Thursday, February 26, 2009

The real adventure is found in the stops along the way.

"Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome."
-Booker T. Washington

Success stories are usually born out of struggle. Authors counting hundreds of rejection letters before finally getting published and changing the literary world. Sports teams spending decades waiting, and practicing, and then taking home the championship in a game that is watched from coast to coast. Individuals born into adversity, such as poverty and abuse, only to rise and become the most powerful and influential people on the planet. These are the stories that we are built on, they are our texture, messy and real. These struggles are what remind us that we are human and we will fall and fail many times before the journey is over. The destination is the easy part.

Nothing, except maybe my charming personality, has come easy to me. In every chapter of my life there flows rivers of mistakes and obstacles so deep and wide the Nile looks like a babbling creek. I will admit that I have not welcomed these hurdles. I have fought and cried and whined (not to mention, denied) my way through most of my youth and well into adulthood.

If something is right, shouldn't it just be easy, happen naturally?”

I didn't know the answer to his question and it had me thinking long after I hung up the phone. Should it? Is what we are meant to have, who we are meant to be with and what we are meant to be doing supposed to be handed to us, a clean, white shirt, folded to fit perfectly in some box, smooth and wrinkle-free?

In Yakima last summer, Brooke and I were baking under the desert sun. Her husband of a year, Justin, was hiding from us, as usual, bored to tears with the dialogue that never seemed to end and probably scared to death of the estrogen party that was being held in his front yard.

“Do not be offended when I tell you this,” She said, taking a deep breath as she peeked out from under the straw hat that covered most of her face. “I think that some people have easy paths in life and some people have really, really hard paths. You are one of those people on the hard path and I think you have chosen to have the hard path. Something in you is learning a lot of lessons. This hard path is your teacher.”

I sighed and closed my eyes trying to decide which held more heat, the Eastern Washington sun or her words. “You are probably right. And you know what? In the end, after this hard work is done and the lessons are learned? I will be so grateful. I hope I welcome the moments that don't require so much... thought.”

We sat in silence and soon the chatter returned to talking shit and O Magazine. Months later, I still hold on to that conversation. I wake up and choose that path every morning. I choose to open my eyes and face the hard work, knowing that everyone, including me and the people I have not even met yet, will thank me later.

Recycling should be easy. Voting should be easy. Deciding what goes straight to the top of my Netflix queue should be easy.

Work and deciding where you want to be in five years should not be easy. Writing your will and choosing who to leave your children to should take some thought.

Dating should not be easy. I am not saying it should not become easy or never be natural. It should. But to get there, to that place where the other person becomes the easy part of your day? It requires butterflies and false starts, long conversations and usually hundreds of tiny miscommunications. It is learning how to walk next to someone while not leaving the path we were on or losing the person we were long before we met them. This becomes the relationship, built on texture and color and all the messy things that make us human. Taking a shortcut to the honeymoon can only end badly: extreme boredom (all humans like a challenge) or, even worse, waking up years later, wondering how you ended up in a relationship you never even remember starting.

The relationships with beginnings as unique as the people? Those are the ones worth waking up and working at. In the end, there may be nothing easier or more natural than that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A. Rose is a rose is a rose

A wise girl of mine told me that people come into our lives for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. When I am a mud puddle, trying to grapple the silence, I reach for this. Heartbreak has always screamed for advice like this, though, and too often we forget the other side of aching. The side with light, the things that pass a season and last into a lifetime.

Amelia Rose Purser. Born February 25, 1980 at “sometime in the morning”. Woven into my life, like the braided rugs my mom makes, bending and curving and fitting just so. Around and around, in and out: the color and comfort in a room.

As I near thirty, I have the luxury of choosing who I spend my time with. Some are new, people I have met and connected with. Some are old, friends that, like family, come without choice. I have known them since childhood. They are built in, resting in my mind right next to memories of sliding across hardwood floors or jumping off a diving board for the first time.

