Open Casket

I’ve been struggling to write something about my grandfather’s death for the past two weeks, because I know something has got to come out. And it’s probably got to come out before I’ll be able to do anything else. Like, you know, look for a job. Buy a suit. Clean my fridge. All the things a law student should be doing during her winter break. So here goes. I’m going to stop nitpicking, stop erasing, and make a freaking post, even if I hate it.

Here is what I know: I don’t know how to write about this. This. Death. Grief. Grief. I’m angry at it, even, angry at the word and the tag. I have a list of grievances (hah) to sling at grief.

  1. I am twenty-seven. I am the age of every heroine in every romantic comedy. Ergo (by my five-year-old logic, which is totally deserving of a public audience…good Lord, have I no shame?), things should be going right for me. I should be slightly frustrated (but not too) with my affable parents, in the beginning send-off of a lovely career, and right around now is when Mr. Right turns up (magically!) and shows me what love is really about (because, obvi, I ain’t seen nothin’ yet). Negotiating a loved one’s death – alone (oh, how I have learned to hate the word) – in the middle of all these should-be’s is really not flying with The Plan. Clearly we are in a Nick Hornby novel, and not a Nora Ephron film. Not exactly the sugar-coated year I was hoping for.
  2. I am a first-year law student. At a really tough school (I know, I know, which one isn’t). That is more than enough to negotiate. Life is supposed to go right, because it’s 1L, everything about 1L is all wrong, and during 1L, 1L governs 97% of your life. The other 3% you’re supposed to spend accidentally napping.
  3. My cat died two posts ago (okay, partially my fault for not posting enough this semester).
  4. Basically, THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. Not now. Not right now. Some other time, maybe, when life is less crazy, when I eat proper meals, when there is someone sleeping next to me in the bed, when, I don’t know, something has given in. Not now. Now is supposed to be A Fun Year. It’s supposed to be oh twenty-seven was a great year, or twenty-seven was good to me. Twenty-seven was not supposed to be my hell. But I’ll tell you, folks, it ain’t lookin’ good for twenty-seven. Twenty-six is winning by a long shot, negative two deaths and two falling-in-loves ahead of twenty-seven. Twenty-seven boasts 1L and Living Alone for the First Time. Oh, and I almost forgot, Finding A Mouse in My Bathtub, Who Proceeded to Eat My Food (Noisily) in the Night. Whooooooohoooooooo, right? So great.

One more thing, and I will cease to be bitterly narcissistic and move on to what is unarguably far more important, poignant, proper, and slightly less petulant. I want to declare, and am about to declare, to all the internets, that I DO NOT WANT TO BE THIS GIRL. It’s not a freaking tragedy! My life is not awful. It. Is. Not. Awful. I am not some sad girl who writes some drippingly sad blog about her sad, vacant, heartachey law school life. That is not the story of this blog. It’s not. I won’t let it be. I REFUSE. I have not given up, okay? Got it? This is a blip. I just missed that contract that they passed out right before orientation labeled EMOTIONAL INSURANCE AGAINST PERSONAL TRAGEDY DURING TIMES OF MASSIVE STRESS. I’m sure it was there. I am one signature short of a perfect law school existence. But I’m not going to miss it again, baby. This semester is going to be MONEY. (Not literally, of course. Literally, it will be negative money.) Plus, I mean, by the end of it, I’ll be twenty-eight, so if the problem is an accursed twenty-seven, well, twenty-seven, your days are numbered. I mean, not that I’m daring you to have at me or anything. Please, twenty-seven, be a dear and make something go right before you disappear. One thing. Redeem yourself. Please. I triple-dog dare you.

I’m done with my tantrum now. And what I meant to say was this:

It was awful. There is nothing that I can tell you that was not awful about it. Everything was life on ice. Between my phone ringing too early in the morning and the last moments of the luncheon after the funeral, and God, some time after that – sometimes still – it was life from the bottom of a well. And that is the ugly truth. There is nothing perky or happy to say.

It was not a tragedy. I am one of those extra super fortunate people who still have living grandparents in their late twenties. I am a fairytale. I knew my grandfather before he was sick; better still, I remember him before he got sick. I remember him when he was portly and talked about my grandmother having all the right curves in all the right places (at the time, gross; now, pretty sweet). I remember him yelling at me that Ken Starr was a liar tryin’ to get a good man down during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky episode of the Clinton era. I remember him holding my hand walking down the street. I remember the smell of his sweaters. I remember my terror when he had open-heart surgery. I remember the gauze taped over his chest. I remember his inexplicable affection for my grandmother’s cooking. I remember those ten years when he was drinking too much, and the past five, when he was smoking too much. I remember begging him to tell me his stories. I remember him making me feel safer than a fortress built around me. I remember all the bad things about him and all the good things about him. He was a lovable, deeply flawed hero. He was my hero, he was a hero for all of us, and he died in his sleep two weeks ago, losing his long, epic battle with his own reluctant lungs. It was not a tragedy.

