Yesterday, a handful of friends and I came face to face with a dozen donuts, two pizzas and a two-story house that was no longer mine.
Somewhere in between the initial assessment and Sarah unintentionally rummaging around in the ashes of my dead cat, we came to terms with my mother’s incessant hoarding. From decade-old magazines, high school uniform order forms, a bootleg copy of Stuart Little 2 and the Furby I’d hoped was burned at the stake, my mom kept it all. In boxes that were in boxes in other boxes.
By the five-hour mark, a friend was knee-deep in the horrendous hoarding that became my parents’ room (literally), a mess he only conquered by standing atop the five-foot wreckage like a king.
I use the word conquer very loosely.
Eight hours in, I needed air. Maybe it was the dust but let’s call it a moment of clarity. Not only was I (newly) rich in ugly sweaters and multi-colored windbreakers, but I was (always) rich in friends. The friends that offer shelter when life comes crashing in like the movie Twister. The friends that pocket those fifth grade school pictures because your bangs are crooked, you’re posed with a tree and there’s a spot for it on their fridge. The friends that narrate every single diary entry they find, up to and including the digital Dear Diary (sup 90’s) and your first “story-book” that’s really just a composition notebook full of hand-drawn volcanos and things that could (maybe) pass for people. They alert the masses of every new picture found of you in a hot pink snap-back and a shirt that says “DON’T FEED THE MODELS.”
They ask before throwing anything away, just in case that “2 Cute 2 Fall 4 Boys” book has any sentimental value.
They make this whole “being a 22-year-old with no parents and no home of her own” thing a little less terrifying and a lot less painful – and they do it while wearing your mother’s hot pink windbreaker.
Thirty-something garbage bags and three coffee runs later, we said goodbye, jamming every Staples-bought box of fine China and cringeworthy pictures into our parent’s old cars. Here’s (just some of) what we encountered:
- This portrait sketch of Hilary Duff:
- A Magic 8 ball that told us the chances of us ever finishing were “ask again” and “not likely.”
- One third-grade science fair poster-board, complete with this star hypothesis:
My hypothesis is that leaves change color by how much it eats. I think it’s becaase of chorphyll. I picked this project because I wanted to know more about leaves.
- Pictures like this:
- And this:
- Proof (in acid-washed bell bottoms) that I once wore a size 3.
- Proof that my mom was half a size 3 in 1975:
- A full-size fishbowl for a fish we never had. Eventually it became a 50-pound aquarium full of loose change mom had left everywhere from the floors to the insides of picture frames.
- This picture of me circa 12 in a crop-top with bangs and swimmer’s ear:
- And this one of me as a model:
- An unopened bottle of Irish whiskey hidden in a suitcase full of only golf balls.
- Records like “How to Keep Your Husband Happy” and the West Side Story original score.
- Above all, this hand-written letter to NSYNC signed in gel-pen that was read aloud (twice):
At eight years old, a journalist was born, singling out stars like J.C. for knowing how to drive. Why I reserved my personal info for just Joey, I’ve yet to figure out.
At the end of a long, hard, dust-ridden day, mom left a light at the end of an embarrassing tunnel. While we cursed her habitual hoarding which, by the way, she hid remarkably well, we tugged at heartstrings that hadn’t been touched since those photos were taken; since burying Coronas in the sand at sixteen and receiving communion in an all-white tux. We laughed, we cried and we cried laughing.
Just one more day to thank her for.
A good friend once asked, on the 90 degree side-streets of a spring break in San Juan, why my legs chaff.
I stopped walking, mostly to let my thighs gasp for air, but also to bite back, “because I am appropriately proportioned and a moderate size.” On more than one occasion during that six-day shit show, I channeled my inner Lena Dunham and openly applied diaper rash ointment to the highest, most inner parts of my thighs (spoiler alert: they touch). Let me be blunt about the Balmex. I did this so publicly that I’m pretty sure I was sitting on a monument – and the image of it was my best friend’s wallpaper for weeks.
On November 5th Chip Wilson, company founder of Lululemon, said (out loud) that their pants “just don’t work for some women’s bodies.” What that really means: it’s our own fault the brand’s $130 size 12’s wear down and Wilson would rather us take our thunder thighs somewhere else…like Khols, or KFC.
