Monday, December 15, 2008

Done!!! (for now)

Air smelled sweeter on Friday afternoons in high school when I would rush towards my Jeep, roll down the windows, crank up the radio, and speed down the Boulevard to a lazy weekend.

I don't think that there's any better feeling than being DONE. I would feel pretentious if I called this a sense of accomplishment, because it's really just a sense of joy that I don't have to do ANYTHING for the next month. I don't have to study, don't have to worry, don't have to think about any sort of career.

I am officially finished with my first semester of nursing school. I am one-quarter of the way done with my program and a year and a half from graduation.

Hey California, I'll be seeing you real soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I have a cold. I am useless. All I want to do is lay in bed and whine about how my body is achy and I can't breathe. I spent all afternoon yesterday watching documentaries and being a big baby. I could perform in a musical with the stomach flu and I would probably try to dance on a broken leg, but having a cold absolutely kills me. But today is Friday and as soon as class is over, I plan on spending all weekend on the couch, rotting my brain and drinking orange juice.

Here is something that I think is cool. Alicia, you'll probably like it.

I drive too fast. I'm going to blame it on growing up in California. Sadly, the great state of Texas does not appreciate my efficiency.

I am not ready for Christmas music yet. I know that it's winter because it's dark and cold when I wake up in the morning, but it doesn't seem like Christmas yet. I do not like radio stations that play nonstop Christmas music and if I hear "So This is Christmas" one more time, I'm going to go crazy.

I really appreciate the people in my life who make me feel extraordinary. I was lucky enough to spend some time with one of those people yesterday. Thank you.

Six months ago, I had just returned home from France. Now, I'm a quarter of the way done with nursing school. Where does the time GO?

Ten days until I'm back in California!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Picture Frame

When some people are sad, they drink. Or they cry. Or they exercise. Or they argue with their loved ones. Or they find some fairytale to take them away from it all. God knows I've done all of those things, but mostly, I write.

I sometimes wonder if other people's brains work the same way mine does. I don't mean to say that I'm more intelligent or more interesting, because I'm probably not. But my brain is constantly making up stories. My body will be in Pharmacology, but in my mind, I've just met Leonardo DiCaprio and he's telling me how he never realized how wrong Bar Rafaeli was for him until he met me. Or I'm a spy sneaking into a Middle Eastern country with a fake passport and an authentic ability to speak Arabic. Or some other fantasy that is just outside my reach.

I could tell the actual story, all facts and no lies, but that's not the way I see it in my head. I'll start with the truth and add some accessories.

In the way that things should be, we're both in phone booths. Phone booths are best for conversations like these. I am walking home from class in a skirt and sensible shoes, and the sun is shining. I can't stop smiling. You are on your way home from work. It's raining and you're in a black suit with a matching hat. You rush into the booth, shaking out your umbrella. There is an eight hour difference in our days and this is the time that works best for us to speak.

In the real version, I'm curled up with a book in a hot pink chair, sloppily dressed in jeans and a university t-shirt. I'm sure that you're in your room wearing those old track pants, smoking cigarettes, one after another, getting ready for bed. You call me on a whim, because you haven't heard my voice in nearly six months.

Cell phones and casual dress take all the poetry out of this story.

Here is the part that is true:

We each knew that this call would happen someday, but neither of us was looking forward to it. I knew exactly how it would feel, the knife sinking into the heart, all the way to the handle. I knew that it would leave a dull, steady ache in the chest of whomever it rested.

Your voice is thin and faraway on the telephone line as I imagine it traveling from your mouth into the phone lines which rest on the floor of the Atlantic until it reaches New York and connects with the country I call home. Even in that great distance, I can hear you searching for a casual way to tell me, hoping that the words won't shoot from your lips too carelessly. I will myself not to make a sound as your confession reaches my ears. I make a joke, remembering to smile so that the sound of that first tear rolling down my cheek is inaudible.

It hurts too much to speak English, so I switch to a neutral language, one that we each learned as adolescents. I feel that it is only fair for both of us to be at a linguistic disadvantage. It feels safer that way.

I ask if she's pretty and "Not as pretty as me" is your smug reply. My laugh is hollow and insincere as I tell you that I'm glad to see you haven't lost your sense of narcissism.

And just like that, it's over. You've fulfilled the agreement that we had and there's nothing left. You tell me "Bon courage" because "Gros bisous" is too intimate for us now and I wish you the same.

And it's not that I loved you because there wasn't much of my heart left to give but I just wanted to keep everything that we shared in a picture frame so that no one else could touch it and there was always the possibility that we could go back to it someday. From the moment we parted ways, we knew that someone would walk by and carelessly push the frame from that table, causing it to shatter as it fell to the ground.

This is the conte de fee that I promised I would write about you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Not that I'm counting, but...

Things I Am Looking Forward to Doing in Twenty-Five Days:
- Seeing my mommy and my daddy and my brother
- Wearing my new winter coat and reuniting with my orange coat. I gave it a break after wearing it for 6 months straight in France. I think it's about time to bring it back.
- Wasting my days away in my mom's kitchen, trying out the recipes I've been saving all semester
- Spending way too much time with Netflix documentaries
- Staying out late with the people who were eyewitnesses to most of the embarrassing moments in my adolescence
- Sleeping in! (And sleeping in something that is not a twin bed)
- Houses full of relatives, food, crying babies, winter sweaters, running kids, and loud laughter
- Playing piano to my little heart's content



For the first time in my entire life, I won't be going home for Thanksgiving. No staying up until the early morning making pies. No pumpkin pie for breakfast while sitting in my pajamas and watching the Macy's Day Parade. No eating too much turkey and partnering with my seventeen-year-old cousin to try to convince our baby cousin that "big girls take naps", which leads to all of us falling asleep in a full bed until someone comes to wake us up and tell us that they're getting ready to eat pie. I'm excited to have a new, exciting Thanksgiving experience, but I love spending Thanksgiving with my family. I wish I could be in both places at once.

I bought a pumpkin pie at Trader Joe's two nights ago and there are only two slices left. It was really delicious. Sorry, Mom. You've got competition.



Little-known and completely random fact: I have a breakup playlist. It's called "Awesome Breakup". I'm not dating anyone right now, but a girl's got to be ready for whatever life throws at her. Anyway, I update it on a fairly regular basis. However, I've discovered something even better. Consider this a breakup song-and-dance, appropriate for any breakup, dedicated to no man in particular.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Desires

I want to go to Juarez and stand against those who would hurt young women who look exactly like me.

I want to start wishing on stars again.

I want to find a job that I love.

I want to be near my family.

I want to wear more dresses.

I want to be brave enough to say what I think and kind enough to consider the feelings of others.

I want to make the people who matter proud of me.

I want to stop saying "Oh, what the hell..." and getting myself into ridiculous situations, but I can't even imagine the great stories I would lose by doing that.

I want to dance more.

I want to wake up earlier, so that I'm not always rushing.

I want to go places I've never been and do things I've never done.

I want to train my dog.

I want to finish knitting a sweater. Or a blanket. Or anything bigger than a purse.

I want to find a new church.

I want to live in my own big-girl apartment.

I want to waste afternoons climbing trees.

I want to grow a pumpkin.

I want to learn how to give IVs.

I want to live above a bookstore. Or a bakery. Or a hardware store. I'm not all that picky.

I want to eat foods worth eating.

I want to finally learn how to play the guitar. For real, please.

I want to remember what it feels like to believe in magic.





And here is a song that makes me smile. I hope it makes you smile.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pilgrimage to Mraz

I have been to California three times this semester. Driven between Phoenix and Los Angeles six times in the past four months. It's my favorite state and one of my favorite places in the whole world.

For Halloween, I was able to take a last-minute trip to Westwood with my best friend/ex-roommate/wifey to see Jason Mraz and to stay with my two best friends from high school.



This is kind of how it went:


Listening to Jason Mraz for well over six hours, windows down, sunglasses on.

Feeling that the Pacific was near, even though we couldn't see it. Smells of the coastline and gasoline and the foods that I grew up with.

Seeing Nicole's Westwood townhouse for the first time and rushing to get our costumes together.

High school best friends wondering who let us grow up and get so old so quickly.

Amy Winehouse running around Westwood with a vampiress and a toilet.

Seeing high school classmates. Laughter and hugs and ridiculous statements.

Saturday was, without a doubt, the best day of my life. That sounds trite, I know, but it was one of those perfect, laid-back, full-of-adventure days that I wish could last for weeks. Mariam and I decided to hit up Hollywood Boulevard, never dreaming that we would need jackets. It poured and our jeans were soaked to the knees as we rushed over Walk of Fame stars in search of an umbrella.


We finally found one in a corner drugstore, where the owner gave us Halloween candy. We stopped at Cafe Audrey for paninis. We wasted the afternoon at Sephora. And then we went to the concert.

Please let me stop and gush about Jason Mraz. Jason Mraz was the soundtrack to my first San Francisco roadtrip at age sixteen. One of the few CDs I had left in my Jeep after my CD case was stolen during my senior year in high school. He sang me lullabies during my dorm days of college. And I was silly enough not to go to one of his shows in Tempe on an idle Tuesday during my first year of college, because "Oh, he'll go on tour again next year."

