Aug 17 2015

Who Holds You

In the three months since my wedding, I’ve failed terrifically at writing so much as a single word about it.

(Well, technically, that isn’t true. I wrote some words, but they were beginning to sound like a Buzzfeed Listy-List, so I chucked them.)

(Also, my current Martha’s Vineyard beach-read is the latest Bridget Jones installment, so vocabulary like “chuck” and “rubbish” and “bloody brilliant” seem vaguely accessible and reasonable to me right now.)

Anyway, it was starting to bother me. This blocked indecision.

I mean, it was MY WEDDING.

To the LOVE OF MY LIFE!

SURELY I have something profound and reflective and resonant to say about an event that reflects my past, projects my future, and bonds me to another human forever. Right?

RIGHT?!

I should be able to write about wearing my mother’s wedding gown; listening to my husband-to-be’s original song (performed by the groomsmen in our ceremony and composed for that exact moment). About walking down the aisle to Sweet Child o Mine – an acoustic version artfully played by dear friends BruceIII and Birdman –  and hearing our loved ones erupt approvingly when they recognized the tune. About seeing my groom identify the song as well, raise his arms, pump his fists, wipe away tears.

But no.

Nothing.

I was a blank, save a bit of paltry, overly-sentimental drivel.

But last weekend I went through some pictures from our wedding weekend with my new husband, in-laws, and parents. After flipping through the sizable stack several times, Bonesaw and I both pulled out the same image.

Wedding Dance Floor 1

It’s easily one of my favorites.

Though perhaps not frame-worthy, this pic is a group shot from later in the night, taken on the stage by the dance floor (er, carpet). It captures the view of our backyard, facing toward our house.

Bonesaw and I are centered(ish), but we aren’t the focal point. I’ve changed into my “party dress” and the cowboy boots that guided our decisions about wedding colors and theme. Bonesaw is sleeveless, of course, thanks to a college friend with some scissors several hours ago. We’re dancing together, unaware of the camera or even what else is around us. We’re just holding on to each other, draped together. Just celebrating. Just reveling in the waning moments of our day. Just gazing at each other, all wrapped up.

Behind us, string lights stretch across the far fence and the back porch, meticulously placed and engineered by his brother and Best Man, Hoag. Glow sticks are fastened around people’s necks and wrists, like we were throwing a college rave rather than a homespun backyard wedding. (They were my mom’s idea. And though I initially bristled at the suggestion, everyone gravitated to the ridiculous accessories so aggressively that I couldn’t really argue or fuss. Bubbles waft dreamily over the crowd, creating a sparkling finale to the dancing.

And the crowd!

We’re nestled in among people in love. Bridesmaid Cara and her husband Mike, unknowingly and just barely pregnant. Another maid Missy and her girlfriend Rachel, celebrating the first wedding they could attend together. Maid of Honor Nazish – 5 months pregnant yet bringing the party in full-force, grinning at her Babby Daddy Hubby Andy. In the foreground are brother Tyler and his wife Jen, married 14 years, whose four kids spent the majority of the night putting on a dance clinic on the stage.

There’s Sheila and John, approaching their first wedding anniversary, sweaty with their intense (and intensely hilarious) choreography; Morgan and Carolyn in from Pennsylvania; Frankie and Aleah, newly-engaged old-souls; two of Bonesaw’s college friends hugging (or slow-dancing together?); Katharine and Elissa, in last-minute from Colorado; Abby and Boz, David and Laurie, Marissa and Conor; Kiran and Sarah, fresh from exploring the Jam Room in the house…

The list goes on.

And everyone is embracing. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is filled with love and life, or something close to both.

I think the song playing in that moment is Drive by The Cars – a song that, when Bonesaw played it briefly on his guitar four years ago, made me fall a little bit in love with him for the first time. It’s a song filled with ache. It’s haunting and sad, but somehow hopeful. It’s a question and a promise all at the same time. It’s a song about taking care of someone in the hardest, most challenging moments.

 

“Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?”

“Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?”

“Who’s gonna come around when you break?”

“Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?”

 

I love this song for its angsty, brutal honesty. For the way that it looks closely at how hard life and love can be, and sees the strength in having an ally who will stand by you even when it’s almost unbearable. But the last question is unnecessary, because here in this picture, my husband and I are already home.

They say that one of the secrets to marriage is who holds you up when things get tough. Who rallies around you with support. And of course I know that at the core, Bonesaw and I will hold each other.

But looking at this picture, I know that there’s so much more to our life together. In this frame – with it’s twinkling light, and the music that I can almost hear in the image, and the FULLNESS of the crowd – I see a world in which I want to live. A community and a family I want to be a part of. And I’m proud that we gather this group around us for these big moments. For the times when no one is watching, but when we’re held tight, cocooned, cradled.


Feb 4 2015

Tour Life

My fiancé travels for work.

As a touring musician, there are times when he’s gone for weeks. During those windows of days upon days, it’s sometimes hard to talk or even text with him. Between my work and social life, and his late shows and extended hours inside a van with three other dudes, our schedules don’t often line up.