Maybe the Staten Island mall.
On November 9th, one very brave chaff-er (chaff-ee?) took to the Internet in an open letter to Lululemon on behalf of women across America whose thighs actually touch. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry wrote:
“Here’s the thing. Despite what thigh-gap thinspiration Pinterest boards would have you believe, most women–nearly all women–have thighs that rub against each other. Especially when working out, which is what your clothes are presumably for.
I mean, my thighs touch, Chip.”
A few deep digs later, she went on to explain that the coveted “thigh gap” Tumblr takeover is only possible for women with wide hips – a goal most women would have to rearrange their entire skeletal system to reach. She closed with “Sincerely,” and all the moderately-sized women said “Amen.”
My Lululemon is Forever 21.
Very few things offend me more than 16-year-olds who wear Ramones shirts and the Bound 2 video. Even more offensive are larges that aren’t really larges and jeans that don’t run past size 30 – which by the way is my size – which BY THE WAY is the biggest size Forever 21 makes. Forgive me for forgetting the two size 31s swimming in a sea of 25s that, p.s., aren’t made for every pair.
Take it from a girl society deems big. I’m 5’2 with a 32″ waist and a G cup. My thighs touch and if I drop food, it’s probably somewhere in the crevasse. Clothing companies that confine women to a size no smaller than A and no bigger than B are even worse than those controlling boyfriends Catholic school girls watch PSAs about. Especially when the margin is so significantly small.
Big is beautiful and, God willing you don’t work near a Chipotle, still healthy if you do it right.
Don’t let Forever 21 be a bad boyfriend. Take every quote, unquote large with a grain of salt and remember someone, somewhere made that to be a medium. Break up with brands that don’t love you back and break up with the fucking “thigh gap.”
It’s not just playing hard to get.
I pack up what’s left of my adolescent bedroom, once plastered with poorly ripped pages of Seventeen magazine, high school horror stories and Sharpie, now a deep teal I had taken months to pick out of a catalog with two “grown-up” Home Goods boards full of precious moments (up to and including my 21st, 22nd and that night I slammed my head in the cab door). Also pinned to the panel is a three-year-old fortune that reads,
“Doesn’t this cookie look like a cunt?”
The words “Joyous Christening” hang by a string on the left-hand wall, gifted from two boys on my seventeenth birthday. A drum-head hanging from the center wall reads, “Tonight’s theme: Happy Birthday Meaghan,” gifted from the very same boys at an over-crowded basement sweatshop/birthday the following year. My armoire, broken since sophomore year Saint Patrick’s Day, is empty.
My suitcase isn’t big enough and I keep forgetting to pack the Keurig.
The last words my mother ever spoke to me were about a sponge-bath. They were over a 30-something second phone-call from the intensive care unit and she was only half-coherent. She told me all about her dirty hair and the nurse that called her “sir.” I bet her my life she looked beautiful. She said she had to go but that she loved me, so I said, “I love you more.”
Her last to me were “got me” and “goodbye.”
Our house is hoarded with the belongings of three or more generations of dead people, tucked away tightly like a game of Jenga in my (dead) dad’s room. I pull from the bottom of a heap what looks like a bag of boots and hope for the best. I was never any good at this game.
Cue the panic and the Jack.
When I was stressed at school, mom would send a shaky picture message of the $16 Amazon poster on my bedroom door that (un-ironically) read, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Last weekend, I kept calm and told cancer to go fuck itself (literally, it was written on a cake) at a benefit concert called “Cancer Can’t Kill Love,” organized by the best of my friends. Somewhere in between the sounds of my sweaty friends playing sweaty music with sweatier rock bands and the sweet, sweet sound of “Picture” by Kid Rock, I felt it. The warm, tingly feeling you get when you’ve had one (or six) too many jell-o shots which, ironically, is the same feeling you get when you’re in unconditional love with your friends.
A la Erin Conlon, the “always” friends. The ones who stood by you when you stripped your hair and got a buzz-cut. The ones who rubbed your back when you got so high you thought you were blind. The ones you drank in dug-outs with, pissed in driveways with and comfortably cried in crowded bars with. The new friends you know will be forever friends, and the old ones. The ones that will drop everything, drape a bar with streamers and cheers to your dead parents, all while simultaneously dancing the Cotton Eyed Joe.
