Strangers on a Train

I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with the urge to kiss him. We were standing close on the subway, his hand just above mine on the pole, his elbow nesting in mine. Soft, dirty blonde hair, average 20-something male face—I could feel his breath gently pass my cheek as we were jostled back and forth and the subway rumbled along.

This would have been adorable­—a true romantic New York moment—if we had been new lovers on our third or fourth date, excited and enamored by each other. Instead he was somebody I had never seen before, and would probably never see again. It was a Tuesday morning and we were on our way to work, bundled in our winter clothes and crammed into this closeness by the force of everyone else packed onto the subway car around us.

This sort of intimacy is par for the course in New York City. I was at party recently talking to another NYC transplant when he commented, “You’re usually standing about this close to somebody else,” standing about half a foot away from me, “and it’s usually a stranger.” We all laughed about it, commiserating about the absurd city we live in, but after that conversation I couldn’t stop thinking how true this is.

And nowhere is it more true than in a New York City subway car—441 square feet of humanity pummeling underground at 40-some miles per hour. The number of complete strangers that pass through my life on any given subway ride is unfathomable to me.

I asked her about her coat. That was it. I had been on the market for one similar and was wondering where she got hers, what she thought of it. “Uniqlo!” she exclaimed, “It’s great—not super expensive but it will keep you warm.” The conversation could have just as easily ended there, but because we were sitting next to each other and still had five stops to go, it just felt rude to cut it off.

“What do you do?” I asked. She told me about her design work for Martha Stewart, how she enjoyed it, how she was wondering if it was about time to move on. I suggested she check out my site. She told me about her daughter. I talked to her about my transition to New York City life. And then we got to Jay Street and she got off.

Opinions about New Yorkers’ relationships with their subway counterparts are varied, and can change from day to day, interaction to interaction. Certainly the most common reaction I hear is annoyance. Crammed cars that turn into saunas no matter the season, the smell of perfume and sweat, backpacks awkwardly jamming into your rib, people only inches from you coughing and sniffling during cold season, tinny music coming from the headphones of a person half a car down from you: None of us ask for these things in our every day lives. We do everything we can to separate ourselves from these people, using headphones and books as invisible walls and keeping our limbs glued to our sides so as not to touch anyone.

We’re forced to be close, hand over hand on the pole, all moving in the same direction but not really caring to be united. These other people are invading our space, getting in the way of our groove, making our days just a little more difficult.

I could feel it coming minutes before it happened—I was going to pass out. This had happened to me before and I knew the protocol. Lie down if you can to get the blood to your head, or at least sit, drink some juice or eat some fruit to give your blood sugar a spike, breathe deeply, and let it pass. Unfortunately I could do none of those things. I was crammed on the subway during the morning commute, all the seats taken, nowhere to move, no food in the bag awkwardly crammed between my legs, even if I could reach it. I was trapped. I felt it traveling up from my gut, coming stronger in waves, and then my vision started going white. Not knowing what else to do (or no longer having control of my body) I slumped straight down into a squat, my head resting on my knees.

This all happened right as we pulled up to the next stop, so people bustled around me, but finally as the train doors closed someone who sounded very far above me said, “Are you okay?” “Just give me a minute,” I mumbled, trying to stay conscious. After that a few people started to speak up, started to try and help me, and finally a woman made her son stand up and give me his seat. As I nestled into it and thanked them, he grumbled but she told me not to worry about it, that she sometimes got woozy on these crowded trains, too. Before she left me a few stops later, she instructed me in a motherly way to “drink some water, make sure to eat something, and feel better.”

On the other side of the spectrum are the people you want to connect with (or wish you had). I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself happily pitted next to a cute guy or a group of girls who look like they could be my friends and wondered, What if I just said hi? Judging by the number of missed connections that take place on trains, I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling.

In a city full of so many people, it’s surprisingly easy to feel isolated, so when you’re forced to stand next to someone for 20 minutes or more, especially someone you feel like you want to get to know, it’s easy to feel the urge to reach out, to connect.

As soon as I bustled onto the train, surely looking a little flustered after running for the connection across the platform, I saw him do a double-take. I wasn’t sure how much interaction I was up for that night, but the only open seat on the train was next to him, so I sat down and immediately proceeded to bury myself in my book. Sure enough, just after the train pulled off I heard his voice next to me: “What’re you reading?” “How to Be a Woman,” I replied, holidng up the cover of my book. “Surely you don’t need that,” he smiled. Oh boy, a charmer, I thought, and laughed politely then quickly turned back to my book, trying to be cold enough for him to leave me alone, without seeming rude.

