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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Let’s Not Bother With Small Talk

Please, let’s not bother with small talk. Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

Let’s not bother with words that just don’t matter and questions spit out with the force of thunder and the speed of an Aston Martin, only used to fill the silence that barely even touched the space between us.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. They can talk about the weather and how remnants of Winter still linger in the April air — how frost-tipped grass is still what we wake up to. The rest of the world can go and ask us, “What’s up,” but I hope they don’t laugh when I answer, “the sky,” because that’s what I really mean. And when they ask me, “how are you,” I hope they don’t expect me to submit myself to the most common lie told, encapsulated within the words, “I’m fine.”

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

So, if weather’s what you want to talk about, I want to hear about all the ways you change with the seasons. I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re alone at three AM in the middle of the Winter, when all of the chaos of the holiday season has simmered down, and you’re left with nothing but an empty apartment and an emptier Christmas tree and nothing, but the sound of your own thoughts. If you want to talk about the sky, tell me about all the things you see for yourself when you look up. Tell me about the hopes you have and the crippling fears and the obstacles you see in front of you. Tell me about all the ways you plan on changing the world, and I will let you in on all the ways I want my small hands to move mountains.

And if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that, if you’re able to find it in you to tell me how you stayed up all night every Thanksgiving eve, standing on a stool, helping your mom prepare for the family meal the next day, I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom keeps in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

And if how are you is the question you are dying to answer, tell me about the heartache. Tell me about how they broke your heart and what you’ve done to try and heal it since that door slammed, closing the chapter of your life without a tidy ending. Do you still wear the same cologne that she picked out, with the hope that she’ll somehow get a waft of it in the air and remember that your arms were once her home and that she’ll find the star that leads her back to you? Do you sink into your bed at night after busying up your schedule just to forget how her eyes were the only ones that knew you? Do you let the weight of heartache and cans of beer pull you down until you can’t remember how final that slamming door sounded? And if you let me in and tell me how many pieces your heart broke into, I’ll show you all the shards of glass I’ve been carrying around since the day he and I let our love die. I’ll tell you about all the months I spent looking into his green eyes and begging them to know me. I’ll tell you about all the time I spent searching those pools of green, desperate for them to make me feel seen like they did all the time before. I’ll talk about all the jagged pieces, the epic love stories that were born from my finger tips, and the nights I spent playing the songs that were the soundtrack to our love, with the hopes that he’d hear them all through the radio airwaves. And that he’d come back to me. And if you really listen, I’ll tell you about the way his face sunk in my rear view mirror while his arm waved goodbye, and he whispered, “keep in touch, okay?” for the last time on that cold March night.

Tell me about your friends. Tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Tell me about your parents. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your mom say she is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. And if you do, I’ll decorate a picture of what it was like being the first born child to immigrant parents, and how my childhood was more about darkness than there was light, but how I never let that define me. Tell me about how you got by, how you survived, and I’ll tell you the same.

I want to know about the wars you fought and all the armor around your heart. I want to know the bruises that you wear on your soul and all the beatings you took that made such a permanent mark. I want to know about why you jump two feet in the air at the sound of a slamming door. I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night, frantic, unable to sleep, because you were too busy coming up with a plan to save this universe that’s drowning under the weight of vanity.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. What are your greatest regrets? What are your biggest accomplishments?

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s can ever give you that.

So please, let’s not bother with small talk.

Cause One Day, Yeah Someday, You’re Gonna Be With Somebody, And That Ghost Is Gonna Be Coming Back.

I’m scared that it’s always going to be you. It’s not a bold fear, really. Not loud and vicious like the monsters I feared were under my bed as a child. It’s not debilitating. Not one that taps me on the shoulder and makes its way next to me at the dinner table each night. But it’s there, nonetheless — a quiet echo in the distance.

I’m scared that we missed something. That somewhere between tangled sheets, words left hanging in the air, too many Grey Goose and club soda’s, slamming doors, whispers of we’ll still be friends; that won’t ever change, and finally driving away in the dark of that cold March night, we missed a sign. That if we just looked up, it would be written in the night’s sky for us. Telling us we made a mistake and to turn around.

I’m scared that all I’ll ever be is stuck living inside of this heartbreak ghost town — that everything I do, everyone I touch, every person that fills your place will be haunted by your memory.

I’m scared that I’m always going to carry your ghost with me.

And it’s so damn unfair. 

It’s strange when you lose someone who was so much a part of your narrative. We were a tangled web — intricately built and strangely elaborate. One that took precision, patience, and timing to weave together. Our web was never without flaws, but we were always willing to start over. And perhaps that was our downfall. Perhaps we started over one too many times. But each time a piece got knocked over, we rebuilt. We kept adding to the web, ignoring the mistakes. Ignoring the signs that did all but scream this web is a dead end, stop while you’re ahead. Years of building and rebuilding and weaving eventually wore on us and nothing could have stopped it from being destroyed completely. From a ravaging storm that washed away all the pieces of our web, leaving it unrecognizable.