The ones that celebrate her life, and subsequently, yours.
By 8 o’clock Sunday night I was 100 percent hammered and 60 percent asleep, overwhelmed by the six-plus hours of alcohol-induced intimacy packing out our usual hole-in-the-wall. That, and that “Picture” was playing again.
Today, I have 15 days to get out of this house.
See also: over a dozen pit-stained pictures set to the tune of “Timber,” a thousand somewhat dollars towards finding a cure and an army of friends that would’ve gone to war for mom, and subsequently, for me. Cancer can’t kill that.
“We’re already in our twenties and lost, let’s not get lost any further.”
1. Pop the champagne in an empty room. Every time. Run at the sound of “champagne showers.”
2. Sleeping on the cold, hard floor of Grand Central Station never, ever feels good; no matter how many watered down shots you took or tables you danced on before passing out in the cab-ride there with a slice of dollar pizza in your lap. Make that last train home like your life depends on it (but miss it in good company at least once).
3. It’s okay to fuck up and it’s okay to fail as long as it’s not out of college. It’s okay to let your clothes pile up so high they top your dresser and to hate your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend for no good reason or no reason at all. It’s okay to do these things because you will do these things and you’ll get drunk in lieu of them, learning to love yourself with each and every force-fed carbohydrate you stomach the next day.
4. Boxed wine is never the answer. Boxed wine is also always the answer. Proceed with caution.
5. Say “no” more often. Sleep in and watch all the episodes of Ellen you have DVR’ed because, sure, life’s too short, but being social can be suffocating. Treat yourself at least once a week, up to and including rolling around in bed for five hours (getting up only to put in the Notebook and feed yourself cake).
6. Fiats may make it cross-country but they won’t do much to intimidate that stranger looking for a fight in the middle of an Ohio gas station.
7. More people than you think will hold your hair back at the bad end of a bender and just as many will carry you up the stairs, set your alarm and cut you out of the duct tape holding up your strapless bra. Some will even use their teeth.
8. There is a silver lining in every closed door, rejection letter and lost stranger in a crowded bar you could’ve sworn you were hitting it off with. Odds are, that job was mainly coffee runs and that stranger had herpes/a girlfriend.
9. Sometimes you’ll ask Jesus to take the wheel and others, to pull the fuck over. Keep at least one hand on the wheel at all times (and your eyes on the road, or at least open).
10. Do not get a haircut just because you’re sad.
11. Having a full-time job is more strenuous than being a full-time student.
12. A la “Four (best years) later,” they can (and will) kick you out of Pacha for crying.
13. You are either light on your feet or light on your grace. There is no happy medium so don’t break the mold. If you do, there’s a heavy chance you’ll end up on the kitchen floor of a crowded party with a shattered Hookah pipe under your arm and a bloody bruise that says you did it.
14. Don’t spend all your money at the jukebox.
15. Duct tape dresses are hard on the lungs and legs.
16. Ex-lovers are hidden from your timeline for a reason. Don’t go rogue just because it’s three in the morning and your Tinder match won’t text back. You m̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ will accidentally like a picture of him and his new girlfriend and no, you cannot take it back.
17. Set two alarms and, if you have to, set ten.
18. Sometimes sex is just sex. Every once in a while, you will find yourself in someone else’s bed and it will mean nothing but a good (or great) time and that’s okay. Don’t regret a single second or bedsheet, friendly or foreign. Intimacy comes in interesting forms.
19. You are beautiful, even if you haven’t had a thigh gap since you were seven and you have a prominent beer pouch. You are a moderate size and appropriately proportioned. One day, you’ll learn to look past pretentious clothing labels and finally tell Forever 21 to go fuck itself for its not-so-forgiving “larges” (with an extra special “fuck you” for one-size-fits-all).
20. That coffee is hot.
21. Appreciate the time you’re spending and who you’re spending it with. Appreciate every pillow-talk and every dining room dance session, every late night drive over the Brooklyn Bridge and every early morning struggle, every handmade Halloween costume and every drink made way too strong. Appreciate every answer to every problem your parents ever gave you. Every person you’ve ever met and the occasionally outrageous happenings how. Appreciate everything and appreciate it always.
