Jun 14 2012

On Allison Road

“Such is friendship that through it we love places and seasons.”     -Henry David Thoreau

 Internet dating wasn’t as big nine years ago as it is today. 

So you’d think that the most lasting relationship I’ve had here in Austin wouldn’t have been forged online.  And yet, it was.

In the fall of 2003 I was part of an incoming-class email list for a graduate program at the University of Texas (American Studies, to be specific).  And I have to say, I thought we had an awfully nice group of noobs. 

In all of my naïve and candid glory, I emailed everyone six months before we started classes, introducing myself to my future compatriots.  Something along the lines of, “I’m moving from Massachusetts, and I don’t know anyone!  Be my friend!”  And as nice as everyone was, only one person wrote back reciprocating my arguably needy plea. 

Allison and I “friend-dated” via email for the spring and summer leading up to our grad program start-date in August.  We exchanged pictures.  We talked about our relationships and our dogs.  We planned to get together when I arrived in Austin, and she promised to help me unload my UHaul.  My local friends joked that we’d probably realize that we hated each other when we were actually in the same city, and part of me agreed that it was almost too good to be true. 

But we just clicked.  She was friendly but edgy; smart and attractive; sassy but outgoing.  If not warm, specifically, certainly she was funny and generous with time, praise, and support.  And that didn’t change when I arrived in Texas. 

Allison and I ate lunch together twice a week, took almost all of the same classes, introduced our respective partners to each other.  We read each others’ essays, commiserated over the most arduous of readings, and shared dog-sitting.  And even when our worlds turned upside down over and over again, she remained a fixed part of my life.

So here we are, after three major break-ups (including two divorces), a wedding, twelve (TWELVE!) moves, three degrees, half a dozen varying jobs, countless cups of coffee, and more alcohol than I care to (or can) remember.   

And she’s leaving.

I exited our graduate program with my master’s, realizing that my experience there had run its course. But Allison stuck it out, and this spring she earned her Ph.D.  She’s Dr. Allison!  Huzzah!  But academic jobs are hard to come by, so that degree takes her far away from Austin.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m supremely happy for her.  She’s worked her ass off for this degree, and she deserves every bit of success that comes her way.  I know that she’s about to embark on a tremendous adventure; to grow personally and professionally; to fulfill lifelong goals and test her considerable mettle. 

But there’s a part of me – and not a very small one, either – that wants to stomp my foot and stick out my lower lip.  I want to blockade the door so that she can’t go.  I want to “borrow” some handcuffs and just send the movers on their merry way when they arrive at her doorstep.  I want to stand outside her window with a boom box playing “In Your Eyes”, my chin raised defiantly.  Don’t go, Dr. Allison!  How can you leave us?!

Because one could argue that the friendship that I’ve shared with Allison is the most successful one that I’ve had in Austin.  She’s marked my experience here.  I don’t know this city without her.  She’s been here from Day One.  I’ve made so so many great friends, and I know that (while I’ll miss her desperately), I won’t be lonely.  Still…there will be a void.  Allison is my Austin.  Here in this capital city, all roads lead to her for me.  

I know that we’re grown-ups, and your friends aren’t supposed to mean quite as much to you as you age.  That you’re supposed to transfer your attention to things like kids, career, romance.  But honestly, I think that’s a load of bullshit.  Who says we need to grow up at all?  Who says that our friends can’t be just as important as those things?  Not me. 

I’m confident that Allison and I will keep in touch.  We’re already planning a visit, actually.  And I know that no matter where our friendship leads us, I’ll be grateful for the closeness that we’ve shared.  But there’s no denying this:  A chapter is closing, and Austin is (once again) reimaged for me due to her absence.

In the winter of 2005 I took an extended trip to Europe, and Allison burned me a CD for my wanderings.  I still have that disc…somewhere…and every so often I pop it in to remember that time and place.  One of the last tracks was cleverly selected by Allison so that I’d keep her in my thoughts during my travels.  So here’s my dedication to my friend, who will in some ways always embody this place for me:  “Allison Road” by the Gin Blossoms.  Enjoy, friends.  And fare thee well, A.

Jun 7 2012

My Future is Glorious

“I brought some intention cards,” the yogi tells us before class begins.  “I’m going to spread them out in the front of the room.  I encourage you to pick at random.  Sometimes people like to sift through and pick a specific card, but I think it works better when you draw spontaneously.  It might surprise you how well it fits.”