That was THREE years ago.

I was fiercely anticipating this concert. Mariam and I fought tooth and nail for two tickets, any two tickets, and ended up with PIT SEATS. We worried that they wouldn't arrive in sufficient time to allow us to drive to California. We crawled across the desert to see this show.

The joy of legitimately having concert tickets and pit wristbands was almost too much to handle.




This is kind of what you would have seen if you had been there:

I think that Jason Mraz is incredibly talented and it was a lovely way to pass an evening in California. I am a girl of too many words but I can't find quite the right one to describe how talented I think Jason Mraz is. It was a beautiful night.

Side note: One of Jason Mraz's opening acts was a British band called Two Spot Gobi who look like a bunch of guys that would hang out with my brother. They are phenomenal. The kind of music I would put on repeat and blast as I drive around during the afternoons at home. They have this very harmonic reggae/folk/ska sound. Also, they don't have keyboards and it doesn't sound empty. I'm sold. I came home and bought all of their music, which is a huge sacrifice, because I never buy music (I am always, always, always illegally downloading music; RIAA's enemy number one right here). But these guys are worth spending money on. Mariam and I got a chance to talk to them after the show and they're great.




Things I've Decided:
- I want to play more music with more strangers.
- It's going to be very difficult to convince me that I want to live anywhere other than California when I grow up.
- If at all possible, when I grow up, I'm going to sell my car.
- California has a much higher percentage of beautiful, friendly, fascinating people.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Today is my first Veteran's Day without my grandpa and something just feels a little bit off. For you, Veteran's Day might conjure up images of military cemeteries and waving flags. This is what Veteran's Day always feels like for me:

Timing my phone call so that it was late enough for chores to be over, but early enough so that he wouldn't be eating what he called dinner and what I called lunch. The phone would ring six, seven, eight times before he would pick up, his voice thick and gravelly, a complication of his stroke.

"Hi Grandpa, thanks for serving."

He would call me sweet, call me a good girl, and ask me about school. That was the most important phone call I would make each year.

I don't know who to call this year, or what I would say, even if I did have someone else to call. So instead, I'll be thankful for every day of freedom, I'll listen to "Proud to Be an American" and cry my eyes out like I always do, and I will give myself liberty to admit how much I miss my grandpa.

To all the men and women in the United States military: Thank you for serving, from the very bottom of my heart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Instigating

"Mom, he is instigating!"

Nine years old. I've already raced through the collected works of Twain and Shakespeare, but I'm stuck in the backseat of my mom's Jeep, no air conditioning, zooming past walnut orchards and rice fields, a barricade of pillows between me and my brother. He is poking me with a finger, a hanger, anything he can find. When I scoot further away, he stares at me, making faces, daring me to react.

My mother is pragmatic. "Don't pay him any attention. He'll get bored sooner or later and leave you alone."

I spent my childhood perfecting the art of being aloof. I learned to deflect cruel names aimed at my insecurities with a serene smile and an upturned nose. I would float away into the clouds, thinking about a piece of music or dance choreography.

Oh, I'm good at ignoring.

But you, sir, are instigating. I'm not nine years old anymore, my patience is much shorter, and as much as my mom attempted to raise me to let things go, I don't. I won't. I am full of opinions and while I will not write them on a picketing sign and parade in front of your house, I will not sit idly, silently by as you dare others to disagree.



You scream words like "babykiller", "terrorist". You walk a tightrope of bigotry and hate, convincing yourself that your crusade is righteous. Your anger has nothing to do with who he is and everything to do with the fact that your guys didn’t win. “Pro-life” is a term behind which you cache yourself, spouting outdated statistics and feebly attempting to play on the collective pathos. TWO MILLIONS BABIES A YEAR! you cry. TWO MILLION INNOCENTS! STOP THE BABYKILLERS! Let’s do that, sir. Let’s go after every single politician that has allowed abortion to happen. Every single physician. Every nurse. Every heartless, monstrous woman that has deliberately murdered her unborn child. Let’s put all their names on a list. Ostracize them. Refuse them work, food, shelter. Let's refuse them respect, because that seems to be your favorite game. We will treat each one as if they were beasts, savages. Because the shame and grief that she felt after that terminated pregnancy was simply not enough. She needs you, sir, to remind her of that pain, those tears, the emptiness in the center of her body. She needs you to never allow her to forget the sorrow of that day. Because obviously you know better than she does. You were in that room, cold, exposed, surrounded by strangers. You, sir, were the one who walked in with a life inside of you and walked out hollow and hurting.

I have been there. Three hours in the waiting room at Planned Parenthood, holding my best friend's hand as she waited for the results to a pregnancy test she didn't think she would have to take. I saw those girls, years younger than myself, waltz in and out of the room, asking for contraceptives. I was witness to their hollow eyes and the bodies that others used and threw away. I grew up with these girls, spent my afternoons walking home with them. My heart breaks for each one of them, for the decisions each has made. Abortion is a travesty. I understand that. But without legalized abortion, these young women would be sneaking in back doors, placing their lives in the hands of butchers without medical degrees. How many of them would die of hemorrhages? Infections? How many would be sterile? I know these girls and I know that abortion is not something they take lightly. I will stand with them and for them. It is my responsibility to give grace, not judgment. It is my responsibility to show these girls love, not to force them to follow the rules of a God who they do not claim as their own. Put me on your abortion blacklist too, because for all you know, I’m an accessory to murder in the first degree.

ter-ror-rist = a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities

I'll admit that most of my heroes are radicals. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mother Teresa. Jesus Christ himself was a radical. These people were crazy. They lived their lives in ways that just didn't make sense. Radicals...what were they thinking? They lived lives that were wholly focused on people other than themselves. They did not really possess anything, giving everything they owned to a greater cause. They were mocked, prosecuted, assassinated. They were radicals.

I've seen terrorism. I've seen it on the news. Less than a day ago, a 13-year-old girl in Iraq became the youngest suicide bomber in this war. Women are kidnapped, raped, and killed in Juarez; drug dealers gain all the power as people are too afraid to leave their houses. Law enforcement officers have begun to refer to street gangs as terrorists. A terrorist is a person who uses fear to manipulate others. By that definition, the United States media is the biggest source of terrorism that I encounter every day. I am told that it is not safe to travel, not safe to drive, not safe to walk by myself, not safe to live by myself, not safe to eat foods that are not organic, not safe to use a cell phone. Terrorism's greatest source of power is that which you hand over by allowing someone else's scare tactics to control your life.

Religion is the ideal cover for terrorism. We've all done it. The Christians, the Muslims, the Jews. Lest we forget, let's talk about some of the mistakes that we as Christians have made. The Crusades. St. Bartholomew's Massacre, which occurred when ten to a hundred thousand French Protestants were killed by French Catholics; I can recite that one for you in French and in English. The Pilgrims bringing smallpox to Plymouth Colony and taking land that rightly belonged to the Native Americans; that's a pretty ingenious start to biological warfare. Around the turn of the 20th century, white Protestants in the South used all sorts of terrorism (lynching, murder, beating, tar-and-feathering) in order to defeat black Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Catholics. And currently, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda is attempting to replace their country's constitution with the Ten Commandments, which has lead to the slaughter of more than ten thousand people. There are an estimated 2 million missing persons and most children in the country have been kidnapped to work as child soldiers or sex slaves.

Terrorism and terrorists are very real. But the things of which you speak are not terrorism.

You fight the battles of “the real American”. You insinuate that I have no love for my country. I am an American citizen, born and raised on American soil to American parents; you don't get much more American than that, although I understand your concerns. My America might look a little different than what you consider America to be. You have never heard its music, smelled its cooking, been fluent in its bilingual dialect. You fail to realize that both my grandfathers fought for this country, and will continue to fight the demons of bloody pasts until their warriors’ hearts stop beating. You do not know that as the National Anthem played before every Oakland A’s baseball game, my father would lean over and whisper these words into my ear: “We are doing this to celebrate our freedom. In other countries, people are not as free as us. You should be thankful every day for your freedom.” You did not cry my hot, angry tears as I sat in the back of my high school theater, hearing the report that we bombed Baghdad, loving my country even as I disagreed with our actions, and knowing exactly who would go off to fight after we graduated. You have not passed sleepless nights with me as I prayed for the boys I grew up with who are fighting in someone else's war. You have not been awoken by phone calls in the middle of the night. They call just to say hello, just to hear a friendly voice, just to make sure that someone remembers that they are still fighting. I see their faces when they come home. I knew them as little boys with round cheeks and mischievious eyes. I love them and I am thankful for the sacrifices which are so painfully visible. Their eyes are cold now and when we laugh, it's not the same.

You look at my passport and infer that I am a socialist, an expatriate hypnotized by travel in radical foreign nations. If I were a socialist, I would renounce my American citizenship and move to a socialist country. You, sir, have not traveled with me. You have not spent six months in a foreign city, defending your country in a foreign tongue while trying to make foreign friends. You form grandiose plans of leaving the country and moving somewhere else. You speak no language other than English. You desire to move somewhere less liberal, more moral. Good luck, sir, but here’s my warning: they won’t want you. They will judge you based on your illiteracy, your appearance, your belief system. For the first time in your life, you will experience the shame of hearing, “Learn our language or go back where you belong!"

