The Hitchhiker’s Hail

In the last seven years, I’ve had eight nine different addresses (I almost forgot England). Those seven years have seen me moving out of my parent’s house for the first time, living in six different dorm rooms, moving to England, moving back to the States, getting my first real apartment, and then moving to grad school. I consider myself to be decent at moving, good at packing, and great at upacking. I have moved into and out of my parents’ house so many times that I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like I’ve permanently left.

When I first traveled from Cleveland, Ohio to Washington, DC for college, my dad had a pick-up truck and we used every square inch of the truck bed despite the fact that I was moving into a shared dorm room. I’d like to say I’ve really learned to pare down my belongings, but in reality all I’ve done is leave more and more items behind.

My proudest move is probably the first one I made completely alone, when I got on a plane to England to study abroad for a semester. Against all odds, I packed my life into one suitcase and travelled across the Atlantic. My plan had been to fly into Gatwick and take a train to Brighton, but that was ruined pretty immediately. A broken plane and Amazing Race-style sprint through O’Hare later, I ended up flying into Heathrow, taking a bus to Gatwick (panicked that I would not be able to figure out how to get to Brighton without my carefully laid out plan or a cell phone), and then taking the train to Brighton. Look, in the end I managed, but that’s not the point. My point, I guess, is that it was the first time I’d really had to navigate traveling alone.

I moved again last month, and the move was probably more daunting than my first trans-Atlantic flight, customs, and finding my dorm room at the University of Sussex. The one thing that made this move seem do-able, however, was that my dad was my co-pilot. We packed up my Honda Element as full as we could (leaving behind, among other things: all of my furniture, 95% of my books and DVDs, and my favorite pair of earrings) and hit the road.

For five days we drove cross-country so that I could move to Los Angeles.

I never wanted to live in LA. Despite my deep, abiding love for television and the quiet, burning part of myself that wanted to work on television shows, I never really considered making the move. LA has sunshine, and earthquakes, and it’s in the Pacific Time Zone. All of those things are anathema to me. But as I finished an undergraduate degree that I didn’t really know how to use, and worked in my first adult job, and went to grad school, the thought of working in television never left. It became louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore that, out of everything, that’s what I wanted the most. More than living in the same apartment building as my friends, and being in the same time-zone as my parents, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I gave it a chance.

So my parents, my wonderful, supportive parents helped me pack up the car and my dad drove across the country with me. We took our time, stopping so that we could play in Arches National Park and visit the Grand Canyon. I think both of us had been a little apprehensive about spending so much time alone with one another, no buffer of any kind between us, but it only brought us closer. We shared beers at breweries in the mid-west, and had a pillow fight in Arizona. We took pictures and watched shitty movies in the hotel room, and forced each other to eat salads. At the end of the trip, he even agreed that my choice of superpower (which he’d mocked mercilessly months ago) to be able to stop shedding was pretty worthwhile after all.

There were parts of the trip that were trying, sure. Like trying not to hit that elk as we left the Grand Canyon. Or the moment that I almost ran out of gas in the middle of Kansas because I was too absorbed by an episode of Keepin’ It 1600. Our musical choices are at odds, so striking the compromise of his jazz in the morning, my alt. rock in the afternoon was necessary early on. After so long in the car, our backs and knees hurt, we were probably always at least a little bit dehydrated, but we made it.

I wouldn’t give it up for anything. In fact, I want more road trips. A few summers ago my mom and I packed up and drove around Michigan for a few days, which had been a great bonding experience, despite the near-constant rain. This move was stressful, but certainly less than I had anticipated, because I had my dad by my side. I hope that next year my brother comes to visit and we can go on a trip of our own, maybe to Yosemite.

I hope my future is filled with road trips. I want them with my friends, hours of fighting over music and putting up with each other’s podcasts. I want nights camped out on the roof of my car looking at the stars with my loved ones as I try not to cry from the beauty of the moment. I want to get lost in a foreign country and not care for the awe of the landscape. I think spending hours alone in a car, while risky, is ultimately good for relationships.