But I barely read a sentence before I was giving myself a mental pep talk: He was just being friendly, this is why you’re single, it could be a good story, what’s the harm, really? So the next time a wandering musician passed us in the car and I found us making eye contact trying not to laugh, I picked the conversation back up. In the course of only two express stops, I learned that he built custom chandeliers for a living, saw a couple of the lights he had created that day, noticed the calluses and cuts on his hands from work, developed a small crush on the man in front of me, and was asked for my number because he has just moved from Miami and didn’t really know anyone. Of course, at that moment I realized I had reached my stop and shouted my number back at him as I ran off the train. I never heard from him again.

But in between are the tender moments. The fleeting vignettes that you feel you weren’t supposed to be a part of, but are so glad you were. The lovers cozying in the corner seats and smiling as they whisper things into each other’s ears. The friends excitedly catching up after not seeing each other for months and then randomly ending up on the same car at the same time. The moment when you get to read The New York Times over your neighbors shoulder, keeping pace almost as if you’re reading it together.

These are the moments when you stop trying to resist the subway intimacy and stop trying to make something more of it and just take in the moment you have. Be there. Let it settle in.

It was getting late on the A train. Surely past this boy’s bedtime. Still, this little black boy with the big brown eyes who couldn’t have been more than five was sitting in the hard plastic seat, looking brightly up at his mom as she leaned against the pole tossing her head and singing with the music coming from her earbuds and looking smug. This sweet little boy was doing everything he could to pull her out of her own little musical world and get her to pay attention to him.

He squirmed in his seat and she told him to sit. He dug in her purse for his gloves and she told him to stay out of her stuff. He asked about his daddy and she said, “If your daddy isn’t home when I get there, then he’s not coming home tonight.” Finally, he said “Mommy, why won’t you smile for me?”  She looked at him. “Because I don’t feel like smiling,” and went back to her singing. “Please smile for me, mommy,” he went on, “I love it when you smile.” “You want me to smile? Would it make you happy if I smiled?” He nodded excitedly, a grin spreading across his face. His mom gave him a moment’s grimace and went back to her music, but you could see that smile spreading across the car, the other passengers making eye contact with each other, understanding how happy we were to see this little boy love his mama so much.

These connections aren’t missed—they’re the best one’s we have. They are the life’s blood of NYC, running through the underground veins, keeping the city moving with a constant stream of human connection.

And while, yes, sometimes these strangers annoy me, sometimes I just want to be alone and not feel the warmth or the presence of someone I don’t know, my New York would not be the same without them. Whether they know it or not, they have become part of my story.

And for that, I thank them.

 

Photo of NYC subway courtesy of Dan Phiffer.

The View From the Top

I wish I could pinpoint the moment that I lost it.

When I feel like being particularly dramatic about it I say that I dealt with it for as long as I can remember, but that’s not true. I remember I time when I thought I was pretty darn cool. A time when I was a careless kid who knew she was going to do big things. A time when I wanted to know everybody and be known. A time when I would waltz into a room with confidence and energy—and a smile that nobody could forget. A time when I barely had time to look at myself in the mirror, let alone time to have an opinion either way about what looked back at me. I had too much to do. I was boundless.

And then I started giving myself bounds.

Maybe it’s when I went from being an easy 90 pounds with no fluctuation in my figure to be found to suddenly having some extra weight in places I wasn’t used to. A little jiggle here. I new tightness in my clothing there. Nobody told me how to own this. Nobody told me it could be incredibly sexy. I thought I was doing something wrong.

Maybe it was the day my favorite jeans—the ones with the rips down the front and fake patches in bright fabrics all over them—wouldn’t slide up over my thighs anymore. But I love those! I thought to myself. This was clearly not good. [i]

Maybe it was when the guy who I had foolishly started to measure my self-worth by—the big shot in school who was somehow smitten by me, found me fun and attractive, was the first person to ever use the word sexy when referring to me, making me think Maybe I am worth something—went off to college and left me behind, in favor of other, surely cooler and hotter, young women. [ii]

Maybe it was the moment that everything else in my life was up in the air too—I was off to college, no direction, no friends nearby, no idea who I wanted to be. So instead, I decided to try and become who I thought everyone else wanted me to be.

