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Wordless Wednesday: Adulthood is Perseverance

Adulthood is Perseverance

Photo via Flickr by Nic Sedlock.

Wordless Wednesday: Man vs. Nature

One Hundred Hours of Solitude

Fellow blogger, Selena, asked me to submit a contribution to her blog http://www.highschoolpoetryslam.blogspot.com/ and aside from being a hugely honored because I love the work she is doing over there, it might also have been just what I needed to help remove the giant writer’s block that has been clogging my head.

The premise of her blog is to deconstruct your high school self and kind of make fun of yourself (which is always good, because in high school most of us probably took ourselves way too seriously and couldn’t really laugh at our angsty dramatics). This got me thinking about high school and the feelings associated with being an angsty teenager, and then I remembered two things which went together in a thought like butter and bread: 1) I had not yet blogged about my recent trip. 2) I felt the high school angst all too recently, and it was acute, and it was unpleasant. And let me tell you, I am happy to be out of high school so I don’t have to feel it very often.

On our cruise, we stopped in various ports. I had this romantic idea about the ports that I would be able to walk around, explore, eat local fresh cuisine, chat with the people who lived there, find hidden non-tourist spots to explore. Unfortunately, when you set expectations you are bound to be disappointed. BF was scuba diving at all the ports, so often times he wouldn’t even come to the land at all, but instead tender off from the big boat to his diving spot. That left me many hours of a day in a foreign country (a developing foreign country, at that) to fend for myself. Being an independent and experienced traveler, I was not worried. Plus, the ship makes it easy to set up various excursions at each port. So, I picked excursions that seemed like something I could do alone — for example, I wasn’t up for zip lining or cave tubing by myself, but some of the more mellow adventures would be fine for a lone woman traveler.

But “lone” really was the operative word. For 12 hours a day (8 on the excursion and 4 to fend for myself), I was alone. Granted, I was in a tour group (of mostly couples and their friends), but I felt very much alone.

I sat on the long bus rides alone. I ate lunch alone. I hiked alone. I walked alone. Full days of almost no talking, unless I was addressed by someone in my group, “Dear, are you all by yourself?” Yes and no, I would say. My boyfriend was scuba diving and that is a once in a lifetime experience, I would say, half reassuring myself. “Oh, that is very nice of you, dear,” they would respond.

In Belize, after a two hour bus ride, our group arrived at a remote Mayan ruin site. We toured the site a bit, and then were allowed to hike up a ruin. It was a pretty treacherous hike, so most of the people in our tour group decided to skip it (they were also much older and it seemed harder for them to get around). I, of course, hiked to the top. When I made it to the top, sweating and panting, I looked out over the vast jungles of Belize that seemed endless. I was alone.

There was something sublime about being alone on the top of a ruin. Something that made you feel important, like you knew a secret on this earth that no one else knew. And there was also something that scared you about being on the top of a ruin so high that your stomach dipped if you took a deep breath, and you felt like you had to take little breaths or you might lose your balance and fall away.

And in my little breaths I looked around for anyone who could witness this too: just one more person to share a real moment with, just so I could remind myself that it was all happening. Someone to give me a little wink or a nod to signify that though sublime and scared, I had been here and I had felt it — and someone else had felt it too.

But I was just alone.

So, I climbed silently down the ruin. My head felt light from altitude but my heart felt heavy with loneliness. About halfway down the descent I saw a young couple climbing up, they were breathless too but they were laughing and talking to each other in thick Irish accents. My spirits brightened a bit and I asked, “May I climb back up with you and ask you to take my picture?” The said yes, and I climbed back up with them, they snapped my photo and I climbed down again. I heard the girl cheering about being on the top of the world as I climbed down, and I heard the boy laugh, and I imagined them twirling together, arms out, heads up, with their eyes focusing on the nearly touchable sky. I held back burning tears.

Later that day our tour group set up camp (we were in the jungles after all, we needed rest and repast) and we had a few hours to spend at camp before we jumped on a jungle boat through the rainforests. At the camp I walked around for a bit, collecting various sized walking sticks before drawing in the dirt with the shortest ones, and then I sat some more. Others in our group napped with their spouse/partner in large hammocks, or hiked around two by two.

I ate my lunch at that camp, sitting alone in the sun at the end of a makeshift gangway, my legs dangling so close to the water that when the wind blew I could feel the finest spray. And I felt the loneliness again. This time, it was something even more tangible than the loneliness I felt on the top of the ruin. It was as familiar and painful as a chronic ache.