And that’s how you learn to let go. 

You learn that the pieces you thought fit together so well really didn’t hang as beautifully as they once did. So you walk away. Begrudgingly, at first. You avoid anyone with the same charm and charisma. You avoid letting anyone else talk to you with any hint of confidence that was remotely similar to his. You refuse to let anyone look at you in the same way he did. You refuse, at first, because you want so badly to still believe in that web. You want to believe that you can find the missing pieces in a hidden crawl space and glue them back together. You’ve done it before; you’ve pieced back together the broken mess. But this time was different. You start to resent things, people, and places, because no matter how hard you try to avoid the beach where you sat and listened to him tell you this time will be different, or the bench at the mall where he made promises for the future, or the basketball courts where you used to watch him play, you somehow still find yourself lingering. Hoping that if you go back, you’ll find that missing piece.

It’s a funny process, letting go. You have to dig a hole so deep and wide to bury them, but if you stray slightly from the blueprint of his grave, his ghost comes back.

You’ll kiss new people, and at first, it feels a bit like some profound betrayal. Like the ground beneath you is crumbling and you’re suffocating under the force of a sweet kiss. Like you’ve done something tragically wrong and you’ll never be able to fix your mistake. Like that kiss is going to ruin the already destroyed web. But then suddenly, somewhere along the line — maybe all at once, you start to forget. Really forget. You let in new love and flush away the thought of old love. You forget the way he always left a trail of his cologne on your pillow. You forget the nicknames he made for you. You forget the way he tortured you with his indecisiveness. You make new memories. You go to new parks and beaches. And it doesn’t feel a bit like betrayal or suffocation. It feels like freedom. 

But that ghost always comes back. When you’re sitting next to new love, making future plans with him, talking about wishes and dreams, you realize that these were plans you once made before. That these dreams of a house on acres of land with a wrap around porch and wooden swing set were once future plans you made with your past. And you find yourself laying in bed at night with new love, with the hopes and dreams you’ve made together, and you replay it all in your head. How on earth did the ghost of loves past steal your ability to love presently? How did he steal the hope in your heart to move on?

This isn’t some sort of demand for a time machine to thrust me into the past. I’ve let go of that web. Years have passed, seasons have changed. We have changed. Where once stood young and foolish and so infatuated with each other, so wrapped up in our own little web, now stands two entirely different people. Still young, but older. Stronger. Maybe even a little harder. But I still find myself as emotionally unavailable as I was when this was fresh — when the wound was just starting to scab over.

It seems that every time I get close to throwing the dirt over your grave, your ghost comes back. Every taste of new love gets taken away and I’m left flat on my face.

Sometimes, I think my fear is more than being haunted by your ghost. Sometimes, I think I’m afraid to let anyone new fully in. Maybe it’s a fear that that person would leave too soon, so I leave before it can happen. I am self-destructive in that sense — only leaving the door to my heart slightly cracked, and shutting it before it gets too deep. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize how damn good I am at destroying any potential for love. Did I walk away because he called exactly when he said he would? Did I say no to that date because he was too charming, too charismatic, too much of a promise of something real? Was it because he wanted to talk about the future? Was it the way he looked at me like I was the only person in the room? Maybe because there was too much potential. Maybe too much hope.

What really scares me is opening that door fully and getting passed this. When I allow myself to fill those empty spaces, I’m afraid that you’ll still be there down the road. When I’m settled into my own life, married, with kids, and a career that I am so deeply passionate about, I’m afraid your ghost will still rattle my bones. When I’m having my morning cup of coffee and getting ready for work, while my kids are yammering on about the latest school gossip, and my husband is whipping up my favorite breakfast in the kitchen, I’m afraid your voice will still be an echo in my mind. I’m afraid that when I close my eyes, I’ll remember the way you made your coffee — dark, but extra sweet. And I’ll remember just how embarrassed you were by it because what kind of man takes his coffee sweet? I’m afraid that when I’m out with my girlfriends, letting my hair down, and reminiscing on old times, I’ll take a sip of Grey Goose and club soda and the tart taste will propel me into the past. I’m afraid that I’ll always remember your crooked smile, and the way your head fell back when you laughed. But mostly, I’m afraid that years from now, I’ll look back with such profound and vivid recall, sit in that regret, and still be haunted by your ghost.

“And I’m worried…I, I’m afraid that he took away my ability to believe. And I hate him for that. Because I always believed before. And now I just feel lost. And I am, I’m trying to put myself out there, but I feel hopeless.” -Sex and the City

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘That Ghost‘ by Megan and Liz