I don’t know exactly when it was, but at some point, I totally and completely lost all confidence and love I had for myself. [iii] While I managed to get almost perfect grades my first semester, I saw only the one A- I had received. While I managed to make a great group of friends—and already had girls excitedly asking me to room with them the following year—I saw only the people who were liked by more. While I was managing to keep myself alive without the help of my parents for the first time in my life (a feat I don’t think college freshmen get enough credit for), I saw only the pounds of the dreaded freshman fifteen changing the way I saw my body. You can do better, you can be better, better, better, better…

And it quickly went from “You can be better” to “You are the worst.” This tiny thing that I don’t even understand where it came from grew inside my until took over: my eyes clouded in grey, my brain thinking only critically, my heart reengineered to pump the thick black tar of hatred through my veins.

What I can do is pinpoint the moment when I knew I had no choice but to find it again.

It was at the end of a semester when my self-hate had been at it’s fiercest—a semester full of faceless men who I looked to for validation, full of pinching at the fat at my hips and measuring my wrist with my thumb and middle finger, [iv] full of taking my anger at myself out on the people who only really wanted to love me, full of self-secluding myself socially because Why would they want to hang out with me? A semester of looking for someone to make me believe I was beautiful, inside and out. A semester of trying to ask for help, but not really knowing how.

It was at the end of a stressful finals week where I had only sustained myself on french fries filched from the campus greasy joint, partially out of feeling too overwhelmed to find any other food and partially out of my body’s cry for fat and quick energy when I refused to give it much else.

And after all of this—when I was on the end of every rope I had—I took myself to see Black Swan. All my friends still had studying to do, but I wanted to see it so I went by myself. Sitting there alone in the dark theater watching Natalie Portman’s character brutally rip herself apart, something inside me snapped. Because I knew that, at least emotionally, I had been doing the same thing to myself. [v] And I knew that, just as nobody could save her when she was so dead-set on torturing herself, nobody would be able to help me until I was ready for it.

I went back to my apartment in a daze and then spent all night sobbing in my roommate’s bed while she sat bewildered, rubbing my back. And then, the next morning, I said to myself Enough. It’s time to make this right.

I wish I could say recovery was as easy as that, as waking up and looking in the mirror and saying Wow, I’m so beautiful and awesome—how did I not see it before? But it’s not. That morning was just the start of an uphill journey, a path that I had to walk. Nobody could trek it for me. Nobody could magically get me to the top. I had to do it, step by step, and that morning I work up with the determination to do whatever it took to get to that place.

Over the break I went into battle mode—but it was a very different battle than I had been fighting before. I enlisted my bewildered roommate for support, explaining to her while we took a snowy road trip the ways in which I had been hurting, and asking her to cheer me on as I tried to get better. I spent time thinking of ways to love myself more, to care for my one body more. I channeled positive thoughts—you are beautiful as you are, you are kind, so many people love you—even if I didn’t really believe them, I thought them and said them over and over again, trying to convince myself. I scoured the web for people who had dealt with the same thing, and found blogger Gala Darling’s cannon on radical self love. Radical was exactly what I needed to get over this.

I returned after the holidays with mechanisms in place to keep myself honest. I started a Radical Self Love Bible. I took the Body Warrior Pledge and started doing daily activities from Beautiful You. I had mantras. It was a project to say the least, and it was more important than any project I had ever taken on for school.

I opened up with my other roommate, who was used to hearing my self-pitying, compliment-seeking comments of the past. [vi] This was a different dialogue: “Hey, I’ve been really hateful towards myself and it needs to stop so I’m going to be doing some self love activities around the apartment. Don’t think I’m weird, I just need it,” I mumbled, feeling vulnerable. Instead, she started doing some of the activities with me, supporting me more than I think she realized.

I kept working at it. A few months down the road I started cautiously dating someone, afraid of throwing myself in too fast and relying on his validation for my self-worth. He said, “I wish we had met sooner.” “No you don’t,” I replied, thinking of how destructive I would have been to a relationship only four months prior and realizing that I now thought of myself as someone worth dating. “What’s your favorite thing about yourself?” he asked innocently during one of our get-to-know-you question sessions.  I looked at him seriously and told him everything I had been through and where I was trying to go. He had nothing to say but still kept his arm around me and still wanted to see me the next day. I felt more powerful.

I realized the more I talked about it, the more control I felt over it, so I talked more. Over the summer I told a former boss and mentor, who cried and hugged me and told me in her sing-song voice how beautiful I was and how much she loved me. I went on a hike with my dad and explained everything, start to finish, as we climbed single file up to McAfee’s Knob. Walking ahead of him, I couldn’t see his face, but he worried aloud and wondered what he and my mom could have done differently. [vii] He asked if there was anything he could do now. “No,” I said, “I’m doing much better.” And I realized it was the truth.

And slowly but surely, I climbed that mountain.

