What it was like to graduate in 2010 (an emerging adulthood story)

I am in my parents’ garage. It is 2010.  June. I have stomped my left foot so hard on the concrete floor my hip aches. Will it ever get better? I wonder as I glance down at the shredded envelope. I fix my concentration on the wobbly letters in front of me, and hold the letter far and up close, far and up close, straining through a blur of tears. I hadn’t considered this. I hadn’t even considered this? Why didn’t I consider this??? My parents are upstairs in the kitchen, arguing about me as they have for years and how I strangely miss now. My mom yells when she’s concerned, and my dad sounds calm. This is when he scares me most, because I know he’s right. “She’s really upset, Maureen. What’s she going to do now?” I sniffle and sob into my sleeve.

The next several hours (days?) are a blur spent mostly in tears, so many in fact that I am shocked when they seem to finally run out. I am a college graduate, plonked in my childhood bedroom, with brutal double- mirrored closet doors I’m made to stare into as I sit on the floor job searching on my hot pink 2007 Dell. My mom peeks in, calls me “Rin”, and tells me she “closed up downstairs”, which is code for no matter how late I stay up, the kitchen is off limits. But it’s the least of my concerns. I pour myself a double vodka orange nightly in the coming weeks, and somewhere around September sit down with a plan.

“So ok here’s the deal I was rejected from nursing school but now it will all be ok I’m just going to get a job.” I announce across the blonde wood kitchen table. My parents nod and hold their breath. The drinking continues. On weekends I pretend I’m still in college and on weekdays I apply to about 97 positions in the course of two weeks. I am 21 years old. During breakfast and dinner I field questions about my search. At the bank, and the grocery store, and the gym in my hometown, I slink around shamefully, hoping to remain unseen- hoping I’m just passing through. Perhaps for the first time in my young life, I feel like an honest to god failure. What I don’t know is that I’m about to enter the darkest period of my life, the one that involves working in a preschool. A Human Development graduate, I nonetheless apply for positions ranging from 911 dispatcher to preschool teacher to escrow officer assistant. I have NO IDEA what I am doing.

Finally, in late September, I am damn tired of being unemployed. I start driving my résumé all across the tri county area and putting it into anyone’s hand who will take it. This tack leads me to “A Child’s Place” preschool in Fairfield where I encounter unforgettable people and unique experiences (how’s that for positive spin?). It is also where I cultivate my identity as “Ms. Erin” for the first time in years.  Ms. Phoebe, Ms. Gloria, Ms. Katherine, & Ms. Carlise, my hat is off to you.

Soon I am pretending to drive a toy car at 7 o’clock in the morning with little girls named Keyani and Kajja for $10 an hour. I am  leading the toddler room on their bathroom breaks which include diapering a child with one hand while keeping three other toddlers seated and allowing the one who is potty training to use the toilet for about 15 minutes. Oh and by the way she uses the entire toilet paper roll and tries putting all the seat covers in the toilet. She rips off her diaper and throws it on the floor screaming “Caitlyn!” victoriously (her own name).
All this and I’m not making enough to buy my own vodka. But really.

 

As expected I gain about twelve pounds and lock myself in the lactation room for peace whenever possible. I have learned the value of a dollar, and have felt troubled and shamed by the fact that I am worth only ten in a single hour’s time. I tell no one. My friends have only heard that I’m a preschool teacher. And this is where my “teacher identity” starts to develop. I continue borrowing booze money from my parents and I let them buy me a Halloween costume.  On Halloween I run a red light in San Francisco and the fine eats two weeks of my pay. in the red light/traffic photo, one can clearly see that I am beginning to mouth the word “fuck”. It is two months from my 22nd birthday.

On my birthday I am wiping the butt of a two year old named Ava as her mom asks me how old I’m turning. I think she is about 29, and I’m 22, and this is way before the Taylor Swift song. I pass out cups of milk to 5 starving, wailing toddlers as Ava’s mom watches me.  One boy knocks his milk over immediately and throws himself onto the floor, convulsing with tears. He is at that terrifying age where he’s not verbal, but seems to understand everything and sometimes just gives me these “looks”. During this time period I learn how truly very long a period of five minutes can be.

The holidays drift by, and I am a single girl: equal parts disgusted and enthralled by the royal wedding, rapidly approaching in April. By this point I have officially started buying “curvy” jeans and am thinking of reconnecting with my high school boyfriend. In March, I have a “frank conversation” with the directors at “A Child’s Place”. I am sitting in a miniature blue chair wearing plaid. All the blinds are closed: it is my favorite part of the day- naptime.  We agree that my discontent seems clear  and perhaps a new opportunity is on the horizon. I spend one of my last lunch breaks in the Solano County health and human services lunch room phoning the Napa Valley Lodge. My parents won’t let me leave this job without another lined up- God love ’em. (Fortunately) They hire me back to cover the front desk. I give official notice and spend what I now think of as “the eternal summer of 2011” as a part time bartender part time receptionist. I part time hate both, but it beats the hell out of 8 hours a day with toddlers.

