until it's time to go

I have a really good memory.

It's a curse, not a blessing (also a curse: the number of sentence fragments and selfies in this post so if either of those things chaps you right in the craw, click away now). It makes arguing with me a gigantic pain in the ass, because I will unfortunately remember, word for word, who said what and the precise inflection in your voice when you said it. It means that I almost never misplace anything, and in the rare moments that I do, it drives me freakin' bonkers with frustration because where I left my old man carpet slippers gets locked away in brain prison behind three complete albums of Stevie Wonder lyrics, my childhood phone number, how many pairs of running shorts I own and how much I paid on the underground market for each. I don't need a calendar to remind me of doctor's appointments and dog haircuts. From inside the house I can closely estimate how many miles are on my car and how much gas is in the tank. I can recite ever detail about our first date, the crease of your khakis, the candle burning on your kitchen counter, the bemused look you gave me the first time I let my truly ridiculous self peek out and it startled you into laughter that burbled up from deep inside your soul, it bodes well. I'll never forget where I was standing, the last day I hugged my grandmother and she knew me, the smell of her soap, the crush of her hair, or months later, my dad's voice on the phone telling me that my grandfather had a stroke in church on Saturday evening, the summer heat on my shoulders, half-in-half-out of my wetsuit, the crumble of sand underfoot while I paced, paced, paced the shore.

It makes heartbreak excruciating. A crystal-clear memory turns the world into an unrelenting assault of carelessly, ruthlessly flung knives, one where it takes only a split-second to be devastated by some small, uncomplicated moment. The day that the battery died on my electric toothbrush, or when I painted the back door and couldn't get it re-hung and it enraged me into tears. Being shredded by something as simple as unpacking a box with office scribbled on the side only to unearth a pile of choose-your-own-adventure envelopes over a decade old; James Taylor saying I miss my home in North Carolina, his very best and we agreed on that, in the end. The Indigo Girls digging for a dream; the brush on the snare drum, Alison Kraus doesn't even need to open her mouth to inhale before I'm furiously punching a hole in the dashboard to skip it through. The music is unbearable, of course it is, nearly every memory I have across the spread of my life is joined with song. In the sixth grade, I had a silly crush on the boy with the locker across from mine and spent several weeks reading Gone With the Wind for the first time and those two things will forever surface when I hear Bryan Adams singing about how there will never be another tonight. The Chicago lyrics I wrote down and pushed through the window of my high school boyfriend's car; it's 2am in the bar in Sea Isle and I'm sweaty with laughter spread heavy across the heat of July, on my third Corona, twisting on tiptoes to make eye contact with my on-again-off-again-nope-maybe-on-again-again guy as soon as the first three seconds of Don't Stop Believin' start to play.

Laying propped up on the bedroom carpet with the sun behind me, still in the white tank top from my long run four hours earlier, wearing my fat black headphones that block out the world while I dig up Tyler Ward on YouTube, just before the strike of midnight, you said, "this could be the good life." When the Cary Brothers speed up and jump the octave and how I explained that it's one of the most impressive things a musician can do if it's done well but it almost never is, what I'd give for that first night when you were mine, tried with all I have to keep you alive, God, the music is the worst of all. It's where so much comfort lies but shuffle is brutal, Russian roulette with a bazooka. Vince Gill, the nicest guy in the industry, I am yours and you are mine.

Heartbreak isn't interesting. It's not unusual, each round may be unique to everything that appeared real and magical about your particular love story, but there's nothing special about a broken heart. As with many misfortunes, the bumper stickers nail it: the only way out is through. In the moment, it seems easier to patch over the holes with avoidance behavior and potato chips and self-deprecating sarcasm rather than embrace the ferocious wrench of pain. Because every moment of awareness comes with the realization that you're walking forward in time, away from the moments where you were happy, even if it was just for a little while. Easy, safe, comfortable. Over these last few years, my heart has been broken so often, in so many colorful and caustic ways, into so many millions of shattered pieces, that most days I'm not even sure I understand how or why it still beats. The truth is, none of us are ever ready for unwelcome new beginnings, even in those rare moments when we do see it coming. Someone leaves, someone lies. Someone yanks the football away, the dagger of trust jerks in your hand, splitting your palm wide with blood. Someone changes. Someone dies. 

