Battle Scars

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I didn’t want to wear blue jeans when I went to pick up my car, for fear that the blue dye would tint the leather in the seats.

It was my first car in over 7 years — and it was my first brand new car, ever. The car I owned from ’04 to ’06 was a ’99 Chevy Cavalier, a former rental car with a subpar braking system. Nicknamed the Chevrolier, I drove that little green clunker as recklessly as any teenager would, blazing down the roads of my hometown, hugging corners like a NASCAR driver and deliberately speeding up over hills to make the car gain air.

How I survived those years without a single ding, dent, or speeding ticket, is beyond me.

But this wasn’t a 5-year-old former rental car. This was a brand new car with a brand new car smell.  No former owners — barely 20 miles on the odometer before it became mine — and a perfectly working braking system.

The car also had sentimental value: my brother-in-law sold me this car from the dealership he owned.  It was a value that grew heavily and exponentially after he sold the dealership — an act that signaled something frightening, that all the smiles and positive words were not reflecting what stage his cancer was actually in.

When he passed away a year later, the car become almost a relic of a beloved and beautiful soul.

As a brand new car, I was obsessed about keeping it pristine.  No food in the car.  Any travel mugs were securely closed and only sipped from at red lights.  Nothing was placed on top of the car, for fear it would scratch the roof.

Then, three months in, I got rear-ended.

Within three year’s time, my pristine car would become anything but.  The “no food” rule vanished and my passenger side seat became a graveyard of tupperware containers, wrappers, and crumbs.  The floors I tried not to drag dirt onto were perennially caked with sand and mud.  The cupholders have perpetual coffee stains, from all the times I was running late and took my open, at-home coffee mug to go.

Within three year’s time, I’d also watch the laundry list of damages and replacements pile up.  A tiny ding in the windshield would splinter into an unfixable crack before I could get it sealed.  I drifted into a snowbank during one blizzard, causing the rim around one of my foglights to break off.  A popped curb just before our road trip would result in a flat tire in New Orleans — as well as the discovery that almost all of my tires were on the verge of blowout, thanks to shoddy installation.

But nothing beats the last three months.  In December, a three-point turn on a narrow, dead-end street resulted in backing my car into the handle of an opened mailbox lid — with the metal handle puncturing my hatchback’s rear window, effectively shattering the entire thing.  Two months later, my car would roll into the hitch of a pickup truck, turning my front license plate into a shish kabob — and breaking off yet another foglight rim.

This past Sunday night, on our way home from the festivities of the day, we drove what we thought was out of the parking lot — but, in actuality, we were driving onto the sidewalk.

And then directly off of it, onto the ground.

The jolt of essentially popping down from the curb sent my rearview mirror flying off the windshield, hanging by the electric cord attached to the ceiling.  Upon inspection, we’d learn that the rearview mirror didn’t just come off: it took two layers of glass with it.  A completely unfixable situation, we’d later learn from the repair guys — my car would, yet again, need a windshield replacement.

I think of how I was when I had my first accident: my three-month-old car, getting rear-ended while I waited obediently at a red light.  How frustrated and upset I was, and how quick I was to get everything replaced.  How desperate I was to keep everything pristine.

There’s a dig just below the rear window, where handle of the mailbox first hit my car before shooting directly up — a dig that will probably be there until the car is retired.  The second foglight rim has yet to be replaced.  The car’s white exterior is striped with scratches, and the leather seats have become tinged with blue thanks to blue jean dye.

In many ways, I prefer this version of my car.  This is not the pristine, untouched, brand new car with its brand new car smell.  This is a car with over 100,000 miles on it.  This is a car that has seen half of the states in the continental US.  This is a car that I have driven at my lowest of lows, when my only respite was getting in my car and driving down the country roads of New Hampshire, blasting my music until it reverberated against my soul.

This car has been through a lot, and she’s got the battle scars to prove it.  And maybe I just like to see the metaphors in everything — but I cherish this car with its history and its dings and dents.

My Chevrolier was sold going into my second year of college — living in Boston proper, having zero use for a car, and no one in my family really wanting it for themselves.  I joke that my new car won’t last the length of its bank note — but I truly hope I can keep this car around for a while.  My relic, my metaphor, my means of release and reset.  A car with its components tinted from use.

A reminder to embrace what we carry away from the things we’ve experienced.  Battle scars and all.

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Return to Racing

Check-in this year is mercifully indoors.