The post script of this post, if anything, is that I live in LA now. But what was really important was the journey.

I Wish This Dress Had Pockets

Almost every time I’ve been forced into a dress, I’ve thought, “I wish this dress had pockets – where am I going to stash my lipstick, my Kindle, and a pen and some paper?” My life is not one that requires me to wear a dress with any frequency, a fact for which I am quite grateful, but dresses are still a topic I can’t help but want to explore. I seem them online, on people, in pictures, and envy them. Each dress has so much personality and can convey personality, sometimes more so than any other article of clothing. I find dresses interesting because, in the right picture, or moment, or memory, they convey glimpses of growing up, becoming a woman, and the events that shaped me on my way to adulthood.

Not only is wishing for a dress to have pockets a universal desire in the dress-wearing community, but the act of dressing up itself is a visible marker for adulthood. The chance to change from frilly frocks to sleek evening gowns provides a sense of maturity the way few other clothing items can. Sometimes it’s hard to bear leaving some markers of childhood behind, and the ability to stash trinkets and distractions like a phone or a book into my pocket provides that. I’ve had an admittedly fraught relationship with dresses, starting from when I was a tomboy who would rather play tackle football with my brother than take a dance class. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the difference between feminism and femininity. Now, years later, I can wear a dress and feel comfortable because donning a dress doesn’t mean committing to being any one kind of woman.

Feeling comfortable in my own skin is a recurring theme for me, and expressing myself through my clothing choices is the most obvious way to process that battle. I’ve never desired to look like a model or have clothes that were in-season, but I’ve wanted to dress to express myself. It’s taken a lot of introspection to understand what image I want to project to the world because appearance is so often tied to identity. I carry this struggle with me as I write—how characters perceive themselves, how the world may perceive them, and how they act to change or enforce those beliefs.

At times I’ve struggled to figure out the image I want to project into the world. I grew up playing with the boys on my street, making mischief. I grew up dreading wearing dresses for fear of being mocked by my friends and hating that it was more difficult to run and play. So many milestone events in my life have been ones for which I’ve been forced into a dress, even when I wasn’t comfortable. Doing things, being put in situations that aren’t comfortable, is relatable, even if wearing dresses isn’t.

When I dig deep inside myself to question why I spent my adolescence hating dresses so fervently, I come up with a few answers: because they made me feel like an imposter; because I worried that they wouldn’t flatter me (either physically or personality-wise); because I wanted to run or flop on the couch with my legs spread without a thought to modesty; because I hated the way my legs chafed together on hot, sticky summer days. Now, with the ability to purchase my own wardrobe, armed with a stick of deodorant (will cure that chafing like whoa, trust me), I’m glad that I have fought this battle. I wouldn’t be nearly as self-aware if I hadn’t ever had to stop and consider this dilemma I faced for every milestone in life.

This struggle led me to pause and ask myself, “Why do I hate this?” A question I’ve found that will offer insight, no matter the topic. So yes, I do wish this dress had pockets, but my purse can hold more stuff, anyway.

Livin’ That Pączki Life

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I’m Polish. Well, I’m a plurality Polish. Somewhere, saved in the notes app on my phone, is a detailed breakdown of my specific European heritage. My cousin, a hobbyist genealogist, did the breakdown for me at the same Polish festival pictured above.

Most of the time, I don’t think about my Polish heritage. It’s only when I hear a particularly good joke about the Old Polish Navy, or when the sun’s reflection is blindingly white against my pasty, pasty skin. I think about it when I pound Bud Lights at the Family Reunion (hosted, of course, at a Polish festival), and when my family makes gołąbki every Christmas. I always felt distanced from my heritage, though; Polish was never a language I heard spoken.

