How to tell a love story

 

Step 1: Don’t. Scoff at the thought as you’re driving home from work. The best way, you think, to ruin this night is to try to tell the kind of story you know nothing about. Love stories are best left to a pint of ice cream and a Jennifer Aniston movie.

Unfortunately, by the time your car pulls into an empty spot in front of your apartment, that stupid boy with the stupid brown eyes will be stuck in your stupid head and you will kick yourself the entire way upstairs and though the front door.

Step 2: Pour a glass of wine. Coffee mugs, pint glasses, and a glass measuring cup from the dishwasher will also suffice. The important part is the wine.

Step 3: Open your laptop and resist the urge to slam your head against the keys. This is stupid. It’s okay.

Step 4: Start at the part where you met at orientation. Talk about how he was shy, but your new roommate brought him over to meet you because they had just had a great conversation about movies and this was the time to make friends. It’s also probably worth it to point out that you were a mess of anxiety and nerves at this point, partially from the fact that you were in a foreign country and partially because you were on the downside of your brain’s favorite cycle. You won’t remember at first, but this is relevant because quiet and shy people made you even more nervous for some reason.

Step 5: Remember that time you went with a group of friends to see Up in 3D and when you started crying behind your glasses, he nudged your arm just softly enough that you could feel it, but nobody else would call attention to your tears. Laugh because after this, you would make him watch Marley and Me with you because you knew he wouldn’t laugh at you when you sobbed through the end. In fact, he let you hide under the blanket.

Step 6: This will be where you remember the couch in your living room. You’re probably going to have some trouble deciding which memories to use here.

Step 6b: Think about that all-night conversation, sitting indian-style on either end of the old couch until 4 in the morning talking about your entire lives up until that point. It’s the first time you’ll tell him how amazed you are by the way he stops at every swing set he comes across, and the way every sentence that leaves his lips sounds like the most genuine truth you have ever heard. You told him how hard it is sometimes to be happy, and he smiled at your demons, offering to compare scars anytime you needed to. From that point on, with him, you wouldn’t feel like you needed to ever again.

Step 6c: Sigh as you remember the STUPIDLY perfect way your head fit on his chest, just between his neck and collarbone, when you would fall asleep on movie nights. You were usually the only one to fall asleep during the movie, but he wouldn’t move an inch no matter how late it or how absurdly uncomfortable that couch was. Sometimes, you would wake up but keep your eyes closed just so you wouldn’t have to leave. Neither of you ever mentioned it, no matter how inevitable it became.

Step 6d: Use both.

Step 7: Go ahead and skip over the semester ending, and you both flying back to the States, and going back to school together. IMPORTANT, however: This is where you want to point out the part about the continents. How you both managed to meet on one side of the world and make it back to the other still holding the ends of the ties that bound you. And how, by a stroke of coincidence and opportunity, you followed each other across THAT continent to land in California together.

Step 8: Throw your hands up in the air and let out an exasperated sigh because holy FUCK if that’s not the stuff Jennifer Aniston movies are made of then you are so, so screwed. Then drink more of the wine. The wine is your friend.

Step 9: Talk about the birthdays, and how he insisted on taking you to Disneyland on your birthday because you both shared such a love for anything nostalgic and young, it could literally move mountains. And how he made you an adorable hand-drawn birthday card and didn’t even try to force you to ride the Tower of Terror but sprinted across the park to grab the perfect seats for Fantasmic.

And then, talk about how you took him dancing for his birthday a week later – downtown, at a club that transformed into a 30′s swing joint on Sunday nights, costumes mandatory. You’re going to want to shake your head as you remember how you had to drag him on to the dance floor, him gingerly holding your hand and shoulder as if you had never fallen asleep on his, but that will go away as soon as you picture the way he breathed the word “Wow” when he met you at your apartment earlier that night. It’ll still make your heart stop. Wine, go for the wine.

Step 10: This is where the wheels fall off. Rub your hands over your face as you’re struck with the realization that only the crappiest stories have no logical end.

Step 11: Kill the rest of the wine.