I could tell you who my grandfather was, but know that I can never do him justice. They called him Brownie. Everyone. Even his three sons (but not, for a mysterious reason, his only daughter, my mother). He never finished the seventh grade, because his own father passed away, and he had four siblings to take care of. He lied about his age to get into the navy during WWII, and was the handsomest mate on his ship. (I know this. He has a picture of the whole crew, displayed to me on a recent visit. “Which one are you?” I asked him. “I’m the best lookin’ guy in that picture,” he said. So I looked at every man standing on that minesweeper, and pointed to the one I had decided was the best-looking. “That’s me,” he said, and sipped his ginger ale.) He knew about romance: he took a month of leave after the war, intending to make a career out of the navy, and never went back because he met my grandmother. He used to miss the last bus home every night to kiss her goodnight one more time. He was a man who, with his own two hands, built his family’s home.  He sent all four of his children to college on a fireman’s salary, and none of them graduated with debt. He was the best storyteller I’ve ever met, and the strong man in my life. (When my father announced an intention to move in with my mother before marrying her, Brownie leaned over the coffee table and told him, “I would kill for my daughter, Bob.” By the time I arrived on the scene, they had made friends.) He built a dollhouse for my sister. Then it was mine. Now it is her daughter’s, and it is missing nary a shingle. He had 9.5 fingers. He survived a bullet in the neck during WWII, thirty years as a firefighter, triple-bypass surgery, stomach cancer, and an aortic aneurysm. He was extremely humble about his own life, and sometimes haughty about The Way Things Should Be. He said a beautiful, heartfelt grace. He called me Genius One when I was little (my brother was, inevitably, Genius Two). He took me to the museum and listened while I named all the dinosaurs. When I converted to Islam and started covering my hair, he would say that Muslim girls were the prettiest girls in the world. Every single time I walked into his house. He always told me to take care of myself, that he was proud of me, and how much he, a working-class Catholic with a seventh-grade education, enjoyed reading his translation of the Qur’an. They don’t make people like my grandfather anymore. And now, well, now this man, who always seemed invincible, who was fierce, and soft, who will be the family legend for a long time, now he is no longer. Except he’s laying in a casket there, and somebody put makeup on him.

And I’m standing there, and I think, in the middle of it, in the midst of so many sober, appropriate thoughts: He would have punched the [use your imagination] who tried to put foundation on his face. But death has a way of catering to the needs of the living. There is some discussion of that’s not how he wore his hair ever and he looks good and even some I don’t think he looks like himself from my younger cousins. But he does. It just looks like him from ten years ago. But they don’t remember, of course. To them, he was just the sick guy on the couch. They have no idea. I cry for that, too. For being immeasurably more fortunate than all of them.

Don’t worry. I said my goodbye. We all did. There was some confusion, a week after Thanksgiving, about whether or not he wanted to be resuscitated if he stopped breathing. He did, one night – stop – and he was resuscitated; later that day it was discovered to be a misunderstanding. But the phone calls were made, the he might not make it through today calls, and so we all came to be with him. I sat by his bedside. I held his hand for the longest amount of time I have since before I was in kindergarten. He struggled to breathe. He watched me cry, and told me not to be sad, not to feel bad – gulping for small breaths, his pulse thundering in his loose neck (I told you he was a hero). And then (miraculously, like everything else about him) he improved, so we went back to whatever we were doing before, and hoped to get in one more hug at Christmas. We knew Christmas might not come for him, and so did he. And it didn’t. He was 85. It was not a shock. Not a surprise. Not a tragedy.

But these not-tragedies are still awful and grief-filled. I still miss him. I do, I knew I would, and I probably always will. It doesn’t go away, really, ever. I don’t know that we ever get to be exactly the same again. I don’t mean that I will walk with an emotional limp, or that I won’t be able to love again, or anything. But that life – it turns out that missing is part of life.  You never decide, “Oh no, that’s great, I mean, I’m happy that life turned out this way. It’d be awful if [insert loved one] was still alive. Total disaster.” It doesn’t happen like that. You stop crying, sure – at least mostly. You are able, after some time, to even talk about it without crying. And eventually, you almost never cry about it. But your heart grows a shelf: a shelf of beloveds. On it sit the memories you have about all the loved ones who have left – not by choice, and not because you left, but because they died. As we all will. And I don’t mean to be morbid by pointing this out – what I mean is that it’s natural, and poetic, and even heroic. Some of these people, these people here on earth (just think!) we’ll love so much that we’ll never leave. Someone will have to take us from them. Only that will keep us from their table at Thanksgiving.

So on my shelf, I have my grandfather, my cat, and my childhood dog (he was the best dog in the world; Marley is a poser). I know. Pretty great for a twenty-seven-year old, right? Short little shelf of missing. I know. Like I said, in this way at least, I’m a mythical creature. The stuff of dreams, that. I am The Spared. This blessing is not lost on me.

