Because of August

It’s late on the Tuesday after Labor Day when I finally get around to writing this. I’ve had thoughts and words knocking on my door, begging to come out of me since Sunday night, but haven’t much time to sit down and write.

It’s the second September that I am working as a counselor and am not frantically trying to figure out how to fit in working two jobs, having an internship, going to school, and somehow trying to maintain all of my sanity and an ounce of a social life. It’s also the first Tuesday since summer started that I’ve been alone, and the first Tuesday in years that I haven’t had some sort of obligation — work, class, or babysitting.

I say babysitting for lack of a better word. Babysitting just seems too formal for the time I got to spend over the last five years watching my best friends son grow up. I spent nearly every Tuesday watching and hanging out with her son, and I spent every Tuesday the last few summers with both him and my little sister.

My sister turned 13 on Friday and started her first day of 8th grade today. My friends son starts kindergarten later this week. And here I am, on my first free Tuesday, virtually ever, trying to hang onto fragments of time that seemed to have blown right past me. It seems that all I had to do was blink and I suddenly found myself in this very moment.

But first, back to Sunday.

I was baking cupcakes late on Sunday night for a Labor Day get-together. At some point, I ran outside to take out the trash. And in the minute trek from my apartment to the dumpster, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of kids playing and laughing. It was odd to me. I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly a year and have never heard kids playing outside any later than sunset. And here I was at 11 pm on a Sunday night, listening to the genuine belly laughs of little kids. The sound tugged at my heartstrings a bit when I realized that it must have been their last night of summer vacation. After Labor Day, it would be back to school for them.

I thought to myself they had to have been hanging onto these few precious moments they had left. They had to have been savoring every last bit of their time away from school before the summer sun sets and they’re awoken by the bitter taste of the transition into the next school year.

. . .

I was talking to a friend in the end of July about how certain times of year are more difficult than others for everyone. We were on the topics of breakups, and how, even years later, there are traces of our ex’s that still linger in us. And it got us on the topic of big life events that shape us and change us and make certain months a little more difficult than others to get through. For many people, the holidays are the worst. For me, it’s always been summer into fall — August into September.

Now, I never intended on being the kind of person that stores all of these bad memories in some sort of self-deprecating bank, just to pull out and revisit when I’m already feeling low. I don’t think anyone really ever sets out to be like that. But, I do genuinely believe there are certain times of the year for everyone where you feel a little bit thrown off course, like the stars aren’t really aligned, and somehow, you are living in a paradoxical world, unbalanced, and propelled back to this ugly state of nostalgia.

There’s something about the way August nonchalantly makes an Irish exit and dances her way into September that has me gripping onto the edge of my seat, eyes staring straight ahead, just waiting for the exact moment when it all comes crashing down.

The time between August and September is notorious for transitions. It’s always been about the start of something new and the beginning of something else ending. Ever since kindergarten, we are conditioned to know that August into September is about change. August has been about starting my first job at 15. It was about packing up my life into boxes bigger than me and leaving my hometown for college for the very first time. It was in August that I started to see cracks in what I thought was love. And it was also in August that I began the long-drawn out goodbye from the only thing I ever knew as love. It was about walking away from old jobs and settling into a new chapter of my career. It was about signing my first lease and getting ready to move out on my own. It was about struggling with anxiety over losing people who meant more to me than I would ever let myself verbalize. It was about feeling like a stranger in my own home, and even more so in my own skin. It was about trying to find even an ounce of hope in all of the rubble — trying to find some sort of stable ground to walk on when the rest of the world around me kept on turning and moving and changing.

August has always been notorious for transitions.

Last August brought with it a season in my life that I would love to not remember. It’s hard, I think, looking back on a time that you’d rather forget. If the doctor could write me a prescription to erase a few months off the calendar, then I would run straight to the pharmacy. Last August was a whirlwind. While the big parts of my life were falling together, the foundation of my life was falling apart. I had recently graduated with my Master’s and flew straight into my career. I was doing well on paper — much better than all of my classmates. But there were still jagged pieces of my life sticking out. Things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they’d be.

