Listen Here, Internet Girl

Month: March, 2012

Hi, I’m not fine

I was raised by a successful woman. My Mother taught my sister and I to cook dinner for ourselves and our kid brother by the time I was nine years old. She used to work late nights at the same tech company she has worked at for as long as I have been alive, so we needed to fend for ourselves most nights.

The first thing she taught us to cook was lasagna. In retrospect that was probably an ambitious dish to start us off with, but we leaned quick and we never went hungry. As it turns out, learning to cook lasagna before you can legally drive a car is a very powerful, character-building experience. Really.

By the time my Mother was the age I am now, she had a six, a five and a three year old to take care of. She had been divorced from my dad for two years, and was working her way up the corporate ladder. We are living vastly different 27 year old lives, but I am the person I am because of her. This is mostly about her, the woman who raised me, but also a little bit about me.

I remember once as a kid we were stopped at a red light at a busy intersection. She had just gotten a new car, a stick shift. She hadn’t ever driven a stick before but someone taught her, probably my Grandfather so she felt confident enough to load her three kids in the car. Something happened though. The light turned from red to green and my Mom tried changing fears but the car wouldn’t budge. We were holding up traffic by this point, and a man in a car behind us starting yelling at my Mom. “Get the fuck out of the way!” Horns were honking and I looked at my Mom and saw that she was crying as she was trying desperately to switch gears and get the fuck out of the way. There was a real moment of frenzy. I remember feeling so panicked and worried. I didn’t know if this guy was going to get even angrier and hurt us? I had no idea. This memory sticks out to me because it was the only time in m childhood that I ever saw my Mother be vulnerable.

She was raised by a tyrant. My Grandfather, god bless him, has the temper of a lion. He would come home after working maintenance at a naval base in San Jose, CA and demand dinner and beer until he would become angry and punch holes in walls or in my Grandmother’s face or until he just passed out. After my Mother turned a certain age, she stopped giving a shit about upsetting him and often purposely did things to do just that. She would urge my Grandmother to leave him. “I’ll quit school and work two jobs. You can do better than him,” she would say. I’m not unaware enough to really believe that my Mom has never been afraid of anything, but as a kid this is how it seemed. In my mind she was a warrior goddess with a gold heart and spikes instead of fingernails. She is incredibly sweet and has a fuse as long as the Hudson River. But cross her just once and she will slay you without blinking an eye. Then she’ll come home, cook dinner for us while teaching my sister and I how to French-braid our own hair while teaching my brother how to throw a curve ball.

The best thing she taught me was this blatant, impressive self-sufficiency. Anything you can do, I can already do for myself. I opened a bank account when I was 17 because she once told me “Always have your own money, Teresa. Never allow yourself to get to a point in your life where you need to rely on someone to pay for you for anything.” Of course I knew that when she said “someone” what she was referring to was “men.”

My own father was verbally abusive to her and considering the household she was raised in, my Mother knew that when she had daughters it would be extremely important that she raise them to believe that to get the job done, they’d need to do it themselves.
My Grandma has never worked a day in her life and has relied on my Grandpa for most everything. I think my Mom used to resent her for that, and I believe my Mom felt that raising her daughters the way she did was absolutely the only option. There would be no bedtime stories about Prince Charming (instead we read books like The Wizard of Oz and The Babysitter’s Club which were heavy on the female heroine). My Mom taught us that not only COULD we rescue our own selves, but we SHOULD. I think my Mom believed that the less my sister and I had to rely on anyone, the less likely they were to hurt us. Now as a grown woman, I completely understand this reasoning. I seem to have built my entire adulthood on that very belief.

But, something isn’t quite right. In the midst of all my raging independence, when I feel sad I have an extremely difficult time saying “I am sad.” I seem to equate sadness with weakness and this is alarming to me. My Mom is not a robot so I am sure she spent a lot of time in her room after we had all gone to sleep feeling all the shit she tried to hide from us. This is why that woman is my hero, but I fear this is also why it is so difficult for me to ask for help.

When I’m sad or worried or stressed to the point that staying in bed all day seems like the only psychically possible thing to do, I do not call a friend to say “Hi, I am not fine.” In my mind, that is absurd. People are busy! Living their lives! No one wants to talk about the fact that I have been wearing the same hoodie for three days or that I haven’t cleaned my kitchen in even longer just because I AM SAD. Get the fuck out of here! This is faulty thinking because I know for a fact that there are people in my life who actually do care about me and how I am doing. They want me to be happy and care about when I am not. I’m not sure if my Mom had anyone to talk to about these kinds of things when I was a kid. Her entire life was her children and her career. I know she put herself last in most situations and I know I do not have any children to worry about, but I do not want to live my life that way.

