Cheers to being picked last, eating lunch alone, and experiencing FOMO

They talked about what they would name their not-yet-conceived children as I drove down the single lane highway, admiring the unfolding landscape of the San Diego countryside.  The golden sunlight kissed the pastures while the cow grazed, framed by blue skies.  I sighed in awe of the nature while two of my long time friends chatted about engagements and weddings and buying homes and having children.  All I wanted to do was celebrate my 26th birthday.

As a single, unattached 26 year old female, I find that I don’t know where I fit in anymore.  On the one hand, I’m not ready to settle down.  And on the other, all my friends are.  That leaves me in the middle.  Neither here nor there.  Just somewhere in between being a “real” and “young” adult.  This middle is terrifying.  I admit it may only be FOMO (fear of missing out) but the panic is real when you’re the only one in the car that doesn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation about baby names. 

FOMO is stupid.   

I don’t relate, but I also don’t care to and I don’t try.  For me, adulthood has been like a road trip where I’ve opted to take every back road instead of the one that will get me to where I need to go the fastest.  And I’m perfectly content to explore at my leisure whatever comes along the road that interests me. 

At 26, all of the commotion about marriage and mortgages and children is overrated. 

But because I feel this way, I find that the road less travelled is also more lonely.

People partner up so damn fast—like its 8th Grade P.E. and no one wants to be picked last for a team.  Desperate glances and nervous hands link as if to say “You’ll do”, just glad they’re not alone.  But that’s the thing—even at 13, I was never one to rush a good thing.  I turned down dates and broke from friendships and waited for time to reveal who would remain.  Sometimes I ate lunch by myself—but I learned you need an empty table in order to fill it. 

The conversation turns to travel plans with the boyfriends.  It’s funny how “We” can sound so exclusive.  And even though we were all together in my car, heading out to the desert to camp for my birthday, it was hard not to feel like I didn’t belong to the club.    

But I’m realizing maybe this is the adult version of eating lunch alone in the cafeteria.  That this emptiness is only making room for new people and new experiences to come.  I’ve never rushed a good thing, so for now I’ll stick my nose in a book or journal.  I’ll run new routes around the city.  I’ll drive until road meets ocean.  I’ll summit mountains and chase the sunrise across different continents.  I’ll keep doing me—confident that I will receive exactly what I put out into the universe.  A little kindness and whatever human connection I can find along the way.

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Black Coffee Kind of Love

He drinks his coffee black.  He says that it is bold and decisive.  But I like mine buttery brown like croissants in the morning with Grandpa.  For me, coffee has always been about that feeling of intangible comfort.  It’s nothing like a hug or a kiss–those kinds of physical comforts dissipate after the moment of impact.  I like to think of coffee like a warm memory–the kind that you can revisit and will kindle into a fire long after that time, that place, or that person is gone.

We sipped black coffee out of a shared mug the first time we went camping together.  Sitting in his car, listening to songs on his high school iPod, waiting for our phones to charge, we reminisce on the night before.  About how fortunate we were to find a camp site, about crispy spam, glasses of whisky, and campfire conversations.  The morning was cold and I had forgotten my jacket so he gave me his to wear.  It somehow felt like I was shedding more layers than I was putting on.

We sip black coffee on the mornings that I sleep over before we each separately head off to work.  After our first date, I saw him two more times before the week was over.  I was never one to put down a good book–and he was the kind of character that teenage me worshiped in young adult fiction.  It was a long time since 17 years old felt so familiar.

Tonight we sip black coffee as we have dinner.  We spent Saturday in the desert under the Milky Way.  Last night I cried as I told him about the growing distance between me and my sisters.  About how it felt to be alone because all my friends and family were in different places in their lives.  When he kissed me, I finally felt that someone understood–the only way a person can understand because he too knew that loneliness.