I remember putting all of my energy into work, and into the relationships I had with people, that I started to neglect myself. I avoided going home, because nothing about walking through those front doors ever made it feel like it was actually home. I drove around every night after work, desperate for company, and if I didn’t have someone who would meet me for coffee or a late night appetizer, I remember turning the volume up to the highest it could go, without making my car sound like a crappy teen club, and blasting every sad song on my iPod. I remember circling empty parking lots and driving on old roads that used to mean something to me. I remember pulling over to park every time my eyes welled up and cursing the sky above me. I never asked for this. I never wanted this. I never understood how you can get all of the things you worked so hard for and still not everything in your life aligned in quite the same way. The universe is funny that way, isn’t it? It pushes you without ever really trying.

The truth is, August has always been a little bit of a fight to be enough.

It’s always been a fight to simply be enough for whatever major event was about to tornado its’ way through my life. It was the fight to leave enough of me when I was leaving for college, in the hopes that the people I was leaving behind would pick up the pieces of me and hang onto them when I came back home. It was the fight for me to be the person deserving of some big old profession of love that I never did get. It was me hanging onto a love that hurt more often than not, because somehow that was enough for me. It was me trying to live in a house that wasn’t anymore welcoming then than it was when I was a rebellious teenager. It’s been about me trying to learn what being enough really is all about.

. . .

It’s important to know that I have never been good at transitions, and the foreseeable future doesn’t present itself with an opportunity to suddenly become more graceful at them. I almost pride myself on my inability to move on from things and my ability to catastrophize even the most minor of things. I make a mountain out of a mole hill when I can. I spend nights crippled in fear that I said the wrong thing to someone and that they’re going to hold it against me forever. I hear a song and I’m right back to my old bedroom at my parents house, making empty plans for forever. I feel a tinge of loneliness and I remember what it was like last August for me. And I remember all the things I’ve been bad at transitioning into: high school, college, the year and a half I took off between college and grad school, transitioning back into grad school, life post-grad school, moving out, breakups and makeups and everything else in between.

But as I sat on my couch this morning, feeling a bit lost at having nothing to do for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I was struck by how starkly different my life is this time of year in comparison to last year. I no longer drive around aimlessly, seeking answers for questions I would never ask aloud, on the dark road and in empty parking lots. I’ve moved. I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve been at the same job for almost a year and a half. I’m learning to be comfortable with stillness. I’ve hurt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve loved. But more than anything, I am so much different than I was this time last year.

. . .

I haven’t stopped thinking about those kids since Sunday night. I haven’t stopped thinking about the carefree sound of their laughs and how effortless it sounded — like they weren’t about to embark on the next transition in their lives: entering a new grade in school.  And I was thinking this morning about my sister starting 8th grade and how she was born the day before I started high school, and just how difficult that transition was for me. I thought about going off to college and leaving my then three-year-old sister at home. I thought about how much she’s grown. How she used to be shorter than me and now towers over me. How I want to protect her so fiercely but that I know she doesn’t need me to. She’s not a little baby anymore; she’s growing up, and doing it with the grace of an adult many years her senior. And I was thinking about my friends son. How he always refers to her friends as his own. And how he and I always joke that he is my best friend. But he’s become so much a part of my life that it really isn’t a joke.

I’m struck by the brilliance of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these kids in the last couple of days. Time will always be a fickle little thing, won’t it? There are still going to be different dates on the calendar that send shivers up your spine, but time plays tricks on you and convinces you that we can somehow have these moments back. And because of that, I’ve feared August. I’ve feared remembering what used to be and wanting desperately to get the good back and stay as far away from the bad as possible.

I think we need to start living our lives a little bit more like kids do. They transition so seamlessly. They don’t hold onto things unless they’re important. They move on faster than we do as adults. They forgive easier. They know they are enough without ever really having to question it.

It always comes back to the subtle way the breeze gets cooler and the humidity disintegrates. It always comes back to the way the Jersey Shore sheds its summer skin and grows crisp orange leaves. It always comes back to these seasons of growth.

Because of August, it always comes back to transitions. And without transition, there would be no transformation. And what kind of life would that be?

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I’m over starting over, riding on a broken down roller coaster.