Everyone always asks how hard it is. Like we’re the only couple in the world to spend this type of time apart. (How about military officers? Journalists? Traveling sales reps and airline pilots? Professional athletes and authors on book tours?) I know that my friends and family worry for me, perhaps thinking that I’m hopelessly lost without him, or that I feel abandoned rather than empowered by his absence.

In some extreme cases, I think there’s even subtle criticism of his career choice (as if it’s really a choice at all); an implication that he’s selfishly taking advantage of me; an obscure belief that he takes me for granted by leaving me alone, and that I feebly allow the mistreatment to go on.

The truth is that most of the time it’s all totally fine with me. In ways that I’m sure are hard for many to understand, this arrangement works for us. I have the pleasure of looking forward to his return, and an acute appreciation for quiet “me” time. When he’s away, I have the bed all to myself, and total control of the cleanliness (or messiness) of the house. I like not answering to anyone, making my own schedule, and concocting my own dinner menu. I touch base with friends I might not often see, watch whatever I want on TV (or not), and read into the late night hours. (Which, for a teacher, is like 11:00pm.) My sense of self is not wrapped up in his presence; my importance is not dwarfed by his absence. I fill my time with workouts and drinks with friends; errands and binge-watching Top Chef. I recall who I am as an individual, rather than as one half of a couple.  (Although I do, of course, love being one half of this pair.) All in all, it’s really not so bad.

Until, well, it gets bad.

Because I’m okay until I need him. Until we get into an argument and we can’t read each other’s expressions or hold each other’s hands. Or until he has to get off the phone suddenly because it’s almost time for their set. Or until I’m having a notably bad week, feeling sensitive and vulnerable and I JUST NEED MY TEAMMATE for a few minutes. Or when I can’t find the plunger or the power goes out or I’m scared of the dark on a cold night. (Though I hate to admit that last bit.) And don’t get me wrong – I can handle all of these things. I have before, and I will again. But on a day when I’m overtired and underfed, or when I’m just not up to that particular task at that exact moment…well, the resentment of having to do it alone can creep up on me like a hurricane growing force. The sky turns dark and I realize what’s about to hit.

Today was one of those days.

Out of nowhere, I woke up on Super Bowl Sunday feeling grumpy and fatigued, even after a full night’s sleep. I was frustrated and exasperated. I was easily agitated by his text messages; by the shake in my legs during my squats; by my own limited bank account; by the extended time apart (hitting the 4-week mark – always a Danger Zone). I was snippy and short-tempered with him. Bitter that he wouldn’t be cheering on the Patriots by my side today, and that we’d been organizing our three-month-away wedding from different sides of the country. It was irrational, and the precise trigger was unclear. But there it was – a little storm throwing fits of lightning and thunder around my life.

I got through the workout, picked up cupcakes for the Super Bowl Party I was attending, opened my journal, and shook it off pretty quickly. This time, the storm blew over without much fuss or collateral damage.

 

I try not to think about what these days mean for our future together. About the hours when things get markedly heavy, as they surely will, and I feel like I’ve been left to manage it all by myself. Because one of the darker sides of my character is that I have a great propensity for that brand of rage. I’m simultaneously needy and independent; high-maintenance and free-spirited. I don’t want to be taken care of, and I want to do it my own way. Except when I do want to be taken care of, and I want someone else to just make the damn decision so that I can clear space in my crowded mind to think about other things.

In short, I’m a real pain in the ass. I’m a beautiful disaster. A complicated piece of art.

But, much to my shock and awe, I’ve found the guy: Somehow both attentive and hands-off; sensitive and action-oriented. Creative and practical. Sure, sometimes he pushes me too hard – believes too strongly that I can do it when I really need him to say it’s okay if I can’t. And sure, sometimes he’s gone. But he’s also very much present.

Especially when he’s, ya know, actually here.

 

Bonesaw makes incredible music, and his life and career are filled with adventure, inspiration, and authenticity. He’s surrounded by interesting, intelligent, supportive people. His job enables me to check in regularly with “Solo Coco,” spending much-needed time with myself, alone, reflecting and feeding my soul. And conversely, his non-touring schedule allows time for things like long summer vacations, afternoon Ultimate games, and sunny breakfasts on the back porch.

And I should prepare myself. This is the life I’ve chosen, and in all honestly it wasn’t really any kind of choice at all. Being with him is like breathing. It’s the kind of oxygen that lets me sprint so fast that the world grows blissfully blurry. It fills my lungs so full to bursting so that I can be my absolute best … even when I’m at my worst.

I benefit from the uniqueness of Bonesaw’s career just as I sometimes grow tired of the schedule and the (lack of) pay. I sincerely wouldn’t have it any other way, and one of my greatest fears (of which there are, admittedly, many) is that he’ll one day stop. I truly love what he does.

It’s just that I also, now and then, kinda hate it.


Jan 16 2015

Named, Names, and Naming

I’m engaged. On the precipice of changing my name. Again. The first time I changed my last name, I felt initially compromised. Like the mere suggestion made me less of a feminist. The fact that others constantly asked – “Will you change your name?” – and suggested it was a minor assault. Some hinted that if I didn’t … well, then I didn’t really mean it when I was getting married.  That I didn’t really love him.