Several months later, I would find myself lying in a bunk bed in a Madrid hostel with the boy from above, elated to catch up from our time apart while studying abroad, but even more elated to be able to report, “I think I did it.”

It’s not that I never had bad days, or days when I doubted myself, but I approached them in a way I hadn’t before. A way of understanding to be imperfect is to be human. A way of knowing that I was doing my best to live in this wild world. A way of thinking my best was actually pretty damn great.

Instead of always seeing the ways I was failing, I saw the ways in which I was succeeding.

Fast forward three years to last month, when I was sitting at a wedding listening to the minister advise the bride and groom to love each other like they love their own bodies, because nobody could hate or hurt their own bodies. It was a nice thought, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Far too many people aren’t in a position where that would be sound marital advice. Far too many people are in abusive relationships with themselves—be it emotionally or physically.

I’m proud to say I’ve managed to win over that side of myself. I’m not sure it is or will ever be gone entirely, but it stays to itself. But my heart goes out every day to those who haven’t—for those who can’t see the beauty in themselves, for those who have chosen to take action against themselves with eating disorders or self-harm.

I want to help you just as much as I wanted to help myself that morning after Black Swan, puffy-eyed from crying but strong with resolve.

I want to help you understand that it’s all in your head, and that you can’t get better until you make the decision to flip that switch and do so. Hating yourself can feel so helpless, like you’re no longer in control of your thoughts. Take back control.

I want to help you find the power that lies within you to do this. It’s there, I promise. Anyone who can feel such strong hate has just as much capacity to feel love. Anyone who can take control of his or her body in a hurtful way has just as much control to do so in a caring way.

I want to convince you to take the journey up. I’m not saying it will be easy. Some days will be treacherous, some will be awe-inspiring. Some days you’ll have people walking behind you, keeping you company and keeping you going,  some you’ll be going solo, having to be the one to push yourself to take each step. But the beauty of an uphill climb is that, as long as you keep going, eventually you’ll reach the top.

And let me tell, the view up here—well, she’s stunning.


[i] This was when I really started fighting. I fought with those jeans for months: It started with sucking in, then laying on my bed and tugging and tugging to try and get them on. I kept those jeans tucked away for months, trying them on occasionally to see if anything had changed.

[ii] At no fault of his—this was all in my head.

[iii] It’s important to note here that this was not just about my body—though that was the most obvious way it presented itself. The ways in which I wasn’t loving myself were vast: I focused all my energy on my shortcomings rather than my positive traits, I always felt others were better than me and strived to be them, I needed the acceptance and validation of others to accept myself, I expected utmost perfection from myself. And, yes, there was plenty of body hate to go along with it.

[iv] The latter being a habit I have yet to kick…

[v] “I want to be perfect,” says Nina to the artistic director as she’s begging for the role of the Swan Queen. “Perfection is not just about control,” he replies, “It’s also about letting go.”

[vi] “I feel so fat today.” “Ugh I look so horrible.” “I’m not good enough/cool enough/hot enough for her.” This kind of talk is far too popular among friends. If you hear it, stop it.

[vii] Nothing. I have the greatest parents in the world—and this had nothing to do with them.

Photo of McAfee’s Knob courtesy of patrick yagow.

In Progress

I mostly just do it to feel the wind in my hair.

When people ask me about why I do it, I come up with some other bullshit reason—something that sounds more meaningful: adrenaline is my drug, it makes me feel unstoppable, it makes me feel like I’m doing something during the many hours of the night I spend not being able to sleep.

But really, there’s just nothing quite like the sensation of my long hair—set free from the tight bun I have to keep it in at work—whipping behind me as I climb speed. The rumble of the motorcycle under me starts to numb my legs, my hands, my arms until I feel like it’s just my hair flying in the wind.

See? Nobody would understand if I tried to explain it. That’s why I have to come up with lies whenever people ask me why I spend so many of my nights racing motorcycles at high speeds.

I wish I could say it didn’t start because of a guy, but that’s how it always seems to go for me: Some new crush pushes me to try whatever he’s into and then I realize I like the activity more than the guy. This one happened pretty unexpectedly. I was bored at a family wedding, looking for a way to distract myself when everyone around me was at least ten years older or younger, so I started chatting with the only person my age: the bartender. The longer we talked, the more I drank, and the quicker the chatting turned into flirting. Before I knew it, the rest of the wedding guests had cleared out and the bartender grabbed my hand and was leading me to his motorcycle. “This will be fun,” he said. “I swear.”