For someone who was raised Catholic in the South, I don’t think about religion too much, either. When my family moved to Ohio (closer to both of my parents’ families in Michigan and New York), we also moved away from religion. My brother and I stopped attending Sunday School, we didn’t quite fit at our new church, and I never went to PSR on Monday afternoons. (My dad asked, once, if I wanted to go to PSR. I said yes, because that’s what all the cool kids from my middle school did on Monday afternoons. Then he explained that they were all learning more about Catholicism so that they could be confirmed. I think my response was somewhere along the lines of, “Never mind, hard pass.”)

One of the things that baffled me about the new church we would be attending was how casual it was. In Alabama, you dressed up for mass. Dresses for girls and women, slacks and button-downs for men. The first Sunday morning that my dad and I entered the church in Ohio, I was surprised to see jeans and pullovers. It felt too casual to be Catholic. I can also admit I was majorly peeved to find that you could dress so comfortably to hang out with God. Had I known this sooner, I sure wouldn’t have worn so many dresses in my youth. It’s been 15 years and I’m still bitter about the lime green dress with royal blue and purple beaded flowers I wore to Easter Mass circa 2001.

A few times in my youth my Catholicism and Polish heritage intersected. Most notably when my grandfather would tell me about the church he attended in Western New York. He was from a small town, small enough that late into his life the Polish and Irish churches in town didn’t have enough parishioners to justify having two Catholic churches. They ended up merging, and I accompanied my father and grandfather (despite a litany of protests) to the last Catholic service of my life save for funerals. It was a Christmas Eve mass and I remember being a little disappointed that the service wasn’t delivered in a foreign language, like some of the services I knew my grandfather had attended in the past. I also remember hearing an amateur guitar player in the balcony, a noticeable difference from the organ music of my youth. I looked up and thought, “Dave Rygalski, is that you?”

Both facets of my heritage intersect in February, with Fat Tuesday, when Lent and Easter are right around the corner. Growing up Lent meant giving up something I liked (usually something specific so that I knew I would be able to manage) and no meat on Fridays. There was no Catholic guilt in my young life like the guilt of accidentally eating a bologna sandwich on a Friday during Lent. Fridays were for PB&Js and fried fish. And then one year I found out about paczki.

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Could I necessarily explain why I am so in love with pączki? No, probably not. Can I enumerate what, exactly, differentiates a pączki from a donut? Not really! But it’s a part of my culture I can understand. Pączki are made in Polish households before Lent, to use up all the lard, sugar, and eggs in the house before Lent began and those foods were forbidden. So Fat Tuesday is married to Pączki Day, and it’s mainly celebrated in the Great Lakes region. Which explains why I didn’t know about it until I was older, living in Cleveland, and visiting family in Michigan. 

Living in Washington, DC was a wonderful cultural experience, but it sucked around Fat Tuesday because there were no pączki available. At least no that I could find. And believe me, I looked. DC is not a city with a lot of bakeries or Eastern European culture. Or, if it is, I didn’t know where to find it when I was living there. But now I’m spending Fat Tuesday in Syracuse, New York and when I found a box of pączki at the grocery store on Saturday, I did a little dance. I shouted with joy. I dug through the selection until I found a flavor I wanted (I went with the raspberry filled with a white icing). And then I went back today, actual Fat Tuesday, only to find they were sold out. I guess I shouldn’t have told so many of my friends about the awesome pączki opportunity.

Who knows if I’ll find myself eating pączki this time next year? I’m just grateful that this year I did, and that it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my heritage.

High-Five Romance

Credit for the original gifs (which I made into one giant gif) goes to tinamy.co.vu

Credit for the original gifs (which I made into one giant gif) goes to tinamy.co.vu

Almost a year ago, on a rare trip home to visit my parents, Dad and I painted a familiar picture: sharing the living room as one of us clicked around on our laptop while the other vaunted control of the TV. Aside from golfing and visiting the West Side Market, watching TV together is our greatest bonding experience. Maybe one day I’ll enumerate all of the weird and wonderful moments that have come from that.