But my fiancé at the time wanted me to change my name and take his. He argued that he considered it a crucial step in becoming a family. And so I flip-flopped. (I did love him, after all. I cared about his feelings and stuff.) I wanted to at least appear reasonable and sensitive to his needs, like I was considering it, weighing the compromise like a bag of apples at the grocery store. (Of course, no one ever pressed him about the possibility of changing to my last name, which would theoretically have achieved the same effect that he claimed to desire. But that’s another story entirely, and more relevant to our subsequent divorce.)

The truth is that I liked the idea of choosing. I didn’t like the expectation, but I relished the option. It was the first time that I had control over this particular choice. I’d never really loved my old name anyway, and it was my father’s name to begin with. So all the times that I challenged, calling it unfeminist to change your name, I was in fact perpetuating the patriarchy myself. (Or so I rationalized once I decided to change.)

During one of my many “Will I / Won’t I” debates, a colleague observed dreamily: “Colleen Conrad sounds like a novelist.”

And that sealed it for me.

So while I bargained and joked with my future husband, telling him that I’d change my name if he voted for Obama, I probably would have done so even if he’d voted for McCain.  (Don’t tell.) The decision had become something that felt right, however reluctant I was to admit it. And indeed the transition was seamless. The alliteration suited me. Conrad immediately felt like it was mine. Not that I had inherited it, or married into it, but that it had always been a part of me. My own, on my own, claimed at last.

Suddenly I was CC, C-Squared, C2, a poetic roll of consonant sounds. I had a website, and I began the easy adoption of a name that I’d gotten to elect. It felt right. And while it’s probably insensitive and selfish for me to admit it, I never quite associated it with my husband. To this day, I forget that it was (is) his. That had I never married him, it wouldn’t be mine at all. In my mind, I just am Colleen Conrad.

So what to do now? I can’t argue that I’ve published under Conrad (because I haven’t…yet…), and my username at school is still Schmitt. Do I change my name yet again and go through the myriad of paperwork and process, explaining to everyone why I have not two but THREE variations on my moniker? Do I change my email addresses, my social media profiles and handles, my documentation, my credit cards, my accounts, the name on my classroom door? All over again? I liked Colleen Schmitt, but Conrad feels like me, ironically, in ways that Schmitt never did. Was it the act of choosing that changed my sense of ownership? Is it the professional identity that I’ve created for myself? Is it the aggravation of going through all of the documents and the lines at the DMV that puts me off? Or is it simply an issue of control?

And if so, will Kepner feel just as well-suited if I select it myself? It does have a ring to it. People joke that now I’ll be “CoKe” rather that “CoCo.” And as I told my future father-in-law at dinner recently, I want to be a Kepner. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, I want this to be my family.

People understandably challenge me on my reluctance. What does it say that I’d consider keeping my ex-husband’s name and reject (though I don’t think of it this way) my future partner’s? All I can say is that Conrad feels like it’s mine, more than any name ever has, and I’m not sure I want to let it go. We are all handed our names – they’re usually chosen for us – and this time I picked. I only had two choices, but I was happy with my options, and that I had an option at all. And I was happy with my decision. It suited me so comfortably, like my favorite jersey or a song that I can sing from memory.


Dec 4 2014

Connective Tissue

I spent the first few weeks of college all alone on the top floor of my dorm.

I’d opted to be in the “First-Year Program” – a specialized group for freshmen, geared toward philosophical interdisciplinary study.  (Which is a fancy way of saying that we were pretentious geeks.  I loved it.)    FYPpers all lived in the same dorm, but I quickly found that I was one of the only athletes in the bunch. And during field hockey pre-season, that meant no one was around.

I felt bizarrely okay with this.  I relished the opportunity to settle into my room; to retreat to solitude after long, terrifying days among my new teammates; to savor the quiet before all of the other students arrived.  Much to my relief, I wasn’t frightened by the dark, quiet halls and the seclusion of the top floor.  (I also hadn’t yet heard the stories about the Fenwick ghost on campus.)  Instead I felt relieved, pensive, independent.

But then, one night, I decided to explore.  I made my way down to the basement in search of the kitchen, the TV, the laundry room.  And that’s where I found Tarah – a confident black girl with a short natural haircut and a friendly smile.  I was startled and pleased.  Did she live in Hanselman, too?  What was she doing here?

She explained that she was in the Odyssey Program – a sort of pre-season for incoming minority students – and they were all housed on Hanselman 2 for now.  All this time, I’d thought I was alone, when in fact there’d been a troop of vibrant incoming freshmen just two floors below me.

Tarah gave me the tour of the rest of the building, introducing me along the way to Ray, Tommy, Jeannine, and then, pivotally, Rusmir.