Nor is it lost on me that I have no regrets. I got to say a miraculous goodbye, a stolen-from-the-clutches-of-death goodbye, a tearful, heartfelt, loving, last goodbye. He knew it and I knew it. And I think we did okay with it. I’m glad I cried, I’m glad he saw me cry, and I’m glad I held his fragile hand. We said many Iloveyou‘s. I am lucky, too, in that I never doubted that he loved me for one second, not one. I am pickier about boys because he was so snobbish about me (ah yes, the what would Grandpa think sword has dealt the fatal blow to more than one relationship). I loved my grandfather. I admired him and enjoyed his company, even when he was deaf and sick and couldn’t talk much, even when he repeated his stories. He taught me about stories, and now I write them all the time.  I don’t know if he knows all of this. But if I ever become anything – a lawyer, an author, a wife, a mother, something I have yet to set my sights on – he will have contributed to it. And I will miss him when I get there. Oh, how I will miss him. And that’s just as it should be.

Yes, I Did Go.

Law school. I went. I’m here. I’m here right now, in fact, and I just made myself cry in the middle of the student center reading my last post. Something needs to be done, and since I don’t quite want to obliterate this blog (yet?), it’s going to be a new post.

I do this. I visit occasionally, look at things I used to think and read, and I say to myself, I am a whole person. And what I mean by that is: there is a person outside the covers of this Torts book. It may not be obvious to me at the moment, or to my Torts book, or to anyone for that matter. But it doesn’t change the fact that I existed before law school, I will exist after law school, and my personhood is not bound by whether or not my Civil Procedure outline is done. (And thank God for small mercies.)

This all probably seems extremely hyperbolic to you non-lawyers. And to you, I say two things:

1. Count yourself lucky.

2. Everything they say about law school is true.

Oh, I forgot he wasn't talking about 1L.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m a whole person. And I’m kind of joking about the whole Stephen King metaphor.  Nobody has tried to break my legs. Only my back is in jeopardy. And that’s partly my fault, because I won’t buy one of those rolling backpacks. They make me sad. Sadder than a back stiff from carrying Torts books et al.

Two things have happened recently that are inspiring current action. One, I just cried, in public, over my own blog. (Embarrassment is so motivating.) Two, more than one law school peer has mentioned to me that she has found my blog (I mean, I left it there, right on my facebook, so obviously they’d find it with mild stalking), and kind of liked it. Which makes me feel like a whole person! A writer! Something other than a law student! And this feeling is good. I like it. I want more.

BUT. But, I hate that I make myself cry. Of course, writing about Nutmeg is very real. She was real, my grief was real – it’s still very real, which is why I cry when I read my own description of her paws. So I hate that I can make myself cry, and I hate that it’s the first thing that happens when I revisit this blog. I also hate that new people are discovering this little interwebbed corner of my mind and finding it…sad. So this new new post about my new new 1L life is my cure. This is also, conveniently-incidentally, a great way to avoid outlining for another hour or so. And that is the best news I have had all day.

Here’s what 1L is like, for those of you who are not in school with me. (For those of you who are, and are facebook stalking me right now, I expect you to nod your heads sagely. Or correct me in Torts tomorrow.) Law school is like mental boot camp, plus hazing for a frat (I imagine), plus general insane busy-ness plus…plus…oh God, am I at a loss for words? It’s a teeny little world, from which there are few escapes. And these escapes narrow as 1L progresses. It’s not an all-bad world. There are moments when, and I won’t name any names, maybe your Torts professor tells you that you got something exactly right, and maybe you feel like you are The Queen of Everything. Then there are those moments when you think you will die cackling, because someone who you spend roughly 23 hours a day with and knows your deepest, darkest secrets (or at least your most effective procrastination habits) has just said something that, while you will not be able to remember it while you are blogging later, makes you want to pee your pants. You invent one thousand acronyms, construct one hundred ongoing inside jokes, and know each other inside-out pretty freakishly quick. But this, too, has its odd comfort. For your 1L friends, you develop the kind of fondness you have for that pair of pajamas that you wore during that hospital stay when you had surgery, or the stuffed animal that your parents bought you when you broke your leg. They are The Things That Got You Through. It’s a rough-and-tumble love, that. Sticks.

If you will be my lovemonkey, I will totes be yours. Until 2L.

This stuck, insane monkeylove is actually pretty magical. In fact, apart from that one time in Torts that may or may not have really happened, it’s the best part of law school. As much as I hate that I never, ever feel done with work, that I make my butt numb sitting too long on the chairs in the student center, and drive myself insane wondering what on earth my outline is supposed to be like, I heart heart heart that there is always someone who knows. Exactly. How. That. Feels. And will probably give me a big ol’ hug to crush the crazies right out of me, because that someone needs that same exact hug. That’s purdy magical, I don’t care what Kathy Bates throws at me. Or my Government Processes professor. Or whoever. I’m just saying. It’s…kind of…nice.