But not right now. Right now I want to focus on this one particular moment, where Dad and I were reunited in our natural habitat. For the life of me I can’t remember what we were watching, but whatever it was gave my dad pause. He looked over the screen of his laptop at me and said that it was beginning to dawn on him that he and my mom didn’t necessarily do a great job of being affectionate around each other when I was growing up. He wondered if they set a good example of showing me a relationship to aspire to when I was younger.

I had to think about that, because I have never doubted that my parents love each other. They’re still together after 31 years of marriage, they must love each other. But at the same time, I have the kid-goggles of thinking of them as my parents – a unit, but not necessarily a couple. My parents are loving and affectionate, but not in the way that I ever had to worry about walking in on them making out in the kitchen. My parents are not prone to PDA, a fact for which I am eternally grateful.

So after agreeing with him that they aren’t the most romantic of couples, Dad asked what I found to be my ideal standard for judging a good relationship. It wasn’t something I’d given a lot of serious consideration before, despite being surrounded by couples in every day life and pretty much every bit of media that I consume. In the end, it wasn’t difficult to pick one  factor above all others: high fives.

High-Fives are great couple behavior. When I think of the couples on television that I grew up watching, shipping, and envying, they are, overwhelmingly, the ones that would high five. (Or seemed like they would high-five off screen.) There’s a reason that my tag on tumblr for Chandler and Monica is “OTP: high fives”.

The innate knowledge of when is acceptable to high-five is half the challenge. They can be celebratory, like if your team is better at Celebrity, or your fantasy football team won, or something truly excellent happened at work.

In sharing a high-five, you’re acknowledging your SO’s partnership, you’re congratulating them, you’re rewarding them. You’re sharing something. It seems kind of cool. (But also know when you should keep your hand to yourself, because few things are worse than the disappointed little shake of the head you get when it’s “not the time”.)

Unlike it’s cousin Relationship Theory, the High Five Romance is a real-world desirable relationship standard. And that’s kind of the point; whereas the relationship theory demands a passionate, roller-coaster of emotions, the high-five romance is calmer. Yet it still manages to be a thing of passion – I’m not looking to high-five someone over something I’m ambivalent about, rather something I find so exciting and exhilarating that I need an outlet outside of my body. I’m looking to high-five when I have so much joy and such a sense of accomplishment that I literally need to share it with someone else. A high-five can be comforting, but still fun. It’s lighthearted but has significance. And I like that.

High-fives can be flirtatious and/or the product of inside jokes you think are a-mah-zing, but make your friends want to vomit:

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Or be a celebration in-and-of themselves AS WELL AS your amazing shared pop culture knowledge:

Or maybe it’s “an expression of elation and teamwork” (shut up, fist-bumps totally fall into the same family as high-fives, especially if they’re done with that beatific expression of joy):

Relationship Theory mainly portends to fictional couples and our desire to live vicariously through them. High-five romance, however, is about how I’d like to apply some of the rules of fictional relationships to real life. Obviously high-fives accompany other relationship habits, but they’re a very good stop on the affection spectrum, and they deserve some recognition.

tl;dr High fives are great and I hope they play a significant role in my next relationship.

Relationship Theory

Every time I search the “relationship theory” tag on this blog I’m surprised I haven’t published this yet. It’s literally been years since I first wrote most of this. So, finally, as Amanda and I sit around watching Studio 60 again for the [embarrassingly high number] time and mostly written three-ish years ago, is my Relationship Theory. Get ready for a lot of convoluted Taylor Swift and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip references:

I love about pop culture –  watching tv, picking apart plots and dialogue and finding out that some actors are just as hilarious (if not more so) off screen than on. But every once in a while, I realize that pop culture is slowly killing me. Somehow, this vicious media frenzy is making me too idealistic.

I’m rarely idealistic. I’m more the pragmatic sort who wishes she had more of a devil-may-care snark-tastic attitude. Anyway, I tend to be a realist, if not an outright pessimist. Which is why becoming fixated on heart-wrenching moments during scripted television shows kind of kills me. But, at the exact same time, it gives me hope than I can write great stories, great plots that can make other people hopeful, too. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom. I’ll never be bright and shiny, but I’m not dark and twisty, either.