As of right now, I am not fine. I’m unemployed. I think I have an ulcer. I have no idea how I’m paying rent next month, and I will have lived in New York for one year in two weeks. This should be a time of celebration and poignant reflection. Instead it’s a time of self-doubt and serious crisis and dread. I’m scared. I’m scared to admit I’m scared. I scared that admitting that I’m scared or worried about “making it” in NYC means something damaging to my Mom’s hard work. I need to snap out of it and lol to myself about all that though because the only thing my Mom has ever wanted for her kids is to be happy. Independent, successful and self-sufficient OBVIOUSLY, but most of all, just happy.

And I want that for myself too. The whole point of this is realizing that I don’t need to be strong all the time. I don’t need to slay the dragon by myself EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I can be vulnerable and ask for help and be thankful that I have people in my life who I can cry in front of and it’ll still all be okay. I’ll still be okay. That’s the whole point, I guess. That’s the lesson for me.

Mom raised us to be unstoppable. That’s the best gift she has given us. The greatest gift I can give back to her is to just be the wonderful person she created. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.

thank you

I imagine next month as I’m celebrating my one year NYC anniversary, I’m going to spend the vast majority of the day calling all the people I love and saying to each of them “It’s been a hard year, but you have helped.”

Because truly it has been a very, very hard year. But I have a lot of good, kind people in my life who believe in what I can do. A lot of the time before I even can. That is worth the most to me.

There are people in this world who forgive me when I’m being ridiculous and dramatic at all the wrong moments. People who have rooted for me all along even without any sort of proof that I could do what I’m doing. They just had a blind faith in me. There are people who push me because they know I can be even better, even as I’m resisting and being a raging moron probably.

Thank you for still loving me despite all the unreturned phone calls and emails as I navigated my way though this fucked up city that I love. Thank you for giving me the space that I needed to grow the fuck up. Thank you for pretending I didn’t say that awful thing when I was drunk because you knew it was the whiskey talking and not me, the person you think is someone worth knowing. Thank you for listening to me complain about shit you didn’t care about, just for the sake of being there for your friend. Thank you for letting me make a fool of myself in front of you and not judging me at all. Thank you for not holding it against me that I seemed to choose New York over being at home when my nephew started to talk…

You mean the world to me, a countless number of you.

Yes, that’s what it means

Me: I found a train-boyfriend last night on my way home.

Mom: What does that mean? Do you break up once you get off the train?

The New York Times rejected this

When I got on board my Virgin America flight headed for Manhattan, I had with me an acceptance letter to NYU, some clothes, my laptop, and a check for $5,000 dollars that my Mother’s second husband wrote me after he told me he would absolutely, definitely, no way in hell co-sign with me on a student loan. That was about all I took on my cross country move. I left behind books and shoes and clothes and most of a life I wasn’t sure about at my Mother’s house in the Bay Area. I wanted to come to New York with as little as I could. The minimalist approach felt right to me. If I was going to create a new life, I wanted to do it with as little stuff from my old one as possible.

I remember flying over the Midwest and taking pictures of the clouds with my SLR Pentax. When we landed and I was waiting for my one suitcase at baggage claim, I called my Grandparents. I waited in line for a cab – a real New York City cab! – and gave the driver directions to my apartment in Chelsea. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and I marveled and grinned and then I checked in on Foursquare. We drove into the East Village and that’s when I saw New York for the first time. The New York I had only ever seen in movies. There were people everywhere. People spilling out onto the streets from restaurants and bars, hailing cabs, eating and drinking under verandas in the warm spring night. I had lived in New York a total of thirty minutes and already it was everything I thought it would be.

My first New York apartment was something of a dream for me. It was tiny, for starters but I didn’t mind. Small price to pay, I thought, considering I lived five blocks from Madison Square Park. Bookshelves with everything from Infinite Jest (which I actually tried to read, laughably) to the Twilight series, filled two walls which made the writer and reader in me happy. My room held a queen-sized bed somehow, and had a fire escape which was the setting for an impromptu photo shoot with a photographer friend one hot afternoon in May. My roommate was a school teacher who made her own kombucha and watched The West Wing while I sat in my tiny room and cried about spending my first Easter away from my family.