So sick, so true.

Goodnight My Heart, Goodbye

My mother was visiting this weekend, and when she read one of my posts, she asked, “What is the difference between blogging and journaling?”

(I do both.)

Temporarily at a loss for words, I said, “Blogging is public.” This being the most general distinction I could think of.

Incidentally, I also saw Julie & Julia this weekend, a movie about another blogger who also went to Amherst College (who got a book deal from her blog at the tender age of 30. Take that, ego!). This particular blogger, Julie, has a conversation partway through her blogging project with her husband in which he accuses her of acting narcissistic. “What is blogging,” she answers, “But me, me, me?”

I’m not sure if that was my intention, writing this, writing here. Maybe this is just a soapbox I couldn’t give myself any other way. I believe that when I set out I had something to say; I also believe that I wasn’t quite sure what that was. And sure – I’ve found myself in these posts. It may be that was the only point. I do hope, however, that it was interesting, or reassuring, or entertaining, to someone, somewhere. And not just because I was in your life to begin with. But that’s my fantasy – it doesn’t have to come true.

And now we confront the matter at hand. I’m not very good with goodbyes. I often wonder at this – why I don’t let people and things float in and out of my like so many dandelion seeds on a warm breeze. I hate it; it feels tragic, sad. And there are all different kinds of goodbyes. Temporary, permanent, cordial, warm, loving, icy. And – there is death. And this one – this one I am not used to.

I have – I had – a cat. Short sentence, right? It’s not a big word, like “daughter,” or “brother.” Just a small word. Cat. She died exactly one week ago – just this time of night, actually. It was a bizarre, fast accident. I took her to a friend’s apartment; the newness of it scared her; she became so frightened that her heart stopped beating. And like that, laying on one of my towels, with both of my hands in her fur, with my voice in her ear, she died. I had no idea that such a thing was possible until it had already happened and I was listening to my syncopated sobs in the car as we rushed to the vet. She was four, her name was Nutmeg, and she picked me – not the other way around.

She was black, striped with brown, and smaller than a can of soup when we met. She looked up at me, bit the end of my finger in what felt like a kiss, and we’ve been together ever since. Except now, of course.

Someone told me recently that love is letting someone take care of you. I didn’t think about it much at the time. But in the days after her death, I looked at all her things – her bed (which she loved, even though she had long outgrown it), her brush, her food, her bowls, her collar, her toys, everything – piled forlornly there. These were all things I bought for her out of the little money I had – with which I thought I was taking care of her. Sometimes, in this 95 degree weather, I thought love could be measured by four-pound bags of cat food and ten-pound bags of litter carried home. And Nutmeg never carried my food home. She never cooked me breakfast, fed me at three in the morning, brushed my hair, or cleaned up after my mess, all of which I frequently did for her. I thought I was the caretaker – but watching myself this past week, I’m not so sure.

Because this is me without her: I can’t walk into my apartment without bursting into tears. When I hear a sound, I turn around and expect to see her there. When she isn’t, I weep. I hate the quiet. I hate that I can write this post without having to look over a tail that is trying to get my attention.

I live alone. Alone alone, Jerry Maguire alone – but I didn’t feel like that until today. I never planned to live alone alone, and I don’t want to – yet here I am, in the quiet. It turns out that there is a huge difference between living alone with a cat and living alone with plants. Then again, it could be just me. If you’ve been reading, you’ve probably realized that there is almost nothing – nothing – that has not changed about my life in the past four years. There was only one constant: Nutmeg. I took her home from the pound about a month after graduating from college. We drove across the country together. We have lived together all the time that I have not been abroad. I do not live with a sibling or a parent or a husband or a child. My roommates have changed. My city has changed. My profession has changed. My religion has changed. And through all of that, she was the one line I could draw without picking up my pen. She, well, stuck by me. Nutmeg was my person. She was my someone. My life changed, but our relationship never did. She missed me when I wasn’t home, and every time my key went in the door she ran to me, mewling like I’d left her for a hundred years. Then she would trot back into the apartment and collapse dramatically on her favorite spot on the rug, and yowl until I dropped everything in my hands, knelt down, and hugged and kissed her.

There is something meaningful about a life witnessed and cared about. Something sweet, something mundanely astonishing. And pets do this. They make us feel like it matters whether or not we come home at night. They make us feel loved unconditionally. They make us feel that there is nothing we could do to make them stop loving us so desperately. (Not that we would. Just look at them.) They make us feel special and irreplaceable – our taste, our smell, is the wind in their sails – and it never gets old. They make us feel as though we complete a world – as though without us, the magic would drain out of  their lives. And for this, they receive our unbreakable love – a thing we bestow cautiously. They are, in a word, family. The best kind: loyal, cherished. They are not human, no – but to a person who truly loves her pet, this does not diminish the relationship at all.

