Last Monday, as I scrolled past cat memes and cute corgi puppies on my Facebook feed, I discovered that the mother of one of my close girlfriends had passed away. On Tuesday, Facebook informed me the brother-in-law of one of my best girl friends was stabbed seven times after saving a woman from being stabbed by her husband. On Wednesday, I discovered a lump on my left breast. On Thursday, my co-worker’s husband died. By the time I crawled into bed crying Thursday night, all I could think about was boarding my Friday flight to San Francisco and how wonderful it was going to feel to hug a close girl friend of 12 years who I had not seen in six.
She and I had planned to move to San Francisco and be roommates. Then, one day, while I worked on “saving money” (read: spending money) in ATL, she’d called and said she’d booked her flight. She departed in a week. She was moving to San Francisco. I was not. That was two years ago.
Nine months ago I left ATL for Las Vegas with plans to crash with my older brother and save money so I could finally actually move to San Francisco, but all that ended up happening was that I freelanced for a bit, was unemployed for a bit, worked a shit job for a bit, and as of three weeks ago, finally got a decent job. No money was saved, just the accumulation of passed time.
And because I do not have the money to move to San Francisco, I decided the least I could do was get a buddy pass from my bro and go visit my friend. I have other close friends in the Bay Area, but of everyone there she’s the one I’m closest with and has known me longest. She’s seen me through a decade’s worth of phases (like me with a tongue ring. seriously? seriously), and heartache (he was ten years my senior with neck tattoos … need I say more?), and the many failed attempts at learning my way (too many to specify).
Over the weekend we didn’t do much other than walk up and down the streets talking and drinking and hugging the way girl friends do when they haven’t seen each other in a long while. We talked about what we wanted and where we were headed. She told me she was leaving San Francisco. She hadn’t found what she was looking for. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she hadn’t found it there. Except she had no home to return to. She’s lived in so many places, she no longer knew home.
And despite the laughter and hugs, the more we walked and the more we talked (and the drunker we got), my mind could not help but go back to all the deaths from earlier in the week.
It was three weeks ago I’d video chatted with my girlfriend whose mother passed away. Her mother had been sick. We spoke about our mothers and whether or not they were so strong because they were raised by a much older generation or if it was because they grew up minorities in white, male-dominated society as her mother was Indian, and mine is Puerto Rican. We spoke about how much we admired them and wanted to be like them when we grew up. “My mother,” she wrote on Facebook after her passing, “who goes to see Salman Rushdie read with me, who sends a Diwali card to president Obama, who watches Malcolm X videos with me.”
My other girl friend whose brother-in-law would die from the stab wounds after saving a woman’s life had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador with his wife and four-year-old daughter. His daughter was there when the attack happened. My girl friend met her half siblings for the first time in Ecuador a couple of years ago, finally completing the puzzle pieces missing from her life. Over Facebook, she communicated her confusion and struggle to understand why this happened to a good man. Her sister lived in another state. I knew at the very least she wanted to give her sister a hug in person.
It’s a weird feeling to find out about your friend’s life-changing moments over an artificial medium that is simultaneously very much real. I could feel their pain, but I couldn’t comfort them; I couldn’t reach out and hug them.
I was in the office when my co-worker got the call about her husband. She’d recently come back to work after being on bed rest due to complications with her pregnancy. Her husband swapped her computer and cell for TV and pampering. She was two weeks away from having their second child, their first girl. Her four-year-old son phoned her at work. “Daddy can’t breathe,” he said. Before the phone call, she’d walked into the office from lunch with the kind of lazy sway one has on a typical, uneventful weekday—satisfied and sedated from a stomach full of one of her husband’s many delicious homemade chef dishes and the comforting confidence that comes with knowing today will be like the last. Then the call came and she ran out the door, her 9-month belly racing ahead of her as if her daughter knew she and her father were in a race against time. Two hours later we received the news. He went into cardiac arrest and passed away. He had an enlarged heart. He was 34 years young.
The more I thought about it all, the sadder it made me. Mostly, I was really fucking angry. Also: I really wanted a cigarette. I had decided to use my trip to San Francisco as a catalyst to get healthier and quit smoking, as you can’t smoke indoors in California, and then I found the lump in my breast. It was two nights before my trip. It was the first time I truly felt 30 years old. It was the first time I felt mortal. “It’s something or nothing,” a girl friend told me over Gchat. “Worse case scenario, you die. Best case scenario, you don’t. And medium case scenario, you get new perfect tits.” Then she added: “I pretty much hate my tits.” All I could think was, “But I love mine.”