I want to tell you the story of the best year of my life. I want to find a corner in a cozy little cafe overlooking the beach and sit down with you and talk over soy lattes. I want to reminisce over the last year — over all the memories and moments that brought me eternal joy. I want to talk about the people I met; I want to share their stories and tell you what I learned from them. I want to tell you that this was the happiest year of my life. That I finally kept all of my resolutions and crossed everything off my list of goals. That I was successful. I desperately want to tell you that 2014 was that year.

But that’s not the story I have for you today.

I want to talk about heaviness. When we take ourselves apart and dissect every minute detail of our existence, we find that even the tiniest pieces have weight. Each page of our story, even the least threatening, can get heavy. 2014 was heavy. I found myself standing on a thin rope, putting my arms out for balance, and hoping I wouldn’t fall over. Hoping I wouldn’t succumb to the weight. Hoping I wouldn’t break. That tight rope never changed in width or length, but the weight did. With each step, bits and pieces piled on top of me. Every day, the load grew heavier until I found myself struggling desperately with balance. That’s the thing about weight: when the load gets heavy, something has to break. Eventually, your legs will give out. Eventually, your lungs will be desperate for breath. Eventually, the weight will come crashing down. You will come crashing down. And you’ll be faced with a choice: give in or get strong. I chose the latter. 

I want to tell you about the heartache. About the demons. About the mountains and rivers and valleys that defined 2014 for me.

In 2014, I felt life break my heart over and over again in unimagineable ways. I felt my heart break for others. For myself. For friends and family and acquaintances and strangers. I felt pieces of my heart shatter over stories of illness, stories of loss, stories of life, stories of grief, stories of love. I had so many moments fighting through the chaos under the pressure of weight where I wanted to stop dead in my tracks and scream, “what’s the point in all of this? Why does everything break me like this? What’s the bigger purpose?” I don’t mean that in the morbid way that it sounds. But if you’re the kind of person with the propensity to feel just a little too much, then you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from.

There is so much tragedy in this world — as a whole, and in our own little universes. So many broken pieces. So much pain. 2014 taught me how easily it is for someone’s life to break. To shatter. To end. Just as quickly as you figure out the proper footing to walk across that tight rope, something can end. Your heart can break. The weight can get heavier. I learned that no matter how much weight is on your back, the world still moves on. It’s like when you’re sick and are forced to be surrounded by people who are well. You curse them for being able to get a sentence out without coughing. You want everyone around you to suffer in the same way you are. You want them to have a scratchy throat, or feel like they have an 8 ton elephant sitting on their heads. But it never happens that way.

When someone you love walks away from you, your world stops. Your heart can get ripped out of your chest, stomped on, and dragged across town. You can look to the people passing you by at the mall, or sitting next to you in class, or working in the office across the hall from you, but their lives don’t stop because yours did. Their weight isn’t your weight. 

And that’s what broke my heart the most in 2014.

While I was incapacitated in bed over closing one chapter of my life and struggling to find the strength to pick up the pen and start writing the next page, the world outside my window kept on spinning. The sun still rose, the birds still sang their songs, and my neighborhood didn’t crumble the way I did. When I watched a family member slowly deteriorate in a hospital bed, crippled with fear over impending heart surgery, the world outside his hospital window didn’t stop. They continued with their Memorial Day Weekend plans, and their barbecues, and their start to the summer season, all while he laid weak in bed, hoping for the chance to see another Memorial Day. When a friend of the family got diagnosed with cancer and slipped away in such a short amount of time, I looked for people around me to just get it. To somehow even feel an ounce of what I was feeling. But everyone kept living. They went about their Christmas shopping, they continued to bake their cookies, they continued to enjoy their holidays with their family. No one got it.

Our weight may never be the same, but the load is still equally as heavy.

Sometimes, we’re lucky and are able to dust the rubble off our shoulders. Other times, the pieces keep adding up. But we keep going. We have to keep moving. We have to find the fight within us to dig ourselves out from that valley. To fight the demons. To swim those rivers. To climb those mountains. To transition the weight so we don’t fall over.  

2014 was about transition. It was about learning to transition my life after every tragedy. After every change. After every heart ache.