Rus was NOT what I was expecting to find at Holy Cross.  The whole Odyssey Program, in fact, was a joyful surprise.  My delight and relief was palpable.  Gay, Bosnian, and Muslim, Rusmir far from fit in at our small Catholic college.  But that also meant that he was a fixture on campus.  He was a delightful novelty; a character; a glittering star amongst the cardigan-wearing night sky.  Rusmir squealed by way of introduction, double-kissed my cheeks, clapped his hands, and wrapped me in a hug that included a happy “mmm” as he pulled away.  He had bleach-tipped hair like a refugee from a boy band (although he was almost a real refugee, as it turns out), and I soon learned that his love for Madonna was only matched by his passion for musical theater and student government.

Unlike most of the other Odyssey students, Rusmir was also a FYPper like me.  And as much as I’d relished my privacy upstairs, something in me settled warmly into place when I met him.

 

A few weeks later, I meandered downstairs again in search of Rusmir and Nate, who was a friend-of-a-friend from a neighboring hometown.  I found both of them on Hanselman 2, as well as Katie (also from the 4th floor like me), Colin (Nate’s roommate), and Brian.

Oh-so-Irish, Catholic, tall, lanky, blue-eyed-swimmer Brian.  He was quieter and more patient than the others in the room, who filled the space with their chatter and nervous college energy.  Brian was also clearly less drunk than the others.  He sat comfortably in the dorm room chair against the window, chuckling occasionally, taking in the scene around him.  We all had our first day of classes in the morning, and it was clear to me that both Brian and I intended to go.

 

College flew by, as any adult who went will tell you, in a flurry of wintry dinners at Kimball; unspeakable truths, confessions, and admissions (that we eagerly and not-so-eagerly shared with each other); 21st birthdays and off-campus parties; dances and plays and field hockey games; Cape Cod vacations; break-ups and hook-ups; papers and awards and exams and semester breaks.  Rusmir and Brian were ever-present, if not constant, in my experience.  They were anchors.  They were bookends.  Foundations upon which I layered these memories.

 

How do you encapsulate those years in the boundaries of a friendhship?  How do we punctuate them accurately?  Are they sealed forever between chance meetings on Hanselman 2 and graduation on the lawn?  I remember when Rusmir and I agreed in the Hanselman stairwell that we were both bi.  (I knew even then that it was only a half-truth for both of us.)  Brian and I fought about religion, politics, and gender equality so frequently that I once stormed from the dining hall in protest.  But we also had a ritual of cuddling on my bed watching re-runs of My So-Called Life.

So I ask it again:

Is there a weight to these memories?

A limit to their importance?

Did they close forever when we received our diplomas and went on to “grown-up” lives?

 

Brian and Rusmir now live in D.C.  Though they aren’t a couple, today we looked for houses that they may buy together.  (“Two masters suites, with a third bedroom for a roommate or a baby.”)

My school sent me to the city for a conference, and there was no question where I would stay.  BMac offered me his car as means to attend the sessions each day, after sleeping all night snuggled in with his adorable dogs.

And so I filled the weekend with professional development sandwiched between my old friends.  I went to an early-morning workout with Rusmir at his neon-flushed gym; built fires and ate pumpkin pie; drank too much beer and took a run to the White House.  We went to dive gay bars and a short film festival; we drank strong coffee and recalled old stories.  (“Remember Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Field House?!”)

I soaked it all up carefully, moment to moment.

Because what we were really doing amidst activities and meals was grounding back in.  Hitting “refresh” on the digital back-log of adulthood.  We talked love and weddings and house-hunting and babies.  We challenged Rusmir on his single status and unpacked the nature of my relationship.  We remembered Brian’s tragic lost love(s).  But underneath it all, we resurrected the best (and the hardest, the ugliest, the un-glamorous) parts of ourselves and our histories.

There are friends who truly see you.

They say the things to you that few others would dare, but they say them with love and sincere respect, so that you can actually hear them.  They understand you better than you do yourself, cutting to the core of an issue like wind through an open window on the first day of fall.  They remind you of the you you’d forgotten in the mess of growing up.

They know the thread woven through your story.  They know the old you, the new you, and the connective tissue in between the two.  They embrace the progress, but they’ll never let you forget the specialness that came before – the person who drew them in to begin with; the gem embedded in your spirit.  They won’t let it die, that flame.  And in fact they fan it for you when you’re out of breath.

And if you’re lucky, your threads will continue to weave together over and over again, building a braided cord that pulls tighter as your shared stories unfold.

 

 

Post-script:

Brian and Rusmir closed on the very first place we saw together.  And it has a guest room.  

I can’t wait to visit.


Aug 22 2014

Kinney For Life

It was decided at dinner at Contigo.  Or, at least, I decided.  Jeff was still in survival mode.

I was filing for divorce, and Jeff had just moved out of the house that he shared with his wife.  As we both prepared for an unclear future and the realities of returning to single life, picking up pieces of our broken marriages and cobbling together new homes, we examined what was next.

My lease would be up in May, and his sister (and current roommate) was moving permanently to San Antonio in the spring.

“Perfect,” I declared.  “Then we can be roommates!”  It seemed so simple, so obvious, so perfect.