You imply that because I think and vote differently than you, I love the Lord my God less than you do. You say that I am misstaken, unaware of what the Bible states. That is simply false. I have read, and studied, and lived the Word of God. I serve a God who is just and loving and jealous and powerful and holy. I know Him, who He is and who He is not. And for you, sir, I only have one question: How many sinners have you loved today? San Francisco is a city with which I am familiar. When I picture Jesus, it's there that I see him. Walking through the Castro and preaching the Gospel to people you would not lower your eyes to look at. He would spend His nights cradling a heroin addict who shivers, sweats, and vomits in a rehab facility as she tries to get clean for the fourteenth time.

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of who I am the worst." 1 Timothy 1:15

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fall is my favorite season

Today, I woke up to a beautiful world. Today gave me goosebumps, even as I was falling asleep in lab. Today was a day for walking in the cool breeze and trying new foods and living in each exquisite moment. Today, I wore a new t-shirt and drank too much coffee and studied for pharmacology. Today was magical.

I wore long sleeves and they weren't enough to keep me from shivering as I walked the neighborhood. In another place, I would spend a night like this wrapped in a blanket on a rooftop or in the bed of a pickup. There would be music and laughter, the two blending to form the diamond sparkle music of the stars. But here, I spent it walking alone and naming the constellations. And I wouldn't have dared be anywhere than there in those fleeting seconds.

Tonight, I'll sleep a full eight hours. I'll get up in the morning to go running. I'll finally find the time to do laundry. I'll go to the grocery store for the first time in over a month. These quotidien chores are novel and rewarding after so many midterms, sleepless nights, road trips, and auditions.

Today, I finally have enough hours in the day.

Thanks, Arizona, for finally turning into autumn. I like you so much more this way.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Good days trump bad days

Wednesday was a bad day. I had anticipated it being a good day, but it turned out to be an awful day. I had an important, exciting interview, and I ended up getting lost downtown for an hour and missing it. I kept my composure for long enough to apologize to my interviewer and turn in my resume and letters of recommendation. I smiled and told her to have a nice day. Then I got back to my car and broke down. I haven't cried that hard in a long time.

Ew, bad day.

So yesterday, I had a really great day. I didn't have classes, so I slept in, which was nice.

I cleaned my room, which was nice, and totally necessary.

I painted my fingernails. And toenails.

I VOTED, which was like a really exciting, really important standardized test. I wish I could have walked into some school or someone's garage and voted and gotten a sticker to brag about how "I VOTED!". But I'm a California girl living in Arizona, so I had to look up the candidates online. It's weird to vote for local candidates when you haven't lived in that county for a few years. If they had ugly websites, I was forced to vote for the candidate with the kindest face. Or the funniest name. That's just how politics work.

I bought new moisturizer. My face is happy. My bank account is not.

I'm going to pause this rundown of my day in order to introduce you to something/somebody amazing. "Taylor the Latte Boy".



I'm trying to stop drinking coffee, so I don't have a Taylor the Latte Boy in my life. However, I am addicted to delicious food and I do cook/bake delicious things when I'm upset, so I have a Whole Foods Checkout Boy in my life. Yesterday, I decided to bake gougeres, so I had to buy some Gruyere and stopped off at Whole Foods on my way home. I bought my cheese (and some hummus) and went to the checkout line. And there was the Whole Foods Checkout Boy in all his mysterious, long-haired glory. I was wearing my Bob Marley shirt (score) and carrying my shoulder bag that I bought in Amsterdam (double score!). I smiled at the Whole Foods Checkout Boy. He asked if I needed a bag for my purchases and I declined. "Awesome," he said. Yes, Whole Foods Checkout Boy, I think you're pretty awesome, too.

My gougeres turned out okay. Obviously not as perfect and delicious as all those I ate in France, but they'll tide me over until my next European vacation (whenever that might be). They were lovely with some Orangina. Plus, a girl's gotta have goals. Current goal: Improve my gougeres.

Also, last night was Grey's Anatomy. Okay, bear with me. I love Grey's Anatomy. Love it. Clear my schedule for it. But...in the first few episodes of this season, it's been kind of lacking. BUT...they brought him back!!! "Him" being the hardcore Army surgeon who ripped an icicle out of Dr. Christina Yang's abdomen!!! This is BIG, people!!! Three exclamation points big!!! He will bring drama and laughs, and let's face it, Christina has been grieving being left at the altar by Dr. Preston Burke for a long time now. She is totally allowed to move on at this point. And really, could the writers have DONE any better? I think not.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The moments that made me want to stay

It's like this:

"Now when I was a little chap, I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look like that) I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up I will go there." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I left because I was searching for moments that felt like magic. These are what I found:

Sitting in his mom's kitchen, drinking tea. His father built this house with his own two hands, but that was years ago. His father lays in a hospital bed, fully incapacitated by a stroke that forced his sons to cancel their 6-month trip to South America. We met two months later, three days after I arrived in France. I scan the living room as he makes coffee for himself. I laugh when I see his school photos because I forgot to realize that he was once a little boy, all knees and elbows, with a different haircut. All I know of him are his stories of traveling the world and his post-university days. It is strange to see the childhood home of a gypsy. The pictures of his mom and brother are familiar, although we have never met; they have his eyes, blue and kind. He sits next to me with a weathered atlas and asks me to show him where I live and where I've been. I tell him about California, Colorado, Arizona. He only knows America from television and movies. I finish my tea and move to the couch. He hands me his brother's guitar. I am an abysmal guitarist, but I play and sing the two songs that I know. When I hand over the guitar, he plays a classical piece that he learned during his time in Australia. I am impressed and embarrassed that he made me play first. He had told me that he wasn't very good. He lied. I wrap myself in his orange comforter and watch as the stormclouds across the Saone move closer to me.

The first spring day at Lac Kir. We hadn't planned on running into anyone we knew, but as soon as Susan saw me, she tackled me to the ground. I shrieked as she tried to kiss me on the cheek. Five twenty-something girls tanning on a picnic blanket. There is a speedwalking competition and we pass the afternoon screaming encouragement at strangers who wave and smile in response. Feeding pasta salad to ducks and chasing boys from la fac from who ran past. Our shoulders and noses were burned by the end of the day. The busses were running late and we waited at the arret for nearly an hour, all giggles and sore feet. We were starving by the time we reached Place Darcy. That was the afternoon we found our favorite resto and met new friends who would nap in the park with us in the afternoons after classes. The owners asked if we'd had a good day at the lake. Grins were our only responses.

Going out to Salsa even though I hadn't slept at all the night before. Eating Pringles and drinking kir at Susan's appartement while she changes three, four, five times. I spill wine on Shannon's new dress and spend the rest of the night apologizing. Eight of us try to silenty maneuver three flights of uneven, narrow, spiral stairs so as not to wake up the neighbors on the premiere etage and the rez-de-chaussee. We walk barefoot because those stairs scare us during the day, in flats. We laugh as we stand in the street, trying to balance on our 3-inch heels and fasten the straps. Susan has grabbed the last bottle of wine and we all share during the walk to Place de la Republique. Sasha is wearing an old pair of slippers and we are leaning on each other, professing our love and declaring how happy we are that the other is there. The broken glass in the dirt shines like stars as one of friends rides by on a bike that she borrowed from a stranger. A passerby shakes a low-hanging branch of a tree in bloom as he and his copine pass underneath it. Pink blossoms rain down on us, and we spin like little girls. When I return home at four the next morning, there will still be flowers in my hair.

Walking along the Irish Sea in a pair of borrowed clothes and I'm soaked to the bone because he threw me in the water, but for some reason I can't stop laughing. We are both barefoot and in summer clothes although it is only a few degrees above freezing. He holds me by the hand and tells me that this is the sunniest weekend Ireland has had in four years. He is holding a tennis ball in his left hand and hurls it into the sea. A blur of golden fur races past him, bobbing out to retrieve it. "You'll have a great story to tell your mom when you get home. Look at you, walking on the beach with a proper Irish bloke." He comes from a long line of storytellers and has spent a quarter of a century perfecting his craft. "Come back next weekend," he says, as if it were the easy, as if it were possible. "We'll do the same thing. We can make a bonfire. And I'll take you to the zoo to see the penguins. I know that you have penguins in your zoo, but the penguins in Dublin are the best in the world." For a moment, I almost let myself pretend that I can miss my flight to Paris and never return to San Francisco. He kisses me and his lips taste of the sea.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Things I Believe In

Okay, let's just get this straight. I'm voting for Obama.

I'm often overly passionate and I'm constantly fighting a desire to be right.

Most mornings, I'm not sure where I am as I'm waking up.

Sometimes I sit around and cook tofu.

I like red wine, not white.

I don't like Nicholas Sparks. Or Jane Austen.

I believe in stilettos heels, not wedges. Booties are the worst thing to happen in the history of fashion.

