The author with her dear friend. (Image: Stache)
Last summer was awful. That sounds rather whiny because I went on a cruise to the Bahamas with my mother, had a full summer off from teaching and spent many days at the beach and dining at outdoor restaurants in New York City, where I live. I should have been able to see those opportunities for what they were — a chance to go on and off the grid as I pleased, explore new environments, and, as my friend Mary’s husband likes to joke, become the tannest Irish person he knows from my reading so many books outdoors. But two major changes in my world kept me from doing so.
Growing up, my friend Andrea and I once bought baggy jeans in outlet malls when JC Penney was super hip. We were both fans of Warren G's Regulate, and she liked beauty products from magazines as much as I did. We took photographs in photo booths when they were limited to bowling alleys and malls and before they became a staple in restaurants and movie theaters. We gossiped about boys and wore red Brucci lipstick that was too dark for our light complexions.
Currently, well into our thirties, we are Facebook friends, but we don’t see each other except for major events. She's a social worker, and we recently addressed via text the concept of being grateful — a frame of mind we have both abandoned and revisited in life many times. She'd read my article on To the Bone where I discuss the film and my former (but sporadically present) negative anorexic mindset. One year ago, I would not have told her I was grateful for anything, nor would I have been able to imagine that I'd be here on a beach right now knowing tomorrow would be okay.
My personality has always vacillated.
At some points, my positivity has been compared to Mary Poppins (when I was elated at having a break between traumatic events that broke me). Then I’d return to a state of doom once presented with yet another fallout. During the more positive phases, I was enthusiastic. I loved spending time with people, writing, taking photographs to print at Walgreens and post on social media, and the stuff of ordinary days, like long walks.
To others my age, who were determined to remain “too cool for school,” I might have come across as a moron at the dinner table or in social settings. I smiled often, but it didn’t mean I was unaware of their highbrow eye rolls when I spoke. Once, it happened when I was talking about the beach, which is where I feel the most at home. Another time was when I fumbled with opening a straw wrapper for a juice box because I was feeling too silly to take myself seriously. In both instances, I opted to look the other way, viewing their smirks as high school behavior — designated to make them feel superior by trying to bring me down and create a false bond based on their mutual distaste for my refusal to meet their social criteria. I knew that I could be weird and that I wasn’t perfect — something I struggled with during the height of my eating disorder — but I was happy and comfortable enough in my own skin.
I can’t say that I arrived there alone though.
I owed a lot in adulthood to my mother and my friend, Rachel, who were my biggest supporters in day to day mundane aspects of life, like me getting to work on time, or larger ones such as meeting writing and personal goals. When I still lived at home, my mother would pick me up from the desolate train station if I were coming home from work late, so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. If I wanted company after I moved out, Rachel would invite me down the hall to her apartment with my bowl of chicken alfredo from a bag. Whenever I finished eating, I played Just Dance with her seven-year-old son or lounged around on her couch watching Netflix until bedtime. Simply put, being loved carries a significant weight, and while many things can be accomplished alone, I needed people too.
It would be an understatement to say my world was shaken when my mother and Rachel announced their plans to relocate from Brooklyn last summer.
With each passing day, I felt a step closer to losing two of the most stable aspects of my daily life. I'd grown accustomed to them through the years, especially as a single woman with no children. That was when my enthusiasm dissipated. People who were apt to compare me to Mary Poppins might have mentioned Wednesday Addams instead, due to my sour demeanor and flat voice.
There was the hardship of packing up my belongings in a room I'd lived in for eighteen years, while knowing my mother would live on Long Island with my stepfather, away from her first family. I cried on the stairs leading up to my room once my old home was empty of everything other than furniture and boxes for the movers, staring into a dining room where I’d eaten many meals and had celebrated birthdays. At the airport when Rachel's son said, "Bye, Katie, I'll miss you," I hugged them and cried some more. It was painful that I’d never bump into them in my apartment lobby again. They had no plans to return from Florida in the near future either.
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These relocations brought me to destructive thoughts, like why should I build things if they’ll just fall apart? Why should I love people if I’m going to get hurt or left behind? Maybe all of those people who distanced themselves from emotion and frowned upon my "Mary Poppins" outlook had been right all along. They seemed pleased with their discontent. I continued to smile less, keeping too busy to connect with others truly.
Not much later, one of my friends who sensed the change in me asked, "Do you really want to be all serious and hard-nosed?” I shook my head no. And over the course of the next few months, without even realizing it, I stopped acting so detached and was more like myself again. In my student evaluations that semester, I was described as “always being in a happy mood.”
There is a song I love titled "Do What I Can" by Greg Laswell that is said to have been written to his parents. "All of this has been the best for me," he says, a line that applies to my experience of having to stand on my own two feet a bit more than usual this past year. I learned through time, life, therapy and self-examination that love is a choice.
Love is getting on a plane, not once, but four times in a year until Rachel relocated to Long Island. Love is no longer punishing my mother for leaving Brooklyn, and finally visiting her new home on Mother's Day weekend, instead of only seeing her when she came here.
In the end, I'd decided that Wednesday Addams might be deemed cooler by comparison, but Mary Poppins was happy. I could live with that.
As I left the beach to go home and pack for a weeklong trip to Long Island (my mother and Rachel live twenty minutes away from each other now), I knew Andrea was absolutely right in her text, "What we already have is so incredible."