My legs were still dangling, but this time I was sitting on a toilet seat, fully clothed, with no intention of using the facilities. A sandwich in a zip-lock baggie was on my lap: mayo, turkey, cheese, wilted iceberg, a tomato, and soggy wheat bread. Next to me was a brown bag with warm string cheese and a warm yogurt. I was wearing a shirt-style sheath dress made of shiny silver fabric with flowers on it, and white, platform tennis shoes. I felt so confident when I put on the outfit that morning, but in the bathroom stall of my new high school I felt only small and alone.

I chose to start eating in the stall after spending a few lunch and break periods sitting at a cafeteria table alone. No one talked to me, no one included me, and aside from the occasional pitying stare from a classmate, everyone avoided me. So when the lunch bell rang and everyone filed to the cafeteria, I would divert from the crowd to the girls’ bathroom that was located closest to the cafeteria. I liked the close-by bathroom because from my stall I could still hear laughing kids, so I felt both connected to possible kinship and wholly reminded of my loneliness. When the bell would ding to signal the end of lunch, I would wipe my tears, take a few bites of string cheese, flush the toilet for good measure, hold my head high, and exit the bathroom stall like I was a queen.

On the cruise, each excursion at port felt like a ringing lunch bell — a stinging reminder that I must brace myself for a day of loneliness. But it was almost worse on my trip because I wasn’t confining myself to a bathroom stall, and it wasn’t just teenage gossip that I was missing out on. Instead, I was exploring ruins, hiking, boating, picking wild mini-plums from a rainforest and then eating them, and seeing amazing things like iguanas the size of dogs walking freely down the city streets. But I didn’t have anyone to be able to share these experiences with. The same feeling as the 15 year-old high school bathroom stall queen, but a little more complex and a little less insecure.

Though I don’t keep in great touch with my friends who studied abroad with me in Madrid, I know how to reach them, and I send them well-wishes via Facebook whenever I can. And they are so important to me because their existence reminds me that when I was in Spain, I really lived. I lived life to the fullest, I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I saw my favorite band at the tiniest venue in Madrid with about 20 people present, I spoke Spanish moderately well, I lived in a beautiful apartment, I stayed up all night in Italy and drank sangria every night in Spain, and I took in everything and never took any of the experiences for granted. I was there. And I have a handful of friends whose very existence, regardless if I talk to them at all or not, reminds me that it was not a dream.

In Central America it wouldn’t have been safe to walk around as a woman alone, with not a soul knowing my whereabouts. So, I couldn’t explore much, I couldn’t venture into non-tourist places. Instead I took long bus rides, tuning out chatter and staring or sleeping. I took long walks in contained ports while singing to myself, drew in the dirt with sticks, foraged for berries, visited wild monkey sanctuaries, and made sand-angels on perfect white beach sand. I toasted to myself and drank a stout Belikin Belizean beer at a bar alone, making a mental note that it was hoppier than most stouts, but was still delicious. Though the memories I had were wonderful, they were always tinged with an underlying sadness that was laced with memories of warm string cheese and tears.

But, the show must go on, and the queen always leaves her throne with her head held high. If anything, from my trip I remembered an ache I am not used to, mostly because I have the most wonderful BF. I am grateful that because of him I usually always have someone who would save me a seat at the proverbial cafeteria lunch table. Maybe I took the comfort of partnership for granted, and the fates wanted me to feel that tangible solitude again. Not the most pleasant lesson, but one I can grow from.

Oh yeah, and next time I go on a cruise, I am inviting all of you. Then BF can scuba dive and someone can twirl around on the top of a ruin with me.

Back to Land.

Hi everyone,
I have made it back from my trip and boy do I have stories to share. Unfortunately, school also started up again this week and work+school+jet lag is really not giving me the energy to write a fabulous post.

Tomorrow I shall write you a blog entry reflecting on my trip, which was simultaneously the most fun and the most lonliness I have experienced in a very long time. Until then…

My Life in Minutes

This weekend I watched one of my oldest friends (Nicole, see post below) get married. She is the first of our little group of childhood friends to get married, and I can’t tell you how joyous a moment it was for me to be able to be standing next to her on her wedding day. I don’t want to talk too much about the day, because I am really hoping to get Nicole back to Welcome to Adulthood for another guest blog to tell you all about it.