The rest of the night was a blur, and when I woke up with a splitting headache the next morning, two things stuck out in my booze-addled mind: (1) I had just had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and (2) I wanted to do it again as soon as I could.

But even he and his friends never got why I loved it so much. Everyone has a different reason for riding, I guess. He says he does it because “it makes him feel alive.” I’m convinced he just likes sounding badass when he tries to pick up chicks.

So that’s how I found myself here, leaving work at 12:45 am after finally closing my last table—ripping my apron off and pulling my hair down—and hitting the pavement on my bike instead of heading home to get some rest in preparation for my early morning.

Thought I guess the story doesn’t really start there. The story starts the day I got kicked out of high school after I stopped showing up when it didn’t matter anymore. It starts the day my mama said she didn’t think college was such a good idea for me, because she really needed me to stay home and help her; She wouldn’t be able to do it without me. It starts the day my dad high tailed it out of here—saw a better life somewhere else and snagged it—leaving me and mama and my three younger siblings to figure it out. It starts the day my parents thought this shit-hole of a town was a great place to raise a family.

That’s really how I found myself living this life. Waking up early to get my siblings off to school. I almost cry every time I put them on the bus, their faces so eager to spend the day learning everything they can about the world. They still have hope for a future. I’m stuck walking back home to clean up and get ready to head in to my day job at the bookstore. And then late night shifts at the diner. It makes enough money to supplement mama’s nursing job and keep the family running.

And then the wind in my hair happened. The riding habit cut the amount of sleep I get on a given night from a healthy seven hours to something closer to five, but I don’t care. Riding is more rejuvenating than sleep. Riding is the first time I’ve cared about something since I pulled the college poster off my wall. It was a huge photo of Vanderbilt’s campus. I’m not sure why Vanderbilt—I think we visited when I was a kid on a family trip to Nashville and I just new something felt right. In reality I probably would have gone to some cheap state school, but I would have gone. Vanderbilt just meant away to me.

Now riding is the closest thing I have to that. It takes me somewhere else. Even if I know at the end of this stretch of highway, I’ll turn around and head back; Even if I’m looping around the same back roads over and over—my stomach lurching with every turn; Even if I’ve ridden to the top of the little mountain I’ve climbed since I was a kid, looking over my even smaller town—I feel transported.

The more time I’ve spent riding, the more I’ve spend wondering, What if I kept going? I’ve spent hours on my bike imagining the places I could end up if I just kept going straight through the night. The lives I could lead. And of this life that I wouldn’t have to live any longer.

And that’s how I found myself here tonight, driving past the usual exit where I turn around on the highway, my backpack extra tight with a couple extra changes of clothes and the wads of dollar bills—the tips I’d been carefully keeping for myself over the past few months. I didn’t know where I was going. But I knew I couldn’t stay away…

Moving Alone

When I was preparing to move to Copenhagen for four months for my study abroad, I spent the better part of the summer sitting in a fluorescent-lit room at a grey desk clickety clacking through mundane tasks and imagining the exciting life I was about to lead in this chic European city.

I would spend my days sipping on cappuccinos and snacking on pastries while having cozy conversations with my supercool new Danish friends. I would bike through the city with ease, discovering all the coolest nooks and crannies. I would hop on a plane every other weekend to some new city to explore. Generally, I would live a carefree life with the happiest people in the world.

When I arrived in Denmark, I quite literally found myself at the drawing board. What I had neglected to consider when building up my abroad life was that I was, well, studying there. I had signed up for an intense pre-urban design program and therefore ended up spending many of my would be cappuccino drinking, bike riding, and galavanting hours sitting in the studio working on my designs. My life ended up being not that different—and in fact a little more difficult—than my life as a student in DC had been.

—-

It seems like every time I’m preparing to move to a new city, I create these grand stories in my head titled, “What My AwesomeCrazyBetter Life Will Be Like.” I always see it as this huge reinvention—as if moving allows me to not only leave a city behind, but to also completely reinvent myself, leaving behind anything about my life or myself that I’m ready to be rid of. It happened when I went to Copenhagen, it happened a year later when I temporarily moved to San Francisco.

And it most certainly happened a couple months ago as I prepared for a move to New York: a city with the grandest expectations of them all. I envisioned myself going on interesting dates with all sorts of men like the women in Sex in the City. My weekends would be jam-packed with partying as I visited all of Stephan’s hottest clubs. I would meet some of the most interesting people in the world, and spend my time doing creative things with them.

Needless to say, in the two months I’ve spent here none of this has even begun to come true. What I neglected to consider, yet again, is that I would largely be living my life as usual—going through the same daily motions I had gone through in DC. I would still have to go to work everyday, and still be exhausted after working probably-too-many hours. I would still have to find time to take care of myself—get food, do laundry, get sleep, maybe get some exercise.

