Thoughts On My Journey Westward

Thoughts On My Journey Westward

First, a song.

I told a story a little over five months ago about my Lyft ride to Denver International Airport. It was at the end of my ten day trip to Colorado that involved a lot of hiking, margaritas, cousin time, dog-walking, fresh air, slowed lifestyle, mountain ranges, live music, and solo exploration. The story is simply this: at the conclusion of my adventures in Colorado, I was overwhelmed. I was holding back tears until I wasn’t. Until the tears were leaking down my face in the backseat of the car, as I tried to hide the sobs that were bubbling up at the back of my throat. My driver was looking at me in his rearview mirror, likely wondering what kind of person he had picked up that afternoon.

So, when people ask me Why Denver? That’s where I usually begin.

If you want me to go further, I can do that, too.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The fact that I was drinking a can of beer in the parking lot before a show at Red Rocks and saw a fucking deer just hanging around. The stranger on the light rail who stopped to have a ten minute conversation with me about Alexander Hamilton because I was reading his biography. The light rail in general. The short distance to a real hike. Hiking above treeline. Hiking above 10,000 feet elevation. The effort it took for me to breathe properly even just walking around the city (sounds terrible, kind of was). Wash Park and the paddle boats and the massive pack of ducks I watched descend out of the water and walk across my foot path. Illegal Pete’s and their $4 margaritas and the punch they pack (hoo boy). The 16th street mall and its free bus ride. The friendliness of every one of my Uber/Lyft drivers. Breweries. Dispensaries (and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even smoke pot). The amazing view of mountains you get from sitting in the nosebleeds at Coors Field. When it shows rain in the forecast but that just means it will drizzle for 15 minutes and then be perfectly sunny and reasonable again.

After ten days, I had all of those reasons. After ten days, I came back with a plan. I was going back for good. The first course of action? Telling everyone I knew. The tough part of the plan was that I had done this before. I’d wanted to move to Ireland (for a boy), I wanted to move to Virginia (for a friend), you could say that I might have cried wolf a few times but I always meant it in the moment. In past scenarios, I went so far as job and apartment hunting, renewing my passport. But there was something very real and tangible about the decision I made when I got back from Denver. It wasn’t that anyone believed me any more this time around than they had in the past, but perhaps all it took was for me to finally believe in myself.

I kept subtle reminders laced into my every day so I never lost sight. There was the Colorado keychain that I looked at every time I unlocked my door or went to the gym. There were the turquoise earrings I bought on my trip that I have barely taken out of my ears except for (some) special occasions and cleanings that reminded me every time I looked in the mirror that I had somewhere else to be. And over my desk at work were three polaroids of my time in the mountains, because I needed the ambition, the reminder that change is scary but often times worth it.

On the eve of my departure, none of this feels real, and I’m not sure when it will. I’ve already signed a lease for an apartment and my truck is packed and ready to make the drive and I’m about 3.5 hours away from needing to wake up and be ready to go. I’ve cried and cried and cried saying my goodbyes to friends and family and pets alike but it still feels fake. It feels like something I’d never do. Because I’ve always been a planner and not all of this is exactly planned. Spontaneity was interesting to me, and seemed like a good time, but I’d much rather get my ducks in a row before it all blows up in my face because there’s always a good chance it will blow up in my face.

For the last month or so, I have taken the time to marvel at the life I have built in New York. I was born and raised on Long Island, I went to college in the Bronx, and I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively. I’ve built a strong foundation on the shoulders of amazing people, who have been able to lift me up and challenge me to be a better person than I was yesterday. I have spent so much time reflecting on the people I have known over the last 29 years that I had a few moments where I questioned why the hell I was leaving in the first place. But I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who gently nudged me in the right direction, knowing too well that this move is something that I’ve needed to do.

And just because others say things far better than I ever could, take it from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

(YYyyyyeah, that just happened.)

Hey, New York? I love you. I’ll see you soon.

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On The Street Where I Live(d)

On The Street Where I Live(d)

First, listen.