What I do want to talk about today is living. On the flight home from the wedding, I had an interesting experience that gave me about five minutes to reassess my life. Our plane tried to land in San Diego in the middle of a foggy, windy, rainy storm. I have flown many times in my life and I have never felt the kind of extreme turbulence I experienced on this flight. The lady in the seat next to me, who I had lent my magazine to a few minutes earlier, was clutching my arm and praying — which did not help me to be calm on the brink of utter panic. My boyfriend was with me also. He, of course, ever stoic and valiant, says he “was not scared at all.” But, I could tell by the yelps that most of the other people on the plane sounded pretty scared.

So here I am: falling in an airplane, with a strange lady clutching my arm. I am on the verge of a panic attack. I start thinking of all the worst-case scenarios and conclude that if we had to make a water landing, I would die right away because, not only am I a very poor swimmer, but I had consumed nothing but coffee that day and thus I would perish from dehydration. As I thought this, my mouth became more and more dry, my head began to pound, panic crept into me, gripping my breath and my stomach, and it was all I could do to not throw-up. Suddenly, a track from the ever-evolving Soundtrack of Mara turned on in my head and it calmed me. My plane crash music was Counting Crows, Anna Begins.

I spent the remainder of the flight with my eyes closed./My friend assures me, it’s all or nothing. I am not worried. I am not overly concerned/I was silently bargaining with the mysterious fates that if we didn’t crash I would vow to live every moment as my last./My friend implores me, “For one time only, make an exception.” I am not worried./ In this five minute landing I thought about many things: Nicole’s beautiful wedding, my life in San Diego, my family and cats (“Can I turn my phone on in turbulence to call my mom in the face of death even though ‘FAA prohibits the use of personal electronic devices’!?”), and, oddly enough, my blog[*].

[*]This is the sign I am a hardcore blogger — when faced with uncertain death, I wish I could have just blogged one more time…

When the plane landed, everyone cheered and embraced, but I found myself just numb./Wrap her up in a package of lies. Send her off to a coconut island./ Here I was, squished in the middle seat, and I had just assessed my life in 5 minutes./I am not worried. I am not overly concerned with the status of my emotions./ What conclusions had I come to? Certainly a re-commitment to living every moment as my last, but I also made other realizations that really did stir me, startle me, change me./“Oh” she says, “You’re changing.” We’re always changing./ My life in minutes was a lot less clear-cut than it had seemed 5 minutes earlier./And I’m sure there’s something in a shade of grey, or something in between, and I can always change my name if that’s what you mean./

I walked off the plane, dizzy and nauseous and thirsty for analysis. In our search for the ever-elusive adulthood, complex intellectual assessment has to be both a benefit and a curse for adults. Sometimes, when you turn your mind on, you really can’t turn it off very easily…

Your life in minutes — assess it: What would you do differently? What would change in you? Would there be anything in shade of grey if life might end in five minutes, and then, miraculously didn’t end? What would be playing in your mind soundtrack? You know, prior to this incident, I could have never predicted that Anna Begins would be my plane crash music. I would have rather had something like Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve, or Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, or maybe Electric Pink by the Promise Ring, or Just Watch the Fireworks by Jimmy Eat World. But, you can’t request a song when the mind soundtrack turns itself on, you just have to go with it and make it meaningful.

/She’s talking in her sleep. It’s keeping me awake. And Anna begins to toss and turn. And every word is nonsense but I understand and, oh lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing./

***

And We’re Back: Good Friends and 24 Hour Taco

The great thing about adulthood is making great friends who inspire you (particularly in times of woe) to pull yourself up from your bootstraps and keep on livin’.

As is the case with my dear friend Morgan and this very blog. “Let’s resurrect your blog!” she wrote to me in an email yesterday. Attached to the email was this guest blog post, and a bunch of pictures. Now that is a friend.

So, this morning, for the first time in many days, I logged in to my blog and I felt happy. I did not feel too overwhelmed by my recent heaviness of adulthood, even though nothing had really changed — my grandma was still sick, my life was still stressful, my family’s grocery store had still gone under. But now, finally, I had someone who offered to carry a bit of a load that is very important to me (my blog!) And now, finally, I accepted the help.

A few words of introduction to Morgan’s fabulous post…

One thing that I love about Morgan’s entry is that it forces the reader to really work to contextualize place and time. Her descriptions of a local taco stand (we in Southern California know there is one on every corner, a favorite in every neighborhood) and the vast Texas landscape are incredibly rich.

Morgan’s fiance, Brant, is in the Navy and is currently deployed (as we will find out from her post). For Morgan, half a world away, the comfort of Brant’s company (and the memory of one of their happiest times) is recalled again and again with a visit to her local taco shop. There is a kind of quiet tone to this entry, and all the details count to expertly lay out a real feeling of love, happiness, longing, and comfort.