Sitting beside him at a tiny table in Souplantation, I have never felt more unambivalent about who I was at 25 years old.  Somehow I have become the kind of girl that jumped over rattlesnakes on dirt trails and made sweet passionate love under the stars in the desert.  The kind of girl that hangs out on the side of cliffs and shares gritty coffee with strangers.  I have just met this part of me and am fearful that this girl will disappear with the touch of him.  That I will never again be so wild and uninhibited.

When it is over, will black coffee have taught me to be bold and decisive? Or will it only serve as a warm memory of who I was with him?

 

Short nothings

I don’t know how some people can talk with so much conviction about who they are when I am so ambivalent about myself.  And maybe that’s the problem.  Why I can’t convince anyone else to love who I am—it’s because I don’t know who I am and they know it.  Like BO I can’t hide under deodorant.  I stink at love. 

Turning 26 in an ICU ward

I spent the eve of my 26th birthday in my great uncle’s room in the ICU. 

What had started off as a weekend of canyoneering and camping with friends in early celebration of my birthday, ended with a Snap from my brother of a hospital waiting room.  It was 10:30 PM on a Sunday, and many hours since I came back from the desert, yet I had received no message or call from my family.  Warning signs immediately went off in my head.

The first ring felt like forever, and then my sister’s voice broke through the static silence.  “Hello?”

“What’s going on?”  My voice was frantic.

“Haven’t you checked the Snaps?” 

My heart dropped.

“What Snaps?”

“Shake my head—“ She said, her voice condemning.  “Grandpa Her was rushed to the hospital this afternoon.  He had a stroke.  Mom and dad are with him right now.  He’s in an induced coma.”

They say the first stage of grief is anger.  It is true.  Devastated by the news, and infuriated by the delivery (Snapchat?! WTF), I began roaring at my sister through the phone despite how I heard her own scared voice tremble.  We argued—not about my uncle—but about communication.  About how I don’t have the time to sift through 800 seconds of Snaps in the “Family” Snapchat.  And suddenly I felt like it was an attack on how I’ve spent my time this year. 

I really wasn’t around as much this year for my family.  I mean—I was, to any other normal family’s standard—but not in the same co-dependent kind of way that I used to be.  I went camping with friends, ran half marathons with friends, partied with friends, rock climbed with friends, traveled and played national competitions with friends, toured South Korea with friends—and all this rage that I felt kind of melted into deep guilt. 

I called my mom.

I talked to her about my uncle’s condition.  She assured me there was nothing to worry about.  My mom was never the most warm and loving person to me when I was a kid.  When seeking comfort, I’d choose her last.  But in that moment, I wondered how many times my mom kept her cool in times of crisis to protect us from a scary or sad situation.  Even if that meant bending the truth—she wanted us to feel safe. 

On my 26th birthday, I want to talk about my Grandpa Her.

I wrote an entire short story based on him.  It went on to win an award.  The writing was nothing special—it was his story that was remarkable.  A story about miracles. 

My grandfather tells it the best.  He recalls bullets zipping past his back.  The river water running red.  Turning around and seeing his brother, my Grandpa Her, getting swept up among the bodies.  Gasping for air.  With gun strapped to his back, without a second hesitation, he dives back in to save his brother.  His bumbling, schizophrenic brother.  And then when they get to the refugee camp—they lose him for three weeks.  My grandpa looked diligently for his brother and refused to leave the country until his brother was found.  To this day, no one in the family knows how my Grandpa Her ended up at a different refugee camp across town.  But they found him just in time to take the next flight to the United States. 

The real life unedited story is about brotherhood, home, and what we each believe is valuable in life—and, that, to me undoubtedly is family.

Tonight, I watched as my Grandpa Her, confused and scared in his big hospital bed and looking so small with all the tubes wrapped around him, opened his mouth for his brother to feed him ice chips.  I wanted to cry.  Love stories never quite seem to be this beautiful in the movies. 