As I work at Napa Valley Lodge I also decide that it’s a good idea for me to try to teach elementary school. This is primarily because I do not like teaching preschool, both because of the ages of the children and because the pay is not enough for me to afford a studio appointment with four girls names Brittany in downtown Oakland. So I am spending Tuesdays in Vallejo learning about elementary literacy and planning instruction. In July of 2011, I nearly break down in the Mare Island Elementary School Library upon realizing I was taught to read using the “whole language” approach in the mid nineties, and I botch a partner activity where we alternate reading each component sound in a word. I can’t segment or blend, and I’m tearing up. I become  irate with my father who has had probably the most solid phonics instruction of any one I’ve ever met. He didn’t even flinch when I started giving him a bunch of CVC words and asked him to segment them. In fact, I think he was cutting up an orange at the time, and very nonchalantly putting some slices in a bowl, while eating some others. He was lucky enough to go to elementary school in the fifties- I am lucky enough to capitalize on the sad misfortune of California public schools and use it to my advantage.

I’m also  lucky enough at this time to own enough Anthropologie skirts (thanks mom) to be taken somewhat seriously by prospective employers. Resume in hand, I parade down to the local (rural) elementary school and ASK them for a job (Mt. George on Second Avenue, Napa people). They say yes. I’m an aide in kindergarten, where I watch a first year teacher go down like a sinking ship due to abysmal classroom management. Sometimes I cry in my car. Sometimes I smirk knowingly with the parents. Sometimes I drink my Starbucks through a straw like Anna, the older, cooler aide. Sometimes I go to my teacher classes and carefully recount the days’ horrors. Other times I eavesdrop on people in the special education program extolling the virtues of the”paper trail,” and these are the times, more than any other, when I still feel like a little girl.  I have no confidence in my ability to leave a paper trail, only in my ability to complete nightly reading assignments and drink vodka with orange.

It is the end of 2011, and I am turning 23.

On my 23rd birthday I am with my friend Kelsey in [old town] Sacramento. They are lighting the Christmas tree and we are wondering if we will ever get boyfriends. The following Saturday, December 10, 2011, I meet a stranger from the Internet, on Kelsey’s recommendation, for “one last date from match.com“.  At 703 Casswall Street the Christmas tree is up, my mom is ironing and my dad was doing  a crossword, and I remember both of them telling me “maybe just don’t go”. I knew next to nothing about Kevin, except that he lived in San Rafael and was a Machinist. I thought his last name was “Mearly”, which I remember thinking was cool. I pulled up to the little Thai restaurant (Mini Mango downtown, Napa people) and parked in the lot behind Exertec. Kevin was parked on the street with his truck and was leaning against it like some kind of cowboy. “Kevin?” I remember asking sweetly, like I was calling him back for his nine-thirty appointment. The rest of the date was Stella Artois and barely touching the pad thai. Neither of us like Thai food- should’ve gone to Taylor’s. I think we talked about advil and Rugby. It was mostly us mindlessly barreling through topics for an opportunity to stare through each other. As a result, we could’ve been talking about bagels or Islam, I don’t know. But we really liked each other. We closed the Soscol Starbucks that night. Seemingly by happenstance, 12/10/11 was my last first date.