The day’s weather hangs on a precipice.  All it takes is a slight breeze or the sun going behind some clouds and it tumbles into an arctic chill.  I’m dressed to be comfortably warm in the middle of running.  I’m certainly not dressed to be comfortable in the meanwhile.

It’s the city’s Shamrock Shuffle — a fun two-miler around the downtown area before the parade.  We check-in and get our bibs and find our group of friends.

“The cheapskate in me wouldn’t even sign up for the race,” says one of our friends, as we talk about getting our money’s worth. “I’d just run alongside everyone for free.”

“Grab some green construction paper and some safety pins and hope no one notices,” my husband adds in.

Last year, sign in was outside, when winter was mild and meek and spring had subtly slid in.  It takes a while, but eventually I realize that my last race was the race last year.

“It’s good to be back,” I think to myself, even as I shiver at the starting line.

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In some regard, I’ve been running since I was a kid — since I would barrel out of the elementary school building and to my mother’s car and my mother would call me her little track star.

Perhaps more technically, I’ve been running since I joined the track team as a JV sprinter my freshman year of high school. I’d venture away from it in college (potentially too busy walking the roads of Boston to ever run them) before returning again, using my runs as meditation, as a reset, as proof that the body I thought of as oafish and clumsy as an adolescent was actually capable of great things.

I’d return and up the mileage and find a home in the world of mid-distance running.  I’d eventually be forced take a second break from running — this time after tearing a tendon, after going too hard for that marathon glory and not properly paying attention to when I was past my limits.  It would be a year before I’d return back to any type of running, with most of my runs staying under 6 miles — my mid-distance days left behind on the trails.

I haven’t done many races in the last few years. Perhaps it was because I got too caught up in all that was happening around me, going too hard and not properly paying attention to when I was past my limits and resulting in tearing something other than just my gracilis tendon.

But I want back in it. That’s all I could think of when I was getting my bib, preparing for the race, lining up with my expected mile pace.  I want back in.

I want that bundle of nerves as you wait for the gun blast.  I want that rush of being in a group, hurdling towards something bigger than ourselves.  I want that maneuvering around the crowds in the beginning, feeling unstoppable as you find your place in the long line of runners.  I want that feeling of supreme connection followed by deep contemplative solitude, when the runners have spaced themselves out and it could be upwards of a mile before you see another person cheering on the sidelines.

I want that feeling of doubt halfway in, of wondering what in the world did you sign yourself up for.  I want that forced focus on the present moment — the reminder that it’s simply a series of moments between now and the finish line and staying purely within the moment you are in is key to making it through.  And I want that feeling of delirious gratitude when you see the finish line and all sense of time is lost.

The elements are there in any type of run — the crisp sharpness & clarity of the world after the run is done, the hypnotic rhythm of your breath and the sound of your feet against the ground, the feeling of accomplishment when you finally finish — but it’s a different feel on race day. It’s a different energy, one that can’t be replicated by just running alongside those who paid.

Why do we pay to run? We pay for this feeling. We pay to prove we can challenge ourselves and rise above. We pay to be reminded that we are a lot more alike than we think. We pay to operate as a group and move as a single unit but exist as blazingly individual souls. We pay for the moment of glory, when you cross the finish line and can do nothing more than walk forward in stupefied stupor.

And I want all of it.  I want back in.

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Five minutes into the race and I fatigue out quickly.  I’m already wondering if I’ll have to stop to walk.  In that forced and wavering focus on the present moment, I fill each second with doubt — why am I so tired, why am I fatiguing this early, why is a two-mile jaunt wreaking havoc on me, am I forever relegated to the jogs around the block, the jots down nature trails, the occasional toe into mid-distance running.

I think all of these things until I hit the first mile marker and my tracker informs me that I’ve completed it in 7:41.

I haven’t run a mile in under 8 minutes in years. The last time I did, it was on a treadmill — an endeavor completed without the uneven terrain and wind resistance of the outdoor word.

It’s enough to power me through the next mile — through the encroaching exhaustion and the deep desire to call it early and just start walking.

I finish with an official time of 15:41.

May this be a wonderful and fruitful return to racing in 2017, I tell social media. It’s one more thing to return back to. One more daisy popping up after a long and brutal winter. One more sign that, while there will be no such thing as returning to normal (as if I would even want to if I could), some things can still make their homecoming.