So what does a poor human do when she is left by such a companion – not by choice, but by fate? As far as I can tell, there isn’t much of a salve for this sort of wound. It heals, eventually – sort of. It’s not like life is better this way, ever – just that the missing part starts to feel normal. And in the meantime, I guess, you walk a fine line. Yes, it hurts – it kills – to look up from your keyboard and see the lint roller covered in her hair, and to know that one of these days, you’re going to have to use it, and then you’ll never see the lint roller covered in black hair again.. Or to look at your rug and think this needs to be vacuumed, but then decide to put it off for another day, because once you vacuum it, the spot where she used to lie will be clean forever, and she will be that much more gone from your life. Or to find her toy that she chased into the corner by the laundry, pick it up, stare at it, and stuff it deep in the pile because you can neither look at it, nor throw it away. Or to think of how it felt when she rubbed her cheek on your cheek, and to know that the specificity of that memory, like the shape of her face and the silky rubber texture of her paws, will fade, and in time she will be more of a feeling than a set of particular images or sounds. But you think of these things, even though they hurt – because you have them. You still have them. And for the moment, having them, so vividly, so clearly, and so painfully that you know your life has had some little magic in it, is more important than being able to finish the dishes without crying.

Habiba.

Habiba.

New girl

So I haven’t really been writing. I know. There are reasons. Maybe good, maybe nonexistent. Please see post below.

There is much self-censoring that goes into being the new girl, if you are (charmingly?) neurotic like me. You’re in a new city doing new things and having new experiences with new people, so yeah – there’s a lot to say. But it’s not that simple. Maybe I’ll say the wrong thing about a new place. Maybe my gripes are petty. Maybe my observations are baseless. And so on. I have a whole mental file cabinet overflowing with reasons to not say whatever it was that seemed important until I sat down to write. So I have waited, and waited, and waited for something both interesting and wildly general to post. There is no such statement.

It occurred to me while riding the subway home this evening that, after a fashion, I write best, and most, about loneliness. I suppose that this comes as no surprise. A girl who grows up with three siblings and a gaggle of parent/grandparent-type figures isn’t built for single life, convert life, twentysomething life, life in a new city, or any combination of the aforementioned afflictions.

So yes, I admit it: life is somewhat lonely here. I feel oddly guilty about not having greater, or more, adventures on my own (and furthermore, admitting as much to you, whoever you are), but that was never really my style. I’m a friend person. My best adventures are had with my near and dear. On my own, I mostly read and write. This keeps me perfectly happy, but it’s not very tempting fodder for my facebook friends.

And I guess this is what gets me about my newness. It’s not that there’s nothing happening; there is. There is lots happening. But it’s not very exciting, most of the time. I’m not romping around the most exquisite scenery having my mind blown by every single new acquaintance I have. Mostly, I slink into the backdrop of scene-y sheesha joints while other people tell each other fantastic stories, discuss common friends, or talk about business. Not having ever worked for a for-profit company, not knowing the right people, and not having adventured lately in South America or the subcontinent, I’m conversationally impaired.

My square-peg-round-hole problem isn’t unfamiliar. It’s the lot of the new girl, unless she is one of those rarely gifted people who makes friends out of anyone and everyone in five minutes. I am not this girl. I am the girl who hogs the sheesha even while she hates herself, because while she is smoking, there is no obligation to make conversation with her neighbors. To my chargin, I am the girl who pays so much attention to her own misfittedness that she doesn’t pay a writer’s attention to the scene around her (that would require looking up, you understand). I am the girl who waits to be spoken to, waits to make friends, waits for school to start. Surely, this will solve all of my problems – because being (probably) the only hijabi (and almost certainly the only white one) in a class of 750 will make me feel right at home. No. Sweat.

Now I feel all kinds of better.

Still, as much as it is true that I am often the only white Muslim in a group, or the only Muslim in a group, it is not the sum of my demographics alone that makes me, well, different. There are other white Muslims (I’m related to one of them). And there are other hijabis and other law students and other everythings. I can’t just be stuck in a room with another convert and become besties with that person in an afternoon. It’s not that simple – thank God. There is a personal chemistry that makes relationships special and unique – and often renders whatever it was that made us feel out of place a moment ago irrelevant. Of course, the more worlds you place between two people, the harder it is to spin solace in the space between them. But it’s possible to grow up in the same house as someone and end up as strangers – common background doesn’t always translate to common ground.

Maybe that’s the confusing part. There isn’t exactly a predictive pattern to this. What has bonded me to those I have loved best is some constellation of shared ideas, shared experiences, care, respect, compassion, and admiration. Sometimes it is almost all shared ideas and almost no compassion. Sometimes it is lots of respect and no shared experience. But whatever the case is, it’s not something that any one outward thing predicts. Yes, I occasionally feel out of place when I notice that I’m the only white person in sight – but only if I’m not with friends. More often, I feel sore-thumbish in a throng of white people.