22. Losing your voice is a price well spent on a pitch-black road somewhere in Indiana at three in the morning and, of course, in the crowded living room of your best friend’s first apartment.
Also featured on The Daily Pregame.
Originally published by thecollegetownlife.com, now dailypregame.com. Happy re-reading.
Some people are most vulnerable at the end of an uncomfortably sad movie – one where the dog dies or the grandfather never makes amends with his grandson and his wife sees the light before he does. Some are most vulnerable at the end of a chewed pencil, textbook open, brain switched off. Some at what should be the end of a never-ending day and some at the dining hall register, three overpriced cupcakes in tow.
Others share a special kind of vulnerability. These unfortunate souls are most vulnerable unclothed. Bare-naked. Completely exposed. I, like this kind, am most vulnerable when naked. See also: post-breakup. See especially: post-Long Island iced tea.
So here we are, twenty-something and in college, and you’ve seen me naked: a blessing by weekend and an irreversible curse come Monday morning because I know the light was on.
You’ve seen me more vulnerable than my weepy mother at the end of “My Dog Skip.” Your charming slurs pummeled through my emotionally barred walls as I followed you, like Skip, back to your place after three tequila shots too many and an uncensored scene out of Superbad.
I wave my white flag.
As an unlucky student of a campus of fewer than 5,000 undergrads, it’s almost impossible to avoid the casual (yet frequent) run-in with a one-time-late-night-drunken-decision. They’re everywhere. There they are at the gym, two treadmills down. There they are in your 8 a.m. lecture, 9 a.m. lecture and then again at lunch. There they are one more time, two people ahead of you in line at Dunkin Donuts.
As you stir your 500-calorie caramel latte, you’ll notice sugar isn’t the only thing they’re skipping today. See also: eye contact, acknowledgement and respect.
What is it about life that allows the human race to grow older in age but significantly younger in maturity? Why is it that the kid in the corner I borrowed that pencil from freshman year can look me in the eye but you, the friend of a friend who volunteered as tribute to a very gruesome, public make-out, consider me nothing more than a buffer between you and your next destination.
So this one’s for you (yeah, you).
How about you put your big-boy pants on and quit playing blind during our head-on-campus-collisions. I see you. You see me. I SEE YOU SEEING ME. YOU SEE ME SEEING YOU SEEING ME. I see you pick up pace. I see you check a convenient text. I see you fake a phone call, a fall, a death or whatever. I see you.
You’ve seen me naked, you can say hi. Spoiler alert: it meant nothing to me either.
It finally feels like fall as I sit in the above-freezing level waiting room of the ICU at New York Presbyterian. I am drastically underdressed and fidgeting with the sleeves of my mom’s favorite shirt of mine. Just five days ago she asked to borrow it.
My aunt Cecelia shares the cold seat next to me.
Earlier, she and I had missed our stop on the R line, caught up in untold stories of my father’s. We got lost in answers to questions I was too young to ask or even think to ask before he was gone. I was more concerned with the unnatural color of my hair (he lied and said he loved the pink streaks) and the sting of high school heartache (or what I knew then as such) to be curious. Even when he was sick.
The story went that my father was a printer before he was Superman. Stir-crazy, he decided to try something different like casually conducting cranes, building bridges and walking high-beams. Three broken bones and immeasurable afflictions later, I can safely say my father’s equilibrium was not an inherited trait. I think I got his nose, though.
Cecelia misses her stop on the subway moreso than she likes to admit; time and time again getting lost in the conversations of nearby straphangers. An hour and a half later (and 20 minutes out of our way), we’re waiting to say goodbye to mom. Her condition’s taken a turn for the worse and her body is waving a white flag in the form of failing organs after a three month battle with Leukemia we thought she won and a god-damn pneumonia that wouldn’t go to hell.
I feel freakishly fucking comfortable.
My aunt is tuned into a family of five, then six, then seven to the left of us.
A middle-aged woman makes an urgent call while the rest of the family argues around her in Arabic. Whoever picked up the phone may have a very important package in the car, but they don’t have Elsa.
“Elsa, Elsa,” the woman says five, six, seven times, “the one with the punk rock hair-do.”
Elsa has been waiting in the lobby with Aboudi for god knows how long but, don’t worry, they have the package. My aunt and I wonder how many women with matching descriptions will walk in and out of whichever lobby in whichever neighborhood and we laugh. Probably too loud. Definitely too loud.
