Roommates

I am missing three roommates. Their last names are lost to me, and their first names are common. Sometimes I scour my old email account, the one I used when I lived with them, to see if a stray message from or to them remains.

Something about the fact that I lived with these three people whose names I can’t remember eats at me. I am good with names, better with faces, and I still see theirs, wandering through the large Victorian home we rented together. This was immediately following 9/11, and I was new to the city, new to the working world, terrified of everything. They were Long Island girls. They had serious boyfriends. They worked in beauty PR, in fashion PR. We had all the free Pantene products we wanted.

The time between my meeting with them to first view the apartment and then actually moving in was only a few weeks apart but I think I arrived a different person than who they expected. The day before my move I had gotten a haircut, and the stylist had butchered my hair. I mean, it was really terrible; I managed to hold in the tears as I paid and tipped her and then, slipping into the passenger seat of my mom’s car, I lost it — shoulders shaking, the works. I know now I was crying over more than just my hair.

So my hair was so, so bad, and I moved in and never quite felt at home there. The Long Island girls went home to Long Island most weekends, where their boyfriends lived; I would drive aimlessly on Saturday afternoons, or take the bus into Manhattan alone and explore the streets of the West Village. I took a screenwriting class to fill my time. I watched American Idol; I painted on small canvasses and gave myself pedicures.

One night the four of us went out to dinner, and I dropped a chicken wing on my shirt. It stained my favorite sweater.

And then, seven months into our stint together, one of them announced she was moving to Texas with her boyfriend and was going to become a teacher. We agreed it was time to move out. I found a great apartment in a city much more suited to my age, my needs, and the one moving to Texas told me she was jealous of me, because she’d always meant to live there, and now she never would.

I can’t remember their last names.

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And the locker room smelled of Juniper Breeze

This is happening, and it is glorious. Screen shot 2015-06-04 at 12.59.13 PM

I am not the only woman of my generation who has a story to tell about these fragrances. In mine, it always starts with a darkness outside. It’s either nighttime, or late afternoon in a deep winter, or a gray day where the sun decided to sleep it off. It always starts with a basketball game in the gym, my bare legs glistening in their Juniper Breeze lotion, the cold air shocking them into goosepimples.

I am 15 and cheering at the game, arms flailing, legs kicking. I am 15 and in my best friend’s Geo Tracker, listening to a Beastie Boys cassette. I am 15 and wearing ripped jeans and Doc Martens and my Varsity Cheerleader tee shirt on my way to chemistry lab. I am 15 and driving through the Pine Barrens, or along the coast, or into my parents’ driveway, or into the 7-11 parking lot, Tori on the radio. I am 15 and ready for anything, except not really, not at all, because my readiness was just a mask for my general fear about life.

I spent a lot of time in the locker room in high school; changing from gym clothes to my cheerleading uniform; changing from my cheerleading uniform to street clothes; changing from a shy teenager to one who stood in front of a crowd in bare legs, bloomers showing with every stunt. And that locker room smelled of Victoria’s Secret, scent mingling with scent — Plumeria, Cucumber Melon, Raspberry. Body odor. Wet pom-poms. Decades of locker room grime. Thousands of teenage girls.

In that locker room I made fun of a freshman girl who stared at herself in the mirror longer than anyone else, only to learn months later she had been checking to make sure her pregnancy wasn’t yet showing. In that locker room I burst into tears when my cheerleading coach, who’d been acting weird for weeks, told us she’d miscarried twins. In that locker room I sank into a corner whenever a certain girl would enter to glare at me, until one day I decided she didn’t matter; I wasn’t afraid of her.

Sometimes I don’t know which memories of the locker room are mine, or which are memories of locker rooms I’ve stolen from books. But I’ll never, ever forget those scents; the signature smells of my locker room stories.

 

 

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It is June now

It is June now but it feels like early spring, raw and rainy, like we’re all just waiting for the first buds to open up out of the ground.

It is June now and something has happened to my wrist. In the mornings it aches and collapses under pressure, like I’ve sprained it, maybe. By midday, though, it’s nearly back to normal. This has been happening for weeks and I have no idea why.

It is June now and my baby is getting so old, so big, that each day she becomes brand new to me. Each day she is a marvel.

It is June now. My birthday month, but who’s counting?

It is June now and I’m behind on lots of things, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to catch up. When I look back on these past few months — working, momming, writing, podcasting, traveling, trying to breathe — all I remember is the rushing.

Now it is June and I am hoping for some stillness, some time.

 

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Spring

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 10.43.04 AMSomething happens to me in the springtime. I get giddy; I get dreamy. I read other people’s tweets, their links to their work, their self promotions, and I think about all that’s possible, all that’s ahead. I want to do everything. I can do anything. Can’t you smell it in the wind?

