If I had known that year would disappear, I would have made it last.

There’s something extraordinarily peaceful about driving. If you asked any one of my peers, they’d probably disagree. We dedicate a good portion of our days frantically driving from one location to the next with the hopes that we can get there on time without having to add a speeding ticket to our laundry list of debts owed. To many, the race between home, school, work, internships, Starbucks, the library, and any public place that serves food, coffee, and free wifi for the purpose of doing homework, oftentimes 7 days a week can be tiresome, monotonous, and draining. At this point, driving should be a chore and a reminder that all this time in my car is time I could be spending catching up on sleep, or on the latest episode of Scandal, or tackling my “to-read” books on GoodReads. And while I would love to be knee-deep in a stack of novels, or caught up on years of missed sleep, or watching old episodes of my favorite show, I wouldn’t trade it in for time I get alone. When you spend every waking hour of your day surrounded by other people, you have to take what little time you have to yourself, even if it’s spent confined within the four doors of a small car. At a time where self-care is nearly impossible, I take my me-time in the car as just that. Every day, I hop in my little green sedan and embark on my various drives from Point A to Point B to Point C and back to Point A, put my iPod on shuffle, turn the volume up, and let the melodies take me away.

It’s always the music that tugs at my heart-strings the most.

It is both a blessing and a curse the way a song can heal and hurt – the way music can fill the gaps of your soul you didn’t realize were missing. Hearing a certain chorus, or a hook, or a harmony can be a time machine violently propelling you into the past, or driving you to wish for a better future. It’s always the music that spirals me into profound waves of nostalgia. It’s always the music. 

Driving home last week, Betsy Lane’s “What About 18” came on my shuffle, and immediately, I’m back in the fog of my early twenties. I’m thrown back into the years that I never fully held onto, into a time I spent clinging onto naivety, begging for teenage freedom, but desperately wanting to grow up. The next song comes on, and suddenly I’m 14 again and wrestling my way through my last year of junior high. I’m angry. I’m bitter. I’m confused. I’m lonely. I’m hormonal. I’m a complete nightmare begging for someone to see me. And with the fade out of that song in comes the next. This time, I’m a freshman in college – floundering, homesick, learning to adjust. I’m 18 and tasting freedom for the very first time. The next song that plays launches me back to my glory. I’m 17 again, applying to colleges and planning to breakaway. I’m so close to tasting freedom, but so far from knowing what the price of freedom is. Another song sends me back to my college dorm; I’m opening up an e-mail from him with an enthusiasm that only the first taste of love can bring. Another one plays and I’m sobbing in my apartment senior year. Cursing love, cursing second, and third, and fourth chances, cursing the promise of ‘no matter what happens, we’ll still be friends.’ And just as easily as I’m in that apartment, I’m 16 again. I’m rebellious and mad at the world, sneaking out and smoking cigarettes on rooftops with neighborhood friends, begging the universe to send us a sign that it gets better.

As each song changes from one to the next, I am overwhelmed with a longing for days I know I’ll never see again. For people I will never meet again, places I will never step foot in again, love I will never feel again.

I’m no good at this nostalgia thing. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it hurts.

It’s overwhelming — feeling happy, and content, and full with your life today, but still finding yourself begging for bits and pieces of your past to somehow finagle their way into your present. Maybe it’s my being a bit of a masochist. Perhaps without any chaos, I feel a little lost.

The songs keep changing, bringing me from 13 to 21, to 17, to 25. To the nights that no amount of vodka cranberries, or dancing to forget, or laughing with your best friends would ever be enough to forget how horrible it was to walk away, how miserable I was, and how nothing could make me feel as weightless as I wanted to feel. Another song brought me to my college graduation. To being surrounded by some of the best people I’ve ever met, looking back on some of the best years I’ve ever had. To being young, but maturing. To being a graduate, but still hungry for knowledge. To scanning through the crowd and memorizing the look of pride on every face. And just as quickly as that song came on, I’m thrown back again to the middle of high school. I remember how tired I was. How unhealthy I was. How desperate I was for validation, and hope, and love.