I have a love-hate relationship with the mystery of bonding, to tell you the truth. On the one hand, it makes my world a far more beautiful and varied place; I may love someone dearly, fiercely, and yet still be surprised by his/her differentness after five or more years. The inability to discover everything about my friends who have been raised in different countries, or in vastly different cultures than my own, is sweet – not bitter. But it does make finding these people difficult. How am I to know what to look for? I’m not even sure I know precisely what it was that made me me. Does every experience contribute equally? Does my year in Egypt weigh more or less than other years? And what about being a convert? Does the significance of this fade with time, or is it a constant – some part of my identity that is immutably important? I haven’t picked myself apart enough to know.

This time around I find myself lacking in pearls of wisdom. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m not particularly adept at being new – if there is such a skill. I tell myself that the trick is not to lose faith in the face of difficulty. Part of preciousness is rarity. Just because every place and person isn’t as magical as the last, doesn’t mean that I’m a social leper or anything. No one fits the same everywhere. And it is often what is difficult that shapes us into something we weren’t sure we could become.

‘Tween time

Tick. Tock.

Tick. Tock.

Readers, welcome to May. Erm, almost-May. Almost-finals, almost-graduation, almost-summer. Almost life. Welcome to your almost-life, shining like a thousand diamonds just on the horizon. Trying to take your eyes away to tend to the task at hand? Good luck with that.

Here’s the issue with fantasies, plans, and the future: they loom there, teasing you, like a finger in your ear while you’re trying to sleep. It’s impossible. While the time ticks and ticks and ticks away, and whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing, or were supposed to finish by last Tuesday, is sitting there gathering dust on your desktop, you are gazing off into the distance like a second-semester senior in American History. It’s bad. Life is happening without you.

Here’s the academic term: termination. Other names include senior slack, senioritis, slacking, lackadaisical sitting, time suckage, apathy.

Here’s what’s really happening: as a part of grieving, or processing the end (at least, perhaps we don’t really grieve things like the end of high school or leaving a job we hate…) of your current situation, you are carrying out iterations of The End in your head. This usually coincides with The Beginning of something else – possibly something more interesting, more exciting, more pleasing, or hopefully all three. So instead of thinking about all the things you might miss, you’re constructing, or dwelling on, things to look forward to.

We’ll take me for the moment. I could sit here, during my last 10.2 days of work, thinking about how much I’m going to miss my “Converts Rock” sign that hangs above my desk, or weeping over the pictures that the little girls at the mosque have drawn for me, or waving wistfully to Mr Bojangles (the mouse, shhhhh don’t tell the locals) every time he skitters by hoping to snatch a bit of my food. I could come teary-eyed to staff meetings and shed a single tear at every one of my remaining meetings and speaking engagements. I could bake for everyone. I could stay late soaking in the books at my desk. I mean, I could. In theory.

Here’s what I do instead: I Craigslist apartments in Washington, DC, and spend more time on gchat than any sane human should under normal circumstances. I drink too much coffee and probably don’t eat enough – or at least eat all of the wrong things. I don’t cook. I clean – perhaps out of a desire to have a somewhat ordered life to pack up – I let myself come into work at 11:30 and leave at 3. I daydream about tulips in DC, about the green, green summer, about having all the free time in the world, about all of the things that I want to do and have never done. I mentally catalog the people I want to spend my summer with and how I can make that happen, and the mellowest way of living at home at 27 and driving neither my parents nor myself insane. I try to calculate how many new shelves I will have to purchase in order to negotiate law school materials, and I wonder what proportion of my wardrobe can be carried over into the law classroom, the office, the court. I wonder about whether to keep my tiny, creaky bed or buy a newer, softer, bigger one. I try to put the novels I plan on reading this summer into some sort of order. I’m making a list of cities to visit, shows to see. I think of everything I could ever want a new city and a new life to provide; all the things I plan on leaving looooooooong behind in Boston; every work situation I will hope to avoid after leaving this desk. There is no end to these dreams. I dream them at work, in the car, walking, at night. Fantasy is creeping up on my reality, and slowly but surely, it is taking over.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like right now. I know, I wish I lived here too.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like right now. I know, I wish I lived here too.

There are upsides. A lot of upsides. The chance to reinvent oneself – or at the very least, one’s life – doesn’t come every day. Life changes, these shifts – changes of job, location, a new school, a new path – these are precious things to be seized. How many people float through life never given a choice – never taking stock of what they have, and how it measures up against what they wanted, or what they want, what they dream about? There are a million chances to give up, to give in to stagnation, to let the tiny compromises of every single day eat up whatever it was we would have grabbed at instantly, at another time, another age, under slightly different circumstances.

