectively impossible to understand the size of the world — the variety of people, jobs and lifestyles, the type and amount of choices you could one day make. My parents made a point of traveling with me and my brother, so I’d seen some very big cities, but there was a kind of otherness to anything outside of my hometown that made elsewhere feel surreal and out of reach.

The future wasn’t something I thought about, because I couldn’t conceive of any pieces for that puzzle. I didn’t want to replicate the examples of adulthood I saw around me, but I didn’t know what else there was. When I left for college, it felt like I was walking into a grey mist.

I traveled with a club from my high school to UCLA, because after the campus tour, we got to go to Medieval Times and I wanted to wield a turkey leg. At the top of Bruin Walk, I looked down at my Airwalks on the red brick and I was filled with an unfamiliar feeling: I wanted to be there. I felt good in that spot. When I looked around at the students and the trees, the classic architecture and the green spaces, I felt hopeful. A kid with no concept of what the future could be, got her first glimpse at what it might hold.

After working so hard to get myself to UCLA, I wish I would have taken better advantage of my time there, but that’s a sentiment born of perspective. Learning to live on the scale of a major city took as much careful study as any of my classes. Especially because I was naive, quiet, shy, full of self-doubt and plagued by seasons of self-loathing. I mainlined Simpsons episodes in a neighboring dorm room, so I could catch up on a decade of cultural references I’d managed to miss. I watched everyone moving effortlessly through their lives and lamented how others could have selves and personalities so fully formed, while everything I did was wrong.

And everywhere I went, there was the specter of my parents’ disapproval. They loved the idea of me going to UCLA, studying English and joining a sorority. Ultimately, I did two of the three. My mom took me on a special shopping trip to buy expensive outfits for rush week. She called old family friends to get reference letters for me at the “better houses.” My mom and I had been fighting a lot the last years of high school, but those drag outs were nothing compared to how we yelled and cried when I dropped out of rush.

Marching from sorority house to sorority house, making conversation over lemon water and plastering a smile on my face during all the dance numbers choreographed to I’m Walking on Sunshine overwhelmed me. I felt so out of place, I would look for the closest hiding place as soon as we broke for lunch. I practically ran back to the dorm at the end of the rush day. After a few days like that, I couldn’t force myself to go back and I told my mom I was done. She did everything she could think of to get me to change my mind (including offering to buy me a TV for my dorm room), but I wouldn’t. I had a choice to make and I moved toward the decision that felt right for me, tortured by the knowledge that it meant disappointing my parents.

There was a lot of that over the next decade. Therapists call it “individuation” — when a child breaks the symbiotic ties with parents in the interest of becoming their own person. Each broken tie caused me and my parents physical pain. I constantly felt like my only option was to fail them or fail myself, so I did a bit of both and was never more than a few steps from depression.

Days after moving to UCLA, I met a guy who was different from anyone I’d ever known. He was half Lebanese and half Jewish. He was a socialist. He was a cinephile. He made me mixed tapes of the bands that are still my favorites. He was funny and had crazy hair. At the beginning of my junior year, we started spending a lot of time together, just the two of us. I’d moved into an apartment near campus and he lived just down the street. So he would stay over until 2 or 3AM and then head back to his place and I’d get a few hours sleep before class.

One early morning, we said good bye and I closed the door and then a moment later he knocked softly. I opened the door and he kissed me. He was wearing an ugly paisley thrift store shirt, all gross browns and greens. I remember the feel of that polyester on my skin. I recognized the moment for what it was: a mix of romantic gestures straight out of a brat pack movie. I thought it was what I wanted and I tried to fall into it, but I couldn’t. I was watching it all from a distance, making note of the boxes it checked, and wishing I was feeling more, thinking less.

That night was the start of a five and a half year relationship that was fun and work in nearly equal measure over the years, before ultimately losing the balance. We got along really well. We had adventures and we helped each other. We had misunderstandings that I blamed myself for. We were the solid couple in our group of friends and by the time we broke up, I don’t think I had any close friends who had met me before I was “us.”

Around year two: I would find myself considering the question “is this it?”. As time went on, it got harder not to wonder at an answer. Is this it? Is this what love is? Is this all love is?

Around year three: people started asking if we were going to get married and we gave many answers, but never “yes.” Marriage was an artificial construct. A dying institution. Sexist. Irrelevant to our modern lives in contemporary America. Not until gay people could. Maybe someday. No. Just no, thanks.

Around year four: the future of us would flash before my eyes and it played out like a television commercial for cleaning products. I would give a good-natured roll of my eyes to some idiotic thing he was doing. All would be ruined and forgiven in the same instant that I was cleaning it up.

Around year five: “Escape. Escape,” I started thinking. But I didn’t know how, or even from what exactly I wanted to escape.

Finally we came up with an ill-conceived plan that ended up saving me by putting a lit match to my old life. The match was polyamory and we lit it together. What happened next is “Part Two.”