Guys of Christmas Past

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We laughed over dinner we cooked and chased our food with swigs of beer.  I felt the heat rising in my neck as he gazed at me across the table.  His expression was contemplative.  A sideways smile curved at the corner of his lips.

“What?”  I asked, blushed and looked away.

“What would you say is your pet peeve?”  He asked and leaned closer across the table. 

I didn’t like the way his eyes were searching for mine—like somehow he was going to discover his truth in the brown depths of my own.  I am only human, not a search engine. 

I shrugged. “I guess…I don’t like it when people are closed minded.”

“What do you mean?”  He asked.

“Well, I don’t know—I guess in the last year I spent so much time realizing that there’s not one way to live a good life.  People come from different circumstances and situations and I think everyone’s just doing their best sometimes—and I can’t stand people who can’t see that.  Does that make sense?” 

I laughed, the alcohol finally made me feel hazy.  “I’m sorry, if I’m rambling.”

He scratched his head, “No, not at all…yeah I get that.”

“For me,” he said, “I don’t like it when people waste food.”

“Oh no!”  I joked, scraping the left overs on my plate, and he laughed.  I scooped up the remaining potato crumbs and licked my spoon.  “Do you hate me now?”  I pouted.

He grabbed my hand and I dropped the spoon.  I was looking directly at him then.  We didn’t say anything, knowing full well what was going to happen next. 

“Do you mind helping me clean up?”  He asked, finally letting go of my hand.

He did the dishes while I cleared the table.  While he worked up the lather, I stole glances at his back. 

“You like what you see?”  He winked over his shoulder when he caught me staring.

I giggled and pretended to wipe the already clean table. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I shook my head.

“It’s okay.  I’m a marathon finisher.  I’m pretty hot.”

I rolled my eyes.

He dried his hands and stood there watching me.  Not moving.  Not saying anything.  When I moved to throw the dirty paper towel away, he walked towards me and picked me up into his arms.

“Hey!”  I laughed, dropping the trash on the floor, as I curled my hands around his neck.

“Let’s go to bed,” he whispered into my ear.

I wish I could tell you I remember his name.  I don’t.  Or that I feel bad for forgetting.  The thing is—its deceptive—when you first start to date someone and it’s refreshing to think that someone understands you—but they only see you for what they want you to be.  And I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am or who I should be.  If they don’t understand I’m doing my best, I’m not keeping them around.  

I Had A Mental Breakdown In Front Of My Supervisor

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“I feel so bad,” he said, “I want to give you a hug but we recently had so many sexual harassment trainings and so I can’t.”

Those were the words of my supervisor.  Except, he wasn’t really my supervisor anymore.  My department recently underwent a structural change.  I got a paper promotion from “Assistant” to “Associate” but they told me my role was “equivalent”.  It sure as hell didn’t feel “equivalent” over the last three weeks as my work days have extended from eight to twelve hour days of grueling time sensitive testing in the lab.  These have been days with no breaks or lunch—just me trying to breathe in between gowning in and out of a biosafety cabinet. 

To say he looked beyond uncomfortable would be an understatement.  Sexual harassment trainings probably didn’t prepare him for the tears of an overwhelmed 25 year old woman. 

In my defense, I didn’t mean to lure him alone to his peril.  I was mortified when the words got caught in my throat and the tears started forming in my eyes.   And the more I tried to force words through my mouth, the tears began falling with the weight of what could not be said–until I was just gasping and we stood in silence as I cried.

I tell him I feel terrible for making the mistake.  That I should have caught it.  That I don’t know why I missed it.  That it had been late when I performed the test.  That it was my 9th hour of the workday and I felt pressure to complete all of my assignments. 

He asks how he can help.

And I tell him that I’ve voiced my concerns to teammates and they’ve dismissed my feedback.  They told me everyone was busy.  That this was just the way it had to be.  So I decided to suck it up and take one for the team.  It was “temporary”, they said, as the official deadline for our new roles is in January.  But day after day as the unfinished paperwork piled up and the samples continued to fill the “To Be Tested” bins to meet deadlines and fulfill contracts—I felt like I was drowning.  