The one line that get’s me – every goddamn time – is courtesy of Logan Echolls towards the second season finale of the unjustifiably short-lived Veronica Mars. Logan, a little tipsy and a lot heartbroken, pours his soul out to his ex, Veronica. He tells her, “I thought our story was epic, you know? Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. Epic.”

Be still, my heart. I wish that I could put him on my Amazon wish list. I just… I want epic. I don’t need romance, I don’t even want it. All I ask for is something pure, real, scary, and bigger than myself. Well, okay, maybe that’s a pretty big wish, but a girl’s gotta dream.

It all goes back to the Relationship Theory, based off of Taylor Swift (stay with me). My friends and I usually apply it to Studio 60, though it works for many other fictional stories.

My freshman year of college, Taylor Swift was kind of a big deal. [Hahaha, she’s only gotten so much more popular. This is weird. Then again, that was 2009.] Her music, though juvenile, was catchy, poppy, and fun to sing along to. Anyway, one of the bigger hits at the time was “The Way I Loved You.” It’s a fairly simple song, but it ignited a major schism to form between my roommates and myself: which boy each of us would prefer?

I thought it was obvious – you choose the ex-boyfriend. You know that you’ll (probably) get hurt, and it won’t be easy, but you’ll be consumed by passion, completely in love. Love wouldn’t be very spectacular, let alone epic, if you didn’t have to fight for it.

Amanda, however, reasoned that she wanted the current boyfriend for exactly those reasons. She wanted to be sure of her relationship and be comforted by the warm feeling it instills in you. She wanted something she could trust.

But, for those unfamiliar with the song, let me give you examples of the two different options.

Ex-boyfriend: [Taylor was constantly] screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain, it would be 2am and she’d be cursing his name, so in love that she acted insane… Breaking down and coming undone it was a roller coaster kind of rush and she never knew she could feel that much, but that’s the way she loved him. He was wild and crazy, just so frustrating, intoxicating, complicated, and got away by some mistake.

Current boyfriend: Is sensible and so incredible and makes all of T-Swift’s single friends jealous. He says everything that she need to hear and it’s like she couldn’t ask for anything better.  He opens up her door and she get into his car and he says, “you look beautiful tonight,” and she feels perfectly fine. He can’t see the smile she’s faking and her heart’s not breaking ‘cause she’s not feeling anything at all.  He respects her space and never makes her wait and he calls exactly when he says he will. He’s close to her mother, talks business with her father, he’s charming and endearing and she’s comfortable.

So there you have it. Two boys, exactly the opposite of one another. Amanda championed the line where the new bf, “talks business with my father.” She thought that was, quite possibly, the most endearing thing a guy could do. She wants someone who will call when he says, pick her up, make every other girl wonder how you got so lucky.

Okay, so I understand where that is the ideal, you know? Practical and dependable. I get it. But come on. Wouldn’t you prefer wild and crazy, frustrating, intoxicating, and, most importantly, kissing in the rain? Listen, I relish in a good fight. I like being challenged. It’s fun for me. (To a point, obviously. I can handle yelling, I can be wrong, but there’s obviously that line in fighting where emotional well-being comes into question and then you have to take a step back. So, healthy fighting, I guess.)

To me, being challenged is a necessary part of a relationship; I don’t want to sit stagnant, I’d be bored out of my skull. I don’t understand how anyone could be happy with someone who always respects your space; the biggest thrills occur when someone invades your personal space and drags you out of your doldrums, kicking and screaming. (Not all the time. Obviously. Sometimes I just want to sit around in my jammies and watch Netflix and have you just accept it.)

Back to TSwift: the thing that kills me, every time, is that her ex got away by some mistake. And, even worse, her new boyfriend clearly doesn’t know her very well at all. Even if you disregard the fact that the replacement can’t tell when she plasters on a fake smile, he fails to make her feel. When she’s with him, she never get’s past “fine” and “comfortable”. He’s reliable. And yet, he doesn’t make her feel “anything at all.”

