My mom’s office is overrun with pieces of nostalgia. The shelves are stacked with shoeboxes and plastic organizers trying, but failing to maintain the amount of people, joy, and history life accumulates. Some of it is junk that my mom refuses to let go of, some are just drawers of paper mate pens from 1997, broken staplers, and female condoms given out at the doctor’s office, but in that same drawer you’ll find a baby sock from my sister or me who the hell knows whose and why does it matter? Somehow it does, that’s why it’s still there. In the office, there are three shelves, a striped folded futon on the ground that I am currently slumped in, and an oak desk that’s been in my life since forever. Above the oak desk is a large crowded bulletin board filled with recipes, newspaper clippings, times I was too young to remember, times before I was born, and some faces I’ll never see again.
When I was nine, the biggest nuisance in my life was my teacher. She was a round, stern woman, with thin lips, and a long narrow nose, which on the very tip she’d wear her glasses. They somehow never slipped off, even though they sat impossibly on the very edge of her slope. This only confirmed to me that she was a monster, and the glasses were physically a part of her face, making her even more intimidating which is odd, since it really just meant that she had bad vision. You did not want to get caught under her glare and if you did, and you were me, your heart would at first start pounding more rapidly than it had before, the pounds would then begin to overlap with each other, your knees would rattle with the amount of adrenalin flooding your system, your ears would be burning red, your eyes would stop blinking and gloss over, and your hands would become so limp and clammy you couldn’t pick up a pencil if you tried. Anyway, she was the personification of all my anxiety. Although she a was a demon in my memory, I heard she was a really sweet lady who had a good sense of humor and could cut loose at parent functions. My sister loved her, but me, well, I was terrified. This was what I was dealing with then.
There hasn’t been an anniversary or any recent birthday, but he has been in my mindscape almost as much as when he passed. My cousin Nick died of a brain tumor in 1999, when he was only 15 years old, you know the year that I thought my teacher was the scariest thing on the earth. Losing Nick was horrible. Horrible, at the same point the pain of losing someone was so new to me that at the time it was unrecognizable. I was naïve to death,essentially. I remember listening to my mother cry the day he was diagnosed and wondering why is she crying? “Does cancer mean life and death?” My aunt nodded with tears in her eyes. I heard her. My mind worked hard to understand this information, but couldn’t. How could he die? He won’t.
Nick was my super handsome, sweet cousin who was never a bully to his younger girl cousins unlike the elder cousins. Over Christmas break was when we all convened together in Iowa. The cousins were all bored one night at Grand Boulevard, which was the street my grandparents lived on, so it’s what we called their house. It was nighttime, but the moon was incredibly bright and shining on the crunchy, beautiful blanket of Iowa snow. Snow in Iowa is different, it’s storybook, spreading evenly across the cornfields and rolling hills like packed sugar. Nick’s older brother, my cousin, Tony, made the decision that we should all go sledding. There was a pretty steep hill behind the house that actually led to a reservoir, so you had to be careful to somehow stop short or hit a tree in order to not hurt yourself…badly. My cousins and I had packed down a path. We went to the trouble of filling plastic milk gallons full of water and icing the snow down so it was an even faster ride. Nick volunteered to take me down the hill since I was too small to go on my own. Nick sat at the back of the Flexible Flyer sled with his legs outstretched. I sat between them, with him behind me, holding onto me really close. I felt so safe and protected by him, a feeling I wish I could have returned to him. He hugged me into his chest, I gripped his pant legs, and we raced down the hill. The sled was going insanely faster than either of us expected, we both laughed nervously as our stomachs jumped. I held on to him tighter, shocked by the sudden giant bumps we were smacking into that threw us in to the air for a few seconds. I remember fixing my eyes on the full moon through the trees to calm myself and seeing the black branches whip past it like I was looking at a flip book. Time seemed to stop. It’s silly when people use that phrase, but there’s no other way of putting it. It was a moment my heart and brain needed to remember forever, an experience uniquely meant for Nick and me to share. It was a fucking thrilling sled ride.
