Love Won’t Give Up on Me

As I smiled over cheap red wine and city lights, I chatted with a rather short endearing business man, and thought about Mr. Possibility.

We’re not speaking and I don’t really care to talk to him at this time – but he had just left me a voicemail and I heard his words lingering in my mind. Breaking up is tough, but really, I don’t think it’s as life-altering as Adele often makes it sound (though I do love the gal). I don’t find myself mourning the relationship as much as I miss the friendship. After an extended time, partners are of course lovers, but they also become our very best friend. They are the person you share the most intimate details of your life and your body with. Everything and everyone else hears the same stories, but they almost seem to have more value when you share it with someone you love. Part of the beauty – and the appeal – of a relationship is that you can come as you are, fall apart as you wish, and you still have someone to nestle into your neck at the end of the night.

But cuddling isn’t a reason to stay with someone, especially if to be spooned, you must spoon away parts of yourself to make room for all the mess they bring, I reminded myself as the businessman asked me about what I do and where I live. These are the most tiresome and common questions in New York, my friend M says, and I’m starting to agree. Small talk may be insignificant but it’s also exhausting, especially when you’re just not in the mood to connect with anyone. It’s too soon and for the first time – maybe ever – I have no desire to meet anyone. I’m enjoying and reveling in the time I have alone to really start doing the things I want and becoming the person I moved to New York to be. Single is as single does, and for me, it’s the perfect state to embrace right now.

But like any other person that has blood running through their veins, I still think about love. And for a few days after the final demise of our relationship, it made me incredibly sad to think about a thing that often appears so far-fetched. We all enter relationships with this hope that they will ultimately be the relationship. Casual dating is fun but at a certain point, age and mindset, we stop picking men we know are entirely wrong for us and we look for a stroke of special in the mates we mate with. But really, only one relationship actually works out – the rest teach us how to mend our broken spirits and they teach us what we really value in a person. All the Mr. Wrongs have brought both joy and tragedy, magic and misery, passion and pain to my life, and as the love comes to a close, it’s always up to me to decide how I want to process those varying emotions.

In the past, my first reaction was to declare I”ve given up on love. In an effort to strip my heart of any lingering memories or feelings, I’d drown myself in champagne and cheap conversation by dancing with boys in bars just so they’d buy me a drink. I’d write and spew hateful truths (or white lies) about the man who stepped all over my dignity and I’d position him in the part of my brain reserved for only things I despised. I’d yell and scream in the privacy of my own home, cry my eyes out until there was nothing left to escape. I’d foolishly call my ex continuously, hoping that they’d feel an ounce of the torture I felt like I was going through. I’d become instantly jealous of everyone I knew who seemed to have their love life together and I’d stop listening to love songs, just so I wouldn’t have to be reminded of what I thought I had but really didn’t.

Sure, this time, I could give up on love – but love won’t give up on me.

It’s still there when I see a random act of kindness on the subway when a teenager gives up his seat for an elderly woman. It’s there when one of the kids I volunteer with smiles so brightly at a job well done that my heart swells in admiration. It’s there when I see an older man block off the rest of the passengers on the bus so his wife, with a cane and a limp, can get off at her own pace. It’s there when the city surprises me with its ease and when a handsome man doing his laundry holds his glance at me a bit longer while trying to conceal a crooked smile. It’s there when I Skype with my parents and still, after all these years, they still make each other laugh. It’s there in the comfort of my friends, that no matter what I do or how ridiculous I may be, stand by me with umbrellas and cheer, reminding me of all the city I have left to discover and all the people I’ve yet to meet.

And so, even though it’s let me down countless times and probably will continue to for years to come, I choose love. I choose to focus on the things, the people, the places and the experiences that remind me of the goodness in my life. I choose to release the negativity and the hurt that comes with a difficult breakup and set my sights on the higher road I’ve decided to take. I choose to not lose too much sleep or too many tears over Mr. Possibility, for his purpose in my life has been fulfilled and has now ended. I choose to believe in the moments where the world seems beautiful instead of those dark hours when it appears impossible.