But moreover, I neglected to consider that some of the core things about myself would not magically change upon arriving in a new city either. I would still be the girl who would often rather spend a cozy night in eating and drinking with friends than going out to a club. I would continue to have times when I’d rather get intimate with a good character in a book than get acquainted with a potential new suitor.

—-

Moving alone doesn’t change your life. It can be so easy to feel like a change of location will cause a massive re-invention, but in reality the reinvention can happen anywhere, but needs to start from inside you. Hauling all your stuff across the country won’t initiate the changes you want to see in your life—you have to initiate them, constantly, in your thoughts and actions.

So now I’m back to the drawing board yet again, figuring out how I can integrate myself into a new city and a new life on my own terms. I’m learning how I can meet people and build meaningful relationships without having to be the party girl. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be doing something wildly cool at every second of every day in order to be living a cool life—plenty of those moments need to be spend doing everyday things, and that’s okay.

And I’m realizing that, the things that I want changed about myself, I have to be the one to change them—New York won’t do that for me.

Yes, living in a new city can be an exciting way to give yourself new opportunities for change and growth. But you have to show up and take advantage of them.

Serendipity on East 21st

“Taxi!” they both shouted, standing on opposite sides of a one-way street. The heavy rain muffled the sounds between them so neither heard the other’s call. Although they had both been standing there for some time, they had failed to see each other through the watery sheet. They just as easily could have gone their separate ways without knowing they had, for a moment, been close to the other.

Instead, a bright yellow cab slowly rolled to a stop in the street between them, and they both rushed for their respective passenger door to find solace from the storm. They were so frenzied getting into the cab that it was already zooming through the city streets before they noticed they were sharing the car.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said one, “I didn’t realize.”

“No, it’s my fault,” said the other.

Recognizing the each other’s voice, they looked up, and suddenly realization registered on both their faces.

“Are you…” they both started, and then began laughing

“I can’t believe it.”

“It’s been years.”

“More than years.”

And with that it all came flooding back: the adventures they had together and the un-adventures that were made that much better by the presence of the other; the time spent learning everything about each other’s lives and families, their passions, their quirks; the laughter, all of the laughter that came with their time together; the tears that would eventually follow.

The tunes that had played on repeat floated through their heads—they used to be able to sing Fleetwood Mac Rumors in their sleep, and now they hummed along like nothing had changed. Together they visited their old haunts—the outcropping by the river they liked to think was only theirs, the bar where they had done so many things that they could only laugh about the next day, the dingy Mediterranean restaurant that they discovered one day when they were lost that had become their go-to. They could taste the falafel now.

As the cab swerved around a corner, they began to think of the years spent apart. So much had changed: new lessons learned, new favorites found, new songs to sing. They had become new people. They began to tell each other about their lives, to share everything they had done since they last parted. One had a spouse and a kid on the way. The other was preparing for a move overseas for a new job and a new life.

It was clear how much time had been lost, but still, they slipped back into conversation as if they had seen each other yesterday. They didn’t know how long they talked in that cab, but they could have gone on forever. It seemed that the result of everything changing had been no change at all. It was just like it had always been between the two of them, easy and free.

All too soon the cab stopped at the first destination. They both thought about exchanging numbers, meeting up some other time, bringing their two lives back together. But neither said anything. They had both done things they weren’t proud of at the end, things they could never bring themselves to atone for. They knew their reuniting could only happen by fate—if they tried to make it happen it could never work.

One got out of the car, and the other drove away.

They never did see each other again. They didn’t really expect to. They went on with their lives and continued changing and growing. But every time either of them was standing on a street corner on a rainy day, waiting for a cab, they always peered across the street hoping to see the other.

Afraid of the Dark

Everything seems sinister. I’m lying in my bed, heart racing, eyes darting around the shadowy room looking for the thing I know is going to creep up on me. I keep propping myself up to peek at the little sliver of light shining under the door, making sure there are no shadows indicating the arrival of an unwelcome visitor. I keep switching by bedside lamp back on to try and gather myself, thinking I should just try watching TV, letting the sound of other people lull me to sleep. But no, I want my ears free to hear every thump of a downstairs neighbor, every whisper of the wind rustling the trees outside—every sound suddenly amplified to the point where I can hear it clear as day, but muffled just enough that I can’t identify it.