But there is always a moment, once the dust settles following an astonishing and savage twist of fate. I've had enough experience with life erupting in some insane new direction to know that this is a fundamental truth. The time comes where you have to decide - where you get to decide - what to do next. When the turbulent rollercoaster of brilliant highs and furious lows finally creaks to a stop, you'll ask, am I going to hide out here forever, marinating in self-pity and stress and suffering, or am I going to shake the ashes out of my hair, pick myself up off the ground, and commit to my new reality, even if it's remarkably different from the one I had before? 

I'm irritatingly predictable, especially when it comes to digging out of devastating black holes. I know that I need to take myself away, to be surrounded and reminded by the beauty of the world, to sweat and overthink and do several hundred flip-turns a day until I've shaken loose from the murk. This time, I went to California (carefully, because, pandemic). I took my bike and my bikini and my laptop and far too many pairs of shoes. It wasn't long before I arrived into that moment, slumped and silent, staring at the pool with dead and defeated eyes, unable to imagine getting in the water like it was a normal day, unable to picture living out the rest of my life as if nothing has changed when, in fact, everything is already so different. I've been here before, flat and empty, heart aching, no spark, no desire, no joy. Then, finally, closing my eyes for a brief moment to sigh deep and slow, resigning myself to the unfamiliar shape of the world around me, the scattered dice clattering to a stop after the roll. Curling my toes around the edge. And diving into the water. Because just like that, life goes on. It always does.

California. Where the healing began, I think, again. I walked, swam, rode my bike in the sunshine. There were days when compound-interest stress meant I existentially stomped home after only a few miles. My body has changed over the last few months, I'm not acclimated to it and it threw a rod here and there from blowing through my glycogen stores or not hydrating well or simply crying myself dry. But there were also days where I was able to set aside everything and breathe, clear and free. When I was able to smile again. Take stupid selfies for instagram again. Visit all my favorite places on two wheels. Early mornings, buckets of mint tea, the crash of the ocean, work, movement, sunset skies, endless papers, evening strolls, landscape photography, day after day, simple and sweet (close your mouth).

Elizabeth Gilbert said it years ago. We're not always in control of our fate. You may be robbed or you may be blessed, but that's not really the point. The point is, if you feel like you’re constantly being robbed, then you live in a world that’s all about constantly being robbed.  And if you feel like you’re constantly being blessed, then you live in a world that’s all about constantly being blessed. What we usually see when we interpret our lives is nothing but ourselves, and if we try to see things with the most generous eyes - bestowing upon the truth the brightest and kindest interpretation - we can learn how to perceive a more beautiful world. It would be so easy for me to sit, arms crossed in petulant fury, decrying that blessings only seem to be delivered in booby-trapped boxes. But what has happened is already gone. It's what happens next that counts; what I do now is the story I'll be delighted one day to tell.

Transformation is always painful, especially when it seems like things never stop falling apart, although maybe that's not what is happening. Maybe I'm simply tumbling gracelessly into something different, something better, more pure, with a new capacity at every turn to be extraordinary. The universe has done a number on me recently. I feel ruined, broken. But everything breaks. And everything can heal. Not with time, as I thought, but with intention. Maybe the only way to grow is actually the way I've always done it, by loving intentionally, extravagantly, and unconditionally (maybe this post should be called existential crap I've been wrong about my entire life). I trust too freely, I love too deeply, I forgive too easily. I rarely hold a grudge, I'm not petty. It's for somewhat selfish reasons - I don't want to waste precious energy on anyone who does not deserve my light (or, more accurately, my noise, my peanut butter, my dancing, my favorite songs endlessly repeating). I thought that the elegance of forgiveness offered me emotional freedom. But what about those times in life when an act is truly unforgivable? What about when someone doesn't deserve, or even ask for, forgiveness? It might be healthier to simply turn in a different direction, to reach with both hands to reclaim your glee and playfulness, to set yourself free into a future that will ring with your soul, your fire. It doesn't mean that what happened was okay. It doesn't mean that I'm okay. But it has to be okay to walk away, to do nothing more than salvage the blessings and dispose of the trash, to locate the source of the anger and bullshit and pain and twist the volume button on it gently, but permanently, over to OFF. Alison Kraus, I will carry you until it's time to go.