This week I burst into tears when I watched a slow-motion video of my baby girl laughing. Throughout the days now my husband, the reluctant texter, sends me photos and gifs and updates on our girl, on their days together. They teach me things. I study my girl’s expressions intently when I’m taking a pump break in the basement of my office, in a sterile room that so many other women have used. I bring my laptop with me each time, ostensibly to get some work done, but mostly I find myself swiping my phone back and forth, up and down, staring at her. Thinking, wishing.

There are the dreams you have before you have a baby and the realizations you have after you have a baby and sometimes they don’t match. Sometimes, things you want have to be placed in a temporary hold because other things are more important right now. This spring, I am reading other people’s work and I am thinking, “I should write about this, and that, and pitch it here, and there” but then I remember the reality of my days right now. They are packed. They are rushed. I wake up bone-tired but alert, always alert, always listening for my baby’s cry and her breathing, always reading and intuiting her needs. I play with her and read to her and then I go to work and try to cram everything in. Where I used to have ten hours, I now have eight. Where I used to have unlimited time, I now have limits.

The world feels very much on Pause for me right now in all aspects except one, the most important one, which isn’t on Pause after all but instead is very much on Fast Forward. My girl is sitting up. She is teasing me, playing games with me. She is testing me. She is growing at such an alarming rate that all I can do is watch and marvel, and point out the flowers that are blooming.

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Summer rentals

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 12.11.38 PMWe lived in a pink house that summer. The top floor of a two-story rental, the deck was so rickety we would have “deck counts” every time we had company over. I’d open the screen door and ask, how many of you are out here? and then listen for the numbers echoing back in the starlight.

Five was the limit, and even that was pushing it. We laughed and rolled our eyes at our paranoia, but at the end of that summer, the deck of a similar house up the island collapsed, so the risk was real. (A decade later I’d meet a friend who actually did experience a collapsing deck, this one at her college rental house in Michigan. She broke her leg. A newspaper article about it is still her first hit on Google.)

We were 19 and 21; carefree workhorses; young enough to work two jobs each day — 10am to 4pm, then 4:30pm to close at another place — and still find time for parties and bars and midnight beach gatherings. I eschewed the sun that year, for some reason; white as a ghost, I’d sneer at the tourists with their tan lines as I rang up their tee shirts and jewelry, their island trinkets. I was jealous, though. What good was living in a pink house on the beach if I was always stuck inside working?

I’ve never been a fan of springtime, but now I am craving the warmth and the light. Today, though, is gloomy. When my baby and I walked through the house on our regular morning routine she didn’t have to squint her eyes when I pulled back the curtain and opened the blinds; the moon was still out and the sun was filtered through too many clouds. She looked confused. Where was the brightness? Was it really daytime? I kissed her plump face — cheeks for days, that girl — and assured her it was.

The pink house is gone now. A few years back they finally knocked it down, rebuilt it, like so many things on the island after Hurricane Sandy. Someday I’ll walk my little girl past it. The sun will be on our backs, pounding, prodding us along the street. We’ll be holding hands and squinting at the brightness. Look, I’ll tell her. Mama lived there for a summer, just one, and managed to not collapse.

 

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Tick-tock

Screen shot 2015-04-06 at 4.06.05 PMToday is my first day back at work full-time, after a transition period of part-time work. I like working, and I like my work, and I’ve always gotten immense satisfaction from leaving my house each day and entering a building full of people with  purpose. But there are Feelings today.

Way back on a cold afternoon in January, when my husband and I could only get our girl to sleep if we took her for a walk (ask me anything about the streets of Park Slope, I know them by heart), we began talking about my return to work. I started crying, even then, even knowing that I wanted to go back, that being a full-time caregiver is not for me. Even knowing that it was far away. Because the thing is, this whole parenting-while-working thing is a lose-lose and a win-win situation at the same time. I lose whether I stay home or go back to work. But I win, too, just in different ways. And the struggle is figuring out which ways are more important. More pressing. More long-lasting.

There are Feelings, too, about time. Having a baby makes the passage of time very real. Time is counted now in a way it wasn’t before — how many weeks is she? How many weeks until this milestone happens, or until we have to look out for that? Before my maternity leave, the reality of it felt distant, surreal. I couldn’t even picture the springtime. Now, poof, it’s over*; I am here at work wearing flats and lightweight jackets. I am here, walking past tulips and waiting for drizzle. Spring is springing, and I am back at work, and I’m sad. Not about working, but because it means time has passed. And it’s just going to keep passing.