All of my favorite (fictional) relationships rest on this theory. That the guy you should be with, 9 times out of 10, is the one who makes you come alive, even if that means you want to crawl out of your skin because you’re so angry you can’t see straight. Which is where the whole Matt / Harriet thing comes into play.

If  you’ve ever sen Studio 60, you will know that there are two primary relationships. The on-again off-again Matt & Harriet and the “slow” burn Danny & Jordan. While Danny and Jordan have a turbulent love story of their own, I will always strive for the Matt/Harriet relationship. They, like literary idols Elizabeth and Darcy, are epic. Their relationship spanned millennia (technically)! I guess this will require a little bit of an explanation.

Studio 60 is one of my favorite shows of all time (haters to the left). It was one of those things that really brought Amanda and I together as friends, but once again we found ourselves divided when it came down to the relationships. There are two couples to follow throughout the course of the one-season series. On the one hand, you have Danny and Jordan who perfectly exemplify the relationship of Taylor Swift and the new boyfriend. Comfortable, reliable, endearingly sweet. And then there are Matt and Harriet who can’t get over each other. They’ve gotten together and broken up more than any of the other characters can count. They’re constantly fighting, but they also have unwavering support in the other. That is what I find enviable; they never lose faith in each other.

I’m fairly certain that Jane Austen would have known exactly what I’m talking about. She, too, understood that the best relationships are not the simple ones, but the ones filled with conflict, strife, and challenges. Deeply passionate love makes you examine every fiber of your being. There’s a reason that Elizabeth and Darcy are the heroes of Pride and Prejudice and not Jane and Bingley. It’s the same reason that Emma and Mr. Knightley are the couple of interest and not Harriet Smith and that poor farm boy. (Consequently, it’s why Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite Austen book, though I know it cover to cover.)

I constantly struggle with this little theory of mine. Because, although my heart wants epic, my mind tells me I want comfortable – that I will eventually just settle down with a best-friend type.

Now obviously the relationships we choose to idealize and covet in fiction are not always well-suited for reality. How many of the epic bonds and love stories from the page and screen are contingent on war or crazy murderers or whatever? In reality, Logan Echolls would probably not make a great boyfriend. Very few of my fictional boyfriends would probably make good real world boyfriends (here’s to you, Seth Cohen and Stiles Stilinski!). But these ‘bad boy’ characters, I like them (and the shows, to an extent) because they are escapist, they let me live vicariously through the characters.

I think it’s important to realize that there is some overlap. I’m interested in the fictional relationships that I am because I find at least some part of them interesting and appealing. The heroes, protagonists, and antagonists that I fall for, again and again, might not be great people. But they’re great characters. And I guess, as long as you or I understand the distinction, everything is copacetic. This Relationship Theory is obviously an extreme reaction to tropes and archetypes perpetuated by fiction, but there’s some truth to it. Rory chose Jess over Dean, she chose Logan over Marty, she chose action and adventure and passion over comfort and familiarity and movie nights with Lorelai. She used those relationships to help her figure out who she was and what she wanted out of life. And maybe that’s their most important function, after all.

Fantasy Christmas List

It’s mid-December and I still don’t have a real Christmas list cobbled together, so I thought I’d give you a peek into my fantasy wish list. All of them would be pretty much guaranteed to improve my quality of life, albeit to varying degrees. I’m going to start from the most realistically do-able and move to the more farfetched and fantastical.