I've been hearing a lot about ridding your body of toxins. I've heard that processed sugars are a toxin. But I can't bring myself to believe it. Sugar is good for the soul.

I hate yogurt. And cottage cheese.

Here are the things I refuse to incorporate into my life: Minivans. Scrapbooks. Kitchen scissors.

Ordering thai food and watching French films makes me feel glamorous.

I'm horrible with time. I can never find my watch and I can never get anywhere on time. I firmly believe that there will always be another train, another flight, and another chance. And if not, there's always another path.

Stepping off a train in a foreign city is my favorite feeling.

Everything means more if it's written in a letter.

If a mosquito is within a 1-mile radius, she will definitely choose me.

Snowflakes make me giggle.

I leave a part of myself in every country I visit. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

Saying mean things about my ex-boyfriends doesn't make me feel better.

I always cringe when someone misspells, mispronounces, or misuses a word.

Orange blossoms and rain are my favorite smells.

When I'm ninety-five years old, I want people to say, "She's a character."

My mom's cooking will always be better than that of anyone else.

I don't say "see you later" when I mean "goodbye".

Lightning storms scare me.

My favorite part of girls' night outs is stumbling home at 3 am and deciding that we need to run across the street and get pastries.

I only drink coffee when I can convince myself that I'm stressed out enough to need it. Otherwise, it's herbal tea, iced, six packets of sugar.

If I could find a way to make money off of recognizing peoples' voices, I'd be a millionaire.

Trying to find a new church all by myself is terrifying.

The brighter the colors, the better.

Grumpy old men make my day, especially if I can manage to make theirs.

Watching two dancers glide across a room makes me believe that love has the power to conquer all the ugliness in this world.

If I could live at the library, I would. Do librarians live at libraries?

My favorite documentaries are the one that make me cry and convince me that it's my job to make the world a better place.

I am the girl who is always staring out the window, wishing she could play in the grass, daydreaming about what the rest of the day might bring.

"Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning." - Gloria Steinem

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Days I Can't Get Through On My Own

I wanted to be sixteen today. I woke up in the dark and I was cold and my eyes were red and my hair was too big because I fell asleep with it wet. I'd been having a dream that I didn't want to remember, so I stumbled out of bed, threw on a hoodie, and took Vegas on a walk.

It was cool outside and that made me smile, but my throat was raw and my stomach was sick. I wanted to throw my comforter around my shoulders, shuffle down the hallway and crawl into my mom's bed. But I'm grown up now and I live in Arizona. I have to take care of myself and I can't afford to miss class.

I was crying by the time I got home. I found myself feeling childish, and decided to make breakfast. There were twenty-five eggs in the fridge. I don't know why we have so many, or when they'll be eaten. I pulled three out and set them on the counter. One rolled to the ground and cracked. That has to be some sort of bad omen.

I made three eggs and two pieces of toast, and put them on a big plate. I usually eat off the small plates, in a transparent, self-destructive attempt to eat less. But today, I made three perfect eggs, slightly burnt, with lots of pepper and lots of hot sauce. I put too much sugar in my tea and only drank half of it.

I put on a pair of sweats. I said ugly things to my reflection. My skin had taken a beating over the weekend because I drank too much and didn't sleep enough.

I wanted to curl up on the couch and watch movies, call my mom, and cry about being sick. But I got in the car and went to school, listened to an old CD and wished that I had someone to sing with.

I went to class but didn't pay attention. Instead, I decided to be Amy Winehouse for Halloween and looked for pictures of her tattoos. I found a wig and made a list of what I needed to buy to finish my costume. I started looking up juice fasts, because I want to be actual Amy Winehouse for Halloween, not Fat Amy Winehouse. I know that Amy Winehouse weighs around a hundred pounds. I will not get to a hundred pounds. Not by Halloween. But I'm okay with losing twelve pounds. I figure that I can lose around that much weight if I go on a juice fast for seven days. I would have to start cutting down...next week. Looking at the logistics of everything, I decide not to do it. I can limit my caloric intake, but I hate cutting out sugars. And after I finish the juice fast, I would have to work my way back up to solid food. And that doesn't sound like fun. I vow to run every day until Halloween and double my ab exercises. I hate Arizona for being so hot, because I can't run when I get home from school.

I went home and put on a skirt and heels and my favorite pair of earrings. It's a bad habit. I always look my best when I feel my worst.

I had a meeting for a group project. We started at Xtreme Bean. I grabbed a delicious blood orange tea and loaded it up with sugar. Six packets, like always. I drove to Audra's house with the windows down, listening to a mix CD that someone who loves me once made. I'm happy.

My group finished our project and I left. I get lost on the way home and I'm angry at myself. I swing by Tempe Marketplace to visit Alicia. I decide to stay, knowing that if I go home, I will lay on the floor and watch movies all afternoon. I wander over to Pier 1 and buy candles because they're on sale. I spend an hour dreaming about how I will decorate my apartment when I live on my own. I imagine that I will cover my walls in prints of Klimt and Magritte.

My stomach is empty and I like the way that feels. I consider skipping lunch. I don't want to eat. I bribe myself with pizza. Even when I hate the way my body looks, I still love pizza. I wander over to World Market and look at the wines. I can buy them now. I can't find a Moroccan wine and I'm mad. I see sangria mix and I laugh, remembering the time when Sasha, Shannon and I bought two giant jugs of sangria at LIDL. And then I'm sad, because I miss them.

I think too much about France. I'm on the verge of deciding not to go back. My focus in going back is fatuous. I'm well aware of that. But I hate closing doors, so I leave this one open for now.

I went to Barnes and Noble. Books have always been my dearest friends. I love everything about bookstores. The hushed reverence. The air conditioning. I spend too much time looking for a book that I will be able to reread. I want a book that will stay with me, burrow into my skin, and affect my worldview. I balance on the balls of my feet, touching every book on the very bottom shelf in the biography section. I pick up a collection of essays by Latino writers.

I call my family, but they are all busy. I feel neglected, forgotten.

I buy a slice of pizza and read my book. Things are good.

When I get home, there is a package from my mom. Pictures of our trip in Europe. I look through them and don't know whether to laugh or cry. I'm amazed at the richness of colors in her photos. I haven't seen colors like that in a long time.

Today has been a struggle since my eyes opened. My emotions change more quickly than I expect. I hate anyone who gets too close to me and I hate being alone. The tiny things upset me and I forget to care about the things that I should probably find important.

The only reason I can make it through is because Someone is fighting for me. He knows I'm too weak to fight for myself

Monday, September 29, 2008

The International Exploits of ChocoWaffle and BubbleTea

In most of my friendships, I can find a...point of no return, for lack of a better term. A moment when I realized that there was no going back in this friendship, that we would be together forever, for better or worse.

I wish I had a story like that for my friendship with this girl. But I don't. But I'm going to tell you about her anyway.

I met her in junior high band, along with a handful of other people who have shaped my life. She was quiet; I was not. I giggled constantly; she did not. But we both played flute, so we were very well aware of each other. She was better than I was. She actually practiced. Obviously, I didn't. I switched to a different instrument, but we ended up playing a flute quartet with two other girls. We went to honor bands together and I pressured her to talk to the boy she had a crush on. I was a Dalmatian puppy and she was a full-grown housecat. Looking back now, I'm shocked that she didn't tell me to shut up and leave her alone. But she didn't, and we crossed the threshold from acquaintances to friends.

I had spent most of junior high running wild with two silly girls who ended up going to different high schools. At thirteen, I was a freshman in high school and running low on female friendship. I found myself clinging to her, searching desperately for familiarity.

For a thoughtless decision, it was the best I could have ever made.

The majority of my high school memories involve her. Marching band competitions. Going over to her house because her mom would make cream puffs. Forming a rock band that never really went anywhere. AP classes. Playing piano. Spring Trips. Touching every single thing in her room just to annoy her. Tackling her because I knew that she would scream. First dates. First kisses. Complaining about boys. Learning how to drive and failing our tests. Spring musicals: her in the orchestra and I onstage. College applications. Rejection letters. Leaving home.


Our friendship in college consisted of quick phone calls between classes, MSN conversations, silly afternoons together when we were home on break. Coldstone ice cream. Speeding down the streets we grew up on.

But I never knew how strong our friendship was until we were both out of the country. I don't know anyone else who would check on me every single day, just to make sure that I kept fighting. She accepted (and welcomed) midnight phone calls and text messages when my world was falling apart. She read every single letter that I sent, and faithfully answered each e-mail. She sent postcards from Asia and brought home presents for me. She listened to lengthy explanations of my nightmares and gave serious, thoughtful interpretations. After I got home and was still reeling from everything that had happened, she listened to me panic for longer than she should have.

Here's the truth: I would not have survived France without Nicole. She loved me when I wasn't strong enough to love myself, and did it with absolutely no judgment and an exceptional amount of wit. She is the person who knows me best; she knows every ugly secret and every broken piece of me.