I student teach in the spring of 2012 and land a job “teaching school” in Tomales that fall. Everything about it is the worst with the exception of my sweet Petaluma apartment. I eat hot pockets and chocolate milk more than I care to admit. I can’t put up bulletin boards and find that I don’t care if the kids finish a worksheet or not. Of 20 kids, 17 are English language learners and 15 are on free lunch. They call me “teacher” with alternating respect and disdain. The classroom has an overhead projector, a TV, and one iMac. I am allotted $250 for supplies. I spend my own money at Office Depot and stuff my face with every kind of Ritz cracker Raley’s sells. I become jealous of everyone who is not a teacher, including the mother of one of my students who is an admin assistant at the fire department. At one point my lesson planning takes the form of “open the sun chips and the plan book on Sunday afternoon: don’t stop til the full one is empty and the empty one is full”. My BTSA mentor is a resource specialist and the principal is a woman who had extensive back surgery that year, my first year teaching. She is never around. The PE teacher is my hero, taking the kids for impromptu “lessons” when I was about to break down which I’ll never forget. I was the only teacher of my grade level, and I was isolated. In Tomales, if I forgot my lunch I wouldn’t eat (unless I slaughtered a cow). I didnt get cell service with AT&T. The Sandy Hook shooting happened during my first year and we held an in-service with the sheriff who told us (seriously) to stash rocks behind our desks to throw at potential intruders/gunmen. All I had wanted was a way to move out of my parents house; I hadn’t wanted all  this.
I assembled the math curriculum from an assortment of outdated textbooks I’d found in the supply cabinet. I carpooled to MCOE to eat little squares of pizza and write on chart paper for BTSA credits. I met a family who had nine children and couldn’t comprehend it. I took an “assessment day” and my sub was an honest to god lumberjack from Point Reyes who my kids mistakenly called “Santa”. I had a parent come in to conferences drunk with his second wife who was younger than me (born in ’89!) and had the school psych call CPS on this family later that year when bruises showed up on their daughter.  I had a kid named Angel throw up pink vomit all over the floor during ELD class. I attended a mandatory diabetes training with the other teachers and had to excuse myself due to lightheadededness. I had an honest to god panic attack at a district wide professional development day and I couldn’t stop crying and hiccuping and it was hard to breathe. This was triggered in part by people approaching me and saying I was new and they didn’t know my name. The kindergarten teacher held my hand and got me out of the building faster than you can say “BTSA”.  I went home that afternoon and played with the battery-operated fountain my students had given me for Christmas in between google searches of “workers comp” and “teaching with a mental illness”. When I learn I won’t be returning to Tomales, I order myself a custom ice cream cake from Coldstone which reads “Happy Pink Slip!” in light pink icing. To my shock and horror, the lady working at the creamery is a second grade parent, and she seems genuinely disappointed by this pink slip cake. She says her daughter really likes me and was excited for me to be her teacher next year.

It was the middle of August, 2013, in my bathtub on a sunny weekday afternoon when I suddenly realized I would run out of money. Dizzily, I sat at my computer in a pink towel and applied to a handful of jobs on Edjoin. None of them were to teach third grade.

On August 23rd I drove to Kentfield, parking briefly at College of Marin to go over my interview flash cards. I was, yet again, in fabulous Anthropologie floral. I called my mom in a very offhand way, casually mentioning that I was going in for an interview to be a special education paraprofessional. The pay was pretty good, the location was great, and I assumed it would be less stressful than teaching third grade in Tomales. Those were the criteria upon which I ultimately based my career path.

Without going into excessive detail, it turns out I was right. Not knowing much about the position, and frankly picturing anything from kids with tracheostomy tubes in wheelchairs using augmentive communication devices to students who needed extra time to finish math homework, I was offered and accepted the position. I met many wonderful people- including teachers, staff, administrators, students, and parents, and was introduced to an element of education that I really, truly loved. School had always come pretty easily to me but I had struggled with serious anxiety for a very long time. In this position I did not feel anxious because the kids really leveled me out- they showed me it was ok not to be perfect. I found that I was better at teaching in this environment and that, for whatever strange reason, I really clicked with the kids regardless (and maybe in part because of) of their disabilities. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I approached this position timidly at first, thinking people with disabilities might frighten or otherwise scare me off. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and I came into my own so much within this job that I went back, to good old Mare Island, to pursue an Education Specialist Credential in late summer 2014.

Returning to Touro was great and I once again met a lovely, hilarious group of people. I took on a full course load and managed, within the 2014-2015 academic year, to satisfy all requirements for the credential with the exception of student (or intern) teaching. At year’s end I knew that I would most likely either return to Kent as a para (putting off my student teaching for another time), or end up intern teaching in a place like Richmond or Vallejo. As of spring 2015, it was very unclear to me what my options were. I applied for numerous positions within Marin County, and either received form letter rejection emails or was never contacted at all. Vallejo, on the other hand, along with districts dotting the east bay water’s edge, were contacting me nonstop. It was June 23, 2015, when I went on a Tuesday morning interview at Mill Valley School District, for the position of Resource Specialist. I dressed in a crisp white skirt and black cardigan, and answered the thirteen questions which lay before me with relative ease. I found this interview to be far “easier” because I could base my answers in experience and reality. It felt more genuine to have a product, finally, that was worth selling. I left the interview feeling proud of my composure and professionalism, but felt my fate was sealed when the middle school principal politely told me, “Have a great summer, and thank you for coming in.” If ever there was a death knell, for me that was it…

 

I pumped gas next to the “Welcome to Mill Valley” wooden sign on East Blithedale while I contemplated what it would be like to work in San Pablo or Pinole. I drove there that afternoon, drove by a middle school where they had offered me a job. I tried to convince myself that working here would be fine and might even go well. I had a deadline of June 26th- that very Friday, to let the West Contra Costa people know what my decision would be. I was agonizing over the decision. The thought briefly crossed my mind to write a thank you card or send a thank you email to Mill Valley for the interview- but I decided even this wasn’t worth it because they had interviewed me only as a professional courtesy to our mutual contacts.