The corner of Eighth Ave and Fourteenth Street is a pretty sentimental place for me. I lived above a cake shop and a Thai restaurant in that first apartment, both of which I never frequented. Instead I spent my free time down the street at a Brazilian dive bar that has since become my Cheers. Everyone knows my name and people are all the same. It was on my fourteenth day of living in the city when I met a self-proclaimed psychic at that bar who gave me life advice while swaying to Al Green on the jukebox. That same night I also met a gaggle of bar patrons who would become my friends over the months. Despite my Mother’s concerns, a New York City dive bar has become a home away from home.

I would turn 27 the first summer I lived in New York. I spent that night at a piano bar with friends in the West Village drinking whiskey. Piano bar whiskey tastes better than regular whiskey but only because of the piano, I would learn. We sat at a table near the piano and sang along to Prince and per our request, Amy Winehouse who had just died that weekend. On our request sheet next to her name and the song “Valerie”, we also scribbled Sorry

Carson McCuller’s once wrote “We are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” This has floated through my twenties like cigar smoke. That wanderlust and desire to explore is what made me leave home. California, that warm, golden state that loves you instantly, and ferociously was never a place I wanted to live forever. People call this life-uprooting of mine brave. That’s really nice of them, but I tend to dismiss their kindness in the same heartbeat. I have no bravado, trust me. I do have a lot of stupidity though, which sometimes looks the same as “brave.”

There was an internal pull to this city that I couldn’t explain and could no longer ignore. Elliot Perlman, great Aussie writer: “It was as if every person I have met, every event I’ve participated in, and everything I have experienced has merely filled the time before this.” Life Before New York had simply filled the time. It was the preparatory work. I will spare you the obvious and possibly overused Wizard of Oz black-and-white-to-technicolor metaphors. But, yeah, that.

One evening while sitting at my friend’s dinner table on a hill in Oakland, New York stopped being a choice. That’s what happens when you decide to uproot yourself and your life. When you decide to leave the place you call home for some other place., possibly even some place you have never known. The possibility of not knowing is a weight you can no longer carry. So, you spend one rainy afternoon while house sitting in Oakland writing the first, very rough draft of your admissions essay. And then before you know it, you’re packing up your life, which really just means spending too much time deciding which DVDs and books you can live without and which ones you can’t. For the record: the sixth season of The X-Files, filed under: Okay To Live Without. When Harry Met Sally, filed under: Absolutely Under No Circumstances Okay To Live Without.

The only real things that have changed about me is that my experiences have widened. Experiences like learning the subway system, and all the crazy that implies when you never really had to take public transportation before. Other experiences like walking home seven blocks from Trader Joe’s with your grocery bags cutting into your hands when you’ve always had the luxury of a car. Moments like learning that one way to mend the fact that you are in love with a man who will never love you back is to just take a walk through Bryant Park at dusk. These experiences can shape you if you let them. If you let your guard down enough, these moments can mold your perspective. So, I suppose in that way you do change. But both sadness and happiness feel the same in Eastern Standard Time as they do in Pacific. Maybe that’s a no brainer to you or maybe that is something that will take you 27 years to learn.

Not everything needs to be an existential crisis. New York taught me that. Missing your train because you walked carefully down the subway stairs as everyone else rushed passed you, does not make you a failure at being a New Yorker. It literally just means you need to walk faster. Be less afraid. And also you should probably try not to cry on the platform as you wait for the next train. New York forces you to get over things quick. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself when your downtown D train leaves in five minutes. Though, believe me when I say that I have tried.

One thing: this city will never love you. Ever. Please just erase any ideas, hopes or beliefs that your love for this island will be returned because it will not. Don’t take it personally. New York doesn’t love anyone. In fact, I think it hates a lot of people. That won’t stop you from doing everything you can to make your relationship with it work though. I think it’s possible that’s why so many New Yorkers are eccentric and fucking crazy. Being that unruly stems from all the years of unrequited love we’ve put ourselves through. Yes, New York + You will seem dysfunctional at times. Yes, sometimes you will wonder if you are in an abusive relationship with a metropolitan city. You are, and somehow it’s okay because you know you aren’t the only one. We’re all apart of the dysfunction together. We’re New Yorkers.

It’s not surprising to me that I ended up so far away from California. As crazy as it felt when I left all the solace that my home state gave me, I knew being comfortable in a familiar place my whole life was not the route for me. I wanted something bigger. If you had kneeled down and whispered into my ear when I was child that one day I would learn that the secret to my own personal happiness would be to board a plane at 26 years old and leave behind everything I had ever loved, I absolutely would have believed you. I just would have thought nothing of it.