It wasn’t quite as obvious to Jeff.  He couldn’t think that far ahead.  Being my roommate meant a truth too difficult to process just yet.

He chuckled, shrugging over his crispy green beans and white bean dip, unable to think that far ahead just yet.  I understood, seeing the grief still fresh on his face.  I let it drop for the moment.  We continued to pick at a plate of marinated olives and sip our handcrafted hipster drinks, under a Texas sky punctuated by string lights.

Jeff and I were colleagues, then co-coaches, then critique partners.  We watched our middle school ultimate team win its first and only championship together, in dramatic and exciting fashion on one rainy spring day.  We sat in coffee shops on Sunday mornings, gently editing each other’s works-in-progress.  We didn’t know then where we were headed, and how our lives would collide, merge, and crisscross in startling ways.  Tragic, it might seem, but also revelatory.  Eventually and ultimately we were roommates, survivors, and friends.  We were wounded soldiers together, watching pets and spouses fade and disappear in the waning sunset.  We marked these transitions with well-planned dinners that lasted late into the night with probing conversation, embarrassing reality TV, blistering afternoons at Barton Springs down the street, and lots and lots of wine.

Living with Jeff was easy.  We fell into the routine of teaching and writing, running through our old-Austin neighborhood, checking in after long days and sipping coffee in the kitchen on weekend mornings.  One winter, when we were unexpectedly hit by a streak of “ice days,” we made pancakes and watched nostalgic movies in our pajamas, reminding me of snow days with my elementary school friends in Massachusetts.  Jeff took awkward pictures of me when I had a messy case of the flu and couldn’t get up off the couch. I regularly caught him drunkenly snacking in the kitchen after last-call.

Once, after an unusually long absence, he sent me a text:  “Are you ever coming home?”

He was teasing … but he also wanted an answer.

Because living with Jeff on Kinney Avenue, I was claimed again.  I had a person, a family, a partner.  Sure, I was embarking on a new romantic relationship, and Jeff was weaving his way through a shockingly unfamiliar dating scene.  But after cutting some of the ties, and mending old heartaches, and accepting the loneliness that came with divorced life, we belonged to a unit again.  Not a romantic one, and not the kind that comes with rings and strings, but one that was marked by kinship and commitment nonetheless.

As they tend to do, time passed and life continued.  Eventually I moved out, desperately putting my faith in an untrustworthy universe and a very trustworthy man.  The separation from Jeff and our house on Kinney Avenue felt like a breakup.  Like when “Friends” ended after ten years, and it seemed wrong that Joey and Chandler would no longer live in the same building, or that Monica was moving to Long Island.

Jeff left for Italy a couple days ago.  After crashing with me in my ‘new’ home for a brief period of in-between, he finally got on a plane without a return ticket, landing in Genoa to teach and write and make amazing pizza.  I imagine him learning (even better) technique from Italian chefs, speaking the language with stunning European women, and writing the great Italian-American novel.  I imagine him never returning to Austin, to the states, to our house on Kinney Ave.

But then again, it isn’t our house anymore anyway.  Someone else has already moved in, and now it’s theirs.  And one day it will be someone else’s, and someone else’s yet again.

There was no way that we’d live in that little green cottage forever, but some small part of me thought perhaps we could.  Had he not wanted to travel, and had I not been ready (however terrified) to move forward in love, maybe it would have been a nice little life.  With coffee and writing, front-porch sitting and Barton Springs; with happy hours and ice days and reality TV.

Or maybe it will always be perfect this way: Unchanged, finite, and just what we both needed.


Jun 17 2014

Lifeguarding

“Oh no.  Oh NO…”

Realization washed over me as I tried the handle and remembered that Brian had been the last one out the door before we left for dinner.  Brian, who was in town from D.C. and didn’t know some of the peculiarities of my new home.

Now it was 2:00am. Rusmir, Brian and I had just returned from the bars downtown. We were happy, tired, and ready for our pajamas. But in my “new” house (which is also my boyfriend’s old house), each door has two locks and each lock has a different key … though only two of the keys actually exist. One of those keys was on my key ring, of course, but it only opened the dead-bolt on the front door. And naturally, being an adult with some sense of safety and responsibility, my friend had turned the latch on the doorknob before pulling it closed behind him.

Because it’s a lock, and that’s what you do with locks. Right?

Not when you live at the HQ.

Bonesaw and I discussed the lock situation many times. At the chiding of many friends, some of whom have been broken into recently, I’d been trying to address the reasoning behind not locking our doors. He argued that he’d never been burglarized;  that there were always so many people around (including anywhere from two to five band members at any given time);  that it was significantly more convenient not to lock them given his communal living style. I argued that things had changed, and that I needed to feel safe when he was on tour.

Up to that point, a spare key was kept in the “birdcage” in the backyard, but no one locked the doors or even held on to a key to begin with. When he gave me a key for Valentine’s Day two years ago, his brother and roommate at the time looked at me earnestly. “Do you think I can have one of those too?” he asked.

But everyone – from fans to friends to neighbors – knew about the spare key anyway. “No one needs a designated key!” Bonesaw maintained. “Everyone knows that there’s always a spare in the birdcage.”