It was time to go, so I went. Under the brilliant scatter of blue skies and in the spray of the ocean, I found a little bit of tranquility, my softness, hopeless optimism again. I ate too many Clif Bars, I sunburned my bottom lip so badly it hurt to drink for a week, I bounced off the asphalt after an 'on your left shit nope not that left' mishap. I heaved myself out of the darkness. I reached out to friends, new and old, I started to share my story. I watched every sunset, got my proverbial house in order, and decided to open, delicate but wide, honest, unafraid of the truth, to the world again. And then I came back to Colorado. It was time to get chastised by my dermatologist for my bitchin' tan to move forward. As they say, the broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. I'm going to try and return to this space more regularly for a while, as tired and old as blogging may be. Selfishly, it's cathartic to talk in circles to myself while I work out my shit with as many commas and adverbs as I can cram in here. But also, this is a time in my life that I know I'm going to want to remember. And there will be a lot to remember. I'm wandering down the long and savage road of my dissertation. I'm launching a nonprofit, redefining what my family is going to look like, doing the hard work of trying to unscramble my scrambled emotional eggs. I want to discard the inconsequential and the shallow, and instead fill every moment, every relationship, with value, with meaning and intensity and contentment. In my own small and unremarkable way, I'm still hoping to change the world, if only even for one person, but I want to try, because I stand on the sacrifices of women before me, all who have ever wondered, what can I do to make this mountain taller?
So yeah. The music, the memories, those will probably always hurt. But I'm not afraid of pain. Pain means that I'm alive. Pain means that I leapt with my whole heart behind the chance I took, legs pistoning wildly, laughter ripping through me, chasing a dream that I believed was ours; pain means I tried, and just because nothing has turned out the way I expected doesn't mean I'm going to spend the rest of my life in hiding. Because it is a choice. I can stay here, I can play small, and get the shit kicked out of me, succumb to an unrelenting tsunami of misery. Or I can take a deep breath and leap again, fearless, into a passionate and hazy future, pregnant with possibility. The world can change you, if you let it, and you should. It doesn't mean I've forgotten the past, but I hope it means that I'm learning, growing, transforming into someone more fierce, more beautiful (or maybe just someone who can one day take a selfie with her mouth closed and apparently I only wear checked clothing anymore). 
I was having a drink with a colleague at the last conference I attended before the world collapsed and he asked me, what are you most afraid of? I wasn't sure if he meant within academia or broadly across my entire life, but it doesn't quite matter, because the answer is the same. I want to be excellent in everything I do, it's one of the driving forces of who I am. Merely being adequate, achieving only the status quo, a half-life poisoned with regret, that will never be enough for me. So I told him, mediocrity. He whistled with delight and pounded on the table, upending what had to be his eleventh IPA of the evening and it toppled my glass of Malbec into my lap and those poor Ann Taylor pants not to mention the suitcase they traveled home in stink like smashed grapes to this day, but none of that is the point. The point is, I've seen how that story unfolds, when you resign yourself to a life that makes you itch under your skin every time you glimpse the glow of possibility from the path you were too afraid to take. I know what the jittery anxiety of quiet desperation looks like. I know that it can be muffled with trivial niceties, but it will always be missing the lush fulfillment that comes from relaxing peacefully into a life gorgeous with human connection, trust, intimacy, family, friendship, and no shortage of bicycles, golden retrievers, 70s music, or snacks. Where grounds for gratitude multiply every day, spawned from spine-tingling miracles of providential timing. I
 choose the blaze of brilliance. I've decided to claw with my fingernails, it's carved into my skin, the clearest purpose of my life. I have to believe that exuberant, gratifying, safe comfortable easy happiness is why we're here, if we are brave enough to choose it, and I do. I am. I choose to fight my way back. Into the light.