 

I was parked on the Embarcadero, on Wednesday, June 24th, when I noticed a missed call and voicemail from Mill Valley School District. “Erin, this is Andee Abramson calling. I’m calling because we would like to offer you the position of Resource Specialist at our Middle School. If you’re interested give me a call back on my cell.” WAAAAHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTT?

 

Did the Mill Valley School District just call me and offer me a position as Resource Specialist at their middle school? ??!!!

 

If you consider the fact that, a few years earlier, I was eating cereal from my parents’ pantry and “teaching” for ten dollars an hour, I had suddenly really hit it big.

Except the thing to remember is that is wasn’t so sudden. I  was 26, and really, during the last five years of my life, I had really earned it all.

 

My thoughts exactly,

Erin

: )

“Fuck it, I’ll…”

In honor of 2015, I present to you a list of times that I’ve said, “fuck it, I’ll …” as a basis for decision making and come out on top.

1. “Fuck it, I’ll…”

Transfer.

…to Davis. Have the best years of my life. Take 3 units of “Communication and Interaction with Young Children” and Human Physiology with all the pre-med people. Spend Thursday nights sampling “Thank God I’m not” garb in my best friend’s bedroom with tequila poppers… and lay on the floor with towels over our faces the morning after. Binge on pizza, beer, and ice cream and somehow LOSE weight. Live in a devilish Euphoria that is, truly, 14 square miles surrounded by reality, or some such (thanks Uncle Jerry, I think I get it now! ; ) ]

2. “Fuck it, I’ll…”

Teach.

…Oooh, not getting into nursing school hurt. It hurt bad. For years people had been complimenting my academic chops and admiring me for it. But in 2010, I left college and thought, ‘aha! this is it. Finally it. No more school for me!’ But I was wrong- dead wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I was teaching preschool within six months, taking the CBEST in seven, enrolled in a credential program (9), student teaching (18), slated as a third grade teacher of record (26), working in special education (36), getting an education specialist credential (46), and otherwise coming up with no reason to leave education. ever. And guess what? I wouldn’t change it for the world. And as an aside, I would be the WORST NURSE EVER. LITERALLY EVER. (I get woozy and have to sit down and put my head to my knees when I think about osteoperosis. I have been known to require a cookie and juice at teacher trainings which involve learning about diabetes and nutrition. I once walked out of a lesson on muscular dystrophy in Tomales because I needed to “get some air”.) Trust me, this world needs me as a teacher, not a nurse. : )

3. “Fuck it, I’ll…”

Join match.com

…This was in 2010 before it was really 100% socially acceptable. In fact, it was about 43% socially acceptable. My college friends asked me about it slyly, and in hushed tones. We deleted all texts regarding immediately after sending and were careful not to correspond via email, lest we be outed. For shame. This was 2010, nearly 5 years ago, and most people were still expecting to meet their significant other at the gym, at work, or at a Parisian cafe. Nevertheless, this was a great opportunity to meet many fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) people. I learned so much from this experience, in fact, that it almost felt wrong to be paying so little for it.

4. “Fuck it, I’ll…”

Go out tonight.

…December 10, 2011. After more than two dozen anticlimactic, lukewarm dates with an assortment of bozos covering the tri-county area, it took more than a little convincing from my girl, Kelsey Ann, to convince me to go out one last time, on this oh-so-close to the holidays date. My hopes weren’t high. I wore a black dress and silver hoops, and remember watching youtube videos as I got ready. The videos were people discussing their absolute worst dating experiences: nightmare dates, if you will. I was eating this up- brushing my hair with a smile on my face- hoping, at best, for a great story to tell my friends. Something hilarious, unbelievable, obscene! I got none of these, but an incredible night to remember. My last first date. : )

I find it hilarious that most of the times when I made informed, deliberate choices I fucked it up and could not have been more wrong (i.e. “I’ll be a nurse, I’ll go to Irvine, I’ll marry my high school boyfriend …haha, no!!!).

I have learned it is far better to just say “fuck it.”

But make sure you follow it with “I’ll…”

And take life from there.

I often think o…

I often think of Erica.

 

I met her last year in an elementary literacy methods course. At the time, she was a thin, wiry-haired twenty-six year old with a quick wit and a seriously pretty smile.

Erica had a fiancé, and they lived together near some shady neighbors three blocks from Steffan Manor in central Vallejo. What I knew about him was that he was from New York, and she’d met him there, while she was working at a bakery.