So you see my frustration.

We’d tentatively agreed to change the locks – not only for safety, but for consistency – but we hadn’t yet made the adjustment.

So no.  Being locked out of the house in the dark after last-call on a Saturday night was not the moment when I fell in love with my new home.  Thankfully I was already in love with the man, and the home had felt like it was mine almost immediately after move-in.

***

Rusmir and Brian visited on a balmly, overcast weekend in May. We counted the seventeen years of our friendship during a particularly sweaty, grueling bootcamp on Saturday morning. They were in town from D.C. for the third time, and I was thrilled to share my new home with them.  But I had also just finished venting to my old friends about the locks that afternoon, so the irony was thick when we found ourselves stymied by the HQ Security System.

I like to lifeguard my life. Bonesaw not so much.

In his mind, we were able to get in. “You were inside the house within five minutes!” he countered later when I brought up the locks.  (We popped off a screen and jimmied open a window without too much trouble, so the ultimate goal was indeed achieved.)

I, on the other hand, felt consumed by the time spent circling the house and the implications of being able to break in without challenge or response from the neighbors or the police.

But … while I’m loath to admit it, lifeguarding is no way to live. My new house has two cats and a dog; an outdoor shower that acts as home for two large bullfrogs; new windows and old floors; slanted countertops and glowing sunsets that stream through the picture window in the living room. The layout is a wonderland of sorts, with surprises around every corner, ample seating, and multiple outdoor spaces to sip coffee or a beer. It boasts three murals and art made almost exclusively by friends and fans. There are multiple places to walk for a taco or a burger; it’s bikable to downtown and Barton Springs and multiple parks and running trails; there’s an ice cream man with a bell and a turtle we frequently rescue from the middle of the road and return safely to his pond.  The university across the street reminds me of my own college, with its steeples and old-brick buildings and rolling hills.  We have a peach tree and a garden with basil and rosemary and flowers.  It’s a playground; a meeting spot; a gathering place; a hub of activity and play. My favorite days include bike commutes, backyard yoga sessions with music playing on the outdoor speakers, chats with the neighbor (who might offer me a taste of one of his edible flowers), happy hours in the front yard, and Hulu on the TV while I hold hands with my man.

The house sits in what many call a “transitional” neighborhood populated by old-Austin families and college kids. I’d like to think that our home honors the roots of our city, clinging to the spirit of Austin Weird at the same time that it’s under reconstruction.  Much like me, this house and this neighborhood are eager to become something new. Something, if not better, then revised.

So Brian and Rusmir and I laughed (at least the next day) about being locked out due to a ridiculous set of circumstances and lifestyle decisions. Because that’s what old friends do: they support you and love you through your change; through all of the iterations of YOU.

Bonesaw may never lock the doors. I may never make the bed. But we are both in flux. We are both growing and learning, always. One of our mutual friends suggested that I used another word one day when I fretted about my move-in:  “Not change,” he clarified. “Progress.”

And within days after returning from tour, Bonesaw went to Home Depot and replaced all the locks.


Mar 28 2014

To Love Deeply

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  -Lao Zsu

 

Bonesaw has been nesting.  He’s fixing the pipes in the bathrooms, installing new windows, patching up the walls in the kitchen.  We bought a new washer-dryer, and he’s repaired some of the molding in heavily-trafficked areas.  Every day it’s a new project, a new task.

I know that he’s excited, and that his Papa Bear intuition is kicking in.  I know that he’s showing love, and that these little steps and improvements are gifts.  They are acts of caring.  He’s putting things into place so that I’ll feel welcome; at home; cozy.  And it’s working.  Because Bonesaw loves deeply.  He doesn’t know any other way.  And it does give me strength; it does make me feel powerful and confident and sure.

But loving deeply trips me up.

This weekend I move in.  Someone asked me about my expectations for the moving day.  “Efficiency,” I answered.  But the truth is that, with the crew of friends who will be helping, I think it may just be fun.  Moving is always a struggle, but I hope that the day will end with a celebration.  With pizza and beer and toasts to this new adventure.

Bonesaw and I recently painted my Reading Room – or “Study” as he calls it.  We chose a bright, minty, hopeful green.  We twittered about the revised space excitedly, giddy with the accomplishment, our fingers speckled with paint.

A few days after that, we bought a soft, squishy love seat for one of the corners of the living room.  Its rusty-brown warms up the space, contrasting with the forest green on the walls.

And then, a week later, we got into a knock-down, drag-out fight.  The kind of fight that keeps you up all night, and leaves your eyes puffy from tears and lack of sleep.  I spent the next day wrestling demons and doubt, watching the sunlight change through the blinds on my bedroom windows.

“Soon you won’t have another home to go to,” he reminded me.

And as much as it sounded like a threat – like a vice, like a cage – I know what he meant:

Stick around.  Fight it out.  See it through.