  1. The ability to save gifs as phone/computer backgrounds. It is 2013. This seems like the most reasonable request I could make. Soundhound/Grooveshark can exist but this can’t? I think not. I would really like to be able to have a folder of gifs consisting entirely of foxes and Dylan O’Brien that would constantly rotate. This would improve my mood by at least 66% every day, I’m sure. How could I not smile like a loon every time I checked my phone? It would be impossible.
  2. Implantable microchip medical records (e.g. allergies, pre-existing conditions, medications, etc.) Update via wifi or bluetooth or something. I’m sure science could make it happen. Doctors could just scan and go. This would be so overwhelmingly convenient and would save so many lives. It’s ridiculous. Getting hold of medical records in emergency situations can be entirely too difficult between incapacitated patients and frantic EMTs. Realistically, this would probably be mostly used in first world countries, but the global impact is too great to ignore.
  3. Closets like Cher Horowitz’s in Clueless. Seriously, I don’t have time to mix and match the perfect every day for work. It’d be pretty great if I could get a computer to do that for me. It’d be even better if the closet came pre-loaded with clothes I would be guaranteed to like that were also flattering, but that might be a bit of a stretch.
  4. Videoscreen showers. Not, like, a TV in your shower as I’m pretty sure those already exist. Even I think that’s excessive. More like tiles that display images/video. How cool would it be to be in your shower but be in a forest? Or a beach? I don’t know, whatever you find tranquil.
  5. Enchanted windows a la the Ministry of Magic. Imagine being able to set the weather to your mood. My office workspace is in a walled-in area with no natural light. It makes me kind of crazy. And there’s nothing I love more than watching rain/snow, so this should just be a thing already.
  6. Moving tattoos. Listen. I want a tattoo, but what I really want is a moving tattoo. I read an article about a guy with a gif tattoo, which sounds cool, in theory, but then you have to watch it on your phone and I think that kind of defeats the purpose, you know? I don’t want to have to use a phone to see my tattoo. I want it there, on my person. Moving. Preferably to my moods. Like, if I’m restless and I had a fox tattoo it would pace or stamp its foot. Or if I were sleepy it would curl up and take a nap. I just think this would be adorable and awesome.

Basically I just want magic to be real.

On Visiting Home

A few weeks ago I went home for the first time as an adult – you know, a real person who has graduated from college, signed a lease on an apartment, and holds down a full-time job to which one must commute.  It was the first time I traveled back to the Cleveland area that wasn’t just a school break or for a short visit while I spent the summer in DC. It was the first time I took an honest to God vacation from a job. And it was different. Here’s how:

When your dad pulls into the driveway of the house that you’ve spent the last 12 years of your life calling home – the house you went through puberty in, the house in which you introduced your parents to your first boyfriend, the bedroom that, for the first time, you got to decorate as completely your own, with your closet full of Beanie Babies and Molly, your American Girl Doll, and your high school cap and gown – you realize that you don’t necessarily think of it that way anymore, as home. The people you love, your family, still reside there, but somehow it’s not quite the same.

The inside is different, too. Everything feels like it’s been moved three inches to the left. You know that episode of Full House where DJ and Stephanie accidentally put a hole in the wall of Danny’s room and they move the furniture to cover it? I feel like Danny when he gets home and tries to toss his coat on the chair but it falls on the floor instead. That niggling feeling that something’s just not quite right. It’s the handles of the shower and how they turn in the opposite direction of the ones in your new apartment. It’s that all the doorknobs feel smaller; the toilet feels a little lower. The painting you did in 4th grade art that used to hang in the downstairs bathroom has been replaced by a concert poster from a show your dad and brother went to when you were away at school. It’s the free food and the well-stocked fridge with the balanced meals that you’re actually happy are balanced.

It’s the struggle between being so overwhelmingly happy to see your parents again, to know that they’re alive and there – ready to hug you at any time – to needing your space. You suddenly seem to realize – even though, let’s be honest, you’ve seen it coming for years – that your parents’ ideologies aren’t the exact same as yours; you hear comments you don’t remember your parents making before. You grew up thinking your parents were so liberal and super progressive and you’re starting to realize that they aren’t, necessarily. It’s not as though they’re suddenly ultra-conservative, it’s just that the hyper-liberal college you went to has maybe shaped your ideology more than your parents have. There’s the moment in the middle of the golf course where your brother almost makes you cry out of frustration because he doesn’t understand that rape culture is a thing you actually think and care about so he makes dumb comments and insulting jokes and says it’s okay because it’s ‘art’ and ‘comedy’. Slowly but surely, you start to recognize the excuses you’ve been making for him all these years, and somehow you still don’t abruptly stop. You do stop talking about politics with him.