Step 12: Try to come up with a way to explain how you went from Chinese food dates on the beach to radio silence for months at a time. How there were no signs, hell there was no acknowledged relationship for 3 years so why would there be, and how everything just ended. He stopped answering your text messages, cancelled your lunches. Popped up again every few months to apologize and invite you to the beach, only to cancel the morning of and disappear again, so you stopped calling.

Try to come up with a way to make a satisfying ending out of that. Realize you can’t. Swallow the lump in your throat already and type the words, girl.

Maybe it was all in my head.

Step 13: Shut your laptop and call it a night. You will be drunk and you will feel lighter. You will also want to run as far as possible from the words on that screen. That’s because it was an awful story.

But your chest will burn a little as you turn out the lights and crawl under the blankets, and you’ll realize that it was, in fact, a love story.

Step 14: Go to sleep. Maybe, just maybe, you told it right this time.

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Part of The Scintilla Project – two weeks of a little storytelling cardio, and one of my favorite times of the year.
Check out more info on the project here. Check out my baby sister Danielle’s responses here.

Day 2: Tell the story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3….)

Just don’t mix.

“Go, have fun. Just don’t mix.”

I was 19 at the time, a college sophomore splitting nearly all of my time between classes and 10 hour shifts at the sports bar, tapping my feet and waiting for baseball season to return. We were halfway through a Tuesday night shift when a friend, L, invited me and two of my close friends to a house party being thrown by one of the local college soccer teams. This wasn’t the first time, I was in college after all, and besides, my father started letting me tag along for football on Sundays when I was 17, where the bartenders slipped me beers and shots at halftime (there are not many beautiful things about Worcester, Massachusetts, but this was one of them – any native was bound to have grown up with at least half of the city’s bartenders.)

I had a midterm the next morning that I had been cramming for for three days, but I had also worked the last 6 out of 7 days and people kept trying to tell me that you’re only young once. So, I turned to my boss for advice. I still had yet to achieve fluency in the language of poor decisions.

“Go, have fun. Just don’t mix.” That was all the fake permission I needed.

 

 

We hopped in a cab once our shift was over – the party was in Mission Hill, just far enough that it wasn’t worth the walk from the bar, and we let L lead the way. The details of where we were going were inconsequential – we were off work, ready to unwind, and pumped to feel less like overworked bar staff and more like 4 girls dancing in the back of a cab.

The rest of the night is a little less story and a little more random snapshots. The only four girls at the party, we ripped through game after game of flip cup and beer pong, determined to prove that spending 40 hours a week surrounded by drunk Boston sports fans was worth more than just a paycheck. There was a darts tournament, too, I think, and at one point I looked up and all the other girls had disappeared. The only one I managed to find was K, who was down for the count in the bathroom, so the rest of my night bounced back and forth between taking care of her and and taking care of Jack Daniels shots at the makeshift bar in the basement while arguing over the Sox offseason moves (the phrase “don’t mix” had long disappeared from my thought process – referring of course, to beer and liquor, which I had consumed in every possible form by that point.)

As it turns out, drunk me, while dumb, is still pretty good at playing both mom and dad at the same time.

As the night wound down, one of the boys carried K upstairs to the living room couch, and I, in my best “I may be 5′ 2” but don’t you dare fuck with me” voice, told them that I would stay with her and they would all go upstairs, go to bed, and stay there, thanks.

I found out later that both of our friends had eventually reappeared, found a random limousine passing by the house, and somehow convinced the driver to give them a free ride home. This would have been a good thing to know about as it was happening, because after the boys went upstairs, I remember sitting down on the other couch and then waking up an hour later to K whisper-shouting “SHIT!” from under her blanket.

It was 5 am, the clock on the wall told us, and not only did we both have a 12pm shift to work, I still had that pesky 9am calculus midterm. Also, we were both still drunk, we had no idea how to get home, and our cell phones were dead. Whatever brain cells still remained told us the best course of action was to wrap ourselves in all the blankets on the couch, sneak out the front door, and start walking. So we did.

I don’t remember how we got home. I do remember that we stopped at a gas station somewhere and I ended up buying a loaf of bread that we ate by the handful as we tried our best to drunk-navigate our way back to the bar. I can only assume I walked back to my dorm from there, because the next memory I have is getting back to my dorm, kicking off my flats and sitting down on my bed to crack a book for some last minute studying. In retrospect, I guess sitting down was the real bad decision here, because much as the first time, the next thing I remember after that was waking up at 11:30a – this time to a text from K, making sure I wasn’t dead, and I didn’t miss my shift.