24 Hour Taco
By Morgan Leahy

At 5:58 am, my alarm clock radio whines on and I get an earful of traffic, and an update on the border waits at Calexico and San Ysidro. I wrestle with the sheets and get out of bed to another perfect morning in San Diego.

I spend the day at work, quietly typing at my computer and performing many and varied administrative tasks of great and small importance. At 11:00 I can’t contain a grin as my cell phone starts to vibrate. I carry it out to the parking lot where I talk privately for the fastest half hour of my day. I hear about Brant’s day in Kuwait, how hot it is, how well his dive went, what he had for dinner. Normal things make the distance between us feel less apparent. I hear about a funny practical joke involving a Red Sox fan and a Yankees license plate holder. I tell him how I had trouble sleeping, and I return to the office to finish my day.

After work, I have to feed a friend’s fish. It is as uneventful as you would think and I lock up her house and start to walk home just before dark. The sun sinks slowly into the Pacific behind me, and I walk up the hill towards home.

I cross three blocks and see Roberto’s 24 hour Taco Shop across the street, my favorite guilty pleasure since moving here a year ago. It’s too bad I won’t be able to tell Brant about this. When he left for his deployment four months ago, he made me promise that I would not, under any circumstance, tell him about any stop at Roberto’s. Before the road West, I hadn’t known the least thing about Mexican food. I guess it really started a little north of the Rio Grande.

“Thank you,” the man at the convenience store had said when we finished paying for our assorted snacks and walked out into the hot Texas sun on the third afternoon of our drive, in May of last year. We climbed into the car. Somehow he had convinced me to drive, and we sped off fast enough to get pulled over right away, but not fast enough to get a ticket. I cried. He took the wheel. And we tried again.

We drove out of a Texas afternoon, through a Texas evening, and into a Texas night. I said I could see for miles and I thought I was the first person to ever feel that way. We had the only car on the road, and gas stations, not to mention any traces of communities, spread further and further apart. We held hands in the car and stayed about as quiet as we had been the whole trip. We had no plans or expectations of where we would sleep that night, or how far we would drive.

“Gracias,” The cashier at Roberto’s said to me as I gave him a handful of coins, “Hot Sauce?”

“Si, roja por favor.”

“Tienes un novio?”

“Si. You ask me every time”

“Do you like him?”

“Yes. Still do.”

I grab the sweating plastic to-go bag with my heavy burrito inside and turn again towards home. It’s almost dark.

Somewhere in the West Texas desert, we had turned at an exit that had signs for food and gas when it started to feel like we were playing chicken with the gas gauge. Driving up to a stop sign at the first intersection, we looked around and saw nothing, only the hills covered with a darkness so soft I wanted to wrap it around me. Ahead, a gas station sat on a small hill. It was the only light for miles.

We pulled into the parking lot, filled the tank, and walked inside the convenience store. An older man stood behind the main cash register and a young girl stood behind another counter that had hot food for sale. It was late, maybe 3am, so there wasn’t much food left and I didn’t recognize anything in the case. This was perhaps the third time I had eaten Mexican food before then, so I pointed to what turned out to be a chili relleno and hoped I would like it.

Stretching out on the grass near the curb with our dinner, I laughed as I looked at Brant. We had been on the road for three days, and the scenery, the food, and the company filled me with excitement. I felt like we were just starting out, and we were.

I arrive at my gate just as the last bit of sun is dipping below the Ocean. I take a seat on the front porch and eat part of the burrito, still reminiscing about our cross county drive. Then I step inside to email Brant.

***

And, for all those who have been asking, I will still put up the entry from Meghan’s wedding, as I teased you with about a month ago.

In the mean time, please show our first Guest Blogger some love! What did you take from her entry? What was striking? Do you have a favorite food that transports you somewhere great? For me, it’s hot jamon y queso sandwiches (con huevos). When I studied abroad in Madrid (on a budget so we had to stick with cheap, simple food), my dear roommate would make us these sandwiches for dinner at least 3 times a week. At the time, in our little apartment off of the purple metro line, nothing ever tasted so good…

Thanks Morgan!

We can’t wait to hear more from you!

Reason #414 Why I Love San Francisco

Where have you traveled lately and what interesting/beautiful/alarming/fantastic things have you seen? Send me your pictures and your travel stories! mara@welcometoadulthood.com

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