The more I walked through San Francisco, the more I dreamed of moving there. It was the second city I ever romanced, the first being New York City, which I never lived in. Instead, I ended up in ATL after college. It was supposed to be a stepping stone, and for years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, but eventually I came to truly love all it had to offer. Still, after spending my entire 20s, I was ready to move on and explore something new. Ask me why I want to live in the Bay Area so badly and, honestly, I don’t have any real solid answer. I just … I like it. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s clean and pretty and there’s so many trees, and I would rather always carry a light sweater and perpetually have fog moisture caught in my hair than sweat my vag off in this dry desert heat. And yet, as I walked around, something occurred to me: I liked San Francisco, but I was in love with ATL.
Atlanta is underrated. Not only is it affordable, but there’s always a great art or literary or music show, and our city streets have the most beautiful street art and murals and it’s sunny and grassy and the people are sweet and chill. But above all else, it’s where most of my really close friends are. And as much as I love the Internet and technology, virtual touch is not the same as real touch. Who wants an e-hug after a shit day when you can get the real deal in person? And yet … I’m not ready to return to ATL. It’s too soon, too familiar. San Francisco, like most romances I pursue, may not be the one for me, but I’d rather have my heart broken then be left wondering “What if?”
On Sunday I changed my flight and flew back home early to be with my mom for Mother’s Day dinner. As I unpacked my bags back in Vegas, I watched a TED Talk by Breneé Brown on the power of vulnerability. It was probably the accumulation of an entire week of ups and downs, but I broke down in tears as I listened to her speak. A part of me still wanted to move to San Francisco, another part of me wanted to move back to ATL, and another part of me wanted to stay in Vegas and spend more time with my mom while I still have her.
According to Brown’s studies, people who are willing to be vulnerable, that are willing to put themselves out there, live more wholeheartedly and therefore have a more satisfied level of happiness. “Let ourselves be seen,” she advises, “Deeply seen. Vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee.” I am a lot of things, but making myself vulnerable is a trait I have slowly closed myself from over the last few years, the result of crushed dreams and failed relationships. But, at my core, I know that being vulnerable is the only way to truly grow, to truly be happy.
My default nature is that of a neurotic, anxious, somewhat depressive person that overthinks most everything. But it is because of all these negatives that have allowed me to become the friendly, optimistic dreamer I am today. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I’m not the only one who feels weird and lonely and anxious. That the person next to me probably feels the same way, and that I’d rather take the risk of sounding weird and lonely and anxious than not tell the person hello or flash them a smile or tell them I like their outfit or tell them to have a nice day. The result of which is usually a returned smiled and a returned compliment and a renewed sense that positivity and love have been restored in the universe.
Recently I read an article that said people shouldn’t talk about their promotions or breakups or illnesses over Facebook because nobody cares and it’s inappropriate. If that’s the case, then what the fuck is social media for?! Oh, yes, please, tell me about how you’re at Denny’s or at the supermarket buying toilet paper. I not only enjoy sharing life’s smallest and largest moments over Facebook, but I also enjoy that of my friends’. Facebook has allowed me to connect and stay in touch with so many close friends, and I especially don’t know what I would have done without it during my move to Las Vegas.
Our desire to connect is hardwired in our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human. The truth is you and me and all of us want to feel special. It’s easy to think nobody is listening, that nobody cares, but that’s not true. We exist, even when we don’t think we are. But it’s a horrible feeling, when you think you aren’t being noticed, when you feel discarded and invisible. It’s why I’m such Facebook slut, clicking “Like” on so many people’s shares. It’s the reason I post so damn much. You don’t have to “Like” it, but it just might resonate with you, and that’s reason enough for me to share.
Like last week, when a friend shared the beautifully produced video that brought to life David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. I loved the piece so much I posted it on my wall, shared it with friends, and e-mailed to the creative department I work in, hesitant that my work peers would think me weird or over-sentimental. The day before her husband passed away, I saw her watch it on her computer just three feet away from me. And while other co-workers e-mailed me to tell me how much they loved it, she didn’t mention anything to me. I figured she hadn’t liked it. Which was perfectly okay, of course.
And then I sat at her husband’s memorial. Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” played as photos of her husband played on a large flat-screen TV. He was a big guy, which everyone said had an even bigger heart. It was ironic he died of an enlarged heart, as if he’d love too much. His mother stood up and spoke about how he always tried to make everyone feel special, how he made her feel like a super hero.
