26

When I woke up this morning, I remembered how we used to decorate our friends’ lockers on their birthday. I saw the wrapping paper and curled ribbon tacked to top locker near the room where I took History with Mr. Wilson vividly, and last night’s dream came back to me.

I was in a somberly lit hall, not unlike a museum, with doors to different lecture theaters, and I was reunited with two men I had loved in high school. I say men, because it was the boys I knew then as I imagine them to be now. I was reminded how innocent those feelings were then. How common it was to pine over someone for months, even years, with a passion fueled by the most innocuous interactions. Those years, where all you needed was the feeling of an arm brushing against yours.

How simple it is now, with physical affection exchanged frequently, easily, and thoughtlessly. In the rare cases when I’m forced to wait, I turn to the nearest willing participant and pull them on top of me in order to suffocate those feelings

I don’t know quite how I managed to retain my sanity as I floated down the hallway behind these boys all those years ago, hoping for moments in dark corners backstage, scheming a hundred scenarios that could lead to just one kiss. None of my silly plots ever manifested that kiss, alcohol did. Drunkenness allowed us all to shed our reservations and fears, and swap saliva in an unflattering and ultimately destructive way. The things we wanted to do had consequences.

I’ll never regret those kisses. But, it occurs to me now that ultimately, both resented me for it. And now, I can only think of the times where a victory in love for me was a failure for him, a moment of weakness, a lesson to be learned, about what I couldn’t say.

I recognize the hunger I woke up with. It wasn’t for apples and peanut butter. It was to be back in that lecture hall with those boys from high school who I loved, and who I never questioned, and it sits in me.

It’s my birthday soon, and there is no locker to decorate… I have my own house. I guess I could fill it with balloons if I wanted to.

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Plastic Stethoscopes

Well I’ll be damned, but we all grow up.

My childhood friends are your civic leaders,

They’re your parents, your bosses, and your teachers.

And I’m sitting beside you wondering 

what I am going to be when I grow up

I’d love to buy a house

I want a yard, a washing machine, and a dryer

To have talents that are respected,

And respect that is warranted

And no more roommates

 

I want to be married,

I want to be stable, accountable, bankable, insurable

I want you to want to give me a 30-year mortgage

Jesus, my friends are mortgage brokers

They can draw up the deeds to my house

They are licensed to operate heavy machinery

My friends are doctors, and lawyers, and food truck owners

They are analysts, they’re buying a wedding dress, they have P.h.D.s

I play house, I play doctor, I play Twister

I earn Monopoly money

I forget birthdays

And my mattress is on the floor

and I’ll be damned if we don’t all grow up

To The Elderly Man in the Bookstore

Sir,

When I see you I can’t help but think that age is just a vicious trick nature pays on the young. We are vain, and wasteful, ungrateful for our bodies which weather so quickly. And it seems so cruel to someone still full of life, still scared of age but timidly stepping into her rightful place as a woman, to see these stooped, shaking men… the ones who are pictured swinging joyfully from lamp posts just 50 years before… I wonder if they knew they’d get old. I wonder if they would weep to see the stooped man they’ve become. Do they stare at photos of themselves in their prime and ache for it? Do women like me remind them of girls they knew? Strong, kind, full of life and gumption. Is there a resentment that they feel when we smile sympathetically and speak softly, as if to a child, as if they never held a little brunette in their arms, as if they are fragile. But they are still men. They are still men! No less than they were, but for a few inches in stature, a few hairs, and color in their cheeks. Respect for my elders. Oh, but my elders were young once. And what a cruel, cruel thing to lose. I mourn for all the young men lost. I ache for their optimism, and naivete. What a beautiful thing it is to hold, like the warmth of a girl in your arms, the knowledge of which and absence thereof leaves you feeling cold. I try to freeze myself in time. I look for grey hairs and swing from trees. I am in limbo. And I mourn for all the young men lost.

Lili

To Lili, Age almost 19

Age 19

Hey Girl,

I read a letter you wrote to Davey not so long ago. I don’t know if you sent it, that it isn’t important. I was struck by how similar we still are. You already had a level of introspection that would surprise people. Right now you’re finishing your first year of university, you’re making plans to go to Turin, and it feels like the ground is moving in two separate directions. Everything is scary. I do not envy you. I really don’t.