Yes, I want back in. With every fiber of my being, I want back in.

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Dark Night of the Soul

As it so happened, I learned about the dark night of the soul right as I was going through my own.

As it always happens.   And I can never really say whether it’s because we are simply seeking out what we need, or perhaps God/the Universe puts things in our path right as we need them.  But I can say I prefer the second concept way more than the first.

I learned about it from two separate places, from two different avenues, at almost the exact same time — and both on the eve of it all, right as my night had hit dusk.  Around the same time my father was rushed to the ER and curveballs had been thrown my way and precious items were starting to tumble from the shelves.  When I was desperate to run from the darkness, only to find myself running deeper into the twilight instead.

Dark night of the soul.  By definition, a complete and devastating eruption of your life.  A collapse in everything you once thought was true and infallible and unshakeable.  What was once a 16th century poem is now the term for when it all falls apart and you’re left wondering how you’ll ever redefine such key terms again.

In an obscure night
Fevered with love’s anxiety
(O hapless, happy plight!)
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be

That’s when I learned about it.  Right when everything was collapsing.  When I was 27, right on the eve of my Saturn return, no less (of course it had to happen at the same time as a Saturn return. Why not get hit from both sides of cosmic continuum.  Perhaps it all would’ve been easier if I just believed in shitty luck, if I had adhered to just the former of the two previous concepts).

Dark night of the soul.  Nights so tough I would wake up at 2 and just know that sleep had abandoned me.  Evenings where my defense mechanisms would abandon me and I would be left sitting on the floor shaking, so hysterical that I couldn’t even make a sound, let alone cry — evenings that showed me a new level of anxiety and panic, that showed me just how debilitating both can be.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

They don’t tell you that the night can last years — that you can spend your time in the witching hour, waiting for the sun to rise, convinced that, yes, finally, this time around, I will see the sun, only to find the time stretching on.  Your soul is left in the dark for a little while longer.

But the name still fits.  The dark night — a reminder that every night is temporary, no matter how long it draws out.  The sun also rises, given enough time.  Dawn comes if you can wait out the dark, moving forward even if you feel like stopping.

It’s a few days into spring, now.  Even in the blistering cold and sudden snowstorms, there is a theme of renewal.  In the fall, it will mark two years since my father passed.  In the same season, it will be one year since both my brother-in-law and my older siblings’ mother have passed.  My little brother now walks without a cane and has, for all intents and purposes, healed from the motorcycle accident.

The parts of my life that tumbled from the shelves — the things that shattered alongside the same timeline — have been slowly pieced back together.  Other parts have been deliberately left as fragments — done with attempting to glue them together, or denying that they weren’t broken beyond repair in the first place.

And other things I have decided to take down from the shelf, realizing I no longer have a use for them — realizing that they had lost their meaning in the midst of the tumults and tears.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

I’m on the mend.  I can’t count the number of people I’ve said that to.  Those who’ve checked in, who continue to check in.  I’d surrendered to the eruption and the changes, surrendered to the annihilation.  I continue to surrender to the plan in place for me — and continue to have faith that I am on a path, destined and created by God/the Universe Himself, and that the things that were not meant to be on that path have simply been ripped from the dirt.  I have faith that I lost what I needed to lose, even if it still leaves me in a state of imbalance.

Because that’s the idea of the dark night, the Saturn return.  If you can hang tight and pull through, you will emerge on the other side transformed.  If you can utilize the destructive force, you will rebuild better and more authentically you.  It’s a trial by fire that burns away the things that never should’ve been there in the first place.  You just have to be ready to abandon what needs to be abandoned and confront what needs to be confronted.  “There is no rebirth without a dark night of the soul,” – a quote from Inayat Khan.

“Birth always feels like death from the inside,” –  I’m positive that’s a Stephen King quote, but I’ve yet to be able to find it anywhere online.

I had spent the last three years waiting for the sun to rise.  And as the dawn toes in, softening the world around me, I stare off into the horizon, appreciating the glow with a new set of eyes, and ready like hell to make use of the day.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

excerpts from Dark Night of the Soul, St John of the Cross

The Anger Dissipates

Practically a decade back, I found myself at the mercy of a terrible boss.  A petty, hypocritical, volatile person.  A boss who took me in as an apprentice in the profession, only to toss me out into the deep end, so that I spent more time trying to keep my head above water than I ever did learning how to do my job well.  I was promised a trusting guide and instead was fed to the wolves.