I have never doubted that I would always know Amelia, but I never knew that I was waiting 27 years for her to save my life. I don’t think any of us know who will come to our rescue until we are at the bottom, looking up, and their face appears. The details don’t matter, the circumstances are just that: Simply a moment in time when “life CPR” is the only thing left. I am lucky to have a very large, very extensive support system, but I speak from the depths of my heart when I say that she, and she alone, saved my life one day.

She hates her birthday. She will walk into work this morning and balloons will be waiting. She will hate it. She will get calls, texts and emails all day wishing her the best birthday ever and she will hate it. Her man will cook her dinner and present her with something sweet and she will want to hate that too. But she won’t. She has found balance. Finally.

I continue to tell her, and everyone else I can, how happy I am that she has found a man who is not a hillbilly. Still rebellious, she settled on a self described "fiscal republican", but I will take it (I know him and I would barely call him a republican). He is her mirror, every day reflecting the beauty and talent, like most women, she forgets she owns.

Like a movie I have watched a million times, I know her. But more than me knowing her, she knows me, even when I don’t. She is the first to call me out and the last to let me forget about it. In her ferocious loyalty, she has loved me dearly through countless tantrums. Even when she is being “tough love Amelia”, I know that she would walk to the ends of the earth for me.

I remember one time telling her I didn’t think I was going to be ok. “You have to be ok, because some day I am not going to be ok and you are going to have to help me. That is how this works,” she said, gesturing back and forth to the two of us.

I am ok, and though I hope she never needs me, I would walk through fire to make sure she was ok too. Like the braided rugs my mom makes, she is woven into my life, familiar, comfortable and around for as long as I can remember.

So on her birthday, I offer her this: When she looks in the mirror, I hope she sees that they are not crow’s feet, but laugh lines, evidence of the good life so far and a blessed life ahead.

I love you. May all your wishes come true, dear friend.

Love, Sarah

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Death's Doorstep

“They” tell you if you are ever in an avalanche to hold your arms in front of your face and create a pocket of air in order to breathe. In order to breathe. After tons of snow have covered and crushed your entire body. I have never personally been in an avalanche, but I take comfort in knowing that if it does happen I will be ready. All I have to do when I see the mountain of snow rushing towards me, going about a hundred miles an hour, is calmly cover my face with my arms and keep breathing. No problem. I am such a placid individual already, preparing to survive an avalanche will be of no difficulty to me. Cake.

There are some areas of my brain that tend to be a tad narcissistic. Take, for example, the area of that thinks about death. In my mind, I always die in the most obscure, newsworthy ways possible. Having this drama-filled death sentence attached to me at all times makes normal, daily activities start to resemble an episode of CSI.

I was told I needed to get my wisdom teeth removed when I was seventeen, the age that most people are told they need to get their wisdom teeth removed. Because I knew that I was going to die going under the knife, I opted to just wait for them to rot out. I was twenty-six when the waiting, and the smell, started to be somewhat of nuisance. I gave in and scheduled the appointment. I chose the only female board-certified oral surgeon in Oregon. I tell everyone I did this as a show of feminism, of "career woman solidarity”. The truth is I chose someone notable only to beef up my obituary.

Since the day I got those four teeth pulled would be my last day on Earth, I then got my “personal affects” in order. Jaime, my roommate, could have my car. Under one condition: she needed to burn the box of journals, love notes and weird things I had collected over the years. The last thing I needed was people snickering over the fact that I refused to throw out the Pepsi can that Jeff Benson, a senior heartthrob when I was a freshman (with acne and braces), had handed me. Because I wanted a funeral, not a roast, Jaime knew what she had to do.

I ended up surviving the extraction and spent the next week on the couch trying to figure out if it was at all possible to stay high on Vicodin forever.

And so it continues. The flight to Phoebe’s wedding: Beloved sister parishes before she gets a chance to welcome brother in-law to the family. Jumping off a boat into Puget Sound: SWHS alumni will be missed dearly after being fatally attacked by the only shark ever known to be in Holmes Harbor. In the grocery store: Young woman attacked by bargain shopping housewife, suffers fatal blow.