Finally my co-worker stood up to speak. She said she hadn’t prepared a speech, but she recalled this video someone sent her about a commencement speech an author gave at a college. It was the video I’d sent her. She talked about how life was all about perspective; about living in the present and appreciating what you have, and that her husband lived like that every single day. I kinda lost it at that point. I thought about all the things in life we never think people notice and how much beauty exists.
I have this running joke with close friends where I say I hate people, because I do kinda believe that we’re all selfish pricks only looking out for our own backs. But even so, I really kinda do love everyone. I’m a ball of love. And sitting in that memorial I just thought about the deaths and love lost the past week, about how I wasn’t there to hug my friends during their time of loss, about how much I miss my friends, about how my mom is my best friend and I never want her to leave me. I thought about the lump in my breast and that New York Times article Angelina Jolie wrote about her double mastectomy and about how I don’t want to be sick; about how I don’t want to die. I prayed. I said, “I don’t know who you are, or where you are, or if you even exist, but thank you for my life for I am blessed.”
After the memorial, I stepped outside the building into the hot desert sun and fought the urge to smoke a cigarette. I’d only broken down and smoked one on Saturday since I’d quit, and I was determined not to break down again. Standing there in my all black outfit, I looked at the Vegas Strip in the distance. I stared at the fake pyramid and the fake New York City and the fake Seattle and all I could think was “This is a dumb fucking city.” I mean that with no disrespect to anyone who is from Vegas or lives here or loves it here, but this place is not for me. It’s hot and it’s plastic and the more I stared at the strip in the all I could think about was how Vegas was a fantasy of all these other great American cities it would never live up to. It was like one vulgar, sweaty porno flick sticking its middle finger to love and romance. “I can’t stay here,” I mumbled under my breath.
Riding in a co-worker’s car, I set my thoughts aside as we bullshitted on the way back to the office. Soon the traffic became sluggish as we approached a car accident. “I hope that’s no one from the office,” my co-worker said. “I can’t,” I responded.
When we got to the office, we heard the news. Three of our co-workers were in a car crash, including two of the women in our copy editing department. Of us five, one’s husband had passed away, and now the other two were in a car crash, one of whom is seven months pregnant and was rushed to the hospital after experiencing contractions. In the end, none of them suffered severe damages, but they still needed to be taken to the hospital and monitored. It turns out the lady who crashed their car was high on oxycodone and a bunch of other pills.
After hearing all this, I gave into my new daily routine and went to the bathroom and cried. The entire week had been a pile of what-the-fucks flung in every direction, smearing against the walls upon impact. I cried because I was angry for everyone’s loss, I cried because I was sad for their loss, and I cried because I was so effing happy to be alive. I was happy to have my family and friends, even if some were far away.
I thought about how short life is and half the time it feels like we take it for granted and worry about really dumb shit—like me being sad about losing my favorite leather jacket at the airport on my way to San Francisco. I was actually upset about losing a fucking jacket, an inanimate object. My mom had bought it as a Christmas present for me when I was 21. “It’s too masculine,” she’d said. “I like it,” I replied. Black with zippers, when I wore it I felt like a cross between Joey Ramone and Joan Jett. It’s true I felt like a badass when I wore it, but I don’t need a leather jacket to remind me I’m strong, same as I don’t need heels and a dress to make me feel like a woman. The only real thing in life that make me feel badass are me myself and I, and my rad-as-fuck friends and family. You are not your your khaki pants, and I am not my leather jacket.
In the bathroom, I pull my shit somewhat together and head back. As I walk into the office, Otis Redding’s “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay” streams from a computer. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly heard the lyrics to the song until this morning.
I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the ‘Frisco Bay
Cuz I’ve had nothing to live for
And look like nothing’s gonna come my way
That was the moment. As soon as I heard those lyrics, I decided I am going to apply for jobs in San Francisco, because, FUCK IT, that’s why. I don’t want to fantasize with a city, I want to experience it in real life. I may not be able to move at this very moment, but I can’t continue waiting to live today tomorrow. So I’m applying for jobs. And I’ve decided that if and when I get one, I’m going to give myself two years there. If I don’t find whatever it is I’m looking for, whatever experiences my soul seeks, I’m headed back to my home—Atlanta, GA.
It’s not eloquent to say this week has fucking sucked, but you know what? THIS WEEK HAS FUCKING SUCKED. It shouldn’t take tragedy to make us live our lives, but, hey, it’s easy to forget. Luckily, I’ve been reawakened. Life is short, and then you die. And I just want to live and laugh and love and connect as much as I can before it’s too late.