Like, hmmm. Like what. Ok, like this shift that I’m negotiating for the next few months – that is, job-in-Boston-to-no-job-chilling-at-home-with-Mom&Dad-to-law-school-probably-but-not-definitely-in-DC. It’s all of a sudden real: I can cocoon myself in rural Massachusetts for the next few months and emerge the person I’ve wanted to be all along. Or I can squandor this time, oblivious to the future, throwing it to the wind, come what may. I can not think very hard about what I’m doing next and whether or not it will get me what I want in 5, 10, 15, 20 years – or I can remain very cognisant of the path ahead as I carve this smaller, more myopic one. I get to leave behind as much as I want – I get to completely reinvent myself, if I want to. It happens that I don’t want to. Not completely. But it’s nice to know that I could, and no one (well, maybe one person) in Washington would know that I haven’t been this way all along. I have what everyone in a mid-life crisis wants: Walk Away Insurance.

This is the most extreme, most expensive liability coverage one can purchase for a rental car. I have a lawyer-friend who made this up. It’s for extreme situations. Extreme needing-to-change-things situations. Basically you can leave the rental care behind you in an enormous ball of flames, walk away, and pay zero. You can walk away from everything and not look back. It’s cushy, that Walk Away Insurance. And I have it. And I’m trying to decide what to do with it.

Instead of working. Of course, it is 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, and it’s by far the most beautiful day of 2009 Boston has seen to date. So you know. Big thoughts. I can’t be confined to this office.

A good day to walk away.

A good day to walk away.

So here’s to new beginnings, peeps. They’re worth a good toast and a daydream besides.

RIP Kurt Cobain

Hmmm, this is interesting. I am now the same age that Kurt Cobain was when he died, meaning, to my seventh-grade self, that I am now A Grown Up. He was married and had a kid called Frances and a wildly successful band and a talent for grunge and hanging from chandeliers, so, you know, he was way ahead of me in a lot of ways. I remember thinking that he was young and charming in that depressive, angsty, poetical way (so I have a thing). But I also remember thinking that he had an adult life and an adult existence – however muddled by riches, fame, a rockstar lifestyle and an ample supply of intoxicants. Still.

I am also the same age that Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin were when they died. Janis had, like, a gravelly voice. A grown-up voice. A weathered voice. Again, I don’t think of either of them as old – these tragedies are particulary poignant because it seems that all of these people bid the world farewell at the height of their beauty, creativity, youth, and potential. But they were at the beginning of something, and that something was a proper adult life, a career, a long string of a story.

This is the beginning of my story: in our nation’s capital, the tulips and magnolias are blooming. I’m a few blocks from Capitol Hill, stealing Kevin’s seat next to Jane in Crim Law. I’m walking through a throng of Grateful Dead fans in Chinatown and watching my most favorite president drive by Jane’s apartment building with his entourage of guards. I’m drinking coffee in a cushy armchair at Tryst and learning where the good farmer’s markets are. I’m meeting Con Law professors who say things like, “You should come. We’ll, like, hang out and stuff.” I’m getting my drinks paid for and being stared at like a woman (instead of a zoo specimen). I’m being told that students interested in research and writing are sought after by their professors. And I can make it to Friday prayers at Capitol Hill.

But adults don’t make decisions based on stuff like that. They are rational. Whatever that means.

This is the first thing that happened: I walked into the building that houses the admissions office to go say hello and get the pitch (only fair to get all the pitches; a girl has to compare apples with apples). So I walk into the atrium and I’m looking for the elevator and my eyes happen – just happen – to fall upon a boy in skinny jeans, Chuck Taylors, and pretty magnificent chops. And all I think is: I belong here.

But that is not how adults make decisions.

So I go up to admissions and meet the director and blah blah she’s telling me about the curriculum. She has a surprisingly weak pitch for someone supposed to woo, but no matter. I have already been wooed by Biker Boy downstairs. I call Jane.

[Jane and I lived roughly five doors apart our freshman year of college. We came to DC together to protest Bush’s inauguration (last time I was here, actually…). We did a lot of theater together, and worked on building the college’s chapter of Students for Tibet. I drank my first mojito with Jane.]

She walks over to where I’m sitting. Her hair is slightly longer; there is a handful of grey strands I can spot when I hug her. She is thinner than she was freshman year (aren’t we all). She’s in a grey sweater dress, black stockings, and exactly the kind of slouchy black boots i like. A colorful scarf is wound around her neck. Other than the five grey hairs and her sveltitude, she looks exactly the same. I’m amazed. I can’t help but wonder: will my reaction be the same if I see her in another ten years?

She is warm, totally open, as though I’m not wearing a scarf over my hair. Or I was wearing one the last time she saw me, instead of short hair and two piercings on my face. Or like there’s no difference. It doesn’t really matter – in any case, it’s nice to meet an old friend who doesn’t look, just for a second, like I’ve caught Plague. Her friends are similarly unwary and unphased, at least apparently. I feel like I can breathe, like I am taken for granted – or it is taken for granted that I belong here just as much as everyone else. I don’t feel like I need to defend myself at all. I don’t feel prickly. People feed me candy and eat my cake without asking. It’s fantastic, like finding childhood friends you never knew you had.

