More than a week ago, I was in Louisville, Kentucky for my 10-year high school reunion. In addition to that, I spent a wonderful extended weekend with family and friends celebrating birthdays and life’s successes. And all of this while sleeping on a cot (because like myself, my parents do not waste space — as soon as I left for college my old bedroom was turned into a bedroom for my brothers and then an office for my parents).
And although I may complain every time I visit about the sleeping accommodations and the fact that I lay exposed in the living or dining room, I am secretly proud of my parents for not keeping my bedroom as a shrine, for making the most of what they have.
But since that weekend, I have endured countless awful days of stress and anxiety. And I sank into a small depressive hole, questioning what I was doing with my life and why my personal and professional lives could not co-exist in the same city.
That is until I learned one of my best friends was almost beaten to death on his bike over a cell phone. Suddenly my questions about a meaningful existence seemed irrelevant. Because all that mattered is that my best friend made it out okay. All that mattered was that someone I loved would survive this tragedy without too much scarring.
And I wondered what this world is coming to, where we kill each other for money and technology? I may have expected to hear of something like this in Baltimore, the city I lived in for four years before making the move to DC. But this happened in Louisville, streets away from where my parents grew up. It reminded me how we’re not immune no matter where we go.
As a young woman on her own, I’m always watching my back, but I’ve found a safe haven in the bubble of Chevy Chase, Maryland, an upper middle class suburban neighborhood of DC. But ever since this news, I’ve returned to my Baltimore paranoid state, constantly wary of my surroundings and any strangers I pass on the street.
It’s what’s kept me safe. These passive avoidant rules of engagement. I realize that entire sentence sounds like an oxymoron. But it’s the only way I can think to describe my current state of dealing with the world. And the sad thing is I was finally starting to open myself to strangers.
It’s been a year since I broke up with my last boyfriend, a long-term relationship of four years. And I was impressed that at my high school reunion, only one person asked about my relationship status. Mostly, these young women I went to school with discussed career statuses and goals and the directions we hoped to be headed creatively and professionally.
Going Back 10 Years
While my friend and I gave a self-guided tour of the high school, I realized how many good memories I shared within these hallways. And how many people I had befriended and opened myself up to along the way. I admit I was a different person then, but not so different that I hadn’t retained some of those friendships, including the friend I went to the reunion with.
Back then, I was more shy around boys (okay, this is partly still true but at least I can talk around guys without stumbling), and I was more religious, and I was more insecure about a lot of things like my body image, and I didn’t have diabetes, but I was also confident. I constantly challenged myself by trying out for things like cross-country and competing on speech team.
And I think I forgot how much I challenged myself and how many connections I had made along the way. Because when I attended my reunion, I expected to be invisible, that no one would really remember me. But even when I lost my name tag halfway through, people still remembered me, just like I remembered them. None of us were invisible.
Many of us may have grown apart, but there’s something about sharing your coming-of-age years that keeps you connected. I also feel there’s a stronger bond having attended an all-girls high school. Something even as a writer I cannot put into words, and something I had completely forgotten until I walked those halls again.
An Empty Cup
When my friend and I passed our old guidance counselor’s office, an office that still existed, I remember my first meeting there. My religion teacher at the time worried I was suicidal because I was quiet and didn’t smile a lot. But I was 14. Who smiles a lot at 14? Anyway when I met with the guidance counselor, I opened up immediately, and she realized how strong and positive I was. I only wished I had retained that resilience in college.
But I do remember some wisdom the guidance counselor imparted on me. I was pushing myself too hard and wanting to do too much, but I felt like I was failing (a common theme throughout my life). She said to me: “you can’t give from an empty cup.” She probably didn’t realize how much these words would stick with me.
And until I passed by her office more than 10 years later, I forgot how much they had. So when my world seemed to be crumbling around me last week and then I learned that my best friend had almost died over something as silly as a cell phone, I woke up. These are the people that matter — the people that have been there for me and love me anyway.
But I can’t be there for them unless I get my own shit together. So even though I still don’t feel crazy about this life, I know there are people worth fighting for. I know there are people worth living for. And if that gets me through the day, then so be it.
I build myself back up if only to keep giving. As another good friend of mine used to tell me, “it’s all about perspective.” I may not have a ton of friends in DC, but anyone here can tell you I’ve made a ton of connections. And every time I attend a professional development opportunity, I am connecting these individuals to each other. Sometimes I forget in this city that it’s not all about your own advancement, that you can make stronger connections simply by being a connection.
It’s a strange feeling. They also say this is a hard city to date in. That I now understand. In fact, in this same week, I had to turn a guy down who in every right I should be attracted to but I just wasn’t, and I’m at the age where I’m not going to mislead. I’m going to be honest. I may lose connections in the process, but as I’ve said since I was 16, I’d rather be alone than unreal.
Yet at the same time I have friends and even ex’s I can still count on. I’m not one who usually brags that life is all about relationships – in fact I usually lean the other way and often imagine I’ll be the old bitter woman grumbling about “those kids.” But I can’t deny the need for that connection. To many people’s surprise, at 28, I’ve never lost anyone close to me. I know of people who had died, for sure, but currently all of my parents, grandparents, cousins, friends old and new, etc. are still living. Maybe I’m lucky in that sense? But I don’t for a second take it for granted.
I may not have many friends and close ones, but the ones I do, I hold dear and would be completely devastated if anything ever happened to them. I am loyal that way. So when I’m feeling shitty about my current state in life or even my diabetes, I think of those people, and how much they’d want me to live, just as I need them in my life.
It’s one small step, but such an important one. So I pull back my blackout curtains and let that god awful morning sun wake me up.