I got home that night and found myself digging through old photos. Old birthday cards. Old yearbooks. I scrolled through my Facebook timeline through years of vacations, girls nights out, inside jokes, reminders that no one could ever love as fiercely, or laughed as hard, or had as much fun. I realized I was digging. Digging for the past, digging to bring it all back to life, digging for hope, digging for answers. I put my music on shuffle again, and this time, the music kept me right where I am now. Today, I’m 26. I’m complicated, and more often than not, a complete mess. But I’m whole. And that’s when it dawned on me. Why was I digging so desperately into the past that was broken, and ugly, and tangled, and shattered. What good was I doing trying to pick up the broken pieces of the past and glue them back together now?

But maybe it wasn’t just that I was digging in the past. Maybe I was digging to leave everything there. To go through it one last time, but to let it all go.

Maybe I was digging for freedom from the shackles that chained me to the person I once was.

What I found in the process of digging through and grieving over my past, is that you miss out on what’s present. You miss out on the person you are. On the things you’ve accomplished. On the people who love you, and the people you love. The person you grew up to be after closing that chapter. You neglect to realize that pieces of you may have cracked, your heart may be a little jagged in places you aren’t sure will ever heal, but you’re here. You matter. Now matters.

We are not prisoners of our past. We owe nothing to who we used to be, to who we used to love, to who we thought we were. I’m no longer that girl sitting on the rooftop, blowing smoke into the starry sky, dreaming of better tomorrows. I owe nothing to the love that came in sweetly and slowly and ravaged his way through my heart, destroying everything in his stormy path.

It is our choice whether or not we allow ourselves to break free from the bars that lock our heads up in thoughts of yesterday.

I’ve been taking a little bit of time here and there to go through old things and box them up. As long as they’re there, sitting on the top of my closet shelf, they’ll be safe with me. But I don’t need to listen to the music that breaks my heart. I don’t need to look through pictures to remind me of better or worse days. The past will always be there — a distant echo in my head and my heart. I’m sure that ten years from now, when I am truly settled into a life and career, I’ll feel the palpable sting missing my mid twenties, and just like this time around, I’ll sort through old photographs and look for proof that I was here. That we were here. That all this confusion, and fear, and pain, and mess were worth it. 

But for now, I packed those memories up and tucked them in the back of my closet. I locked them up.

I let them go.

“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” -C. Joybell C

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘What About 18‘ by Betsy Lane

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We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.

When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?

But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.

And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. 

They don’t tell you this, but I will.

You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.

You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.

One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.

Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.

You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’  

They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees.  You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time. 

They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.

They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.

They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did. 

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift

It Was The End Of A Decade, But The Start Of An Age

As much as we try to resist it, the only constant in life is change. Seasons change. People change. Feelings change. Life changes. So, in a lifetime that is so full of change, very few things remain the same. In my lifetime, I’ve experienced changes from all different angles – from devastating loss, to heartbreak, to shifts in friendships, to ups and downs in familial relationships, to the goals and dreams I had for myself. And while I experienced all of these highs and lows of life, only one thing remained a constant. While the world around me never ceased to stop changing, the one thing that stayed the same, my one constant, has been my job. I never knew then that what was supposed to start out as a summer job when I was a teenager would turn into something that holds so many memories, so much meaning and so much of me for so long. I never knew all those years ago, the impact that it would have on my life and how bittersweet it would be to say goodbye – nearly a decade later.

To many, Auntie Anne’s was just a pretzel place and a way to demean and degrade not only myself, but my coworkers as well. It was often a way for outsiders to make us feel like less than human for where we worked. I’ve never understood how having a long-term job, working for great people, and working with incredible friends could ever be a negative enough thing to make fun of us for. To outsiders, it was a place they often frequented for a snack. It was the store that you could smell from a mile away. It was a childhood favorite that manifested itself into adulthood. But for me, Auntie Anne’s was my job – my first job.