And most importantly, I choose to never let anyone or anything cause me to give up on love. Because as long as I decide to fill my heart with love, there will be no room for anything else.

When You’re Forced Indoors

So Irene was a dud.

My apartment was full of people, food, supplies, and booze, and the worse that happened was some pretty fierce winds and a lot of rain. I’m thankful that we all overestimated and Bloomberg attempted to make up for the snow-acopolyse by being fully prepped for a hurricane, but my roommates and friends all agreed: we were a little disappointed.

The puns on Irene were plenty (Me, Myself & Irene on FX, “Come on Irene” status updates, playlists dedicated to the storm, etc.,), and it gave us all one giant excuse to stay inside, watch awful television and procrastinate doing the things we actually needed to do like laundry and grocery shopping.  We all were braced for the worst and wanted to have a safe sleepover indoors without electricity, without television, without internet, without those things we all live by. I even wrote blogs a few days earlier because of all the hype – determined to sincerely write every single day for a year. But nothing happened, except my apartment became a center for giggling festivities and six pack drinking.

I know it’s a blessed thing that Irene passed quietly by – but why waste a weekend crammed up in a tiny apartment when we could have been enjoying our city? Why did we have to give up our Saturday?

To teach me a lesson, of course. Why else?

Irene made Step 11 real for me. It’s all about learning how to relax. And there is nothing like being told by your mayor that if you go outside you could risk your life, to make you sit tight and take a forced-breather. So that’s what I did – without anything or anyone to answer to, I sat back, opened the windows to witness the doom-and-gloom outside and did what every 20-something does to mellow out: gossip, eat, drink and sleep for 10 hours (give or take a few loud gusts of wind that woke me up).

I still have to learn how to meditate to complete the 11th step (have plans to join my friend A on Sunday), but for now, I can attest to the fact that Irene actually brought something rather positive. As Mr. P would say (and often does), she taught me how to “chill the f*** out.”

If only for a day or so, anyway.

Hurricane Irene, Part 2

With dreary skies outside, M and I sit anticipating Hurricane Irene, prepared with water and food, candles and flashlights, just as everyone advised. We’re watching the news as long as we have power, trying to prep ahead for work on Monday and figure out how we’re going to get there if the transit doesn’t open until noon. We’re comfy in sweats and trying to decide what in the world we’re going to do if nothing works and we’re without the means to shower. While it’s scary and no one really knows what to expect, it’s also a little exhilarating.

I mean, two natural disasters that don’t normally happen in the Northeast in one week?

God forbid anything happens and lives are lost in the city, I think it’s an interesting lesson for New Yorkers to experience. The island gives you a sense of invisibility. If you make it here, if you can survive the task of living in the city in general, then you’re tough. You’re strong and bold, and because you’re on the good side of Manhattan, the buildings will protect you. The streets will, as Ms. Keys says, make you feel brand new and you’ll walk them tall and proud, inspired by the existence you’re lucky to have. Unlike Los Angeles, it is quite rare to have an earthquake and unlike Miami, it is even less common for us to be in a state of emergency because of a hurricane. But both of those things have happened, and New Yorkers aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves.

The two grocery stores near me have lines lining the block, everyone holding their umbrellas and talking to everyone they can, while they can. The office was busy with chatter about what we should do, if we should be more afraid than what we are, if this is the real deal or if it’s going to blow over. My friends and I were texting all night and this morning about where we should stay, what’s safe and how we should prep. My roommate’s boyfriend has filled our living room with buckets of water so we can flush the toilet if we need to. My other roommate bought a case of water and M brought beer with her – all necessary requirements for being stuck inside.

Me though? I made sure to call my mother so she wouldn’t worry, kiss Mr. P like I meant it just in the rare case, I wouldn’t get to again, and checked up on everyone in NC and in NYC. And then, of course, I took a really nice, long shower so I would at the very least, feel very clean.

But you know what I really feel?

I feel like I shouldn’t take New York for granted as much as I do. I should value the city in the same way I would if I didn’t live here, like all of those 20-plus years I spent idolizing Manhattan because I wanted to be here so badly. I should count my blessings and be thankful for what I have, and never, for a moment, believe nothing could take it away from me. Because maybe a really powerful earthquake could rattle the pavement – most of New York is built on a fault line anyway. Or maybe this hurricane will be worse than what we think and there will be clean-up and relief efforts I’ll be able to volunteer with.