And outside of your house you realize that you don’t really belong to these people anymore. At least, not in the way you used to. Your life isn’t ruled by the 6×1 mile patch of ground that make up your hometown. You’ve grown. You’ve lived in a big city, you’ve spent a few months abroad, your experiences and perspective aren’t nearly as limited as they were when you lived here full-time.

There aren’t really any contacts in your phone from your hometown that you feel comfortable calling up to hang out. (Because for some reason being back in your hometown makes you act like you’re in high school all over again, when you would call all of your friends to plan to see each other.) Or, if there are one or two you wouldn’t mind seeing again – they’re no longer spending time in your town. You try to process the crippling feeling that the next time you see them might be their wedding or your high school reunion. So instead of calling or texting everyone you used to be friends with, a long time ago (and not wanting to deal with the boy you used to be friends with and had a crush on but know will ignore you), you agree to hang out with your older brother and his friends. You let him goad you into it even though you could be staying home, watching Silver Linings Playbook with your parents. So you get in the car. You climb the stairs to the apartment complex you didn’t know existed until last summer, and play with the friendly dog, and beat your brother’s friend at Injustice and wonder where his wife is while you’re sipping on Diet Pepsi, getting contact high from the bowl they’re passing back and forth, and wondering, ‘when did this become my life?’. And when you’re brother wants to leave and says, ‘come to this party, my friends want to see you’ you shrug and say okay, because you kind of want to see them, too. But when you finally get there it’s nothing like you imagined – it’s not like the parties you’re used to. There’s a girl stumbling drunk between the six other people present. A guy you vaguely know industriously made a bong out of an apple. You abjectly realize you’re not having fun. You take the keys and go home alone, fervently hoping you remember which streets to take because you never did know this are quite as well as you could have.

By the time your dad has finished packing up the car to drive you the seven hours down to the place you’ve started to call home – the place where you surround yourself with friends that you think one day, maybe, you might consider family, to your own space that exists hundreds of miles away from your parent’s house – you realize you didn’t even accomplish anything on your ‘vacation’. A few days of shopping without having to pay for anything; a carload of furniture your parents weren’t using; some home-cooked meals; a lot of hugs and ‘I love you’s said between yourself and your parents. But does it really mean anything? In the four days you were home you never once went somewhere new, aside from that hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. You didn’t do anything special for your mom’s birthday or belated for Father’s Day. In the end, it was a chance to hug your parents, to answer the question of what your brother and his friends do when they hang out, but not much more than not having to get up early and go into the office for a few days.

As the car pulls away from the house, you realize you don’t miss it as much as you thought you might. The talk of turning your bedroom into a guest room stings a little, but you know you’ll always have somewhere to sleep; a place to return to. You feel bad for the clutter you left strewn over your bedroom floor even though you’ve done so nearly every time you’ve visited home. You feel a little worse than usual, though, because you don’t know when the next time you’ll return to might be.

When you arrive at your apartment, everything you felt at home is still there, flopping around inside you. But it’s fuzzier, more distant. You still miss your family, the house, the friends you left behind and grew apart from. Every once in a while you’ll idly think about what you could have done differently when you were growing up in that perfectly suburban town and decide it’s really not worth the energy, because you like where you are now. You’re trying to learn  to like who you are and find comfort in friends more often than you turn to your family. It’s a process. It’s strange and sometimes unsettling but at the end of the day when you’re tired and trying not to think anymore, the thought creeps in that maybe the feeling you can’t always identify is pride – you’re proud of yourself for doing what you always swore you’d do: you left. You’re not ‘stuck’, anyway. You have options. Maybe just remind yourself to take a breath and try to remember that every once in a while. You’ll appreciate it.