I loved that Erica had worked at a bakery in New York, and that now she was working on a teaching credential in California. It felt like the right amount of things to do in your twenties, and I admired her for it. I would say we swapped stories, but, mostly she just told me stories about New York- about the fun she had, the cost of living, and how she’d missed her family and come back.

I liked her because I felt like, in another life, I could’ve been her. I liked that she moved to New York but then moved back. I liked that she’d moved to New York at all. And since I wasn’t sure I’d ever be brave enough to do it myself, I liked her even more.

Her fiancé, whose name I never got, remained a New Yorker in California. And he struggled. The last I checked with Erica, he hadn’t been able to find a job and was now considering working for Erica’s dad. He was less than pleased. She told me this over several weeks as we poured over our writing “mini-lessons” for our elementary portfolio.

During the last week of class, we read a sample piece in which we were to write with thick detail, allowing the reader to be part of the scene we created to the greatest extent possible. Erica went first. She read a beautiful, descriptive, even lyrical piece about the first time she tried on her wedding dress. She described the intricate glory of the dress itself, along with the warm hugs and wet kisses that her mom and sister gave. The way she described this fitting was evocative of actual transformation; I welled up at picturing how that beautiful, bejeweled dress represented a tangible shift in the role Erica was to hold in society. Her words touched me- they inspired me. I could see that many others in the room were smiling and tearing up.

 

The professor was no exception. “Erica! That’s lovely! Tell us, when are you getting married??” She awaited the response with baited breath.

 

“Actually, the wedding is off,” Erica said, looking several of us dead in the eye. “He really couldn’t live here, after all.”

At this point Erica had broken up with her fiancé, and was fully credentialed (with the exception of this four unit course) and had yet to find a job. She was twenty-six and, it seemed, starting over, yet again.

But I just remember that she kept smiling, and I still don’t know how. I don’t know what she went home to at night, or how she paid the rent during those hazy summer months, but she always smiled, and she smiled genuinely.

 

At the end of July, we had a small party to congratulate ourselves on our successful completion of the course. Erica, only on being asked, admitted that she had accepted a job in Woodland, as a math and science teacher at a middle school she’d attended.

Inexplicably, I was elated. And I often think to myself, if Erica can go through what she went through and make it then I can survive anything, too.

And this- this is my little way of thanking her:

 

I often think of Erica.

Profile/ I’m a Nerd (but this is fun!)

 

Name: Erin O’Brien

Goal: To contribute to young people’s development and improve the quality of society

Immediate Goal: To be a hardy student teacher

What keeps me going: 5 words: “Oh! Now I get it!”

Best kept secret: Closet idealism, crying over deli sandwiches while watching “What Not to Wear”

When I knew I should be a teacher: When I knew I shouldn’t be a nurse. I think people entering both of these fields have a similar “spirit” to them, most of the time. It’s something I think I have.

On being a teacher: What I’m doing is raising little Californians to become critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and people who wouldn’t cut in front of you in line at the Cheesecake Factory. I see myself as an artist and  strategist, and this is a huge undertaking. I hate to see teachers, and students,  fail.

Why what I do matters: Because children become adults.

What I do best: Take risks, paraphrase, eat copious amounts of ranch dressing

When I felt most alone: My entire freshman year of college. The night I missed a connecting flight to Sacramento and had to spend the night alone at a hotel in Phoenix. I was awake all night because I was terrified about not knowing a single soul in the entire state of Arizona! In the morning I made coffee and congratulated myself for my awe-inspiring self-sufficiency (Not!!!).

Weaknesses: Sierra Nevadas, Nate Ruess, transferring colleges

In High School I… did Drama, Sports, was an “AP kid”. But ultimately I was isolated. I enjoyed high school but took it a bit seriously. I spent every weekend in Green Valley with David, Colby, Andy, and Sally. When you’re a teenager you have no idea it’ll never be like that again.

When I was Most Excited: Every time I fell in love, and when I got into Davis!

 

Personal Narrative (from elementary literacy)

He passed through the doorway as a ghost of his former self. Khaki pants, neatly tucked polo shirt, a gleaming whistle resting on his overstuffed belly. Everything down to his scruffy loafers and silver mustache was the same, but everything was different. He said nothing. He didn’t even raise his eyes to ours. He just stood behind his desk and leaned. He opened his mouth to talk and it closed. He looked at the desk and he looked at his shoes. The little palm trees on his shirt danced before my fixed eyes. An obedient silence washed over the class as we searched in vain for the incurable optimist, the basketball coach, the no-nonsense History teacher who once stood where the ghost of Mr. Bonfigli stood now.