Because my run-the-fuck-away approach of late really doesn’t help.  Nor does it work.  I don’t feel better, and in the end we both lose.  It’s a finely-honed, acutely-learned instinct that really kicked in following past heartache and loss, and it’s just dumb.  There’s no better way to put it.   Still, I did run that day.  Just a little bit.  I packed up all of my things like an angry child with his toys, and I retreated back to my own house.  To a place that would only be mine for exactly one more week.

But that night, we put down our weapons (and I put down my armor) and we held hands.  We barely even talked, but we didn’t really need to.  Because I’m trying to be brave.  I want to live in a room painted “Wishful Green” – a place that breeds faith and trust; confidence and freedom.  A place filled with love, where frustration and anger are okay.  Where they’re safe, even.  I don’t want to watch the sun, alone, pass across the sky.  I want to be bold enough to love deeply.


Feb 20 2014

The Sun Sets on Kinney

The sun set on my snow day as I napped in my old, familiar chair with my dachshund nestled on my lap.  I woke before opening my eyes, wrapping awareness around the moment and holding it still and quiet as long as I could.  When I finally slid my eyes open, so slowly, I found a wisp of cloud winking at me through the living room window, filtered by the frothy curtain I never close all the way.  My roommate was in the next room, and I knew that he was reading or writing somewhere in the gentle silence.  The whole house felt soft and warm, cradling us against the chill of the day outside and the waning sunlight.  Tomorrow we’d go back to work, to noise, to clutter.  But on this unexpected day of indulgent freedom, we hibernated; we gathered; we savored the irresponsibility in our quirky old-Austin home.

I began the day with my boyfriend.

The unusual opportunity to sleep in extended into hot, sweet coffee, spoons scraping against cereal bowls, and the sound of his fingers tapping a laptop keyboard.  I steeled myself against the mild cold in his house, welcoming Marley’s hot-stone body, and opened my book.  Eventually I left him to his work, returning to my roommate back at home, enacting my upcoming move in reverse.

Jeff and I made popcorn and watched an afternoon movie – a story-within-a-story – about a struggling writer.  As the narratives piled up on each other, we both avoided addressing the obvious irony.  Instead, we buried ourselves in butter, salt, and crunch.  The day wound down gently, cautiously, kindly.

 

The last time I transitioned from roommate to romance, Naz and I drank mimosas on moving day.  We toasted our friendship over breakfast tacos.

But I was clueless.  I was blind.

I didn’t really savor our last months together, and I never mourned the end.  I was on cruise-control, riding the rush of wedding plans and homebuying.  I was innocent, confident, ignorant.  Life was happening, and I wasn’t watching it.  I was devoured by it.  I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  Naïve to the realities ahead, I forged on, oblivious to the needs my best friend had been meeting for me all that time.

I was unprepared for the jolt of loneliness.  Of having my best friend yanked away from me like a twin at childbirth.  I was unaware of the role she’d been playing in my life, and suddenly it was too late to go back.

I don’t intent to make the same mistake again.

 

I watch the light change in this funny makeshift living room, resisting the urge to turn on the lamp over my shoulder.  I will enjoy these last minutes, hours, days.  I’ll make note of the sunsets; of Jeff’s morning coffee; of every crack in the sidewalk.

I know how many steps it takes to get to the tiny firehouse down the street.  I’m vaguely aware of the water stain on the ceiling of my room, only slightly concealed by Mexican tissue-paper flowers.  I’ve grown used to the hum of the train, the smell of the coffee at Austin Java, the creak of Jeff opening his bedroom door early in the morning.  Every night I brave the darkness of the backyard as it stretches far toward the creek bed, and I’m careful on our steep side-doorstep.

I often come home to garlic and onion sizzling in a pan, and I can read the meal ahead by the ingredients laid out on the counter.  Will it be Jeff’s white bean dip with crostini, or his ragu?  Will he be roasting vegetables or cooking up a creamy mushroom risotto?

This house has a strong pull, and with today’s warmth inside it’s stronger still.

I know how long I can shower before running out of hot water, and the best routes to Zilker and Barton Springs.  I know the nearest coffee shops, and which ones offer seasonal lattes.  I know when the Chuy’s happy hour ends, and when to avoid going for a run if I don’t want the sun directly in my eyes.  I know when it gets too cold for Jeff to go running, and I know when he’s just too tired to begin with.

I’m taking it all in, tucking away these memories, putting them in my pocket for later.  I will come back to them like a worry stone.

This time, this place, will be locked up safe.  It can’t be my safety net on this new adventure, and no adventure comes without risk.  I will set this experience aside, let it be, love it now.  I will squeeze in the affection for these moments, even as they pass quickly , slipping through my fingers like waves over rocks.

I will not repeat old mistakes.  There are too many new errors to make, and this place, this time, this friendship won’t be a part of them.  I’m taking off the cables, putting down the parasol, setting aside the training wheels.  I’m scared, but it’s time to get on the ride and throw my hands in the air.


Jan 31 2014

Promises

Once upon a time, I made a promise to myself.

In the midst of the most frightening, the most devastating, the most overwhelming experience of my life, I vowed to live without fear; to move forward in my life with confidence and courage and love.  Fear had held me back for so long, keeping my happiness captive behind a high wall of stone.  I swore I’d banish fear, and never let it creep back into my world.