I sat up, horrified. I willed my brain to imagine how I was going to retake Calc now that I had gone and slept through 30% of my grade. Maybe I could cry to my professor. Maybe a hasty emergency e-mail about a crippling stomach flu. Maybe I could just go sit in a lawn chair on the B Line tracks and call it a day. I threw back the blanket and swung my feet over the side of the bed.

My sneakers were on. And my clothes were different. My backpack was leaning against my closet by the door, and I opened it to find my study materials tucked neatly inside, calculator poking haphazardly out of the front pocket. My horror turned to confusion, which quickly turned to the nauseous hum of an early hangover. I wiped the remaining eyeliner from under my eyes, grabbed two industrial-sized Gatorades from the fridge, and headed to work, hoping retracing my steps would bring back the last 4 hours. It didn’t.

I was greeted with an “Oh, hon…” as my boss approached the hostess stand shortly thereafter, slowly surveying the sad, sloppy after-effects of her harmless advice. She shook her head and handed me a stack of menus to clean.

“How did the midterm go?”

 

The answer to that question would come a week later, when I dragged my jaw through the front door of the restaurant, holding above my head a blue test booklet with a red “92″ circled on the front.

“Maybe I should mix more often.”

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Part of The Scintilla Project – two weeks of a little storytelling cardio, and one of my favorite times of the year.
Check out more info on the project here.

Day 1: Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally old enough to do so.

It should be noted, this is one of my all-time favorite stories. I’m glad I finally have it written down.

On 2012, baggy sleeves, and coming up for air

Back in December, half drunk and sleepy on a red-eye flight back to Boston, I pulled out my notebook and started to try and write this post. All I managed was this -

My soul feels like an old sweater from the bottom of the drawer – the arms and neck stretched so far from heavy use and anxious pulling that no matter how many times I put it on, it just won’t hang right on my frame. This year has been exhausting.

I haven’t really tried to write much since.

Looking back now, I did much of the same thing last year that I did the year before. I laughed, as I always inevitably do. I settled in, and I drank cheap wine after hours, and I grew stronger and stronger in the conviction that my hands are made for bigger things than simply catching my own falls. I celebrated weddings and surprise weekends, dancing with families on both coasts and discovering a little life left in the stories I thought I had left behind. My dad came to Los Angeles for the first time, armed with a cherry red Mustang convertible to look the part, and I taught him how to be Hollywood and Boston all in one breath. He chuckled, because Sam Adams still tastes the same under a palm tree.

Then, as September was starting to fade, I had a panic attack on a Monday afternoon. That was all it took. A white-knuckled clutching of my knees behind the office building, trying to convince myself I wasn’t dying while I waited for air to return to my lungs. And after a few weeks and a few long naps, when the air had come back but the suffocating feeling in my chest wouldn’t disappear, I started trying to make my life smaller and smaller, so it would be easier to separate from my big, ugly jerk of a brain. I shut everything down, so a lot of my stories ended up missing from the hard drive. After all, if you can’t remember it happened, you don’t have to remember how you felt. Or how you couldn’t.

Sometimes, forgetting leaves just enough space to breathe.

But I do remember that on my 23rd birthday, my best friend bought me a pinata to hang up in the office. And then as I beat the ever-loving crap out of it, spraying candy and adolescent giggles across the bullpen, a man in a gorilla suit danced in carrying a birthday cake. You can’t make that shit up. I turned 23 with a bat in my hand and a gorilla grinning in my cubicle.

That night, I went home laughing because sometimes there are people winning battles for us that they don’t even know they’re fighting, and I should have known that my friends would always be the ones with the cupcakes and swords.

But 2012, to me, still remains something like a long trip along the bottom of the ocean. One that, in fact, wouldn’t be put to bed even after a night of fireworks and champagne.