My mind is racing, as if Logic and Paranoia are having a screaming match in my head:

P: What’s that sound?
L: It’s nothing. Go to bed, you need sleep.
P: No really, I heard something.
L: Well of course you heard something: traffic drives by outside your window all night every night and your heater has been making funny noises. Normal home sounds, Erin. Normal home sounds.
P: But this was a different something. Someone’s in the apartment, they’ve got to be. Just out there waiting to sneak in once they can tell I’m asleep…

Clearly, Paranoia is winning.

All the while, I’m a “grown woman” wrapped up in my comfortable bed, in the apartment I’ve lived in for the past six months, in a small building filled with old people and families. It’s the kind of place where packages are left unattended in the lobby for the recipient to pick up, where orphaned socks found in the laundry room are pinned to a corkboard in hopes that their owners will claim them, and where we’ve accidentally left the door unlocked on multiple occasions and never been that worried about it. In any case, I’ve triple locked the door tonight.

I’m also in one of the safest neighborhoods in a city I’ve lived in for almost four years, a city I’m comfortable with, one I’ve never really had a threatening experience in.

The only difference tonight? All of my roommates are gone.

I once had someone tell me that if she ever has kids, she wants them to be just like me because I’m not afraid of anything.

I was flattered—still am—but she was mistaken. I have fears, sometimes disruptive fears. They are the things that lead to restless nights, the things that consume my thoughts and keep me from getting my work done, the things that make me want to just hide under the covers and never come out. They change day to day, hour to hour, but they are always lingering there.

Her mistake is understandable, however. See, she’s only seen me when I have my biggest weapon, the only thing stronger than the fear—my friends. I find my courage in the crowd. In solitude, I tremble. When people I trust aren’t around, fear far too easily consumes me. Even if all other factors remain the same, that one little change flips the switch from knowing that I can make it through whatever comes my way to thinking the worst.

Easy solution, right? Keep my friends close and I’ll be fine. But because I’m an Adult, and because I think of myself as an Independent Woman, I’ve had this nagging feeling that’s it’s time to release my army of friends and companions back to their own lives, to their own battles, and to start facing mine solo. The idea of calling on backup for just about anything these days—let alone for essentially being afraid of the dark—makes me feel ashamed, like I’m the kid calling her mom to pick her up early from the sleepover because she just can’t hold it together any longer.

That week I cave. After three restless nights I decide that I’ll be an Adult the next week, and solicit some friends to stay over in shifts for the next few nights. They don’t question my request or judge me for it—they just come over. We eat, we visit, we laugh and laugh, and I sleep soundly those nights.

It’s starting to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, I’ve got it all backwards—that the real naïveté here is the idea that, to be an adult, I must go at life alone. The thought that there comes a point in all of our lives where we have to let go of our support networks and only rely on ourselves. And the belief that, unless I do that, I cannot grow stronger.

Sure, things will change as we grow older. The people on the front lines with us may shift from our BFFLs, to our roommates and trusted friends, to our husbands, wives, or partners—or even our cats and dogs. They may go from being in the bed on the other side of the room to across the country, but always just a phone call away. And sure, as we go through life and face bigger and scarier things, we might have to handle the minor ones on our own.

But I think the real courage is the willingness to not only face the fears in our lives, but to point them out to our friends and admit that they’re too big for us to handle alone. It doesn’t make us childish. It doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.

There’s that feeling again. I’m walking around the streets of New York, preparing for my upcoming move, looking for a new place to call home. Adrenaline is pumping through me, more poison with every step. I’m most certainly not alone—there are people bustling all around me—but since no one is familiar I feel like they’re all against me.

Paranoia is babbling on :

P: What are you doing, Erin? You’ll never feel at home here. It took you so long to build up the friends you have in DC—here you will be alone. Why are you leaving what you know, what you love? You won’t last here, you’re not strong enough. This place is just going to chew you up and spit you back out.

I’m ready to go running back home, back to my cozy bed in my safe apartment surrounded by people I can count on. The sounds around me are overbearing—car horns blaring, the disruptive white noise of engines moving by, people talking louder and louder, joining in Paranoia’s chorus, as if they’re working together to create an orchestra to drown out what Logic has to say. But he steps in, as calm and collected as ever:

L: Erin—just reach out.

So I do. I stop thinking this is something I have to face alone, that people will think less of me if I call in for backup. I text the friend who always comes back with the words I need to hear. I call the one who, without fail, can make me laugh and put me at ease.

It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s just enough to give me the courage to keep moving forward.

Waking Up to You

You remember that time we were laying in bed—still groggy with sand in our eyes—and you rolled over and said,
“Erin, I like waking up to you.”