She is the only person who can write gems like this:

"And yes, I would still love you if you never graduate. I would have to move to the East Coast for you to live in my basement, since we don't really have any in California, but you can live in my bathtub for now. Maybe you should sign up for the CIA or the FBI and put those stalking skills to good use."




She is the bubble tea to my chocolate waffle. She is My Crazy in Singapore. If I were dying of heatstroke because I tried to ride my bike on a really hot day, I would choose to lose consciousness on her kitchen floor. She is the only woman with whom I would co-author a book, live in a ridiculously expensive San Francisco loft, and raise an internationally adopted, quadrilingual baby.

My Crazy is back in California and I'm so lucky that I can call her up whenever I want.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My dreams betray me

I dream of all the places I've been, but I wake up speaking the wrong language and forgetting where I am.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I was walking through the Oakland Airport, red leather travel bag weighing down my arm, when I realized that I didn't know where I was going. I looked for the 5:15 flight to Sacramento, but it wasn't posted yet. I decided to walk around and find something to eat. I found a window that looked out to the bay. I didn't want to leave.

As I was watching the Pacific, I realized that I wasn't going to Sacramento. I was going back to Phoenix. I laughed at myself and went to find my gate number.

I feel like that a lot lately. I know exactly where I'm standing, but tend to forget where I'm coming from and have no idea where I'm going. Blame it on too much jetsetting or not enough sleep, but I spend my days tiptoeing through a fog. There is no sense of apprehension, but nothing to tie me to the ground.

I keep moving and it's easier that way. I dance from country to country, never stopping to catch my breath. And it's easy. The hard part is staying in one spot long enough to know where I am.

I want to move back to the coast, to be able to smell to ocean every morning. I want to speak Spanish and eat fresh fruit. I want to play piano in the middle of the night and be able to go running in the afternoons and drive around those California foothills. But most of all, I want to be with my family. I want to be at birthday parties and baptisms and whatever other parties my grandma throws.

Being there is hard. It's easier to love my family long-distance. Being there means that I have to face the fact that some things still hurt, and probably always will. Trying to forget is easier when you're in a country where you wake up and speak a foreign language. But being there is worth it. Seeing my cousins grow up and spending lazy days on the ranch with my grandparents is worth it. Going to lunch with my brother is worth it.

Without them, I don't know who I am. Without them, it's not worth it to find out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fridays are my favorite

One month of nursing school down, twenty-three more months to go

Flying to California for my dad's 50th birthday in the morning

Going swing dancing with the D3 Divas tonight

:)

I am a lucky girl

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sometimes I find the words that I've been searching for, but regrettably, they're not in English and I didn't write them. After all these years, here is exactly what I've needed to say to you.

I hope you understand.





Voy a pedirte que no vuelvas más
Siento que me dueles todavía aquí,
Adentro

Y que a tu edad sepas bien lo que es
Romperle el corazón a alguien así

No se puede vivir con tanto veneno
La esperanza que me da tu amor
No me la dió más nadie
Te juro, no miento

No se puede vivir con tanto veneno
No se puede dedicar el alma
A acumular intentos
Pesa más la rabia que el cemento

Espero que no esperes que te espere,
Después de tus 26
La paciencia se me ha ido hasta los pies

Saturday, September 13, 2008

To the mosquito who decided to attack me as I slept:

I hope that all the blood you sucked out of me caused your tiny stomach to explode. I know that you went on a feeding frenzy and left nearly a dozen bites all over my feet. I imagine that you did all of this on your own, because I've never seen mosquitoes work in conjunction with one another. At the very least, I hope your greediness left you with the discomfort of an overly full belly.

Sincerely yours,
kt

4:30 am, RIE

"I can't sleep."

It's a pattern I've followed my entire life. As a child, I would wake up far too early in the overcast Northern California mornings and beg my mom to let me watch movies. In adolescence, I rarely had time to sleep, so it wasn't as big of an issue. By the time I left for college, my insomnia was typical of my age group, and honestly, came in somewhat handy.

All of this runs through my head as I am sitting on his bed, still in my dress and heels. He is at his desk, fervently and faithfully revising for another biology exam. I can tell that he is trying to decide whether to be annoyed or delighted by my presence. He lights another cigarette, the third since I've been there, and makes two more cups of coffee. He offers me one, and as usual, I decline. I'm surprised that I've stopped drinking coffee and haven't started smoking. I watch as the smoke from his clope snakes out the open window, dancing innocently toward the tree outside.

Sighing dramatically, I lay down, letting my head dangle lazily from the edge of the bed. I pick up my book, a poorly-written paperback that cost me 50 centimes. I bought it because it was the only fiction I could find in English, but each page is trite and overdone. I cover my face, grumbling. He hands me an essay, asking that I spellcheck it. Even in English, I doubt I would understand the subject matter, but my spelling and grammar are as solid as they would be in my mother tongue.

"Go to bed. Tu m'as dit il y a cinq minutes que t'avais envie de faire dodo." His French is rapid, slangy, and heavily tinged with the accent of his first language.

"No. Can't. I'm not tired anymore. I'm hungry." He looks confused. I know that he is trying to decide whether I've said "hungry" or "angry". "J'ai faim," I add. Our conversations are always like this. Any outsider would think we were crazy. He always addresses me in French. I respond in English. I am fluent enough to reply in French, but refuse. His English is conversational at best, but I only speak French when he needs a translation or when we argue.

He picks up his backpack and throws it at me. "J'ai des biscuits la-dedans."

I unzip a pocket to find an unopened box of cookies. My stomach growls. It's nearly sunrise and I haven't eaten since dinner. I've mastered the art of surviving on French cafeteria food, but it is a rough-edged craft. I had rice and veggies for dinner, because they seemed safer than whatever sort of mystery meat was available. I was hungry when my girlfriends and I stepped off the bus, so we stopped at the kebab place for frites. But that was hours ago, before the dancing and the long walk home in the cold that made our winter coats seem thin as our nylons.

"You keep an entire box of cookies in your backpack?" I laugh as I nibble at the chocolate wafer. It is definitely a biscuit, like the English eat, and not a cookie, like my mom makes. I am disappointed.

He does not laugh. He laughs when I am embarrassed or cynical, but he rarely laughs at the things that I find funny. He is taking notes on a legal pad with a mechanical pencil, his handwriting clear and elegant. He is ignoring me; he finds it difficult to study in anything other than complete silence.

I survey his room for the thousandth time. It is more cluttered than mine, more lived-in. My own feels empty, sterile. There are no posters on the walls and hardly enough clothing to fill the tiny armoire. I envy the fact that he has lived here for years and that his life is tangible, while I am simply on vacation.

I would like to pretend that if I had a room like this, the night wouldn't bother me. It's not the darkness, but the silence, that keeps me awake and alert. I never have to fight away nightmares. The silence washes in like the tide, bringing doubts and fears and grief. The silence is accompanied by the ghosts of my distant and recent past. The silence is what causes me to weep until I am too exhausted to truly rest.

I know that if I stay with him, I won't allow myself to cry. I will be petulant, manic, infantile. But I will not shed a single tear, and for tonight, that is my only goal.

Daybreak will come in less than two hours with the comforting whispers of a handful of languages I can't quite understand.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Something That Makes Me Giggle

A few disjoint thoughts

I forgot about birds. Because of school (and the heat, yuck), I'm rarely outside during the day. Yesterday, I was walking Vegas and I heard birdies chirping in the tree outside of my house. How could I forget about birds? I had a similar experience last fall in which I forgot that, in other parts of the world, summer smells like fresh-cut grass. Boo, Arizona. We're only buddies until May 2010 and then I am out of here.

Speaking of getting out of here...any ideas? I'm looking for a moderately large city without pretention. With nice people. With farmers' markets and theaters and a good music scene and many outdoor cultural events. With a rockin' public transportation system. With many delicious cafes and quiet coffee shops and few chain restaurants. With good weather. And having a sizeable Hispanic population wouldn't hurt.

I love school. I thought I might hate school, because I hadn't been in real college for 8-ish months, and I hadn't really taken legit classes for a semester or two before that. But I love school.

That said, I kind of wish I hadn't gotten into nursing school. Nursing school is great and everything, but now I have a career. A life path. I feel like I was more interesting before, when I was threatening to hitchhike to Seattle and trick Rick Steves into hiring me. Or run away from real life and go back to theater. Or become a translator. Or just move back to France and be an au pair. But now, I'm a nursing student, and in four short semesters, I'm going to be a nurse, and then I'm going to move away to somewhere fantastic and be a real adult. I guess that's pretty nice.

If I could live at the library, I would. Libraries are my favorite places in the whole world. Do you think there's an easy way to convert my RN/BSN to whatever sort of degree a librarian needs?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September 6th

The story starts three years ago on a cool September night in the desert. If I were given the opportunity, I would tell her to wear something other than her brown peasant skirt. I would try to explain how this night would occupy her every thought for the majority of the next few years, how it would likely change her life. It doesn't matter, because she wouldn't have listened to me anyway. She loved that brown skirt. She would tell me that it made her feel like Joan Baez and reminded her of San Francisco. Her hair was long, her eyes were wide, and she was living life on her own terms, although she wasn't quite sure what they were just yet.