Then we hit a tree; somehow Nick had saved me from taking the hit even though I was sitting in front of him. “You, OK?” “Yeah”, I said dazed and dizzied as I stood up from that exciting feat. My pants had ripped on the butt from a piece of bark, and I loved that. I felt like a warrior and although it was short, I think that ride sort of completed my relationship with Nick. Not that I wouldn’t love to have more memories with him, but that one in particular meant so much. I felt so alive with a person who would be in my life for such a brief time. I’ll always remember it. I’ll always be grateful for every detail of that night. I promise to keep it and it won’t be in the same drawer as the female condoms.
Well, a brand new year has begun, folks. Time for the old, “I’m gonna lose weight and pick up a pottery class” song and dance we all do. After the end of every year, I’m hoping I’ll undergo some sort of metamorphosis and wake up with revitalized self-esteem and a positive mindset. Suddenly, I’ll waltz around New York City like the polished, healthy, Renaissance New Yorker I dream of becoming someday.. A woman who suddenly understands how to manage her spare time without zoning out to People’s Court and daytime TV on her days off. A woman, who can cook a mean steak, but looks vegan. A strong woman who is in control of her life and believes in herself, that is the hope. Basically, someone like Carla Bruni, although maybe slightly shorter and more prone to naps and sinus infections.
Then I wake up on January 1st, and think, “Well, January 1st doesn’t count. It’s New Year’s Day. Hurray! Let’s celebrate! I can worry about the start of my diet tomorrow. Today is about greasy, amazing, Chinese food and nursing that New Year’s Eve hangover with a bit of the old hair of the dog. Goddamn, it’s good to be alive. I love stuffing myself with sesame noodles and orange beef!”
And then January second hits and you’re like, “Well today doesn’t count, I need to revive from binge drinking and eating like a wooly mammoth in heat every night since Christmas.”
But then , what happens? My head is suddenly clashing with my old habits from last year and the year before that and the year before that. Can I really change? Can anyone change? Is change so small you can’t even detect it? Is it possible to become an entirely different person? A person whose happiness is pursued daily through discipline and balance? A person whose health comes before relationships, and technology, and keeping up with whoever we’re trying to keep up with for whatever stupid, insecure reason? Am I writing this to procrastinate making these changes? Am I writing this as part of my transformation into this new wondrous person? One thing is for sure; I’m asking questions that I already know the answer to. This mythical New Year shift is as real as Santa Claus.
You have to want to change. Change comes through small steps, apparently. I don’t actually know. I’m basically the person I was when I was eight years old. When I was eight, something clicked into my psychology and since then I have felt that, other than growing pubes and boobs, I’m basically the same third grader I was then with the same constant, runny nose.
When we learned to walk as babies, we didn’t just take a few steps one time, and then continue to crawl permanently. Could you imagine if I gave up on learning to walk and was still crawling? If I were still crawling, ,it’d be incredibly difficult to make coffee in the morning. It’d be impossible to navigate through slow–walking, bubblegum chewing tourists; although I guess there’d be no need because you’d be moving even slower than them. My morning commute would probably take at least ten times longer. I’d be eyelevel with doggies. I guess that’s a plus, but the general consensus is life would be a lot more tough and for no reason at all- just because I never bothered to learn how to stop crawling.
Refusing to learn is probably the worst insult life has ever heard. If life heard that we just never got around to it, it’d be like “Whoa, are you F$CKING KIDDING ME? Don’t you know what I’m about?”
And I’d be like “Life, please remind me. What you’re about? I forget everyday.”
And Life would be like “You’re hopeless. BRB”
Trying new things shouldn’t get harder and harder although they often do because there are a billion other responsibilities like money and DVRing shows. We should be invigorated by whatever steps we’ve made, in whatever direction and continue them. I took three flute lessons once when I was ten, and then my teacher got pregnant (NOT MY KID) and said I’d have to continue on with a new teacher. I quit. One little bun in the oven, not even my oven, and I never touched my flute again. I’ve neglected and downright ignored a lot of projects and challenges in my life. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t be playing the flute for a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden any time soon, but I’m determined to not let my fresh start lead to fresh disappointment. As years go by, we become more of who we are and if we don’t accept that process of evolution, of learning and retaining knowledge, and inevitably finding wisdom, then we may as well still be crawling.