I’ve been breaking that promise a lot lately.

 

I’m moving into my boyfriend’s house this spring.  We even have a moving day.  And it’s this big, quirky, social hub of a home.  And he’s my best friend, and we’re wildly in love.  We’re ready for this, eager for the next step.  I should be elated.

 

I’m terrified.

 

I’m haunted by the knowledge of what could happen; paranoid that his bandmates (and current roommates) will resent me and the change that I bring; unsure about his love; worried that the house will never feel like my home.  We can’t seem to talk about it without fighting, because I feel so inexplicably angry, so paper-thin sensitive, so insecure and unsafe.

There’s a band culture and an urban family to consider, with no fewer than nine people being displaced and shuffled around in this crazy process.  The timeline is unclear.  My boyfriend will inevitably be on tour much of the time, leaving me alone in a dark house with only our three small animals for company.

And none of this is insurmountable, and the wheels are already turning for it all to work out just fine.  Rationally, I know that.  But emotionally, I’m paralyzed.

Meanwhile he’s unfailingly confident.  Absolutely positive.  He’s so incredibly sure.

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” he asked me finally, in the midst of a particularly acute meltdown.  And that’s when the lightbulb bloomed bright over my head.  The truth came crashing down around me, sticking in my hair like broken glass.  Like so many shattered champagne flutes.

Because I was sure before.  But I was wrong.

And now I know that sometimes things fall apart.  People fall out of love, they hurt each other, they break.  There are no guarantees, only blind faith and educated guesses.  Only knowing a person, only loving him, only hoping against hope that you aren’t a fool.

Sometimes I forget now and then.  I go charging ahead, blissfully naive and willing.  But knowledge is a tricky thing, and experience wields a white-hot brander on the memory.  That awareness is never really gone, it’s only hiding.  And it’s every bit as startling when it returns.

I keep trying to get a grip on this slippery rope of emotions and trust, but it seems to unravel and spin away faster with every desperate grasp.

 

Perhaps it’s time I gathered my grappling hooks.


Dec 4 2013

I Don’t Have a Sister. But I Wish I Did.

Last night I went to a birthday party-meets-show where my boyfriend was playing bass in the guest of honor’s ensemble band.

Bonesaw generally plays lead guitar in his own band, and he writes (or collaborates on) much of the music they play.  I’ve seen him play other people’s music only a few times, and it’s always a bit uncomfortable.  He comes alive when he plays his own material, whereas when he steps in on covers he appears anxious and reserved.  Add to that the fact that he wasn’t playing his primary instrument, and last night was a perfect example of this distress.

But then his brother played drums for a song, and Bonesaw visibly relaxed.

Hoag and Bonesaw are as close to being twins as possible…without actually being twins.  They live and work together; they fight like crazy and the next day they’re over it; they create fantastic music together; the play sports together; tour together in a cramped van.  They’ve spent the majority of their lives connected in one way or another.  They’re different, and they disagree all the time, and they don’t always want to be around each other.  But the love between them is palpable.

So when Hoag sat down at the drum kit, the tension in Bonesaw’s shoulders and face disappeared.  He grinned and made eye contact with his brother.  He began to groove comfortably with the music, looking more like the on-stage Bonesaw that I’ve come to know.  It was touching and sweet, and I envied them a little bit.

It’s moments like that when I wish that I had a sister.

I have two incredible brothers who are loving and fun, and we’re as close as we are different.  I adore them.  But it’s no secret that it’s not the same as having a same-sex sibling.  I don’t have a girl to share and trade clothes with; no sister who grew up next to me and fawned over the same boys; no sister sibling to fight with and go out with and watch chick flicks.  When my family vacationed, I often brought a friend with me, because let’s be honest – my brothers and I didn’t always want to do the same things and play the same way.

Sometimes when Hoag and Bonesaw fight, I get nervous, like their relationship is this fragile thing that could shatter with one harsh word.  I’m still learning that it’s far more durable and secure than that.  I just don’t know, because I’ve never had that type of un-changing closeness.

But I’ve also been lucky, because I have a host of adopted sisters that I never could have anticipated.  As an athlete, I’ve played on countless sports teams, acquiring a substantial crew of close friends.  Sometimes they drive me crazy, and I’ve wondered many times whether I’d be friends with some of them had we not been placed on a roster together.   But more than once I’ve grown to love those same girls by my side on the bus, the plane, the hotel room, the field.  Because, much like families, we’re stuck with each other.  We bond over shared struggle and mutual goals.  It isn’t easy, but it’s powerful.

I’ve lived with these girls.  Cooked with them, cried with them, argued with them.  I’ve sat in airports all over the country, sore and sweaty, my head resting in a teammate’s lap.  We’ve chowed on carbs, iced broken ankles, driven each other to the hospital for ACL reconstruction.  It’s a particular relationship, being teammates, and it isn’t always symbiotiSisters at Regionalsc.

But if I can’t have a sister, I’ll happily and gratefully take a teammate.