In the midst of a Crim Law lecture I receive an email from my dream, my first choice, my long shot: denied. Ah well. It still hurts a little, of course, some register somewhere that I am not, after all, a person who commands the admissions process; I am a person at its mercy. It could mean that I’m not as together or as smart or as accomplished as I’d like or as other people are, or it could mean none of these things. It just sucks not to be wanted – even when I’m not wanting back.

But adults take this in stride. They take a deep breath and listen to the fallout of Miranda, because they are here to learn, not to nurse a bruised ego.

And like an adult, like the older student I will be, God willing, I venture out from campus and seek out the cooler places in the city. In one of these I meet a man one of my best friends once wanted to set me up with, only to realize that he would, in fact, be a total disaster. Not because he’s bad. Just because he’s an F-sharp to my G. We don’t sound good together, we’re awkward to touch at the same time, it’s just bad all over. This too rolls off my back like so many drops of water, which feels good; it’s not some reawakened-and-lost dream, it’s just guy #3,287,394 I’m not that into. Who could be a friend.

All in all, it feels like I’m stepping out of a cage I didn’t even know I was in. Thank God.

I get back on a plane to a life that barely still exists. Destiny awaits, taking hold of my heart, pointing it south. I want to ask Kurt if this is a legitimate way of choosing a life: observing my heart’s compass, and setting out.

Black swan

You know that you are a black swan and not an ugly duckling for a few reasons:

1. You’re older than most of the other ducklings, so it’s unlikely that your feathers are still downy.

2. You don’t look like anybody else.

3. You are looked at, but not necessarily with disdain. Interest, primarily.

4. Nobody talks to you.

The lovely, graceful, original misfit.

The lovely, graceful, original misfit.

It’s an old-new feeling. This is a new kind of minority, or you are experiencing your otherness to a greater degree. You are a minority with an explanation point. It’s not a bad thing, really. Just different.

Everyone else seems to have made friends with each other and made a final decision, but you are not so bold – or maybe you forgot to drink the kool-aid. Or maybe they didn’t give it to you because you are, after all, too ridiculously out of place. A sore thumb is only one of ten; you’re one of hundreds. Even the admissions office didn’t realize you were actually coming until you stood before them, in flesh and hijab, hoping for a t-shirt like the rest of the pre-Ls.

It’s not so bad. More than ever, you realize that you are school-bound to study, and you will need to study more than you ever have before. If you continue to be The Visible Invisible Woman to your classmates, it’ll only be that much easier to spend you life in the library – which looks like Hogwarts, so that shouldn’t be so bad. You envision yourself the Hermione of the incoming class – nerdy, ambitious, a little over-eager – the only difference will be that instead of a frizzy mop of hair, yours is ensconced neatly under a pretty scarf. Either way, you’ve missed an important social cue.

You try. During a faculty panel, you raise your hand and call yourself an “aspiring con law superdork,” and they all laugh. That’s a good start. If you’re going to be strange, you might as well be strange and funny; they may still hold you at arm’s length, but at least they’ll be tepidly fond of your presence. You’re good at this, you tell yourself. A year of public speaking experience won’t go to waste. This is what you do: you win people over despite themselves. You’ve just never had to live-work-breathe-study with your audience before.

Two potential classmates introduce themselves. One needs to look at your schedule; the other has spent two years living in the Middle East, so you’re a familiar sight. Around you, they take each other to coffee and compare grades from junior year, or maybe biceps. They have matching jeans and shoes and probably the same hairdryer. Many of them have that Midwest accent you’re starting to hear: their a’s have more i in them. This is not to say that they are cookie-cutters of each other. They are individuals too; they just have identifiable things that can be shared over the course of a weekend. They feel familiar to each other. You’re a purple peacock in comparison: something that is not found in their natural habitat, though not inconceivable given the subtleties of postmodern identity. You miss the East Coast.

(Where are the men in beards? The girls with skinny jeans and messenger bags? Is there a divey cafe anywhere? Bueller? Bueller?)

So you finish your novel, you chat with the faculty, and long neverendingly for a cigarette. It’s the beginning of a new beginning, one you have longed for, one from which you cannot, will not, be dissuaded. Maybe you’re just different. Maybe you’re blowing everything out of proportion. Maybe you’re even special. Maybe in 20 years there will be a hundred future yous parading through your office, drinking in the solace of the path you’ve trailblazed for them…that would be a nice ending to this story.

In any case, you’re sitting alone in an airport in Philly with a dead phone and nothing but your black swan blog to shore you up for the long days that lay between you and the promising future. Curtain up