I love this kind of thing.  Sure, it’s pie-in-the-sky hippie nonsense, but I’m at yoga for crying out loud.  That’s what I came for.  I’m so used to high-intensity, competitive team sports.  It’s always refreshing to be in the me-centered, forgiving atmosphere of a yoga class.

I’m a little distracted by the instructor’s pink pants, long legs, and overall brightness (she’s so darn cute), but I manage to get the gist of what she’s saying.

I draw a card.

My future is glorious.  My life is filled with limitless light, love, and joy.  All is right with my world.

I’m not sure that this is what I imagine an intention to be.  I always thought that “establishing an intention for my practice” was more about setting goals rather than mantras.  And if I was looking for blah-dee-blah earthy-crunchy gobbledeegook, well…I got it.

But that aside, it’s exactly what I need.  The yogi was right.  I am surprised, and pleasantly so.  And even if the word “glorious” was forever ruined by Will Ferrell in Old School  (as someone pointed out when I shared my intention), something tight and knotted in my chest releasess a bit when I read the words.  It’s just a card, of course.  Something sold at a little indie bookshop or curio market, I’m sure, for far more than it cost to make.  It isn’t a crystal ball (or even a Magic 8 Ball, for that matter).  It’s vague and arguably trite.  But I repeat it to myself a few times before we even begin the class.  It just makes me feel better.  Who cares, then, about who made it or why?  What I hear in the words is, “You have nothing to worry about.”  Or, at least, “Worrying doesn’t help.”  And that I do know.

About a year ago I threw security out the window.  I took a very reliable and predictable life and chucked it in favor of happiness.  I’m sure that a lot of people – close friends included – were thinking, “What the HELL is Colleen doing?”  I abandoned much of what was familiar and safe and dove head-long into the unknown.  And it wasn’t scary in the moment, to be honest.  It was liberating.  I knew that I was listening to what I needed and wanted – or at least what I didn’t need and want – and any sacrifice was worth it for that cause.  The lack of fear was proof, in fact, that I was doing the right thing.  I was in crisis mode, only managing the most dire of issues at any given time.  Stressing over things like medical insurance and retirement and home ownership…Well, that took a backseat to the more pressing need of, you know, personal fulfillment and emotional satisfaction. 

I came out safely on the other side of that transition…although just barely.  I got through it, but I’m not without some late-blooming bruises.  Fear has crept up on me recently.  It’s all part of the process, I know, but sooner or later the security that I abandoned had to taunt me a little bit.  I’ve started to think about “little things” again.  Not the immediate woes of adulthood, but the long-term, “What will happen to me?” anxieties.  The “what ifs?” and the “what would I dos?”

Because they’re bound to come up, right?  When you’re young (or young-ish), it’s easy to imagine that you’ll work forever, or that money will just work itself out, or that you’ll always be healthy.  You forget that your parents will pass away one day, or that you may lose a friend or fall ill yourself.  You don’t think about supporting another person (like a spouse or children), or the housing market, or unemployment.  (Or maybe you do.  For a while I didn’t.)  Those things are all there, waiting to spring at you when you’re least expecting them.

None of these issues have actually leapt at me from their dark and shadowy corners, but I’m reminded that they exist again.  I’ve been dreaming a lot more, waking with the awareness that my subconscious has been spinning stories.  (Ah, anxiety, my old friend.  I wish I could say that I missed you…But I sure as hell didn’t.)

So when I read that reassuring card, I remember that, even though this year of flux didn’t eliminate life-stress, it did teach me that I thrive even in the darkest of times.  Sure, hardship and pressure and chaos will be part of my future.  It’s guaranteed.  But to me, “glory” isn’t about winning, or about perfection, or about ideal circumstances.  It’s about shining through the difficulties.  Overcoming.  It’s about magnificent grace. 

Just like my student said all of those months ago, without the wreck you wouldn’t see the beauty.  My future is glorious because I’ll make it so, even amidst struggle.  And I’ll be stronger, more complicated, more interesting because of the mess.  It isn’t a new idea to remember that you can only experience loss if you have something to lose.  But it’s no less true.  And it’s worth it. 

Sure, I can worry all I want about the unknown and the obstacles.  But it doesn’t do me a damn bit of good.  All I can do is enjoy this moment…and this one…and the next…And then roll with the punches when they descend (which, I know, they will).  That’s ensuring that all is right in my world.  That’s filling my life with limitless love.  Opening my arms to the opportunities and the scars and the trouble.  If I lose someone I love – yes, it will be tragic.  But how lucky am I that I have so many people that I love in this world?  To be surrounded by such joy and colorful experience?

My future is unknown.  But it is also glorious.