 

Suddenly his throat cleared, and I felt a shot of adrenaline pulse through my veins. “Class,” He wasn’t looking up. “My Norma passed away on Saturday.” He spoke, but his voice was hollow, fragile, broken. Where was Coach? Where was Mr. Bonfigli? Where was our pep talk on taking school seriously and going to mass? We sat at attention, our eyes filling with tears at the mere suggestion that that man was gone.

 

“She got real sick, real fast. She had a-” He stopped, removing a handkerchief from his khakis and patting his cheeks. I felt sick to see him like this. He couldn’t stop leaning on his desk. He never leaned on his desk. “She had a brain aneurysm.” Finally he looked upward, and began to address the ceiling. “They rushed her to Stanford on Friday night, but there was othing they could do.” Then he paused, shook his head, and for the first time, looked at us. “I would have carried her down the aisle. I told her that. I said Norma Jean, I don’t care what happens to you, If I have to carry you down the aisle, that’s what I’ll do.”

 

We couldn’t move, let alone speak, after that, and he didn’t have to. But when the bell rang minutes later, we didn’t listen. We didn’t go to lunch. We stayed at our desks so Mr. Bonfigli would know that he was still our coach, still our teacher, and we were all his friends.

 

Perfect.

I always had your back out of the corner of my eye. And we were always thinking something well beyond our years. Did you ever notice?

You had her hand; you had my heart. In my mind that’s all that mattered.

I know that you have no idea how much I love you, and neither do I.  Sometimes I have tears I can’t account for on account of you and all the misconceptions we’ve given to each other. We had something years ago, and since. 

Half the time I don’t know why you even look at me anymore, but I’m glad you do. You’ve rescued me more times than I care to admit. I’ll never know why you always forgave me, loved me, and held my hand, but I’ll always know that when it was dark you lit the way, and often I gave you nothing; you expected nothing. What have I done to make you expect nothing? Is it too late to change?

I don’t know what part of us caught over the years but I’m stuck on you. Always have been, always will be. And wonderfully, terribly, I’m a better person for it.

At a Loss

Remember how we sat, at the top of Wild Horse Valley, and we were stuffed? How you leaned back, and I leaned back, and we ate the little Profiteroles from my Coach purse? How you gave me that purse, you gave me the stars? You were my eighteenth birthday, my nineteenth birthday, my twentieth birthday.

On Fridays you took me to our regular waiter, and gave me a regular waiter, and taught me that people even had such a thing as a regular waiter. I drank for the first time with you, because of you, for you, before you. You taught me what to order, how to order. “The appletini and grilled salmon” became standard Friday night fare. I wore black flats and citizens and a gaudy ring on my left ring finger. And we were together. Whether anyone believed us or not.

We visited Rocco and the zoo and the Legion of Honor. I always thought I made you laugh and you really made me laugh. Together we had more fun than I ever thought I could have with anyone. We imagined everything; together we owned real estate and ran an empire, we dressed to impress, and we evaded every high school convention imaginable.

We spent hours at the recorder’s office and went to the courthouse for fun. When we were in Napa we were up 29 meeting tangential friends and acquaintances for cocktails at inappropriate times and places- always without consequence.

Once, our car broke down in Calistoga and we were rescued by chipmunks. I don’t know who we met at Hydro Bar but the bartender was pregnant. It made me think about pregnancy and life and our relationship to each other. You hadn’t told me you were gay. And sometimes, I’d write your last name after my first.

In Rutherford you told me you wouldn’t take me to prom. I had hardly felt more isolated in my life. I knew we could go together. I knew I’d wear flats. I watched my Arnold Palmer through cloudy eyes. I stirred the ice cubes recklessly as you professed your affection for a classmate of mine, a female classmate, who you said you’d bring instead. I don’t know who I went with anyway. 

In Huntington Beach, you called me to tell me about Daniel. But I told no one. I knew exactly what street you were on, and I always did. I don’t think you knew about me, looking all the way back.

But when I flew out to Dallas for you, I meant it. I meant it the same way I did when I brought your coffee into AP English or held your hand when we heard about Damian. I meant it how I’d meant it when I ignored what people said, when I trusted you, when I always found you in the hallway. All those years I know I was as much your refuge as you were mine, and I’m thankful.

And I miss you. And you hurt me. And I never saw it coming. And it makes me so, so sad.

I always thought you’d be Uncle Cam.

Please take my poll:

When You’re 23…

A boy once told me that I should wait to be 23.

When I was 23, he claimed, the offers would be endless: the door would be knocked down. He advised two phones over one- and multiple lines. It seemed to me that turning 23 would be something I’d *have* to wait for, but it hadn’t occurred to me to be something I *couldn’t* wait for.

“You’ll be pretty, and you’ll have a good job,” he predicted.

“But be careful: you’ll only have a year.”