I’d eventually burn out and quit the job and quit the entire field.  I would point to her behavior, her decisions, her antics, as a major contributing factor.  I would walk away carrying a heavy anger – a venom I’d channel into a novel about a highly dysfunctional workplace.  While the book provided catharsis, it was a story written out of malice, and, as a result, was a slog and a chore to read.

That book has not and probably will never see the light of day.  At least not without a proper gutting.

I spent years wondering if I’d ever stop feeling such negative feelings about her, if I’d ever stop wishing for some type of karmic justice, for something to tip the scales back in my favor.  I spent years with that anger in my heart, even as I enrolled in new training and started a new career – a career path that fit me way better than the first ever did.

I thought it was impossible to, but eventually the anger dissipated.  Slowly, incrementally, but continuously, until it was clear that the anger was gone and I had moved on.

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I had a friend, once, someone I knew since junior high.  A friendship that was marked and marred by an intangible force, as if we were destined to never really be on the same wavelength.  As we got older, there was an undeniable undercurrent, an energy that made me look at an innocent interaction one Halloween night and go, “Someday we’ll have a falling out.”

The falling out would be more like a crashing down.  Eventually everything came to a head, leaving me scrambling weeks before my wedding and scratching my head the day after it.

I got so angry and so furious.  I thought about how I — and my husband — had given and given and how she had taken and taken.  I thought about how she could do that and somehow still carry the narrative of her as the victim, as her as the wounded, struggling one.  How dare she behave that way, to walk away calling me every name in the book when I had been constantly morphing myself into whatever worked for her.

I spent a solid year in a state of suffocating anger, even after I ceased contact with her.  A solid year, feeling that deep, destructive venom.  I remember those days, of feeling like two separate people, of feeling like I had become a hostage to my own hatred.  I could not forgive, I could not forget, and I certainly could not move on.

But eventually the anger dissipated.  Eventually I let go and even forgave.  She’s still out of my life, but now so is the hatred.

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“If you’re writing the memoir in order to hurt someone: don’t write the memoir,” an author said at a recent event. “At least, don’t write a public memoir.  If you’re writing the memoir because you feel you have a story to tell, then dive right in, and don’t worry too much about the ‘so what’s and the ‘what will people think’s.”

It was a running mantra for me during the upheavals of the past few years: this will make a great memoir someday.  It was what kept my head above water during the more turbulent moments.  It was what I thought about when things got so comically bad I had no choice but to laugh.

It was what I thought about when I kept silent on the things that I once felt I had to keep silent on — when I was suffering in silence and desperate to have those closest to me hear the whole story, to understand just exactly why these last few years had been hell.

I haven’t begun this memoir, partly because I feel like there are other pieces of the puzzle to find first, other parts of this story that still need to make themselves be known.  Partly because the avenues are so complex and layered that I need more time to sort them out.  Partly because I wrote two fiction manuscripts in the span of 6 months and I’ve temporarily exhausted my ability to do long-term writing pieces.

And partly because I know I can’t write angry.  I’ve done that before.  I wrote a whole book angry.  And the book is rubbish.  I cared more about my feelings and emotions than I did the story, and the story suffered.  Any proper writer will tell you what happens if you don’t prioritize the story above everything else.  I know the only way I can write this story is if I write it because I want to give out a piece of my experience, to find redemption in revealing, to resonate with people in the way we seem to only be able to with memoirs.

I can’t write because I’m angry.

You can write poetry angry.  You can write journal entries angry.  But you can’t write a longer, proper story out of anger.

That doesn’t mean to deny the anger.  Telling yourself you’re not upset when you actually are does not change your emotions.  It just shoves what needs to be processed out of the conscious and into the subconscious – and the subconscious is as good at navigating the tough waters as a young child at the helm of a ship.

It means to dive into that anger.  To recognize and highlight the things that infuriated you – that continue to infuriate you.  To be frustrated and pissed off and to just want justice, to just want the scales tipped back in your favor.  To repeat the cycle, over and over again, sometimes feeling like a hostage to your own complex and contradictory set of emotions.

Because the only way out is through.  To sit with what is and honor it and be honest with it.

Because eventually the anger dissipates.

And then the writing can begin.

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Manchvegas, the Social Introvert, and the Soul

I’ve fallen into a pattern of walking the main streets of New Hampshire’s major cities whenever the weather is nice and I’m able to find a good-enough excuse.