Her life as she knew it was just beginning. The night was idyllic and warm. She was young and alive and determined to experience the fullness of whatever life threw at her.

I am still amazed at her ease with herself. She was sitting on the floor, shoes long ago abandoned near the front door, her legs curled underneath her. Her tanned, dirty feet peeked out from under her brown skirt. Playing cards were strewn about her. Her hair was the color of coffee, her eyes the color of chocolate. I imagine that she must have smiled as he introduced himself, even as she stifled a laugh at their clumsy handshake. He was standing and she was still on the floor. Later that night, she would obsess about that greeting, wondering if anyone had noticed her momentary inelegance.

And it was as simple as that. No sort of indication that the meeting would be earth-shattering or life-altering. Just another new face in a never-ending line of strangers. She felt the winds changing and saw the stormclouds rolling in, but didn't see any cause for alarm.

Everything was vague and undefined. She was unable to voice all the questions running through her mind. She was dancing in a fog, never once fearing the final outcome. Young and invincible, she remembered and believed every word he spoke.

She was waiting for the dawn. The uncertainty was unfamiliar; she was wholly unaccustomed to self-doubt. She remembers these times in song lyrics, shy glances, parroted jokes, movie quotes, restaurants, park benches. Most of all, she remembers them in writing. Letters which seemed to tie the two together, creating a fine silver spiderweb which stretched back and forth across the globe. Anxious e-mails, feigning casual indifference. These years are well-documented in her seven journals, as she feverishly scribbled secrets, speculations, and souvenirs from these times.

The waiting and the distance were exciting and agonizing. She was a girl who loved a challenge, and was determined not to fail. Her feelings never took a backseat to her sense of competition, but the tenacity helped sustain her sentiments.

She was perceptive and self-deceiving. She saw each blow before it came, but was unwilling to surrender. She believed in this connection and would cling to it until the bitter end. She once told me that she would "wait until we go down in flames, just to know that the waiting was worth all the pain."

She would recount each beautiful memory, but they are flat and senseless without the music, the smells, the places, and the people that accompanied them. She would write volumes on each detail if she thought that it would make you understand. She tried to perfect every word, every phrase, until she realized that the more she analyzed, the more magic she sacrificed. As she paraded about with her descriptions, the glitter fell from her hair, the sequins from her dress.

The nearly weightless thread that had connected them was not powerful enough. It grew old and frail, slowly disintegrating before her disbelieving eyes.

She stood facing him for longer than she should have. She felt silly and worthless, but hoped against hope that he would speak, that he would tell her it had all been some furtive error and that she has been right all along. She waited until her heart hurt and her eyes burned with tears. She waited until she couldn't wait any longer.

She waited because she knew exactly what she would do when she finally stopped waiting.

She packed her bags carefully, folding each faded cloth and tucking it gently into her tattered suitcase, throwing away anything that would weigh her down on the rest of her journey.

She walked away, her heels tapping a resolute rhythm on the bare floor. Her eyes were dry and she never looked back.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

** I don't even know what to title this. I've been trying to write this for over a year, and even now, I'm not sure that I really understand it. I'm not sure how to write about it in a way that's real and honest. I don't know how to describe all the sights and sounds and emotions. I don't know how to talk about the people who were there. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure what this story is even about. I don't know if it's about the people or the location or the accident or what God was trying to teach me through all of it. I don't know how to tell you about it and that's why I've been largely silent. I don't know how to write about how it changed my view of God and my relationship with Him. What I'm trying to say is that this is the story I haven't been able to tell you. It's taken me a year and it's still messy, but here's my post-Namibia update. **


My time in Africa was divided between four locations: my shared bedroom, the back of pickup trucks, high schools, and hospitals.

We woke up at five every morning, a symphony of alarm clocks, groans, and shuffling sleeping bags. The air was heavy with the smells of spray deodorant, bar soap, and laundry detergent. We shared one bathroom. One toilet. One tub, used for bathing in the morning and laundry in the afternoon. One sink. One tiny mirror. We fell asleep and awoke to our laundry hanging above us, colorful as prayer flags. Six women, half Namibian, half American, each possessing only a backpack full of clothes and a sleeping bag.

Mornings meant antimalarials, which I hated. I hated the taste of them, and the fact that I rarely took them with water. I would sit on my sleeping bag, legs crossed, and put on my makeup. Every morning, even in Africa, I put on foundation and eyeliner. I would wait until the bathroom was empty and then I would quickly brush my teeth. There was very little alone time in our family and I revelled in whatever short moments of privacy I was allowed.

Stanley, our team leader, would come by to pick us up. “He’s here!”, one of my teammates would inevitably yell while the rest of us rushed around trying to get our things. Bags. Cameras. Bibles. Journals. Chapstick. Water. Jackets. Something was always forgotten, but there was more than enough to be shared.

Our team at breakfast at the boys’ house. We sat on mattresses in their living room and ate porridge. Our fatigue was never enough to keep us from exchanging hugs and cheery “good mornings”. We were always laughing, even before the sun had risen.

We climbed in the back of the truck and rode to school. It was freezing, so we huddled together for warmth, clutching our bandanas to our heads.
If I had been given the choice to stay at that high school in Namibia, I would be there to this day. My job was to talk to high school girls about relationships. Sex. Abstinence. Domestic violence. Education. Poverty. Breaking negative cycles in their society. My heart was broken by their honesty, and by knowing that I was likely the first person who had ever really listened to them. I loved those girls with my entire heart and that selflessness gave me a feeling of freedom that I had never experienced before and have yet to experience again.

At the same time, I felt unable to carry the weight of their pain. After school, or sometimes in the middle of the day, it was all too much and I needed someone with whom to share it. I found Nathan, one of my teammates. He was always ready to listen, and rarely had any answers for me; he was exactly who I needed. I talked to him daily, perplexed, often fighting back tears. He was my confidante, my friend. He made me laugh.

Sometimes I couldn’t stand myself for needing to talk so much. I felt like I was trying to make my opinions and experiences valid by speaking them into existence. In these frustrating moments, Nathan would pick up his guitar and play. I would sing; when my heart was breaking, I could barely hum harmonies. Those musical prayers are what sustained me during my time in Namibia.

More than a year later, I’m still unsure how I should describe a Namibian hospital. We visited the children’s ward. Our goal was to bring sweets, to bring smiles. The sickness wasn’t what bothered me. I’d spent weeks, months in children’s hospitals when I was a kid, and I’d long been desensitized to death and dying. What bothered me was that these children were in a hospital and they weren’t receiving medical care. The illnesses were painted over the doorways, screaming in capital letters. EXTREME MALNUTRITION. BURN UNIT. INTENSIVE CARE. There was no overpowering smell of antiseptic, no whirring and beeping of monitors, no shelves stocked with medication. All these patients had was a bed to sleep in and a nurse to watch them die.

I couldn’t let myself cry in the hospital, so I prayed. I prayed over a mother and her twins, one healthy and one dying. I prayed for a teenage girl with a bad tooth. I used my three phrases in Oshiwambo before my translator stepped in to ask an Owambo family if I could talk to them and pray with them for a while. I prayed for a newborn, barely three months old, who didn’t belong to anyone; he was covered in cigarette burns and bite marks.

As we walked away from the hospital, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t come back to Namibia until I’d learned Afrikaans or finished my nursing degree. I told Nathan later that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to be a nurse. I wasn’t sure how to plunge into the most intimate periods of strangers’ lives, when they are literally walking the line between life and death. He told me that he thought I’d make a great nurse. I wasn’t sure whether or not I believed him.

Driving home that evening was the first time I’d ever considered my own mortality. I realized that if our truck crashed, I was never going to make it home. Medical care was wholly insufficient. If I died in Namibia, I would do it without a single regret.

Some two weeks later, our team was preparing to go home. We had gone on safari and stayed at a resort for a night. We were at our headquarters, waiting for the other half of our team to meet us before the Americans flew home. We’d been separated for the duration of our trip, but we’d trained together. We’d flown from Washington D.C. to London and then onto Johannesburg. We’d laughed and prayed and shared and anticipated. I knew their life stories. My half of the team was excited to see them, but a bit apprehensive. Would we have anything in common with them anymore? Were they feeling the same way about us?

Two nights before we were to leave Namibia, my team had a celebratory dinner. It was the first and last time we would go to a restaurant in Africa. We ordered pizza and drank Cokes and reminisced about our time together. We made broad, sweeping oaths about how we would all see each other again. It was one of the happiest times of my life. We went back to camp to wrap up our trip and wait for the other half of the team.

Stanley told each one of us what he appreciated about us, what he would remember, what he would miss. We laughed loudly and cried without shame. He told me that I had fit in with the Namibian side of the team, almost as if I belonged there. He called me brave and told me that I was joyful. He had equally heartfelt speeches for each member of the team. We had just finished our meeting and were about to start praying when Ashwin, the fiance of one of my teammates, rushed in.

He said something in Afrikaans, and immediately Bonita, his fiancee, started wailing. The only two words I had caught were “Rico” and “Max”. Rico was the leader of the other half of the team and The Max was the motorhome they had been traveling in.