The city isn’t invisible and neither are its inhabitants. We’re the same people with the same warnings and same worries of those anywhere else in the country, and this week, the weather is reminding of us of that.

A Lesson in Unlearned Helplessness

In a sociology class I took in college, we discussed the theory of learned helplessness. Basically, it’s the notion that we mimic what we see portrayed or illustrated to us. In the context of the course, the lecture was specifically directed toward learned helplessness in women. We see damsels in distress on television, we see knight-and-shining-armor-like male characters rescue them from their sadness, and then we believe by being needy we’ll attract the guy we want.

I see this time and time again, and I’ve probably been guilty of the same “help me!” tactic in past relationships. There’s something about being upset and then being comforted by anyone – man or friend – that seems normal. Sometimes it even feels good. But the older I’ve become and the more men I’ve dated that were far more helpless than I’ll ever be at any given point in my life, the more independence I have claimed.

Well, until today when Mr. Possibility experienced his first unexpected summer storm. And unluckily for him, with my hands on the wheel.

Returning from The Biltmore, wind, rain, hail, and lighting encompassed the Carolina sky and we watched the cars on the highway slow and some pull off to wait it out. I’m not a fan of driving due to a scary accident I had in high school and torrential weather only intensifies my fear because it reminds me of how it feels to be out of control of your vehicle. Stuck in traffic on the expressway where everyone else was going at the same speed, I didn’t freak out. He kept quiet, I stayed focused and I felt comfortable enough to get us off at the right exit.

But then my nerves got the best of me. On the older, uneven country roads plagued with flood plains, the water rose to the top of my tires and with the inclination I could hydroplane, I almost burst into tears.

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” I repeated continuously while gripping the steering wheel,  keeping my eyes peeled for wrecks ahead, and prepping myself for a disaster myself. Instead of consoling me or getting me out of the situation, Mr. Possibility calmly encouraged me to breathe, to keep moving, to not brake and assured me I could get through it. When we hit the next overgrown puddle, I returned to my “Oh my god” chorus and again, he let me know that this was in my hands, that I could do it and that this was all me. He even threw in a “Can’t Tigar do anything?” pep talk for good humor.

You could guess I was highly unamused.

Once we pulled over into a parking lot after a firetruck kept us from going any further because part of the road was underwater, I snapped at him: “Why didn’t you just comfort me? Why didn’t you just say ‘Baby, you’re fine. I’ll handle this, just pull over and get out’?” He reached across the car, placed his hand on my knee and asked, “Well didn’t you handle it?”

I nodded.

“And aren’t we safe because of you?”

I again nodded.

“You didn’t need me to comfort you. You didn’t need me to make you get out and let me drive. You could do it just fine on your own and you did.”

It took me a while to cool down, still convinced he should have just rescued me from the awful storm so I could crawl into the passengers side, curl up and hide my face from the ugliness outside. But once we pulled into the driveway and I finally exhaled an hour later, I realized he was right. I didn’t actually need him. If he had not been in the car, I would have been fine – I would have just said the same things to myself that he said to me.

So why did I suddenly feel helpless? Is it because we’re conditioned to give up and surrender when a man is in our presence? If a guy is by our side, do we throw away any gumption we had without them? Or is it just easier to tell someone else to do something, to get through the nitty-gritty instead of doing it ourselves? Instead of correcting what’s wrong with us or embracing our fears with courage?

A few hours later when I needed something out of our rental car (that luckily wasn’t damaged from the hail), I started to ask him to run outside and get it because it was still raining. As the words slipped out of my mouth and he asked where the keys were, I quickly excused him from the duty. Will I melt in water? No.

And I don’t really need Mr. Possibility – or any man that’s a possibility. I just kinda of want him – maybe that’s partly because he reminds me that helplessness isn’t part of who I am. And that if you can learn it, you can unlearn it, too.