It was where I learned customer service and people skills – where I learned how to talk to people, where I learned how to listen to rules, where I learned leadership, and where I gained a strong sense of self and a great work ethic. But it was so much more than that. Auntie Anne’s was a place that harbors so many memories and was, essentially, where I grew up. It was here that I learned what friendship is – and I mean real, raw, true friendship. Here I learned how to pick and choose which people I wanted in my life and how to read a person from a mile away. It was here I learned to build a back-bone and let some of the nasty things customers said to me roll off my shoulder. It was here I learned to work hard – to put in the hours, the work, and the time and see that hard work, no matter where you work, gets you places. It was here I learned to balance a job, extra-curricular activities and school and still make good grades. It was here that I gained a life-long, incredible, and supportive best friend, whom I genuinely do not know where I would be without. It was here that I had the chance to work with my brother and to work with a girl whom I have known since before she was born. It was here that I forged close friendships with, now college-bound girls, who remind me of myself at their age. I was, and still am, so emotionally invested in their lives, their well-being, and their success. I’ve watched these kids blossom into young adults and learned that I could be proud of them, even if I have only known them for two or three years.

Proud of S, for going into the city, despite the challenges that it took her to get there – for following her heart and making her big dreams a reality. But also, for being level-headed and humble, even when she recently was inches away from George Clooney, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. Proud of G, for leaving high-school where she hated it – to going off to college, loving it, and growing into this mature young lady. You are far better than I was at your age and as I have always told you, college is really where you will shine. No matter what, I will always be your ‘mentor’ :). Proud of S & D, for going off to the schools of their dreams and making these dreams an eventual reality. For coming from a small high school to jumping into these giant universities, but finding your niche and group of friends and for really having the time of your lives. I am so excited for both of your futures and we all  know that we will see your names in lights. For A, who is already changing lives, in only your second semester of college. I don’t need to tell you how proud I am of you for going after these crazy dreams of yours, because you and I both know that your dedication to becoming a doctor is what will get you there, no matter how difficult that road may be. And for C, who will forever remind me of myself. For really being a friend and for going after those journalism dreams – even after you had a minor setback with schools. Being proud of every single one of you girls doesn’t even cover it.

It was within those four walls that we all felt every emotion – we laughed, cried, joked, and fought. My God, did we fight. No one has seen me in the same way that my coworkers have. Good, bad, ugly – they saw it all. Our job was our safe haven – no matter how many negative things were going on in our personal lives outside of work, we always had a place to go. Even on the most stressful days, there was always  some element of fun. We laughed every single day and most importantly, it was here that I gained an extended family with whom I was able to share the bulk of my fondest memories, both inside and outside of work, for the last nine years.

Tuesday night was my last shift – the end of such an epic saga. Never again will I work with my best friend or my brother. Never again will I work with teenagers – unless, of course, they are my clients. Never again will I work for those same incredible people. Never again will I look at an Auntie Anne’s, or even a mall, the same. I said goodbye to the biggest part of me this week. The biggest part of my life, the only constant. And while I closed this chapter of my book and said goodbye to a job that I never knew would mean so much to me, I am also opening the door to the future and to endless possibilities. The unknown future should terrify me, but at the same time, it’s the not knowing that excites me. I have the utmost confidence in myself and in my coworkers and know that no matter what direction we take and where we are headed, we are all going to do something great.

So sure, it was just a pretzel place. It was my first job. It was food retail. But, it was the biggest part of my life thus far. I am a better person today because of it and I have the best stories and relationships that will genuinely last far beyond those four walls.

To every single one of my coworkers and anyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with, whether it be now or at any point in the last 9 years, thank you for being the biggest part of my life, thank you for being my backbone and being part of the place that kept me together when things outside of work fell apart, thank you for being my family – near or far, you’ll always hold a piece of my heart.

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn and we are led to those to help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today, because I knew you.” ‘For Good,’ Wicked

The title of this post is from the song, “Long Live” by Taylor Swift
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