I do what I can. I tell my loved ones how much they mean to me. I wear my seatbelt and try to avoid texting while driving. Under the instruction of mothers across the globe, I wear clean underwear every time I leave the house, knowing I may never come home again.

We all need that pocket of air. When life comes rushing at us, a hundred miles an hour, sometimes all we can do is cover our faces, keep breathing, and hope for the best.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Actions speak louder than words (or Facebook)

I am so plugged in. There are about twenty ways you can get to me without seeing my face (well, you will see my face but only from the angle I want you to) on a daily basis. Land line, cell phone, email, work, facebook and even this blog will give you a little me. I find this access to me comforting. Everything I need to know is a beep, chime, chirp or buzz away. If you need me, I am here. Or somewhere else, but still here.

But with privilege, comes power, and with power comes games. Those close to me know that I am very, very good at games. Whether I am playing with cards, or your mind, I am going to win. I hate it. I don't like it and I try to avoid it. It could be because of my mom and sisters. "If you ever want to keep your friends or your boyfriends, you will NOT play board games with them," they would sternly advise after a grueling round of charades.

So when its early on and he suggests chess? I sweetly say I would rather watch a movie and I even let him pick.

The other games, those dangerous games we play with the ones we want to notice us? Those are the worst. I have figured out exactly how to get the message across that I am not happy: no message at all. Yesterday you may have been able to check on my "status" to see what was happening. Yesterday you could text me and get an instant reply. Today, after you have pissed me off and I want you to know it loud and clear? Silence. "Sarah isn't anything" on Facebook, she is just "Sarah". You don't know whether I got your email, three texts apologizing and one voicemail because I am not responding. Everything just floats out in to cyber space for you to obsess over. It is going to drive you crazy. You will keep looking to see if my little dot is green so you can skip the face to face and chat this one out. You may even go old school and do a drive by my house. I win. You lose.

This is the benefit of being what some would call a "communicator". Speechless from me means a whole lot more than anything I could ever tell you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I know that you know that I know what you mean.

OK, I get it. Sometimes girls say what they don't mean and expect boys to, not only know what they do mean, but have their actions reflect the girl's true needs. It is not fair, and in fact, the twists and turns we take as women playing this game of life can be downright fucked up.

"So my sister is on her way to Olympia and can drop me off at the airport."

Um. Yes. Technically cool. What I wanted to hear? Uh, no. Dropping me off at the airport, if only by slowing down curbside, means a lot. Every girl knows that it means that they have elevated themselves from, "friends with benefits" to, "of course I will be your chauffeur, get on the ferry, sit in traffic and not get home until midnight even though your sister is driving directly by the airport at exactly the time you need to be there. Anything for you, darling."

I settle for the ride with my sister because, I do know how crazy my gender can be and the logical lady inside knows that I am being a total FREAK.

A glass of red and a 1/4 of a xanax at the airport bar has me calling him, asking him to pick me up at the airport in a week. He says, "sure, no problem". We say our goodbyes and I set the phone down on the cold marble. I stare at it for a long time, wrapping my mind around the simplicity of it all. Let me get this straight. I say what I mean and ask for what I want. He answers with a very normal response. The guessing game is over. Huh. As I pay my bill and walk (weave) toward my awaiting plane I can't help but think that, if they would have taught me this in college, it would have been worth every penny.

Red and Blue make... Perfect?

Everywhere I look red boys are dating blue girls. Dating outside your political party has become the new thing to do, as hip and forward thinking as dating outside of your race, or even your religion.

A dear friend of mine works at Planned Parenthood. She is dating a republican. And not just for his money. She actually likes him.

Another couple I know has dueling bumpers; his gas-guzzling SUV proudly displays the worst president in American history while her compact sedan does as well. The only difference is the big red line that runs through hers.

And it seems none of these are casual relationships; the last baby I held was covered in camo and peace signs.

Have we taken “opposites attract” to a whole new level? I think it would be too easy blame the whole thing on an enjoyment of hate sex. Maybe having someone challenge your belief system is good for the soul. Having good old-fashioned debates about the way we live keeps it interesting. Keeps the fire alive.