He said he felt bad.  But how many times can someone say they “feel bad” until the words lose their meaning?

Among the many new experiences I’ve had in 2017.  This by far—crying in the work parking lot (not even 10 AM) to my ex-supervisor—has been one of the most humbling experiences in my career.  I mean, is one even a passionate career woman if she hasn’t had a mental breakdown in front of management?  That’s a thing right?  Like a grown woman milestone?

No?  Just me?  Well, it happened.

“Watch Out for Crossing Tarantulas”

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It was not yet 10 in the morning as we drove into Joshua Tree National Park on Saturday.

“This is the kind of scene that you’d see with an inspirational quote,” Fiona panned her hand across the dashboard.

It was open paved road and vast sprawling desert.  In the horizon, layered mountain ranges blended into endless blue skies.  Possibility saturated our lips.

Beyonce’s “Grown Woman” came on and we sang every word like the Pledge of Allegiance.  Standing on the edge of adventure and hands over heart.  Last night we proved we were “big girls” and we could do whatever we want.

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Itching for wilderness, we packed our car on Friday and drove east in to the night.  In the dark we pitched our tent and we set up camp.  We gathered stones and we made fire.  We drank wine and we roasted marshmallows.  In the morning, coffee never tasted so sweet next to dirt road.

There was something about taking an idea and making it happen.  Something that goes beyond everyday convention.  For months now, I’ve been working so hard at my 9 to 5.  Multiple projects and reports and meetings and trainings and I still don’t know where all this effort is going.  If energy is neither created nor destroyed, where does it go when it runs into corporate red tape?  When waking up at 3 AM, uninspired and impassionate, is a life choice—why choose it?

But this?  This was inspired.  This was two women with no intention but to live with intention—even if it was for just the weekend.  And nothing was going to stand in our way except our fears.

What if we couldn’t find a camping spot?  What if we get lost?  What if there was traffic?  What if it was too cold?  What if it was dangerous?  What if we waited to go until next week?

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That morning as we sat around last night’s campfire, bowl of cereal in hand and coffee in our mugs, we laughed about how fear is disguised as practicality.  About how we can spend so much energy worrying and therefore never do anything.  I told her about my epiphany in Yosemite.  About how life is defined by the choices and the follow through.

She told me I should live in my car.  I told her she should live on a boat.

In the desert, it was easier to see what was important to us.  And how very little was necessary to sustain life.  The most beautiful Joshua tree knew how to optimize what it had from the environment.

Achievement was a mindset, we decided.  And we had never felt so accomplished overnight.

The road wound through mountains of rocks and we had our guards down.  We couldn’t believe we were only a few hours away from San Diego and it had cost us next to nothing to be here and feel this empowered.

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But just when we thought we had gotten away with the easiest heist in the world, we saw it there in the road.  It was two hundred feet away, its shadow rippling in the heat rising from the asphalt.  Creeping.  Crawling.  Crossing the road.

“Oh.  My.  God.”  I said.

“Is that–?”  Fiona didn’t need to finish her question.

It was the biggest tarantula I had ever seen in my life.

I swerved to avoid the beast.  In the rearview mirror I watched it continue casually—seemingly unaffected.  But Fiona and I were not.

We shared a look.  A mixture of humility and horror.  And then we burst out laughing. The kind that was born from discomfort.  It left us shaking and lungs sore.  Just like that any pretense of invincibility shattered.

It never occurred to us that we were encroaching upon tarantula territory.  We reevaluated the decisions we made in the dark of night.  Whether it would be more fitting to call us brave or brazen?

The universe had a funny way of reminding us that although we can’t let fear guide our decisions, fear is very essential.  And I will never forget how it made shared laughter the best feeling in the world.

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