Seeing my carriage melt into a pumpkin, I inquired if there was anything I could do to hasten the finding of my glass slipper.

“What should I do when I’m 22?” I’d asked, scrambling for a pen.

“Stay home.”

Apropos of nothing, a concentrated part of my 22nd year saw me leaving the house, and keeping company with any number of familiar strangers.

And I had found myself desperate for a cream mini cooper or a trip to the U.K. I decided on the first.

However, to compensate, I started dropping the ‘Ts’ our of words that didn’t end or start with t, and bought a bunch of glittery shoes as if preparing for a reunion tour instead of a school year with Napa Unified.

Had I not been dating, I could have concentrated more on my knitting, or something else in my life that needed a lot of work.

Rapidly approaching the age that was touted to me as my very own fountain of youth, I invested in cleansers and moinsturizers that came neatly packed from Laguna Hills. I experimented with red lipstick and flirted with the idea of cat-eye glasses. I started listening to alternative British music and dry-conditioning my hair. No trend was safe from my auspices. NO TREND.

The only thing that made me feel better was the surf shop in Santa Cruz where I’d had no business being. I loved the idea of belonging to something I wasn’t a part of.

And maybe that’s what caused the dates. When I wasn’t called back, when I wasn’t asked out, maybe it was because I was 22. Or maybe I didn’t belong.

Either way, I hoped that the boy was prophetic.

Because I’d always thought myself decently attractive and sharp in a way that lent itself well to my sometimes cunning wit. And, I was educated and had a penchant for such oddities as antiques, biographies, coastal areas, and consignment stores. I became irate when old churches did not match my expectations for their architecture. I could spend inordinate amounts of time alone and could almost pull off wearing lace. I made a mean lemon drop and could recite the Greek alphabet while muddling mint for a mojito (all of which would be handy in a classroom). I am splendidly self-indulgent in my writing, and am not afraid to use words that don’t exist.

We all know things don’t go as planned. Accepting that is different from theorizing it, which is easy in the way that prophesying it must be.

So, to that boy, what should I say?

I’m older now, would you care for a drink?

Three Matts, You’re Out

I met my first Matt inside my car during a particularly rough bout of Salinas traffic. I was antsy for a boyfriend and had a sore back that needed rubbing, so it was fortuitous that my match.com app had produced several winks during my time in San Luis Obispo.

“This one likes to cuddle,” I told Kelsey, “And he likes to hike and eat meals”
“He looks like a pastor” she observed, but I remained fascinated with his penchant for romantic comedies and desire to have children “someday”. I was also thrilled that he was “spiritual but not religious” and imagined we’d eventually summer in Big Sur where we’d camp and attend holistic wellness functions and yoga retreats.

On our first date, at a Sonoma bar, “Petaluma Matt”, as he came to be known, was unabashedly charming. He appeared nearly on time in a crisp, white-collared shirt wearing trace amounts of hair gel and aftershave that reminded me of my first communion. We ordered beer on tap and summed up twenty-five years of life in twenty-five minutes.

Later we went for a walk. He was no taller than 5’9 and seemed to have no desire for physical contact. We kept a minimum of eighteen inches between us at all times. I tried to make myself shorter by slouching when we stopped at corners. I shifted uncomfortably; I was wearing the most slimming black dress in my closet with flat shoes.

After briskly rounding the square, I suggested we sit down in the freezing-cold park because it encourages canoodling, and it makes for great stories to tell the grandkids. I’ve been out in Sonoma before.
He quickly turned me down citing an early wake-up call, which should have been a wake-up call for me.

“Ok” I smiled politely, and we were soon hugging in front of my car. I texted him from highway 12 thanking him for a “great night”. The first of many.
By the following Tuesday Petaluma Matt reported he “couldn’t wait to see me” and was “very excited”. He chose an offbeat Himalayan restaurant and, quaintly enough, made a reservation. With my work schedule permitting, I arrived around 9:15.

We wore the exact same outfit.

And though he remained calm throughout dinner, I couldn’t stop giggling. Here we were, side by side, eating Himalayan potstickers over Starmont chardonnay while dressed in identically pressed white collared shirts and darkly washed Levi’s. We were so convincing as possible tasting room employees or casual waiters that numerous visitors asked for directions and dining recommendations that evening. Frazzled, we rushed into Steiner’s for beer.

After screaming towards each other for the better part of an hour and getting tipsy, we stumbled out awkwardly and proceeded to stroll down the road in our matching outfits. “I’m gonna do this now” I said as I linked my arm through his. This was one of my moves. I used it when he appeared to not have any.

Shortly after, Petaluma Matt and I attended a Giant’s Game where he put his arm around me and paid for valet parking. When, at the end of the night, he kissed me in front of the Catholic church I could not believe my luck and began envisioning myself a third grade teacher named Mrs. Grebil. “Kissed!!!!!!” I texted Kelsey excitedly, though there was no tongue.