A pattern of parking just far enough outside of the downtown area that I avoid the meters, walking until I’ve blistered the parts of my feet that meet the edges of my shoes, and eventually returning back to the real world, exhausted and filled and achy and whole.


On Thursday, the weather is predicted to jump as high as the 50s.  Practically unheard of, especially for New Hampshire in February.  This time two years ago, we were shoveling ourselves out of yet another blizzard.  Two years later, we’re watching the snow melt into muddy puddles.

I have an appointment with my therapist early in the morning on Thursday.  After 45 minutes of revealing insights and tearing up about things I didn’t think I’d tear up about and having my therapist interject when appropriate (one of the many reasons I have stuck with her for the last few years, even when I thought I was going in circles with her: she doesn’t coddle, she’s willing to interrupt, she’ll call me out when I need calling out), she asks how I’m enjoying the sudden turn in the weather.

“It’s amazing,” I say, in between figuring out the logistics of scheduling out our next session. “I’m actually going over to Elm Street after this, getting a walk in before I return to the real world.”

It’s exactly what I do after I leave.  Her office is barely a 10-minute drive in city traffic to Elm Street in Manchester, and I park just enough into the residential area that I avoid the meters (One-Hour Limit, the sign warns, however).


I step out and immediately take off my jacket.  The air is still cold but the sun is warm enough to hint at how quickly the temperatures will rise.  I take off in the direction of the downtown area, headphones in my ears, my stride in sync with the music.

These walks echo back to my walks around Boston – something I cherished then and cherish now and perhaps will cherish until the day I am no longer able to and can no longer remember.

I cannot tell you anything about the neighborhoods of Manchester.  It took two years living in New Hampshire before I even learned that Manchester’s main street was not called Main St but Elm. But I can tell you exactly what areas remind me of what neighborhoods in Boston.  How the strip of redbrick apartments with rounded, jutted-out walls hearkens back to a strip of apartments in Mission Hill.  How one road reminds me of JP, while another reminds me of Allston.  How one collection of buildings is like Beacon Hill’s kid sister, or how a certain block is a replica of Roxbury.  How the Merrimack River is like the Charles’ vivacious cousin.  How the thriving parts of Manchester remind me of the thriving parts of Downtown Crossing – and how the decaying parts mirror back just a little too acutely.

I shiver slightly in the shade and bask when I’m back in the sunlight.  I maneuver around the fellow pedestrians, the construction workers, the mounds of snow that never got plowed out.

I am content to walk the sidewalks with nowhere to go.  Content to be surrounded by people coming out of stores and restaurants, walking by me on the streets.  It fills my soul in a way that nothing else can – not even the best, most refreshing hike.

If an introvert is supposed to gain energy by being alone, then there’s something faulty in my wiring.  I’ve joked before about being a walking contradiction – a social introvert.   Constantly wanting to interact, but never knowing what to say.  Seeking out social events while still carrying deep social anxiety.  Adoring people but also becoming drained by them.

I can never explain it adequately enough, and the only people who really get what I’m saying are fellow social introverts.  That I live for concerts and comedians and theatre because I’m quite literally surrounded by people – and people that I know, in some way, are here for the same reason I’m here.  That I don’t go silent in social situations because I’m bored or unhappy; I go silent to observe.  That I will dive into the deep waters of conversation with people I’ve only known for a little while, if only because I abhor the shallow pleasantries – that, really, the only part of socializing that exhausts me is the casual chatter, the adherence to the social script.

I loop around Elm Street and wander down the side streets and make my way to the Merrimack River.  At this spot, the water churns wildly over rocks and edges.  Not even a few miles south, it will calm down dramatically.  By the time it hits Nashua, it will appear as serene as a lake.  But, up here, it moves in violent ways, ways that threaten anything that dares to be in it.

There are countless symbolic avenues one can go down with such an observation.  But sometimes it’s just nice to observe.


One-Hour Limit.  That’s what I remind myself.  Another voice points out how lax the meter maids are in that area of town, how many times I’ve gone over limit with no tickets or citations.

Another voice reminds me that the One-Hour Limit is not just about parking.  I have things that need to get done.  The real world awaits.  That same voice is annoyed that I’m even doing this in the first place: how will I ever Learn to Adult if I keep blowing off work in favor of wandering around.