Our laughter is cut by the entrance of a slim doctor in a plaid shirt and thick-rimmed glasses. He sort of reminds me of an ex-boyfriend, but gay, which feels as weird as you’d think it does.
He calls for the McGoldricks but I keep my arms firm at my side (I’m still imagining said ex-boyfriend in a gay bar). My aunt raises hers even though she’s been a Denniston for all my life. He takes the third cold seat in our corner followed by my hand as I shake the aforementioned image and remember where I am. He doesn’t have to say much to separate himself – and for us to know it’s time.
I feel freakishly fucking calm.
My mom is screaming but they say she feels no pain. A small blonde doctor with a heart too big for her field of practice wells up as she opens my mother’s eyes and tells her that I’m here. My mom is here too, apparently, but she isn’t really there. Her eyes close one last time and her heart rate begins to drop.
95, 93, 90.
A second male doctor in Ray Bans appears and my aunt burrows her head in my shoulder, admitting that, just twelve minutes ago, she walked in on him doing his thing in an unlocked co-ed bathroom. He avoids eye contact like I avoid Splenda and the Big Bang Theory. We can’t help but hope mom’s laughing in there.
We grip her hand tighter.
Cecelia lets out another laugh I’m sure everyone around us considers tacky and untimely, except maybe Dr. Big Heart. “This is the calmest I’ve ever seen her,” she says as her heart rate falls to 50, 48, 45. I think those who knew her would agree.
My mother always struggled with anxiety and I swear she never felt right about me knowing how to ride a bike. She hid knives around the house and was half an hour early to everything (I got my dad’s nose, I got my mother’s sense of time). She was terrified of change and preferred Coors Light over Fireball and sometimes even water. We spent a third of my life fighting but, at 22, she was my biggest fan and I was her best friend, even when I didn’t treat her like mine. She waited up every night.
12, 9, 5.
It’s been a week since I buried my mother in a plot right next to my father’s but it feels like a century. With every set of sad eyes and baker’s dozen “how are you”s, I say the same. I’m okay.
Cue the response: It’s okay not to be. What do I want to say?
Oh, you know. I’m hitting an emotional brick wall at 90 miles per hour with my feet on the dashboard and my seatbelt is fucking broken. Oh, and I still don’t know how to drive. Thanks.
I have no idea why this happened and I have even less of a clue what I’m doing. (What are bills?) Everyone tells me I’m so brave and so strong but really I’m just still breathing – and barely. I lost my mother five years after losing my father and five months after graduating college. Life is pretty shitty right now.
I’ll pull from Remember the Titans, one of my girl’s favorite movies, falling short only to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s musical finale in Dirty Dancing (and maybe Lauryn Hill’s in Sister Act 2).
Sometimes life is hard for no reason at all.
Here’s what I do know (besides the words to both musical numbers).
I’ve given more thanks in the last ten to twelve days than I have my entire life (I’ve also eaten more chocolate and read through more credit card statements). Time is picking up pace again as I get on with it, drowning in a sea of support and sympathy cards. See also: sympathy baked ziti, sympathy champagne and a pound and a half of sympathy corned beef from the family of the ex-boyfriend I pictured in a gay bar.
Don’t forget the condolence Chipotle gift-card.
A week ago today a nearby bar and grill sat 27 of my closest friends and family in between visitations with upwards of 30 more shoulders to cry on. I may be an orphaned 20-something living in a best friend’s basement as winter slowly approaches but somehow, someway, I’m still feeling blessed. What I lack in certainty and financial stability, I make up for tenfold in friends – and I know my best one is always watching.
I’ll always love you more, mom (Left side, strong side).
I’ve always been a “yes” person. I am that girl that agrees to brunch over Sam Adams Saturday night and, come Sunday morning, wholeheartedly hopes for a text saying it’s a no-go (or better yet, no text whatsoever). Maybe even a natural disaster.
But I always say yes. I’ve done so for most of my life – and it explains a lot.
This, in part, is because the fear of missing out is so deeply rooted in my mind, which – frankly – still thinks it’s eighteen. Sure, this may have served as an advantage in college – the fear of missing out regularly dragging my ass out of bed Saturday mornings to answer the call of a boozy brunch – but I can tell you that as a post-grad approaching the six-month mark, the fomo is fucking real.