Stanley explained that The Max had been in an accident. It had rolled three times. There had been fifteen people inside, including Bonita’s brother, sister-in-law, and two baby nieces. No seatbelts. They were unsure who was injured and how badly. They had no idea when emergency assistance would arrive. They needed us to come help.
Everything was spinning, but I felt like the whole world was slowing down, freezing. I thought that we would stay at camp and pray. What would we be able to help with anyway? But they told us to grab anything we could and get into the truck. The next thing I remember is being in our room, and hearing myself yelling at my teammates. "Grab your sleeping bags, flashlights, jackets, first aid kits. Grab anything you think we might need."

I don’t like praying out loud, but I don’t think that I stopped praying from the second we heard about the accident until the time we arrived at the scene. On the drive there, Robin, another one of our leaders, said that four of us were in charge. I was one of the four. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I would find my friends bleeding, screaming, dying. I didn’t have any real skills or knowledge. So I prayed. I prayed for everyone to be safe, alert, unhurt, alive. I prayed for Leslie, who was allergic to all antibiotics. I thanked God for Jake, who was always calm and composed, who at that very moment was probably taking control of the situation. I prayed for each team member by name, seeing his or her face. I never started crying and I never stopped shaking. A few of my teammates asked what they should do when we got there. "Keep them warm. Keep them awake. Stop any bleeding. Don’t move them."

We all jumped out of the truck before it stopped moving. The other team was laid out on the ground, covered by their own sleeping bags, resting on their own backpacks. I walked around, surveying the crash. Everyone was conscious. Everyone was alive. Johnny, the driver, was hurt the worst. I didn’t see him, but I heard that he had a pretty serious head injury. I talked to Accas for a while, who was on the brink of unconsciousness. He was always serious; I tried to joke with him, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t catch any of my jokes. I saw Anna talking to a pile of blankets. I knew the voice before I saw the face. It was Lane, who was probably my best friend on the other half of the team. We’d spent hours on the phone before we’d met in D.C. He was laughing, telling a story about trying to jump out of the truck while he was on safari.

The ambulances arrived. I was shocked to see that they were moving my teammates without backboards. These were people who more than likely had spinal injuries, and the EMTs were acting as if it were no big deal. I was furious, but there was nothing I could do. I watched as the ambulances came in shifts, taking my teammates to the county hospital and the hospital in Windhoek, the capital city.

I don’t think I started breathing until I saw the last ambulance leave. Nathan walked up to me in his brother’s grey sweater. “I’m really impressed by how calm you stayed the whole time. You’re a born nurse.” He hugged me. At that point, I wanted to collapse and cry, but instead, I bundled up in my sleeping bag and tried to stay warm until the cars came back to pick up everyone who had not been injured.

Rico pulled up in a car and cranked up the radio. And then, he started dancing. Praising the Lord. In the middle of the night. In the middle of this empty highway. I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t been there. We all started dancing, because we were victorious. The Devil had tried to kill, steal, and destroy, but God had won. We danced. We believed that in the end, God always wins.

We stayed at the hospital until early morning, eating bread, Coke, and garlic fries. We tried to laugh and succeeded in smiling. We had won. We were all alive. We were all safe.

The next day, we were supposed to go on a trip to the capital, but no one felt much like going. I stayed at camp with Nathan. We laid in the grass and laughed all afternoon. We took a walk and talked about what the next year would bring for each of us.

When everyone returned to camp that night, we had a braai, a barbecue. We sang and danced and praised the Lord. That night was magical, and we all tried to pretend not to realize that we would be leaving in the morning.

The next morning, we ate our last plates of porridge together. Nathan played with his food and I sat with him until everyone else had left. We talked about flying home, what we would miss about Africa. We talked about our teammates, a few of whom were still in the hospital. Johnny had been transferred to a private hospital and I was happy to hear it.

“I’m going to miss you,” I said. I hadn’t meant to tell him that, but somehow it had come out.

“I’ll miss you, too. I didn’t want to tell you that, but I will.”

We hugged and prayed. I didn’t cry.

The rest of the team came back in. We were supposed to debrief, to prepare for culture shock. Stanley came to the microphone.

“I have some sad news. Johnny died this morning.”

I don’t know how to forget the way that the women wailed that morning. It was a visceral cry, as if all their pain had manifested itself physically. I was too shocked to cry as everyone else around me broke down. Francis, my warrior from Zimbabwe, crumbled into me, weeping. Bonita and Auntie Kat ran from the room. Everyone was in tears and I wanted everything to stop. Every part of my heart hurt. I knew that God was still victorious, but it was harder to believe it when we had just lost one of our brothers.

It was four hours before we had to leave for the airport and I don’t think that the crying ever stopped. Nathan and a few others had an earlier flight to catch. We all waved goodbye with bloodshot eyes and runny noses.

I walked around camp with Cierra. We went to visit Lane, who thought he had broken his leg. He was staying in Africa for another couple of weeks. He made us laugh, like always. He had heard the news about Johnny and hadn’t cried yet. I don’t think he knew how to start. I didn’t, either.

I saw Pamela break down. She sank to the ground. I sat there with her, my arms around her, tears streaming down both of our faces.

We weren’t ready to leave, especially not in light of the previous forty-eight hours, but we said our goodbyes and climbed into the van. We nearly missed our first flight, but an hour and a half later, we were in Johannesburg, drinking coffee and trying to pretend that life would be normal when we got home.

We flew together from Johannesburg to London, and then I had to fly from London to Phoenix by myself. My flight was delayed by three hours, then four. Then it was cancelled. A hundred and forty international flights were cancelled that day. I was nineteen years old and stranded in London, where I didn’t know a single person.

I was standing in line, alone, when it finally hit me. I called my mom. As soon as she picked up the phone, I started bawling. I tried to tell her about the accident and the hospital and Johnny’s death and that I was now stuck in London and that they were telling me it might take as long as a week for another flight. She told me it would all be okay, that she would make sure that I got home.

When I got off the phone with her, I called my dad. I tried to tell him the story, but I’m sure he couldn’t understand half of it through my sobs. He told me that he would find me a ticket.

I hung up the phone, emotionally exhausted. The man behind me in line asked if I was okay. I smiled, a bit ashamed, and told him that it had been a rough three days. He talked to me for an hour, until I had calmed down enough to figure out a plan for the night. Thank God for kind strangers.

I spent that night on the floor at Heathrow, sleeping next to a mother and daughter who were on their way home from India.

My second flight was delayed six hours. I bought the latest Harry Potter book, which had been released that day, and ate some Thai food. I read the book without finding any pleasure and ate the food without experiencing any taste.

I was sandwiched between businessmen on my flight home. It was early afternoon and they were already drunk off the complimentary wine. I fell asleep because I didn’t want to start crying. I woke up in San Francisco.

I don’t remember Immigration or Customs. I must have floated by both of them. I remember seeing my dad. It was nearly eleven at night and he was the only person waiting at the end of the terminal.

I didn’t even have any tears left to cry. I was so empty that I couldn’t even feel relief.

“You’re never going back” was the first thing he said to me.

I didn’t even have the energy to fight him.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Running Away to Hollywood

I'm not very good at staying in the same place. Here's a quick rundown of all the places my heart has called home in the past four-ish years:

- El Dorado Hills, CA
- Puebla, Mexico
- Tempe, AZ
- Granby, CO
- Oshakati, Namibia
- Dijon, France

And that's not counting all the times I moved between California and Arizona or all the tiny European countries that stole my heart when I hurricaned through them during Spring Break.

I'm a girl who tends to run away. The odds of me running increase exponentially when there is not an ocean within six hours of me and the temperature is routinely over 110 Fahrenheit.

Tempe was killing me and I had to make a break for it.

Luckily, one of my best high school theater friends was in "Les Miserables in Concert" at the Hollywood Bowl. He is wickedly talented and this is one of the biggest shows he's ever been in. I couldn't miss it and I didn't want to. I needed to get out of Arizona.

Alicia and I stayed up way too late the night before and sleepily installed ourselves in her car. A few lovely hours later, we were in my beloved California.

Firstly, I have to apologize to Hollywood. For well over a decade, the only memory I had of Hollywood was that once on a family vacation, a crackhead tried to climb in my mom's Jeep and my brother and I were pretty much scarred for life. And scared straight at the same time. So Hollywood and I weren't on the best of terms.

However, I think Hollywood's a lovely little town. Alicia and I took pictures of all the stars on the Walk of Fame. I even brought my Nikon FM10 and played photographer for the day. This was 1) out of necessity, because my digital camera passed into the great beyond while I was in Ireland, 2) rather silly, because I'm not really that great of a photographer, and 3) exciting for me, because I feel like shooting with film gives me more integrity and less of an opportunity to morph into an out-of-control narcissist who only takes pictures of herself and her friends all day long.

Here is what I learned in Hollywood:
- My hands are the same size as Elizabeth Taylor's
- And Julie Andrews's
- If I fail out of my classes, I can always move to Hollywood and sing on the street
- Or dress up as Wonder Woman and parade around all day
- Or bellydance on the corner. Which sounds shady. And probably is. But believe you me, I can do it better than the lady I saw on Hollywood Blvd.