Here, finally, 2 months after the rest of the world hit refresh, I’m finding myself back above water again, still wearing a soul whose sleeves are too big, and looking around at a 2013 that feels like it started without me. My instinct is to start running, but there are things to be fixed here, things left to heal, and a few battles left to fight that, quite frankly, I’m still pulling my boots on for.

“When you can’t run, you crawl…and when you can’t do that – “

“You find someone to carry you.”

It’s probably time to rely on a little of that luck.

On what I’m currently…

 

Loving: My new DIY redesign, pink grapefruit sparkling water, this new top coat (I seriously don’t know how I ever lived without it), listening to Paul McCartney first thing in the morning while sipping coffee at my desk, and my new favorite game – trying to make it through an episode of Parenthood without crying. So far, I’m 0-10, but I’m in it for the long haul.

Looking forward to: Pushing myself to get out of the house more. Lately, life has been peppered with little spur of the moment outings that have turned out to be unexpected delights, like a night at a local playhouse or late Wednesday shows at the Hotel Cafe, so I’ve been trying my best to make time for more of those. Also, the time-tested technique of drinking with other people in public instead of with my pajamas and the first 3 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. I would be also be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Scintilla Project is starting back up again, which was a ball last year, and is coming at a perfect time here in 2013.

Working on: A couple of different posts, including a long-overdue 2012 semi-recap that I hope will start to make sense of where I’ve been all this time (though I know deep down that it probably won’t.) My life is kind of a weird mess. Which reminds me, I’m also working on my life not being a weird mess, but that one is going to take some time, maybe a little more whiskey, and potentially some kind of 24 hour on-call puppy parade.

Listening to: A few of my favorite new Songza playlists during the work day (I’m addicted!), a whole lot of Billy Joel in the car, and when I need a little kick in the ass, this song.

Reading: I’m trying to cut down on anti-social TV marathoning, which means picking books over Hulu whenever I can, so I’ve been on a book-buying spree for the last two weeks. I bought and finished the new Terry Francona book in a day, but I’m also (finally!!) making my way through Bird by Bird. It has been at the top of my list for what seems like forever, and it’s just as good as I wanted it to be. I’m taking my time with it, but only because I keep stopping to underline or highlight practically every other line. So much of it has made me feel less embarrassed about the anxiety that often keeps me from writing, and also has made me really want to start putting time into making myself better at it. That’s really why I’m dusting this little blog off and giving it another go. I missed writing, and it just took reading some really good stuff to push me back into it.

 

A few kicks to the tires, a little elbow grease, and we’re up and running. Time to get back in the game.

Twenty Three.

Couldn’t let the coincidence of this number pass me by. So here you have it (in no particular order), 23 as-of-yet untold stories of my 23 years on this Earth, in exactly 23 words:

 

23 stories, 23 words, (almost) 23 years.

1. Seventh grade science teacher taught us what recessive genes were. Example: attached earlobes. I have them, family doesn’t. Hilariously misguided confrontation (involving mailman).

2. Wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Broke my arm in spectacular fashion. Rode whole way to hospital with eyes closed. Scrapped those plans.

3. Favorite childhood game was “playing teacher” with Danielle. She was smart, so I taught her two plus two equaled twenty-two. She’s still pissed.

4. Almost got hit by a car on my bike. Angry driver followed me home to yell at my parents. Totally wasn’t my fault.

5. Whoever read the most books in the whole 4th grade won a free pizza. Result: killer speed reading skills. And a free pizza.

6. Advice at 16: “Sometimes life kicks you back down the stairs, just so you remember how to climb. Show it that you do.”

7. First embarrassing moment: got letter “U” for alphabet day in preschool, dad convinced me to bring underwear. Apparently, in preschool, underwear is HILARIOUS.

8. Met my guardian angel at 14 in a high school cafeteria. Changed my life. Also, taught me how to cure hangovers with bread.

9. I got published for the first time in 6th grade. Short poem in the local paper. Scared me so much, I stopped writing.

10. At 4 years old, wished on a star to become a dentist. Hated dentists, pretty sure I just wanted to rule the world.

11. Made the mistake of drinking until 6am before a midterm in college. Don’t remember taking it. 92%. Highest calculus grade I ever managed.

12. Nothing made me cry harder than being chased down the Mass Pike by thunderstorms in the summer. Rest stop McDonalds knew my name.