Maybe this is a treatise on our mortality. I don’t know. I just know that I see infinity in my gorgeous girl’s eyes. I just know that I love her and I want to spend all day with her. I just know that I love her and I don’t want to spend all day with her; I’m not cut from that cloth. I love her and I don’t want to spend all day with her and I don’t want to feel guilty for that, but I do. And what a waste of emotion and time, two things that I’m always already nearly tapped out of.

*Only it wasn’t poof. Not really. My maternity leave has been equal parts exhausting, difficult, loving, calming. (All within the same hour, usually.) In the early days of parenthood when I hated it all (sorry/not sorry) I would count on that passage of time; telling myself it would fly by is what got me through some nights. #RealTalk 

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The one with the boots

friends_episode180_337x233_032020061517At an old job I had a sharply-dressed coworker who let me tag along to sample sales. At one, held at an old bank in midtown with ornate architecture and a world-class view of the Empire State Building, we walked up and down rows of shoes, their boxes open, tissue paper raining down. It was winter and we carried our bulky coats and kept a close eye on our Blackberrys. We were on the clock.

C.’s style of dress was city chic but approachable, punctuated with a range of heeled boots I always coveted. So when we shopped together that cold day I must have been subconsciously inspired by her and my eyes landed on a pair of structured ankle boots I knew I had to have. The heel was a little taller than I normally wear – I’d learned my lesson by then after years of crossing the river by train and bus in heels that left their marks – but it was a wedge, and the boot was lined with buckles that served no utility but screamed confidence.

I bought them. They were more than any other shoe I’d bought, ever.

When I wore them for the first time, the unthinkable happened: they hurt. Like, badly. Like The One with Monica’s Boots. I tried again, and then again. Both times I had to give up before I even left my apartment, switching into something that fit me properly.

So they went in a pile in the back of my closet, where I would occasionally spot them and wince. For years those boots stayed on my mind. I thought if I could just wear them one more time I’d break them in perfectly; I thought if I just wanted it enough, I could learn to withstand the pain. They moved with me from apartment to apartment, across two rivers, through a wedding, a baby. I still loved the look of them, and as my style evolved I realized they would fit me (aesthetically, anyway) even better now than they did when I bought them. So out of the closet they came. I was going to give them another try, dammit.

So I brought them into work one day last year, intent on wearing them, finally. I changed out of flats and buckled in, ready to take on the day (and with it, the world). But I guess I forgot that even though my style changed, my feet, alas, did not. The boots still hurt. They hurt so much I hobbled right back to my office and took them off. It took years, but they finally broke my of my will.

I’m back at work after a maternity leave and today I found those boots in a drawer. They’re still beautiful, and they’re certainly not doing anyone any good sitting in there. So tonight I’ll take them home and leave them on the stoop outside my apartment, which is the Brooklyn way of donating things we no longer need. I’ll think of C. when I do it, and of the job where I met her, the friends I made there; the way the city, the world, seemed so close to me then. How everything felt possible. How it all was possible.

But mostly I’ll be thinking of how good it feels, how free, to let go of things you’ve been carrying for years and have never really needed.

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Space and noise

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 11.04.38 AMMy mother has begun telling me how gentle I am, how quiet. When I tap my iPad, even. When I speak, when I close kitchen cabinets. I start to take notice. It turns out I’ve even been saving the unloading of the dishwasher for nighttime, when I can see how quiet I can be, like it’s some kind of personal goal.

When I watch TV I keep the volume low, so low even I sometimes have trouble hearing it. I mute commercials. Daytimes are fine, but when the sun sets noises seem to multiply. I speak in a hush starting at 7pm. I sit on my couch, baby asleep in her nearby room, and keep the remote close, finger poised over the volume button.

We are very close here in my Brooklyn apartment, and something about that closeness makes me shrink up and drop to a whisper. There are three bedrooms here but they are small, and that is being generous. I watch House Hunters and cringe at the greedy needs of the homebuyers who decline entire houses because their walk-in closets are too cramped. I think back to Sri Lanka, where I helped build a house for an entire family. They were thrilled to be getting two rooms to share between them, to be getting one bed.

I’ve been pondering space lately. What we need, what we deserve. Whether. I love this city but in my long park walks with the baby I breathe in the wide roads, the stretches of snow-covered fields, the frozen lake, the geese. My lungs expand there in ways they can’t just a few blocks over, where the brownstones block the wind.

Last week I visited my sister’s new house and got turned around coming out of her master suite. For real. Then I put the baby to bed in the guest room (a guest room!) and even downstairs kept my voice low. “You can talk at normal volume,” everyone reminded me. But I kept forgetting. Normal volume, to me, has changed.

 

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