For about a week he didn’t contact me. There was something wrong with my lips, my weight, my height, or my socioeconomic status. I made detailed lists of what was wrong with me and time stamped them. If I ever get a Psychiatrist they’ll be happy with my record-keeping.

Our last meeting was for a home-cooked meal and The Graduate. That night we learned that I had a healthy obsession with 1960s nostalgia, but Matt had an unhealthy obsession with the sixties. He wanted to marry someone from Mad Men who’d bring him his cigarettes in a silver case and tend his children while he worked long hours on Wall Street. He wanted to marry someone who’d answer only to “Mrs. Grebil” and would support his development of an organic poultry farm on their property. He showed me, in detail, how to part out a chicken, though I’d asked him to only as a joke. He said he’d kill a chicken gladly. He fed me two flavors of organic ice cream after making me eat spinach leaves and organic chicken (with water!), which he referred to as “dinner”. I googled in-n-out on my phone. I wanted him to leave the room. Or, better yet, his apartment. I wanted to be alone with this delicious ice cream to watch The Graduate on his comfortable bed. But he stayed. And he put on his glasses for his”night blindness”. Then he put on a USD sweatshirt and sat next to me on the bed, leaving a ruler’s length between us.

That night he hugged me and made fun of my grocery bag. I never heard from, or saw him, again.

Two days later I met Matt Kirson, or “Sacramento Matt”. Sacramento Matt wore American Eagle shirts that were too small and needed ironing. His hair was a scruffy light brown and his face was broad and shiny. He looked like a nineteenth century European immigrant, so I e-mailed him.

Meet me in downtown Napa on Sunday at 7. I’ll be at Fish Story. See you there.

I had no interest in wasting time following the evident split from Petaluma Matt. Sacramento Matt seemed demographically promising; he was 24 and had graduated from Cal. At Fish Story, I learned that he was unemployed and currently “renovating” his “house” in “Sacramento”. I trusted none of these leads and asked him if he lived with his parents.

And thus, ten minutes into cocktails, Sacramento Matt was made to confess that his parents had died. Years ago, in a plane crash, in Napa. I stared shamefully into my lemon drop, then up at Matt, cautiously. He said his grandparents had wittingly moved down from “The Sea Ranch” after it happened and they’d committed themselves to his upbringing.

I was sad over his parents but anxious for property in “The Sea Ranch”. I’d learned about “The Sea Ranch” when I’d worked for an estate planner. It was a place where Marin-based doctors and their wives could spend weekends harmonizing with nature and perusing academic journals. At “The Sea Ranch” I would accrue an expansive Biography collection and keep separate bins for recycling and compost. At Thanksgiving, everyone would play card games and the ukulele. The kids would be asleep by nine in their bunk beds and I would retire to the lookout for brandy and jazz. Morning hikes would commence at seven. I would learn to make really good sandwiches. I would have kids, some of whom would be probably be boy scouts and others of whom would probably collect rocks. I would wear hemp pants and clear mascara and keep newspapers clippings. “The Sea Ranch” was the only place that it was the 1960s anymore.

And Suddenly I missed Matt Grebil.

But Sacramento Matt and I, we got on well. By our third date we were holding hands and actively contemplating a weekend in “The Sea Ranch”. He kept calling it Sea Ranch but every time he did I mentally corrected him and put it in quotes. I was dying to go. I would bring crosswords and a bathrobe and feign vegetarianism…

His friends apparently put an end to it. They insisted that I was not “cool enough” with them to “fit in”, or so I imagine the conversation must have gone.

Soon I was searching for more Matts, and eventually found one who was a militant Christian; as passionate about the Lord as he was about squirrel hunting. He invited me to go fishing. I swear to God, I almost went fishing. Thursday afternoon. One Boat. Two Strangers. And possibly some very resentful fish and a displeased deity. I backed out Thursday afternoon over the phone, yelling over the third Matt as he alternately sang country songs and conversed with his dog. He still insisted I meet him in Petaluma for fishing. I wondered how much longer I’d have to date for.

When he texted me later that evening, I was surprised to find he asked me if I was a Christian. “No,” I told him, “I’m a lapsed Catholic.” He still insisted that we meet. I told him frankly, I enjoyed alcohol, caffeine, square dancing, and cursing and much more closely approximated a sailor than a fisherman.

And now I’m sitting a few rounds out.

These goddamned Matts just get my hopes up and disappear, and I’m not having it. I’m staying home in my fleece pajamas with my takeout Chinese and reading biographies.
And God help anyone who’d have to read mine one day. Pun intended.

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