2015 will be about movement, and progression, and being present. This year will be about steady and graceful balance. Taking both baby steps and giant leaps into the blind unknown. It will be about showing up. It will be about building relationships, maintaining old ones, and being present with the people in my life. It will be about continuing to balance on that tight rope, rolling with the punches, and expressing gratitude. 2015 will be about transitioning into this next phase of my life. It will be about unrelenting strength in the face of the unknown. In the face of all odds — and isn’t that what life should always be about? 

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.

“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.”
-Neil Gaiman’s 2014 New Years Eve wish

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Just Watch Me‘ by Kate Voegele

Sew this up with threads of reason and regret, so I will not forget; I will not forget.

Everything in life is temporary.

It was the end of March when I first tasted those words with full understanding of the weight they carried. I was 22 at the time, and naively thought I was making one more stop on my last drive back up to school before graduation. The air was in its final stage of transitioning into spring — somehow still cool, but in recollection, not nearly as cold as the ice that froze my heart. In what could only be described as the most wearing walk of my life, I felt those words rattling my bones as I willed my legs to move. Please, just let me get to my car before my knees give out. Just let me get to my car. With painfully vivid recall, I remember the sinking feeling with each step I took. “Don’t be a stranger, kiddo,” his voice echoed in my head. I remember asking myself when I missed it. How could I look away for one second and miss that we somehow became strangers? When I finally got to my car, I stood with my hand gripping the door, as if somehow begging to hang on. Begging for things to stay the same. There weren’t big flashing lights and signs to let either of us know it was over. There were no words signifying the end, but I knew it. I think we both knew it, didn’t we? Somehow, things changed. Somehow, we became strangers. Fighting back tears, I timidly whispered goodbye and reminded him of the promise to keep in touch. Those words held as little promise as a middle schooler signing the yearbooks of all their classmates with “HAGS. KIT.” Empty promises fell on deaf ears. But as his house faded in the background and out of my periphery, I started to understand the transience of life — how even the prominent buildings simply fade away in the dark, and how quickly things change. Nothing lasts forever. Not even love. Not even life.

That was nearly four years ago.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of change in that time, but the lesson didn’t come back to hit me directly on the face until a brisk October morning two months ago. I was sitting in bed, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, scrolling through Instagram, all while ruminating over my ongoing existential crisis, future ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters,’ and desperately searching for some tangible evidence that this too, shall pass. Wrapped up in the warmth of my covers, I whispered it to myself. I said it out loud. I texted it to a friend. I repeated it over and over again to justify the palpable sting of feeling left behind — of people leaving, relationships ending abruptly, business being left unfinished, friendships left hanging before they could ever really get started, and life hanging on such a fragile thread.

I let it consume me all day. For my own self-validation with my issues with abandonment, I made myself push it aside. On one hand, you can acknowledge that change is inevitable and that nothing lasts forever, but on the other hand, you can beg and cry and kick and scream to just hang on. For things to stay the same. For nothing to ever change. No amount of vacillating between being accepting of change and battling intrepid fear because of impending change would have made a difference, so I tucked those words away. I locked them up and told myself to only revisit them when I really needed reassurance — when my inner Peyton Sawyer  comes knocking on my door, reminding me that people always leave. 

I forgot about those words for nearly two months. I haven’t needed them. I didn’t need to justify loss or life or moving on until two times this week — one, when I was faced with eventual loss and life ending, and two, when I caught myself saying those very words out loud and sharing my own thoughts with someone else.

“It’s not permanent,” I said, “everything in life is temporary.”

I rationalized to the person sitting in front of me. If you don’t like where you’re going, or what you’re doing, you can always change it. It’s not permanent. 

The truth is, we need these sentiments. We need these little reminders tucked somewhere in our souls that nothing lasts forever. We need to be reminded that just like physical rain storms never last for too long, neither do the metaphorical ones. And it’s sometimes hard to believe. You can justify pain and heartache from a breakup as temporary. Somehow, that can be enough. The pieces of your heart slowly find their way back together and things eventually start to make sense. The world starts to feel a little less cruel and love starts to feel like a magical possibility again. But when you’re faced with people leaving — moving away for jobs, for love, for a fresh start, or passing away slowly with each last breath, the change can be too much to justify. Even the most level headed rationalizers will want to grab onto whatever pieces of the person and will them to stay — I need you, don’t leave me. 