I made some joke about how you shouldn’t get used to it, but truth is—
I like it too.
I like knowing you’ll be there to start my day off on the right foot,
to sit with me in the baby dawn light
and arm me for the day ahead, the month ahead, my life ahead.
And even if the whole day passes and I don’t find time to check in with you,
I know that, if I ask, you’ll be there again at the end of it,
to help me decompress from whatever came my way.

I like knowing that you’ll be there to make sure I’m taking care of myself amidst the chaos of my life:
to get me moving in the morning
doing my chores—and the dishes I left the night before;
to make me stop working on Friday afternoons
and push me out the door to the yoga class I know I’ll be so happy I went to;
to journey with me to the market on Sunday
so that I can get food for the week while enjoying my dose of sunshine and people watching.

But more—I like the little things:
the crackle, hiss, whistle of the kettle every morning
before warming and waking over big mugs of tea;
the silky touch of lotion smoothing over my skin
after I step out of every shower;
the sticky sweet smell of the strawberry lip balm
that I can’t leave the apartment without.

Not everybody sees you the way I do.
I’ve heard the names people call you.
They say you’re dull, ordinary, unremarkable.
That you’re holding me back, keeping me from being spontaneous.
People tell me to ditch you, go do something different,
see the world,
have an adventure.

I used to agree with them.
I feared that if I let you be part of my life, you’d march in like a schoolmaster,
telling me when I can sit, stand, sharpen my pencils.
And I’d hunch over my desk scribbling down the lines that you fed me with ever dulling utensils.
And all the while I would be dulling, too.

People talk.
And I used to listen to the stories they would tell about you
with open ears, wide eyes, and a spirit that was afraid of being locked in a cage of regularity.

But you were persistent against my resistance,
always showing up when I didn’t even realize I needed you
offering help, comfort—or just something solid to stand on.
I found myself wanting you around more,
craving the time we would spend together.
Before I knew it, you were a regular in my life.

And now, I know that all those people were mistaken.

I know that of all the quotidian things I deal with on a daily basis, you’re not one of them.
You may be regular, but you’re not ordinary.

I know that of all the things that hold me back from taking the world by storm—
the fear, the doubt, the laziness—
you’re not one of them.
In fact, you’re one of the few things keeping me on track and moving forward.

And I know, without a doubt, that I could travel to the four corners of this earth—
follow the fishes to the deepest depths of the ocean,
scale Mt. Kilimanjaro
—but no matter how far I got, I would always turn around and find you following in step.
You may look a little different, more sun-beaten and rugged, but you’d be there.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

See, it’s not that I can’t live without you.
I just know I can’t be the person I want to become
without you there nudging me along.

In times of joy you are there to celebrate with me and remind me revel in the wonder of life.
When I’m successful, you congratulate me,
but remind me to never forget where I’ve come from, and where I’m going.
When I feel lost and confused, you help me draw the map.
And when the world throws sorrow or pain my way—
when it pulls the tears from my eyes and makes me walk across a bed of nails—
you step back and give me a place to mourn,
even though I know you’re still there, holding the bandages and ready to help me heal.

Look, I know things aren’t perfect—I’ll be the first to admit it.
There are times we’ll go weeks without seeing each other,
days I’ll be too wrapped up in my own business to give you the time of day.

But there are so many more things I want to do with you.
I want to get up early and sit in out underwear,
scribbling down the stories we have to tell.
I want to take walks in the middle of the day,
seeking solace from our screens and letting our minds breathe.
I want to cuddle up in bed before we drift off to sleep.
escaping into the teetering mountain of novels that has been slowly growing.

Making you a more regular part of my life is gonna take work—
effort, desire, and dedication—
but it’s work that’s worth it.

And you know why?

When I look a year into the future, where everything is black and uncertain,
you’re under a spotlight in the middle of the darkness, waiting with arms wide open.
When I look a month in the future, where things are still blurry and painted over in big red question marks,
you’re there—clear as day—sitting at my kitchen table and handing me a steaming cup of Earl Grey.
When I look to tomorrow, when I’m laying there with eyes glued shut and brain still in a dream,
you’re there singing Today is Monday, today is Monday, how do you feel today?
and urging me to get up and make something of my day.

Like a thread stitched through
the ins and outs,
ups and downs,
highs and lows—
you hold them all together.
Give me something to grab onto,
something to keep me from floating away,
a tangible reminder that—
no matter how much everything seems to be falling to pieces around me—
I’m still here and this world keeps on turning,
and you’re still holding strong.

I guess what I’m trying to say
is that I want you here
to be my everyday.