The sun has made good on its promise.  The weather is now warm enough that I’m starting to sweat, even in the shade, even in just my long-sleeved shirt and yoga pants.  I start bargaining with myself – okay, get these assignments done, get this bit of homework done, email these set of people, then you can drive down to Nashua early and walk Main Street before your evening class.  In some ways, that bargaining is the only thing that forces me to drive home and not up north to Concord, to lather, rinse, repeat in that city, too.

I drive with the windows down, my music now playing through the Bluetooth in my car.  I chuckle at myself, reminded of a passing conversation the day before about music and how I’ve been trying to become more okay with silence – that I don’t always have to be playing music.  But apparently today is not that day.  The songs on my phone are filling the spots that the walk might’ve missed.  It’s too perfect of a complement to give up.  Tomorrow can be a day I tackle silence again.

I get home and eschew everything to write.  To my right is my anatomy textbook – a thick, dense monstrosity, in some ways the bane of my existence for the last 5+ months.  A perennial sword of Damocles, hanging over my head, no matter where I am in the assigned reading.  A book that makes me wish I could throw myself into the future – a future where I have read it, cover to cover, and miraculously absorbed all of the information.

How am I going to Learn to Adult if I keep blowing things off in favor of writing.  Perhaps I’ll never learn to adult.  Perhaps that struggle between what I know I should be doing and what feeds my soul will constantly rage on, as violent as the Merrimack as it passes through Manchester, or as deceptively quiet as the Charles as it passes through Boston.

Three or Four.


On Valentine’s Day of 2006, I got stood up.

I remember the scene with the type of vivid detail that makes me suspect I’ve started filling in the blanks that inevitably occur as the years go by: I remember waiting in the lobby of my dorm hall, watching as the agreed upon meeting time came and went.  I remember sending texts to the boy in question, asking him where he was (and this was back in the days when you had to tediously find your letters on a number pad in order to text).  I remember the half-hearted excuse he would eventually send, hours after we were supposed to go out for dinner.

This would be the second time this particular boy stood me up.  Just a week before, he had stood me up for a casual dinner date.  When I confronted him about this, he gave me a matching set of flimsy excuse and flimsy apology – with an equally flimsy promise to make it up to me with a perfect Valentine’s Day date.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have been shocked that he would leave me stranded a second time.

But, then again, I’ve never been one to catch on quickly.

I remember returning to my dorm room – mercifully empty, with my roommate off on whatever Valentine’s Day adventure she had with her boyfriend – and bursting into tears.  I was officially done with the treacherous, treasonous world of dating.  I was sick of getting hurt, time and time again, by boys and their careless hearts.  I was sick of my own little heart and all the ways it kept getting broken.  I had other things I needed to focus on.  I had a scholarship to maintain.  I had plans to go abroad.  It was time to put a moratorium on guys and love – for the remainder of the semester, potentially for the remainder of my college career.

Four days later, a scrappy MIT boy would hop into the empty theatre seat next to me, stick out his hand, and say to me:

“Hi!  Would you like to be my new friend?”

I think back on that version of me: that 19-year-old girl who was serious about her moratorium – who, for the first time in her young life, had said, “Romance is the worst!” and didn’t immediately look around for a guy to prove her wrong.  A 19-year-old who remained highly guarded of the MIT boy, expecting to never hear from him again, expecting the other shoe to inevitably drop.  A girl who didn’t even believe him at first when he talked about where he went to college.

I think about 19-year-old me, and how she consistently gave the MIT boy every reason to drop things and run.  A girl who didn’t want a relationship, who never wanted to get married.  A girl who couldn’t be trusted to disclose the full story or even tell the truth if the truth could be construed as bad news.  A girl who still thought romance was the worst, that boys were fascinated by her but would never truly be in love with her.

I think about the way that 19-year-old moved about the world, the way her behavior was motivated by something she didn’t have access to – and, in some ways, would continue to not have access to, not for another decade.

I think about 24-year-old me, getting married, even after saying things like, “Marriage is what people do when they want to make each other miserable.”  I remember going into my own marriage still harboring that distaste and disdain for the institution – not yet getting that you can’t hold that contradiction for long without inevitably destroying yourself.  That you couldn’t follow the guidelines while simultaneously hating them and not eventually kill off pieces of your soul.


I think about those past versions of me a lot these days.  In many ways, life has been and continues to be a gigantic retrospective.  Getting to the bottom of things in order to make necessary changes to those movements and motivations, before it’s too late.