I’m turing 25 in a few days, and I wanted to let you know that we’re not there yet. Home is still an abstract concept. I can’t describe what we do on a business card. Relationships just get worse. The reason I’m telling you this, is so that you’re a little kinder to yourself on the way here. You move so fast you’ve stopped enjoying where you are. And you’ve come so far that you feel stranded. You’re going to feel that way in six years too. It sucks, but maybe knowing that you’re not successful yet will relieve some of the burden you feel to prove yourself to the world. You’re driven, and I hope that never changes, but the way you define success has been perverted. You have a habit of modeling yourself after others, picking out qualities you admire and imitating them. It’s a vicious cycle. The more you change parts of yourself “for the better”, the less you’ll recognize that patchwork doll in the mirror, and you’ll just punish her for failing you. It’s only because you see the best in people that you feel like you’ll never measure up to them. But forget that. Measure yourself against me. Measure yourself against Lili, Age 16. Those are the only people you need to prove yourself to. And you’ll get there honey. You will. Just ask Lili, Age 33.

Your natural gifts and passions are enough. More than enough. Trust yourself, and be selective about the support you accept from others. Take the ladder, not the crutch. Be grateful for your moments. Take stock of what you have, not what you want. Above all, don’t think so much about the future. Let me worry about that.

You’re a firecracker kid. Enjoy it, and study your verbs.

Love Lili, Age almost 25

To The Tribe

Dear Family,

It worked. I thought I was above the hype, beyond impressionability. I thought I’d travel as I always have and return as I have always been. I rejected the notion of fast friendships and profound experiences before I even arrived at the airport. It wasn’t going to be me. I wasn’t a rube, I know nothing is free. Ten days of sleep deprivation and high school flashbacks passed, and I drank the Kool-Aid. I didn’t realize I was thirsting to identify with something, parched for a sense of belonging in a profound and meaningful way.

This whole experience has forced me to confront my deepest insecurity, a deeply rooted remnant of my earliest school days where I struggled and failed to be accepted by my peers. I wanted you all to like me. I wanted you to accept me. But I didn’t want to ask for it, work for it, risk not getting it. I didn’t want anyone to know how much it meant to me. I couldn’t even admit it to myself. I let myself stay separate from most of you, make assumptions about who you were and what you valued, found reasons not to participate, allowed myself to feel awkward and stick to socializing on a one-on-one basis. I’ve spent much of my life trying to stand out by standing alone.

Even now, as I write, I’m resistant to talking about this experience. I start to think about my friends who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a trip like this, and that they’ll laugh at me for being so moved by it. I imagine how the affection we feel for each other could quickly dissipate once we return to our old lives, and that these words will seem sappy and naive. Or, perhaps you’ll think I’m insincere. That I realized I was late to the party and am trying to cultivate a sense of belonging. A sort of deathbed conversion to Taglit. But the outpouring of affection everyone has expressed for each other in our final days together softened me, and the genuine intentions to stay in touch and continue to build on the friendships we’ve cultivated has inspired me.

Those who haven’t had the good fortune to have participated on Birthright just can’t understand why we’re all so overwhelmed by the experience. Everything gets taken away from you in this trip. You have no personal space, no control over when you eat, when you rest, where you go or how you spend your time there. You’re deprived of sleep and over-stimulated by the beauty of the landscape and the history of a people you can’t help but feel connected to. Everything you associate with real life is stripped away, and all that’s left is the people you’re scrambling up a snake trail with and sleeping on top of. We formed our own little tribe; there were bands within it, but loyalties throughout it. We’re thrown together and suddenly the experience ends. It’s jarring, we’ve all felt that, especially me as I transition back into my solitary reality.

But, happily, I know something has changed. Despite my reluctance to participate and to share myself I’ve come away feeling listened to and encouraged. I feel accepted for where I am in my life and what I’m choosing to do with it. I am excited to cultivate the friendships I’ve formed, and grateful to have the time to get to know others of you better. I realized how important it is to me to feel like I’m part of something, and that the fears I had were from another time. I’m confident that from this point forward I’ll be a participant, not an observer. I’m thankful for what all of you have taught me, and look forward to sharing more experiences with all of you in the future.

All my love,

Lili

Panic

I feel like the world is shrinking around me,

Clinging like plastic against my warm skin,

Clear, I can see that the dark sky is empty,

Soon will the cracks in forever begin.

 

I open my mouth to scream out “Somebody!”

But plastic wrap strains too tight cross my lips.

Air that I once to for granted can’t reach me,

And hope in the form of my hands start to twist.

 

With my nails I claw and rip at my binding

Freeing my arms, I make the holes fatter.

And the world which once had felt so restricting,

Lies at my feet in ribbons and tatter.

To My Parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

You’re driving me up the fucking wall. I keep repeating my favorite mantra; “as far as parents go, they don’t get much better than mine.” I’ve got empirical evidence that would confirm that, as emotional and financial providers, you did good. I don’t think I could do any better. This is why I’m rethinking having children altogether. If you did your very best, and I still don’t want to speak to you right now, that must mean that all children are ungrateful shits. Seriously, I don’t know what other conclusions to draw from this.