But no matter how we slice and dice it, the truth is in the ephemerality of our existence. Nothing is ever permanent. 

“Everything in life is temporary.” The sound of my own voice has been echoing in my mind all week.

With all of this impending change, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about regret — regret on a profound level. Not ordering a cheesy, glutenous pasta dish instead of a salad, or not going to the gym when I promised myself three days in a row that I would, or not doing my laundry until the next weekend, leaving me with only a small selection of clothes to wear. These are minor in comparison to the vast picture.

When things change, when people change, when life changes, regret hits me on a profound level. I often find myself filled with words left unsaid, things I never got around to doing, people I haven’t made it a point to see, apologies never uttered, promises never fulfilled, friendships left hanging. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy. I tell myself that once I graduate with my Master’s, I’ll make more time. I tell myself I’ll be more social, I’ll make time for old friends, I’ll take a vacation, I’ll finally dedicate some time to writing something worth reading. I’ll fulfill promises. I’ll mend old relationships. I’ll say sorry. 

I’ll do better next time,” or “I’ll do it later,” or “another day” are all bullshit because next time is right now. Later is right now. Another day is right here and right now. And shouldn’t we recognize this? Shouldn’t we look at life and realize how fleeting moments are? A lot of people say that life is short. For some, that may be the case, but life is not meant to be short. It’s meant to be rocky, and bumpy, and challenging — and long. It’s only when we are faced with the end of the road do we gather up the pieces of our relationships with people and say life is short. But here is the reality: life is long; it just goes by fast.

Of all the important lessons I’ve learned throughout my life it’s this: in life, everything is temporary. You get a small window of opportunity to seize the moments, to tell someone you love them, to make the most of the time you have with them before they’re gone. Before life takes them away, or love changes, or careers move.

I think we all know this. Somewhere, beneath all of our excuses and reasons why we’re holding off, we know that life is temporary. I know it, no matter how hard I fight it. I knew it that March night when he and I walked away from each other. I knew it when I graduated from college and made wishes into the sea of people to be friends forever. To hang onto those moments forever. I knew it when I got the news, at 20 years old, that a friend passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident. I knew it when I got a C in statistics, and thought the world was ending. I knew it when someone I love dearly was diagnosed with cancer. I knew it when I visited him last week and realized that I never did watch the movie Groundhogs Day with him 11 years ago, or Against All Odds with him over the summer. And I knew it that day earlier this week, talking with the person sitting in front of me about her fears surrounding her own big life changes, when my own words echoed in my mind.

We don’t need anyone to tell us this. We are fully aware of the transience of life, yet we wait for the perfect moment. We rely on timing.

I say: screw timing. Screw making excuses. Screw being too busy. Screw finding the perfect moment for your mind to agree with your heart. One day, you will be sitting at the end of someone’s hospital bed looking on as they fight for their last breath, and you’re going to beat yourself up over telling them you were too busy to come over, too busy to watch a movie, too busy to make time. All that you’ll be left with are words that you never said, and regret so debilitating that it eats at you every day. One day, the person you love with every ounce of your soul is going to stop looking at you the way they used to. They’re going to forget the fire that once warmed both your hearts. They’re going to walk away. And you’re going to kick yourself over not having told them everything you wanted. That you loved them, that you appreciated them, that despite how things ended, you are grateful and thankful they were a part of your life, even if just for a short amount of time. One day, your best friend might realize that she hates complacency and the small town you grew up in together. When she moves, that lump in your throat is going to wish you said it when you had the chance. I love you. Thank you for being my other half for so many years. 

We always think we’ll have time, so we wait. But the truth is, we don’t. The existentialist in me deeply believes that people come into our lives and are meant to teach us something, but we often don’t realize it until it’s too late. Don’t let it be too late. Today, I dare you to call up that old friend you haven’t spoken to in a year, reach out to family, make amends. Do it now. Today. This very moment.

Everything in life is temporary. Don’t wait.

“Change. We don’t like it, we fear it. But we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change, or we get left behind. It hurts to grow. Anybody who tells you it doesn’t, is lying. But here’s the truth: Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sometimes, oh, sometimes, change is good. Sometimes, change is… everything.” -Grey’s Anatomy

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘One Year, Six Months‘ by Yellowcard