I’m not the 19-year-old version of me.  I’m not the 24-year-old version of me.  I’m sure as hell not the 27-year-old version of me anymore.  But, at the same time, I know that those versions are still a part of me – that their origin point is identical to mine.  That it’s important to retrace the path back to the trailhead and see exactly where I went off the map.

I think about them as if they were a separate girl.  In some ways, they are.  I look back on old pictures and journal entries and feel like I’m being introduced to a distant relative.  This is someone I should know well, and yet, I don’t.

I think about their mindsets and logic, and how it evolved over the years.  I think about how it took everything blowing up all at once for her to finally wake up, to see the roots of all her behavior, to realize the way she had been blazing her trail forward had been completely unsustainable.

I think about how she shifted: how she went from the girl who wouldn’t even speak about her parents to the MIT boy unless it could be condensed into digestible, bit-sized chunks to the girl who would dump the consequences of such a chaotic upbringing in the MIT boy’s lap, as if to say, “I call your bluff.  You’ll learn I’m too messed up to be loved.”

I think about the lowest points, when I’d lay the ugliest parts of my soul at his feet, revealing the demons I swore I’d be taking to the grave with me, and going, “You would be better off with anyone else but me.”

And I think about the strong and comforting reply, time and time and time again: “It’s a good thing I get to choose for myself what’s good for me.”

It makes me think of a line in a poem I saw online recently: In the end, his love roared louder than her demons.


“The average person will have three or four serious relationships in their life,” the lady in a TED talk once told me.  “Some of those relationships will be with the same person.”

This is not the relationship of two kids living on opposite sides of the Charles.  Nor is it the relationship of two as-good-as-kids high off of honeymoon adventures and wedding debt.  This isn’t the relationship that existed while my father was alive, when I thought I knew exactly how the future would play out, when I swore I knew exactly how I’d respond in every single situation.  The same way life continues on with stops and starts, deaths and rebirths, things having given way, but having also created room for something new, something better.  Another evolution in the constant shifting winds of life.

On Valentine’s Day of 2017, I’m eating homemade, heart-shaped mini-pizzas while watching an absurdly wonderful Michael Bolton special.  I spend the evening cuddling into the MIT boy on our comically large sectional sofa, attempting to watch the pilot episode of a new show.  I’m asleep within the first 10 minutes – the sound type of sleep that I only seem to get in the arms of that MIT boy.  The same arms I would snuggle into on nights when insomnia would leave me hysterical with exhaustion.  The same arms that found their way draping across my shoulder during that fateful night in 2006.

Why, yes, I would like to be your new friend.

New Paths Forward

We were shown the nature paths when we first toured the house.

The first two acres were technically our own, before it went off into the wild west of the woods.  According to the realtor, the paths could lead you all the way up to Canada.  We’d learn later that it wasn’t hyperbole: the paths actually linked up with snowmobiling paths – which did, in fact, snake their way north until they hit the Canadian border.

The paths became as much my home as the house itself.  There were times, even, that the paths became more of a home than the house itself – when the woods offered escape during times when it felt like the walls were closing in on me.

I took the paths selfishly and lavishly and with abandon.  I took them when I wanted to soak in the good weather and I took them when I need a desperate ringing out.  They were my breaks from assignments, studies, stress, the weight of the world.

Yesterday afternoon, I gave myself one of those post-assignment breaks through the woods, soaking up the abnormally warm weather before the sun would set and it would be too late for a walk.  I cut through what was technically my 2 acres and continued on down the trails.

A few minutes into the wild west, and a clearing of land boldly interrupted the path.  A strip of churned up dirt and fallen branches and stumps now ran perpendicular to the trail I knew by heart.  To the right of me, it dead ended fairly quickly.  To the left of me, the path led up a hill that once housed so many trees that you could barely see the sky.


Now, that’s basically all you can see.

Five more minutes down the path, and there is no more path.  A second logging path, combined with a substantial clearing of trees, had obliterated whatever remained of the trail.  I could hear the machines in the distance, sawing away at whatever trees still stood.


It was in that moment I understood why people chain themselves to trees and throw Molotov cocktails at bulldozers.  There was something so profane in what was happening.  I felt like I had been invaded.  It felt like marauders had ransacked my village and took away what was most precious to me.

Those were my paths.  Those were the woods I went into when life couldn’t stop blowing up.  They were reassuring routes forward when it felt like all I was taking were wrong turns.