Having said that, you two need to accept the fact that I am an independent, grown-ass woman. I realize that after 24 years of molding and shaping you were hoping I’d have more direction and discipline. I realize my indecision and doubts scare the hell out of you. They scare the hell out of me too. But trying to coax me into leading the life you envisioned for me is not helpful. There is a difference between what I want and what you want for me. I need you to both to understand and respect that.

Last night I had a dream that I was driving Mom’s convertible without a seatbelt. I swerved into the left lane without looking and got stuck between an oncoming car and the car behind me. The car I was driving was crumpled like an accordion. I was able to jump out safely. Nobody was hurt. I wasn’t shaken up by the crash. I wasn’t worried about being arrested. But, when I was telling Mom what happened, I purposely didn’t mention the seatbelt. I knew if I admitted I wasn’t wearing one, that that would be seen as having caused the accident. The thing was, it had nothing to do with the seatbelt. I would have crashed regardless. It was just a bad maneuver.

You two are the seatbelt. Your function is to keep me from flying through the windshield if I crash. But, you can’t control how I drive. You’re not going to stop me from behaving recklessly. You can’t protect me from other people driving alongside me. Most importantly, if I had been restrained in my dream, I would have been crushed. Not being tied down meant I could escape safely. I know… that sounds ridiculous, but for me it’s true. I don’t want to be held back. I don’t want your advice, I don’t want your money, I don’t want your blessing. All I want is for you to recognize that this is my car and I don’t need any backseat drivers. This is my road to navigate. You two can come for a ride if and when I start loading in the car-seats. Until then, enjoy the fact you’ve upgraded from a volvo to a two-seater mini (with Maddie strapped to the roof).

Love, your daughter, Lili

To My Drama Teacher

Dear Mr. Herron,

In my dreams you are the manifestation of all my insecurities. In high school, your form of mentorship involved a lot of threats, public humiliation, and the occasional begrudging compliment. I thought you hated me, and I was desperate for your hard earned approval. I’d never been pushed to be better before, so I had no idea what you were doing. Years later you admitted you saw potential in me, and I finally understood that every stern reprimand was an investment in my future.

And yet, since high school, 99% of my anxiety dreams take place on a stage. We’re mid-performance, I’m backstage, and would you believe it but I can’t find my costume and don’t have a damned clue what my lines are. I don’t even remember rehearsing! You were always on my case about memorizing my lines. I always waited till the last minute. I guess it’s apt. Anyway, normally there is a lot of rushing around, I find a costume that isn’t mine but at the very least isn’t my street clothes, and I get on stage. I start to freak out internally while trying to make sense of the scene. I try to come up with something appropriate when people turn and give me the “it’s your line, Lili” look. It’s mortifying, I wake up exhausted, and I think of you.

Last night I started have the same dream (different show, of course). We were in some sort of musical, and Lauren Buglioli was the lead as always. I was totally lost backstage, but it was coming up to the final number so I figured “Eh, I’ve made it this far, what else is there to do?” I got dressed as best as I could with what I was given and thought I looked pretty cute in it. I couldn’t find my shoes so I wore flip flops. I realized I was supposed to be on stage when good ol’ Lauren gave me the stink eye (again, a remnant of high school anxiety, courtesy of our well-established leading lady). I walked onstage in a line with other characters. I was close to the front, and people were singing. I got the feeling it was my verse, but I had no idea how it went. This time, instead of trying to fake it, I just smiled, bopped along to the music, and let some girl in the back with a faltering voice cover my solo. She knew the words. She was waiting for her chance to shine. And yes, it sounded terrible. If I had known the words I would have sung it so much better, but I didn’t. The funniest thing about it was that I didn’t feel panicked at all. I thought the whole thing was rather amusing. I even remember saying to myself “Ha, this is just like those dreams I used to have!” while totally convinced it was real life. I didn’t give a damn that everyone would be pissed at me later. The audience didn’t really know what happened. The show went on. This dream is no coincidence. I’m kinda doing a two-bit shuffle on the stage of life right now. I guess this means I’m okay with it?

The thing that really gets me about these dreams is the total lack of preparedness I feel every time and the knowledge that it didn’t have to be that way. I think that’s what you were trying to hammer home in your sardonic fashion. I have potential, and I’m wholly unprepared. What I haven’t quite understood is if there was any way for me to be better prepared, or if life is just one big improv and a single curtain call. Should I just bop along, smile, and be okay with it? I don’t know. Regardless, I could really use a mentor like you again. You are one of the only people who told me to cut the crap on a daily basis, and one of the few adults I respected then and now. It means so much to me that you pushed, even when I stubbornly dug my heels into the ground. I needed it. I still need it, now more than ever.