This morning I walked down a dawn-lit sidewalk on the street where I’ve lived. This is both past and present tense in the strangest and most marvellous of ways.

As I walked by each house that has colored my childhood, I realized that not much has changed except for the occupants of some. When I still lived here as a child, I had memorized every window, every shingle, every front door and the cement path that led up to it. I memorized every tree, every fence that (sometimes successfully, often times not) held in a friendly barking dog, every bump in the cement where I’d tripped and skinned my knee or bumped over with my rollerblades. And the big tree that stood like a faerie castle where most of us always ran to hide during manhunt, because if you could get in through the bottom level, the other branches above created a sort of natural fortress. If you were brave enough, you would climb to the highest limb and feel like the king or queen of the block.

I have vivid memories of the older kids camp-out on the patch of grass between my house and the house next door. It involved a massive tent and a co-ed sleepover and stories that became engrained in our memory as blocklore; someone licking a firefly and saying it tasted like peanut butter and the swirling tales of who had kissed who, something that I couldn’t fathom at the innocent and precious age of five. But I remembered it well, mostly because I was both mystified and disgusted by the idea of the prettiest girl on the block wanting to kiss my terrible brother.

I walked by the patch of grass where there had once been a massive tree trunk that seemed carved as a seat, for any runaway kid on the block. I remember trekking 100 feet from my front door to this very spot, feeling as if I had crossed the Sahara desert on what was a very hot August midday. The sun was at its peak and I had packed my backpack with all the essentials: a juicebox, my favorite doll, a packet of Smartees, and a chapstick. And with that, I was out the door. Why? Could have been anything. Mom wanted to brush out my tangled mess of hair (a big LB no-no) or I wasn’t allowed to have a playdate with my best friends or I was in trouble for not eating all of my lunch that day. These were cardinal sins against my five year old existence. Commit them and Hasta la vista, mis padres! 

When my name was yelled out the door for dinner, I decided my parents had learned their lesson. Tough love, man. It’s the name of the game. But I always ended up back home.

Home. Home was the tiniest house on the block. In all of my years of passing it by, I’d never seen it. It was only on this early morning as I walked by in quiet but constant acknowledgement of the house I had spent an important handful of years in that I looked to it, then to the house directly next door: big. The one across the street: huge. All around me, these houses seemed to rise up like they never had before. Big, big, bigger. I laughed because I realized I had never noticed it before. See, we had the big backyard. We had the most grass footage, and the long, strangely-shaped driveway that led back to a garage we never used and a patio we lived on, where we hosted block-wide barbecues and where the summer babies blew out their birthday candles. We had so much backyard, my dad had built a bunny run where we, a family inexperienced in the bunny world, ended up with a wayward brood of fuzzy creatures when our two “female” pets ended up mating. There in the yard, we even had a long clothesline that my mom used. The sheets would blow in the cool breeze of the day, and we’d play among the dancing sheets until we were told to stop, for fear of dirtying them up again. Because we were always covered in some tree sap, or maybe dirt, but definitely grass stains. We had a wall of morning glories that greeted us each new day with their purple faces, so beautiful I had as difficult a time as ever not picking them off the vine to mash into my “perfumes” (a recipe as simple as squashed up flowers and a dash of water from the hose).

Moving away from that house, we moved into a much bigger house. My brothers no longer had to share a room, there were one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room, a basement and an attic. But there was nothing sadder than leaving our tiny house on our block. Because it had become our block, us kids, from different families and different backgrounds, who met in the street with the common goal of finding a way to have fun until dinnertime. When you’re young, you don’t notice if you’ve got the smallest house on the block, if you’re poor, or even if you’re rich. You just go on playing and living and laughing and crying. And if you’re lucky, you’re surrounded by others who don’t notice it, either.

I silently acknowledge the little white house whenever I pass by, seeing light through the windows and the latest occupants going about living within. I give a little smile in thanks, for giving me and my brothers the chance to have a carefree childhood, surrounded by other carefree kids causing trouble, breaking bones, having impromptu Frank Zappa dance parties; for irrational fears of the Mad Jogger, first kisses, and the “car, car, C-A-R” chant because without it, we would have all gotten hit by at least one car during a game of Spud.