And now they were gone.

Barely twelve hours later, the temperature dropped and a blizzard hit.  The northeast temporarily shut down.  Schools had closed.  Government officials told their residents to stay home.  The world was put on temporary pause.

So I laced up my boots, put on my winter coat, and ventured back out down my nature paths.


I was going to return to the scene of the crime, to see what it looked like with a fresh coat of snow over it.  I was going to see what it felt like to take new paths forward.

When life had settled down a bit, I had cherished every possible change to my schedule, my routine.  I welcomed new classes and gleefully dropped old ones.  I watched some places go out of business while new places opened up and took me in.  I hopped on every chance to shift things around.

It was as if the imprint of my life’s upheaval had been so deep and so dark that the very places I frequented during those times had become vessels for the feelings themselves.  And I knew that my woods held as much of those old feelings as they did my source of comfort.

In the midst of the anger and sadness and frustration, I acknowledged the symbolism in my beloved woods getting cleared out.

My old paths were gone.  It was time to forge ahead with what was new.


I returned back to where the old trail ended, mangled beyond recognition by the logging path.  I hung a right on this new road and followed it down, assuming I was the only one in the woods.  The world had temporarily shut down, after all.  Everyone must have been inside.

The path was too clunky and clumsy for pedestrians, especially with the fresh snow that lay on top of it.  I did my best to keep my footing, slipping over branches and stumbling over hidden stumps.  All the while the Weepies played through my earbuds, remarking on how the world spins madly on.

The background music of the song started to shift, mimicking muffled, if not slightly screeching noises.  I took out my earbuds to realize it wasn’t the music at all, but a logging vehicle hard at work.  In the distance, I could see its large crane lift up at a tree before pressing forward.  Another tree down.  Another area of the forest cleared.

I sighed and turned back.  The snow was picking up anyway.  I needed to get back – my classes had been cancelled, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had the day off.  Projects and assignments and deadlines loomed over my head.  The sooner I got them done, the better.

I turned and walked against wind.  I was so eager to return home, and the wind obscured so much of my vision, that I misjudged where the logging road intersected with my path.  Misjudged so much that I didn’t even realize that I had missed it entirely — going so far down the opposite way that I stumbled across a second set of vehicles, clearing out a different area of the forest.  I turned around, hoping to find my old footsteps and follow them back.  But the snowfall had filled in my tracks, and whatever clearing I thought I had seen between the path and the road was gone.

All that was before me was woods.

I turned off my music and started using my phone as a glorified compass, inching my way back to my neighborhood.  There were no landmarks to guide me.  I couldn’t even rely on where there were clearings.

Now that the densely populated trees were gone, I was surrounded by clearings.  Every opened spot looked like a path, especially in the snow.

In this upheaval, I was making my own path home.  How absolutely daunting it was, knowing that all my old safeguards were gone, that there was nothing from the past to guide me, that the sheer number of directions I could go was infinite and dizzying.

The metaphor was not lost on me.  It’s never as simple as digging up the old paths and blazing new trails.  It’s never as simple as changing the scenery and leaving the old landmarks behind.  Sometimes burning it all to the ground leaves you with nothing but bewildering ashes and a sense of unease.

Sometimes thinking you can leave it all behind leaves you lost in the woods.

I continued to follow my phone, walking eastward until I came to the backyard of a neighbor’s house.  I kept to the edge of the property until I made my way out and onto one of the roads of my neighborhood.


The world was still as vacant as the forest, even with pavement and houses replacing clearings and stumps.  The roads had barely been touched, let alone plowed.  No one was going anywhere.

I returned back, down a road I knew well.  A road I used as part of my runs so many times that I could tell you how every single bend in the road equated with a certain level of fatigue.  The falling snow quickly muffled the sound of the saws and trucks, and the world was bathed in silence once again.


How good it felt, to get back home.  I peeled out of my winter gear, so heavily coated in snow that I looked like I had created my own mini storm by the welcome mat.  I cozied in to my well-worn spot in front of the space heater, two content cats asleep right behind me.  I eventually got up to heat up some leftovers and some apple cider and to watch the snow pile up outside.

Within a half hour of returning, the snow picked up to whiteout conditions.  And I remained happily indoors, protected by the steady walls of my home, as the blizzard continued to make its way through the cleared out woods and the world spun madly on.