13. First Thanksgiving I spent away from family, I worked in the kitchen of a nursing home. Ate dinner with my favorite patient couple.

14. Second Thanksgiving away from home, my Australian co-workers took me out for a Korean buffet. I taught them how to make hand turkeys.

15. My high school gymnastics team was a Cinderella story. Took three years for one win, and once we started, we just couldn’t stop.

16. Too many midnight drives to the beach in February. At 17, the world looks so much bigger with cold sand under your toes.

17. Worked on my 21st birthday. Managers were allowed to make me take any shot they chose at any point. Like playing dizzy bat.

18. When Jessi was little, I told her Danielle was an adopted alien baby. She believed me for months, until mom found out. Grounded.

19. Strangest thing Dad ever brought home from a bar – a cat. Twitched when it meowed. Dad suggested “Buttmunch”, kids just called him Tourettes.

20. Won silver at Junior Olympics in NOLA. Then came Katrina. Never knew what happened to bellhop who played cards with us every morning.

21. Scratched my chicken pox into a scar on my cheek. Boy in my 1st grade class laughed, got one on his forehead. Karma!

22. Born and raised in Massachusetts. Turns out, you can only hear it by throwing a few whiskeys in me on St. Patty’s Day.

23. Got a fist-bump from Jimmy Fallon backstage at the Emmys. Pinched myself. Didn’t wake up. Tried again, got nothing. Guess it really happened.

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Part of The Scintilla Project: a fortnight of storytelling. Check out more info on the project here.

Day 9: “Write a list of 23.”

Skipped another day. Surprise!

My people.

I was born into a tribe of mischief. Of dirt bikes and tree-climbing and “anything you can do, I can do better.” Big, strong hands that swung me in circles and held my feet to the ceiling while I squealed with a mix of laughter and terror. A tribe of practical jokes and impractical dreams. Stories before bed and Jimi Hendrix in the car and echoes of “Don’t tell your mother. Or your grandmother, for that matter.” Three little girls who danced with their words and spoke laughter like their own secret language. One even littler boy, toddling along with a grin from ear-to-ear, just waiting to blossom into the hands that would protect his sisters. Or maybe just protect things from them. He never could tell.

I grew up in a tribe of warriors. Tiny faces and hands covered with a thin layer of chalk – war paint smudged along their cheeks as they forged on against an invisible opponent. Teenage pixies with the mental toughness of those twice their age, suiting up for battle in sparkling lycra and ponytails as high as their twisting, spinning forms simply floating over 4 inches of wood and metal. A tribe of defiance, of pointed toes and straight legs and “oh really? Just watch me.” Climbing on rooftops for a chance to be even closer to the clouds than their tiny legs could launch them, driving together for hours into the night just to see how far they could fly with invisible wings. When one broke, the rest stood to carry them. When one soared, the rest called up words of encouragement – “Keep going, you aren’t done yet. Push on. We’re here.” Little girls who were anything but, giggling and crying and holding hands as they dared the impossible to catch up with them. It very rarely did.

I am growing, now, into a tribe of runners. Of dreamers cast out into the big, wide world and forced to sprint to keep up with the dreams that propelled them there in the first place. A tribe of ramen noodles and cheap furniture, bright lights and full inboxes, conference lines and “Can I leave word?” Nomads who call the farthest reaches home, whispering in hushed, comforting tones to their parents on other coasts that yes, everything’s going to be fine – I told you, I’ve got my savings. All the while, of course, throwing back cheap vodka at happy hour and looking three steps ahead from the ledge they balance on. A tribe of ambition constantly staring at those nine white letters, shining out of the side of the hills as they go running by, wondering why they can’t slow down, but knowing they wouldn’t even if they could. They would never have it any other way.

 

These are my people. Names and faces, picked from the stories of my life like cotton and deposited in a basin I could stare into for hours on end, letting myself be pulled into memories of heart-crushing love and undying support, peppered with incredible moments and unforgettable punchlines.

They say it takes a village, but I will forever be grateful for the villages that have taken me.

 

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Part of The Scintilla Project: a fortnight of storytelling. Check out more info on the project here.

Day 7: List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.