Welcome week came and went as I came and went to the office. To this day, every late night college-town mupload feels like a swift kick to the stomach as I warm up my tea and get ready for bed, the television set to Bravo. Every filtered Friday night Instagram sends my heart straight to my gut (do not pass “GO,” do not collect $200) and a slight shock to my feet. The kind you get when you’re almost in a car crash or when you find out your boyfriend is cheating on you with someone skinnier. The very same kind you get when you stumble upon a picture from a party in your old apartment.
The feelings are also real.
With every weekend recap and hungover phone-call comes genuine laughter paired with disbelief (was Kerri seriously harassed by a Greenwhich homeowner?) followed by immediate sorrow and self-pity. Everything feels really dramatic, like a first-season episode of the O.C. We spend Saturday nights yearning for our four-year routine, even if that routine revolved around a grimy sports bar everyone loved to hate/hated to love followed by the average blacked-out Marco Polo in the streets for a cab.
We want it back and we want it back hard because, as happy as we may be to have a college degree, our home has become a second home and our weekends feel like they’re on pause. We’re rutted in the real world while what feels like the rest of the world is day drinking.
“This is a new chapter,” they said. “It will get better,” they said.
“Ew, you’re a real person now.”
“Brb I’m gonna take some Fireball to the face.”
and “LAST NIGHT WAS CRAZY.”
Refer to this very real (and very touching) message I received last week:
My alma-mater is in New Rochelle and I am from Brooklyn, commonly confused with Brook-dick. He’s also really into Destiny’s Child.
The pattern repeats. Every weekend; until it gets a bit easier, or so I’ve heard it does. Until then, the only advice I can find in what’s left of my heart anchored below my gut is to take every inkling of college with a grain of salt and a deep breath. Feel free to add lime and a shot of tequila.
Try not let your jealousy run rampant. You had a year over these seniors while they thought they were top of the food chain in high school. Back when Four Lokos directly led to heart disease and “I Love College” by Sam Adams was cool.
As excited as I am for the new-generation seniors to make the best of their last semesters, I am equal parts envious and covetous of their Sunday morning struggle and the stories that come with it. Just as I would be with an ex-boyfriend.
Like a bad break-up, post-grad-depression can be cured or at least subdued by Norah Jones pandora, good girlfriends and, of course, relentlessly revisiting your past. Go ahead and label college “DO NOT ANSWER” in your contacts but, by the end of the work week, you will get drunk and you will answer. You will text first and you will beg for a second chance, even when you know you’re better off. You’ve grown up. You and college are just at different points in your lives. You’ve moved on. It’s over, okay?
But there’s a catch (as with most former lovers).
Those seniors you’re closest with with won’t be seniors forever. In two short semesters that will feel like decades, the real world will welcome them with the same open arms and student loans as you continue on your career path and finally find some normalcy.
Now is the time to get caught up in a college love-affair.
Give into an ex-lover (no, not that one). Go back and go wild. Escape your mundane nine-to-five and throw back a few Natty Lights over a round of shirtless civil war, if only for the weekend. In a few fleeting years, you’ll recognize more buildings than faces on the campus you once called home – and that’s okay – because, like an ex-lover you can’t forget, your college will always be yours.
So, sleep in an age-old school sweatshirt that still smells like your first apartment. Cuddle up with a movie you saw with your roommates freshman year. Admire old photos like these:
because, as much as it swears it’s happy with someone else, college misses you too.
That doesn’t mean it’s not time to move on.
This weekend my college roommate and I were projectile vomited on by a stranger on a staircase in a crowded bar, a friendly neighborhood crackhead tried forcing his drink in my mouth and I saw Stevie Wonder pay tribute to John Lennon – live.
“Are you here for a family reunion,” asked a stranger at a Midtown sports bar Friday night.
As I helped my girlfriend wash her dress off in the bathroom (with much appreciated assistance from a small male employee we kidnapped and held hostage in the woman’s bathroom), I realized: we most certainly were.
And on Saturday, as I watched my hometown girlfriends twerk to a live cover of “Day Tripper” performed by Stevie Wonder on the Great Lawn of Central Park, I realized: I’m living the life.