I hope you’re well, and that your students this year know how lucky they are to have you.

Love Lili

Folks, it’s getting real

I’m sitting in a cafe trying to calm the voices in my head telling me I’m a dilettante. I’m overcome with envy when I think about my friends who have managed to find themselves in serious jobs with health benefits and respectable salaries. I envy their security. I envy their discipline. I envy their maturity. I think about applying to something like that and become overwhelmed by a sense of the shame. Nobody’s going to hire me. I’m 24 and I’ve got a CV that’s as patchy as a sophomore’s facial hair. And I hate that shit. I hate offices. After a month sitting at a desk eight hours a day I want to curl up in a ball and roll out of the 30th story window.

I don’t know what’s worse, feeling ashamed of the fact that I’m too old to be relying on my parents for financial support, or the prospect of finding a full-time job and having to leave after six months because I’m going stir-fucking crazy. I try and tell myself that there must be a happy medium. There must be a job that I’d enjoy that takes place in an office setting but that doesn’t involve calendars, meetings and forms. But every job I see requires sitting. Every job wants a ‘self-starter’ with ‘1-2 years experience in x’ or ‘a degree in y.’ I can tell you for sure that there isn’t a single job description in existence that is looking for someone with a degree in French and Italian studies. Find me one and I’ll buy you dinner. No, I’ll cook you dinner. I can’t afford to be wasting money I didn’t earn on over-priced burritos.

The most frustrating thing about this is that I don’t feel like I have any right to be frustrated. This is the epitome of a first-world problem. I’m getting everything I’ve asked for, but instead of feeling empowered I feel helpless. I feel like I don’t have a choice now. I have to get my degree and open my own practice because I’m the only person who’s going to hire me.

But I want to write. I want to write. I want to write. I want to write! I want to do other things that expose me to the world, and to new people, and that give back. But damn, I want to write every day and every night from now till I die. I can’t imagine doing anything else and feeling fulfilled. I can’t imagine abandoning the worlds in my head that I’ve created. I can’t imagine trying to stem the ideas for stories and scripts and novels that are bursting out of me like an uncapped fire hydrant. I try and tell myself it’d be fine. But when I think about a life not dedicated to writing, I feel like I’m losing my best friend. I feel like I’m giving up on the last bastion built from my childhood dreams. I feel defeated, like growing-up is a punishment, not a privilege. I like to work, I always have. And I’m not a dilettante. I’m really serious about what I do, it’s just nobody’s paying me for it yet.

I’m fortunate. I know I’m fortunate. And I’m grateful for everything I’ve been given. But I’m ashamed that I can’t do it alone, or rather that I haven’t insisted on it. And I’m motivated. God, I’m motivated. There’s nothing like shame to make you work harder and faster than you ever thought you could. And I’m beginning to realize what it feels like to have no options. It’s terrifying, and foreign, and weirdly wonderful. It’s the world I’ve always imagined myself in, and one where I hope to thrive.

2013: The Year of Ass-Kicking

Dear Everyone,

You may have noticed I was about as subtle as wrecking ball last year. That’s because 2012 was The Year of No Bullshit. I made a poster and everything. 2012 was about being honest when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. It was about figuring what direction to head in and not make excuses for why I didn’t stick to anything. So, I moved three times. I worked at four different jobs. I said what I thought. I acted abso-freaking nutballs. And, I made a startling discovery that it’s not just me. You’re all a lil’ cray in your own way. And I love you for it, especially when you tell me about it. Makes me feel downright normal.

So, with such a fabulously fun year ending, you may wonder what to expect next. I felt that it was only fair to give you a little heads up that things are going to get rowdy. Oh yeah. 2013 is The Year of Ass-Kicking. That goes for my ass, your ass, that guy’s ass (just look at the closest person to you. I’m talking about them. You let them know their ass is mine). This year is going to take “no bullshit” to another level. It’s going to be a monkey flinging poo of a year. Stinky, messy, eye-catching, and damn freaking effective. 

How is this going to work you may ask? Well, 2012 helped me realize what I want, 2013 is about figuring out how to achieve it without making excuses. I’ve only given myself two objectives this year, and I’m feeling pretty good about holding myself to a higher standard. There’s going to be a lot of yelling, a lot of cursing, and I’m getting a little more aggressive. I’m going to surround myself with people who find joy in being the best version of themselves. I want us all to be at our best, so if I yell at you this year, or push, you’ll know why. 2012 got one foot firmly on the ground, the other one is headed towards an ass near you.

Love Lili