To Jefferson Avenue, with love.

february 14th: it’s just another day

february 14th: it’s just another day

First, listen.

I was twelve years old when I had my first Valentine’s Day experience. My boyfriend and I were to exchange gifts at my locker between classes, and the only reason I’d even gotten him something was because I’d been tipped off that he’d gotten me a gift. That gift, as it so happened, was a pug stuffed animal and a box of chocolates accompanied by a card declaring his eleven year old love for me. When I handed over my gift, two boxes of Sweetheart candies and an accompanying card with similar declarations of love, he was disheartened. He hadn’t yet learned the art of playing it cool and had noticed that he’d spent a considerably larger portion of his allowance than I had. It was middle school, I wasn’t making a lot back then. Even at twelve years old I was annoyed by this interaction. I didn’t mean to spend less than him, but I also didn’t care how much he had spent on me. (And, let’s be honest with eachother, how much did that pug really cost? C’mon.)

I can’t be completely certain, but that entire Valentine’s Day exchange may have been my saving grace; the thing to keep me from being a person who avidly, painstakingly cares about February 14th. And it is just a date, though I can’t blame you if you’ve been duped by it. For years and years, it has masqueraded in red and pink flowers, hearts, diamonds, fancy dinner plans, all to fool unsuspecting people into thinking that it was really a thing. It has effortlessly fooled couples into slaving away to put on a good performance on this single day of the year and has tricked single people into thinking it suddenly matters more that they’re alone than it would have on, say, February 13th. That’s quite a power to harness for a single date on a calendar.

Valentine’s Day derives from various tales of martyrdom, and was only celebrated for love and romance in the 13th century when people concluded that February 14th was the first day of mating season for birds. And like Halloween before it, we as a civilization have taken a day that meant something completely mundane and mutated it into something kind of… well, worse. And not only that, but it has, in turn, made people feel sad and dejected. I mean, to the point where a movie called How To Be Single is being released on Valentine’s Day weekend, because they are hoping to prey on all of the single ladies in the world womp-womping around because they don’t have any plans.

That’s the funny thing about Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be this day about love, right? The priest (Saint) Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II and continued to marry young lovers even though marriage had been outlawed in Rome (because single men made better soldiers than married men, natch!), only to be caught and executed for his crimes. Love, right? He died for love! I guess!

So I still put my love to use. Romantic love isn’t the only love, you know. And it’s the far more elusive form of love in my life, anyway. Instead, my dad has been my Valentine for the last few years, because he’s pretty cool and sometimes he sends me flowers that show up a day late, because why wouldn’t they? On Valentine’s day, I choose to revel in the card my Nana picked specifically for me, and the little candy that she attached to it. I choose to swoon over my dog because she’s really fucking cute and she loves me back no matter what. And I choose to set up dinner plans with a group of girlfriends because the power of female friendship is beyond measure. 

Getting drunk on pink wine and guacamole with a bunch of friends are the plans you wish you had last Valentine’s Day. And there might be a friend or two who will drink too much and begin to lament about better V Day’s gone by… let them. Order more wine for the table, eat more carbs than you’ve eaten in the last month, roll your eyes at all of the loved-up couples sitting at the surrounding tables (because, ugh, PDA). Get drunk! Throw condoms around the bar! Swipe your Tinder (or Hinge… or Bumble… or OKCupid, if u nasty) screen with reckless abandon! I’m telling you, these are the makings of the best February 14th you’ve ever had. Trust.

Valentine’s Day is only real if you believe it. So I choose to put it out to pasture with all those other things people tried to make me believe were real, like velour track suits, Ed Hardy in general, “meninism”, Windows phones, rainbow-colored armpit hair, and YOLO (wishful thinking).

Just set a reminder for the morning of February 15th. You’ll probably have a headache from all the rosé you were drinking, but those recently discounted heart-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups aren’t going to eat themselves.

Featured image by Elmo Hood