I have always maintained that I do not want to be with someone like me. I am around me all the time and get sick of me on a regular basis. I can’t imagine how I react if my man reminded me that Oprah was about to start, instead of the nonstop hunting channel, which is what I normally get to watch at his house.

Does love conquer all? By mixing red and blue are we creating the perfect balance, a reflection of our new culture?

A King built for a Queen

I have always thought king-size beds were a little trashy. I am not sure where this small opinion of big beds came from. Maybe some hazy memory of visiting a distant relatives house, seeing that they have left out night stands in order to make space for the California King. God knows how they even got it in the room, but one can only imagine it included screaming, shattered beer bottles and cigarettes. A cat that looks like it has used eight of its lives is curled up on the pillow, which will later have a face pressed to it. Laundry sits waiting to be put away, a Penthouse peaks out from under the dust ruffle.

The whole thing always depressed me. Beds are meant to be sanctuaries. A place where all the best things happen. Deep sleep, epic novels, pillow talk, love making. So when a friend recently told me that a king-size bed saved her marriage, I thought she had lost her mind. And her taste. "It's true. Who wants to be that close all the time? This way we get really good sleep which means we aren't tired and resentful which means we get really good sex. It is the best thing that ever happened. He still snores, but now it is further away."

I have been sleeping in one of these over-sized beds lately. To get to the other beating heart takes a lot of effort. Being as lazy as I am, the journey across the bed in the middle of the night feels like a road trip. Are we there yet?, I whine to myself. Piles of blankets and pillows lie between me and him the way mountains and oceans lie between long-distance lovers. So, late in the evening, when I am wide awake wondering what every girl wonders in the beginning (Will I have a toothbrush that lives here? Will I get the four digit code to his alarm system?), I am comforted by the weight of his arm wrapped tightly around my waist. I may not know where this is going, but he traveled a long way to get to me.

So in the end, I was wrong. Bigger the bed, bigger the possibilities.

Life on the rock(s)

The ferry is easy to take. Nothing to it. Twelve minutes of staring at gray seagulls dipping in the gray sky that coats the gray water and you are cruising up the Mukilteo Speedway. Freedom. Twenty minutes to hot spots where there are more single people per block than South Whidbey combined. But for some reason I just can't seem to leave the island. I am sure my therapist, which I don't have yet, would have something to say about it. I thought when I moved home I would be in Seattle every weekend. Instead I am becoming, yuck, a homebody. I dread people asking me what I am up to the weekend. I quickly try to spice my plans up in my head; Cranium and two romantic comedies followed by um, body shots?

To go out in public here you have to prepare as though you were going to battle; could be non-eventful, could be a bloodbath. My weapon of choice? Greyhounds. Eight to be exact. After eight vodka-grapefruit concoctions I am able to smile and bear it as, in the corner of the restroom, the overweight, very scary looking, girl tells me how mean I was to her when we were younger and what a bitch I am. I realize I am squinting. Partly because I can't see straight and partly because I have NO clue who this girl is. There must be something recognizable underneath the smudged eyeliner and Wet N' Wild lip gloss. I look deep in her eyes, trying to go back to the moment at SWHS she must be speaking of. I wish I could say this is an isolated incident. Not exactly a wallflower, apparently I have burnt some bridges. Every bridge off the island.

I used to take the ignorant approach. "Are you sure you have the right person, I was pretty quiet in school," I say, my hand on my heart, large eyes as wide and innocent as possible. The response is usually something like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" Okay, new approach. "I had a devastating childhood and I am so sorry that you were on the receiving end of it. I am getting help now, though." "You DID NOT have a shitty childhood, I know how you grew up. I was pregnant when I was fourteen. I didn't even have a childhood, bitch." And back to plan A. "You know what? This was great catching up but I see here that my glass is empty, I am going to get another drink."

So here I am, starting over where I literally started. Making it work. The best bars in town are in the homes of my friends, cozy on the couch or circled in front of a board game. Only the A-list gets in, no one cuts you off and their guest beds, after a night of drinking, are far more comfortable than the bathroom chats at China City.