A Little Piece of My Heart

Barely a month after I got my license at 16, I hydroplaned on a rainy Wednesday morning, lost control of my shiny red 1996 Chevy Cavalier (with a spoiler!), and flipped into a ditch. When I realized in a split second I wouldn’t be able to get my car back on track, I removed my hands from the wheel, covered my face, and prayed: “Dear Lord, Please don’t let me die.”

The next thing I remember, I’m sitting on the ceiling of my car in the passenger seat, purse on my shoulder, and feeling the urge to get out as fast as I could. All of the windows were smashed in, except for the driver’s side windshield and side window. I crawled out, taking a jagged piece of glass in my wrist on the way, stood before my car, the rain pouring, and put my hands on top of my head. I saw blood leaking down my arm, thought it was my head bleeding and furiously started searching for the wound. I couldn’t find one, and as I watched my tires still spinning, heard Michelle Branch still playing, I wondered if the new tank of gas I just put in would cause my car to explode. I then thought I may want to run away. My high school was less than a mile away, I could just go to class.

Unable to cry, dial my phone, or have a conscious, collected thought, I felt alone on the country road and unsure of what to do. It was then that a woman approached me. I don’t know her name – I’m not convinced she actually exists – but she came up behind me, put her hands on my shoulders and asked me if I was okay. I told her what happened and she started making phone calls to 911, and helped me dial my parents, thinking they’d rather hear my voice than a stranger’s concerning the circumstance.

She then covered my head in her jacket, walked me to her parked car where it was warm, and started asking me questions. She inquired about the career I was interested in pursuing, the university I would be attending, what sports I played, what my plans were for Thanksgiving since it was the next day, and made me apply pressure to my wrist. It seemed like I talked to her for hours, listening to soothing music, and hearing her chat about her life, though I couldn’t tell you anything she said. Soon, my best friend happened to drive by (it was the road to school, after all), and I ran to meet her and we cried together – remembering all of the times we whipped around curvy road without hesitation. The ambulance showed up, the firefighters, and the police. My parents greeted me with watering eyes and smiles bigger than the State because I had survived, though my car would never be driven again.

By the time I calmed down enough to understand the kindness the woman showed me, I turned back to find her car and she was gone. No one remembers her there and my phone had “911” dialed from it when I looked in my history. But I can see her face. I can hear her voice. I remember the smell of her car and the sound of raindrops hitting the pavement below as someone directed traffic outside the window. My mother calls her my guardian angel, but I’m not exactly sure what she is or was.

The only thing I’m certain of is that whoever she is, she changed my life.

I took a tiny piece of my car with me that day. I still have it. It reminds me that our time here is limited. It could change, it could end, it could be over without notice. And it keeps me motivated to volunteer consistently. Since that day, November 23 to be exact, I created a community service club at my high school called SOUL: Serving Other Under Love, that’s still active today. I joined my campus’ community service center, serving as a peer counselor and as part of the leadership and service residential living community. When I moved to New York, I joined New York Cares within a few months, and now lead the Young Authors Club in Chelsea. I also participated in charity events through my sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, and I run 5Ks and participate in other events when I can.

It wasn’t that she volunteered her time that morning to help a scared teenager, but that she gave a little piece of her heart. And really, I think that’s what volunteering is all about. It’s being generous enough with yourself to give a bit of yourself to someone who needs it. To someone who, regardless if they know it or not, craves compassion. I was lucky enough to survive crashing my car into a ditch and if I’m able to walk, to speak, to live my life fully – I should be living it to help someone else.

Perhaps she wasn’t a real person and maybe she really is sent from the heavens. I don’t know and it doesn’t quite matter because I still think of her often, especially on nights like tonight, when the group of volunteers, parents, and children celebrated a successful year of writing with story sharing and pot lucking. The smiles on the children’s faces, the pride the volunteers felt, and the love that circulated the room – that’s why I will forever aim to be a humanitarian, and one day if I can afford it, a philanthropist. Because no matter how insignificant the contribution,it  is a contribution in itself, even if it just shelter from the rain and smooth jazz tunes at 8 a.m., it’s enough to shape the life of a stranger…forever. And, for the better.