Making Friends At 26

I sat down in the center of the gym, forearms pumped from the last 2.5 hours on ropes with Andy and Lee, staring up at the wall.  When we started the night, I felt unsure about my strength after being sick all last week.  I insisted on starting with several easy routes—and even on those—I had to come off the wall.  I felt like I had taken two steps backwards with all my progress.  But after spending the next hour watching them on lead and having them encourage me up more and more difficult top rope routes, I eventually sent my first 5.10c.  It felt awesome.

But now, Andy and Lee were gone, and I was in the bouldering pit, staring at my project, wondering what was I still doing here?  I couldn’t feel my fingers and I wasn’t sending anything.  As I began to get lost in my thoughts, a group of familiar people walked directly in front of me.

Over the last few weeks we had built a comradery, exchanged contacts, and made plans to hang out.  They sat down next to me—and we talked—and I would get up to climb—and then come back to talk.  And this is how it went for the next half hour, until I realized, the only person climbing was me. 

“Are you guys working on anything?”  I asked.

“No, we just wanted to come hang out with you,” one of them said.

And I realized then that I didn’t need to climb to have these people be interested in talking to me. 

So we just sat.  And we talked.  From running full marathons to board games to career aspirations and shows we’re watching.  We talked about anything.  We danced in place to the Island music playing the background.  We shared videos that inspire us.  We hung out until we couldn’t hang out anymore, because the gym closed. 

One by one we filled the parking lot, shouting our goodbyes and planning Thursday night beers and whiskey shots.  We wave and smile and when we get into our cars, we’re already thinking about messaging each other on social media. 

These people are the reason why I stay—when I’m dead tired and can’t feel my fingers—they make me never want to leave the gym. 

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February Homage

As I lay sprawled on my bed—room a tornado of sports bras, running shorts, jackets covered in chalk, and makeup collecting dust on the floor—I revel in February’s wake. I’ve never felt more like an adult.  I mean, this is why I started this blog—to figure out this Jackson Pollock thing of my mid-twenties.  By no means do I think I am an expert at this—but man I’ve learned what adulting is “not”. 

Yes, adulting is about the grown up stuff we’ve heard about as children.  Like paying rent on time and going to work every morning.  But sometimes it’s also not doing the dishes, not making your bed, not doing laundry until you’ve run out of fresh underwear, not being in love with someone you can have a foreseeable future with, and not staying in when all your friends want to grab beers on a Tuesday night at 11 PM.  Because adults get to have fun too.  They just have to own up to the consequences.   

In January, a mere two weeks after the start of the year, I told a friend that I wanted to hide from the world.  My love life wasn’t working for me, my work was slowly suffocating me, and my great uncle was hospitalized and I had to sleep in his room in the ICU for a week.  I just felt like I didn’t have the strength to pretend to be strong for my family and to be strong for my friends and to be strong for myself.  I couldn’t practice this stuff in the gym.  There’s no equipment to hone oneself to life’s hardships. 

And so that’s what I did—I hid.  I distanced myself from social media, from all my close friends, from all my hobbies—running, painting, writing, reading—and it wasn’t exactly intentional—I just couldn’t seem to put energy there. 

But then I reconnected with Raf.  And he reminded me something about myself.  I wasn’t weak or insignificant or not good enough.  I was the strong female protagonist of my story.  He made me watch movies like Wonder Woman and shows like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  Stories about women with agency and courage.  He said, “Write!  I’d help sponsor you.  You’re that good.”

Still, I didn’t come out of hiding. 

Instead, I drove about 500 miles out of California and in the cold of February camped in Zion National Park and with only 2 hours of sleep hiked to the top of Angel’s Landing.  Raf came along for the ride.  I showed him how to pitch the tent and how to use my MSR pocket rocket.  He encouraged me to get on boulders and took lots of photos of me doing it.  The sunset set the mountains ablaze.  He tried to get me high.  I took a couple hits, but it didn’t happen. 

I appreciated his friendship.

After that I ran into Andy, who forgave my 7th grade bratty-ness and embraced me like we were never estranged with two words, “Let’s climb!”  He is careful about his beta in the gym, but the greatest lesson he’s taught me was off the wall—to forgive and embrace people with genuine kindness. 

Somehow I was able to help throw my mom a surprise birthday party.  I’ve hung out with my siblings in LA.  I’ve done the 3 Sister’s Falls hike with Kylie.  I’ve started taking weekly yoga classes.  I’m playing Gaelic Football on Saturdays for Pub League.  I started running again.  I’ve finished 3 books.  I’ve hit my dead lift and squat PR at 155 pounds. 

All of this happened in February. 

Back in January, I thought I needed to hide from the world—but instead the world embraced me.  So am I doing this right?  This adulting thing?  Maybe not, but I sure am having a hell of a lot of fun doing it. 

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.

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.