And here's why I really love Hollywood: I found the most amazing cafe I've seen since I left France. And they had PANINIS, which I crave, oh, about every 3 minutes. And it was beautiful and cozy and I never, ever wanted to leave. If you don't go to Cafe Audrey next time you visit Hollywood, you're totally missing out.

Alicia and I made our way to the Hollywood Bowl, which evidently is outside. Who knew?

Les Miz was AMAZING. I've seen it on Broadway before, and I thought that this cast was much stronger. Or maybe it was the direction. Or maybe it was the fact that Tristan Rumery, the kid that I grew up with and shared a stage with about 12948172 times, was onstage. I don't know. But I loved it. And I cried all through the second act, as usual.

And then, as if the night couldn't get much better, I got to see Dan and Phil, two other smalltown boys who I grew up with. That made the weekend absolutely perfect. I love those boys and I've missed them a lot. I don't know how to describe how nice it was to see them.

The next morning, Alicia and I woke up, ransacked the hotel room (They had free RAMEN! We HAD to steal the free ramen!), and made our way back to the desert.

It was an amazing weekend and it should at least hold me over until Labor Day :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Confession

I'm a big nerd.

I tell people this all the time and they look at me with that "Yeah, I don't exactly believe you" look.

Well, believe it. I spent my childhood afternoons playing classical music on an ancient upright piano. I was an elementary school spelling bee champ. I was in marching band in high school. I also did color guard in high school for three years...of my own volition. I didn't go to a single party when I was in high school. I'm about a pair of glasses and some headgear away from MTV having to make a movie about my awkwardness and my subsequent transition into the world of socially adept people.

Okay, let's not kid ourselves. You know I still haven't made that transition.

So in the latest episode of "I Was an Awkward Twentysomething Living in the Desert", I got Netflix. And I am in LOVE. Serious love. More serious than the time I went to Homecoming with the boy of my adolescent dreams. I've had Netflix for three days and I have watched eight movies.

THEY STREAM MOVIES ON THE INTERNET! IT'S AMAZING!

But here's the really dorky part: I love documentaries. LOVE them. Can't get enough of them. Documentary about a spelling bee? Sure! Middle-aged, middle-class women who have become homeless and have to live in their cars? Sounds interesting. The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill? Sounds like a little piece of home.

Also, the Olympics are starting! The SUMMER Olympics! Those are my favorite Olympics!

Why?

Because of the Ukranian gymnasts.

Don't ask me why, but I developed an affinity for them as a small child. They were just...always...the best. So trained. So focused. So...Eastern European.

Except when I was a kid, I thought that the Ukraine and the UK were the same place. Shame that my intense dorkiness didn't extend to geography.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

FBI-Pod

I love my iPod. I love it so much that I'll make sure the "i" is not capitalized, but the "P" is. I love my iPod. I (surprisingly) haven't named it, but I love it.
(This is obviously not an actual photo of MY iPod, because:
1. I probably would not have this song on my iPod at this very second, and
2. My camera had a fatal run-in with a whole lot of sand while I was in Ireland, but that's another story altogether.)

Anyway, my iPod is great. Reliable. iPod mini, 1st generation. Older, gray, and a little dull, but it does everything I need it to. And it was the first one with the click wheel!

And the thing that make me most excited about my iPod is that...I can listen to it...and nobody else has ANY CLUE WHAT I AM LISTENING TO. It's amazing. I can listen to the Backstreet Boys. I can listen to High School Musical 2. I can listen to "MMMBop" the entire 15 minutes it takes me to cross campus, and NOBODY KNOWS. It's great.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I understand the idea of "good" music. I play music. And if you catch me on a good day, I might even listen to this "good" music of yours. It's just that whenever I listen to music, I tend to lean towards...junk. You're dealing with a girl who could eat pizza every day and thinks that anything is a well-balanced meal if you add a glass of chocolate milk. You shouldn't be surprised.)

I love that I can listen to guilty pleasure tunes on my iPod.

However, my relationship with the iPod craze took a drastic turn while I was in Europe.

And I'm going to blame it on the tektonic kids.

The tektonic kids, with their fauxhawks and neon clothes and flashy dance moves, have this really awful habit of letting everyone else on the bus listen to their music. They play MP3s on their cell phones. They carry tiny little speakers. And they have IN/OUT headphones, especially created to let you and everyone around you hear their techno beats.

I wasn't a huge fan of the tektonic kids when I spent most of my time riding buses around Dijon.

So here I am, sitting in the library, when another student comes and sits down next to me. He's got an iPod. He puts in his ear buds, turns it on, and turns up his music reeeeal loud. Oh boy.

Okay, I've got to admit, his music is pretty good, but doesn't he KNOW what he's missing out on? Doesn't he KNOW about the joy of top secret aural entertainment?

It's okay, iPod. I get it. My secret's safe with you.




And for your viewing pleasure...

TEKTONIC

Friday, July 18, 2008

I must have walked the same path hundreds of times. Hayden Lawn. Past the MU. Right at the motorcycle lot. Past Irish B. Left at the stop sign. Walk past Best. Cross the street in front of the IHOP.

I am starting my senior year at ASU and I still feel like the same girl from three years ago. Sure, I've got memories that accompany all of these places. Singing under the stars. Early morning walks back from Hayden Library. Saying "goodbye", and trusting that God would turn it into "until we meet again". Laughing. Relearning how to ride a bike. Lighting birthday candles in the courtyard. Smoking hookah on the lawn. Oversleeping and rushing off to class.

I'm the same girl, but everything is completely different. I still feel the same. I still feel like I'm seventeen, but the faces and the stories have changed. The location remains the same.

I can't believe how quickly the time has passed. I can't believe that I'm nearing the end. And I can't believe that I feel like the same girl, after all that has changed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fireworks

I'm back in Arizona. It feels good. I'm happy to be back with my friends and my puppy. I'm happy to be living in my house and eagerly awaiting the return of my roommates. I feel at home, which is somewhere I haven't been for a long time.

Fireworks make me miss you. I used to cry when I saw them, because I worried for you. I used to cry much more than I do now. I almost couldn't bear to wake up on patriotic holidays, because every country song brought tears to my eyes. I couldn't wait for you to get home. I couldn't wait to tell you about all the times I had seen fireworks without you and how you were the only person with whom I could have truly enjoyed them.

I missed you at every fireworks show, every sporting event, every holiday party, every family gathering, every wedding. I feasted on lies of how you would be there someday, and all the waiting would have been worth the wasted years of missing you.

I wasn't here for 4th of July last year. I was in Namibia and I didn't see any fireworks. I'm sure I must have thought of you, if only for a quick second. I'm sure I must have said a prayer for your safety. But without the fireworks, it was easier not to miss you. It was easier to admit that you were gone, that you weren't mine anymore; it was easier to accept that you weren't coming back.

I saw fireworks tonight and I missed you for a short while. I was on the roof with my friends. You know them. Hot monsoon winds whipped my hair into my face, and I held down the hem of my skirt with my fist. I still miss you, but it's different now. The sentiment is less tinged with fear and more with nostalgia. I once carried a dull, heavy ache for you. The wounds you left have faded into pinkish scars.

I finally feel like I'm living in Arizona on my own terms. This city has lost the scent of your clothes and the tempo of your step. I no longer hear echoes of your accent in the places we once shared our lives.

I'm hoping to smile at the fireworks I'll see on New Year's Eve. I'm hoping that your phantom smile will have left me in six months' time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not Packing

Today is Wednesday. I am leaving California on Sunday morning. My Mexican grandma's 70th birthday FIESTA is on Saturday. I might drive down to my dad's on Friday. And I've got one huge problem.

I have not started packing. At all.

This is a pattern with me.

If my mom had not flown out to Phoenix, I never would have gotten my stuff packed, shoved into my car, and driven back to Sacramento. If Austin had not offered to help me pack for France, I never would have made it onto the plane.

I hate packing. I am the worst packer of all time. I am unmotivated.

So what did I do today?



I bought this:




What is that, you ask? Why, it's a glass mannequin head!

Here is what I did today:
- Lunch with Meagan (Color Guard diva and dogsitter extraordinaire)
- Random Home Depot encounter with Eric (one of my best high school buddies)
- Decided to call Kevin (junior high best friend) and then had coffee and went shopping with him
- Randomly saw Scotty Sutter's dad
- Randomly saw Kathy King
- BOUGHT GLASS HEAD as I was waiting for Dan (best high school guy friend) to finish playing tennis and get dinner with me
- Dinner with Dan and Eric
- Ice cream

So as you can see, I did not pack today. But I did see a lot of people who mean a whole lot to me. And I did buy something that I've wanted for a long time, even though I had no clue what I'm going to do with it.

Fishbowl? Vase? Paperweight? Ideas?

I really need to start packing tomorrow.

P.S. LES SOLDES have started in France. I fully blame my impulse buying on this fact.

P.P.S. I also bought a knit-your-own-teddy-bear set at a craft store. I should have been packing.