Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Decade of Deciding

This is the third year in a row I've taken fall photos at the Wright Woods. I figure since I just wrote about fall I could write about this place, but I've got something else on my mind. It's the sort of thing that happens to me when I think about "how many years it's been" since something. 

And of course, I realized, 10 years ago I was 16 and it was fall and a whole mountain of memories crumble down and crush me. Right now I am this 26-year-old person dealing with all these un-26-year-old issues because when they happened, I didn't even know what they meant. Or if they meant anything at all.

Ten years ago, in 2004, I turned 16. I was a sophomore in high school. I had a "surprise" birthday party. I went on my second missions trip. That same year I decided my favorite color was green, and no longer orange. One of my best friends moved to Texas. I went on my first real date, with a guy who actually liked me. I was accused of being a lesbian by the new girl at school. I was a TA for the biology teacher. I met another best friend, and began a relationship based on a shared love of music and chocolate muffins. The new Relient K CD came out. I had one of the leads in the school play. My brother-in-the-NAVY (which was how I referred to him back then) got to come home for Christmas. I had really long hair. I started wearing make-up more often. I read a lot of Shakespeare. I wore a lot of scarves. Took a lot of photos with my parents' old Nikon. My dog was born, and was given to me the week before Christmas. The guy I was in-like with, the guy I went on my first real date with, actually became my boyfriend for a whole month and six days. (He then dumped me, the second time that year. We dated for 11 days when I was 15.) 

And it's been ten long years but some of these things still steal my breath from my lungs--as if the impact of them still shocks me, and I still can't believe it all happened. I still can't believe I was that person for a whole year and, believe it or not, it was the one year in high school I did not find myself faced with any serious depression. I had bad days, of course. But overall? Sixteen was incredible.

You must understand, however, that I had to decide every single day to make it incredible. I am never going to tell you that happiness is a choice. Aside from the fact that "happiness" is overrated and inconstant, depression is more complicated than choosing how to feel. But I somehow managed for an entire year to simply tuck it away. It takes a certain strength to take your sadness, your depression, your anxiety and fear, and put those things in your pocket while you go about your business. These days I'm pretty good at it, but I couldn't begin to explain how I do it currently and certainly couldn't tell you how I did it then when my brain wasn't even fully formed.

But I can tell you what it felt like.

When I made a new friend, I felt like I was "enough." Having finally reached a healthy level of confidence, I was able to reach out and introduce myself to people. If they didn't like me, I wasn't crushed--and that was difficult to do in a school with only 150-ish students. If something was truly upsetting, I knew I had people to talk to. 

When I chose a new favorite color, it was a near-physical manifestation of moving away from the angst of being 15. I still loved orange, and still do today, but at 15 it was like my armor. I had this hideous orange sweatshirt and imagined myself protected from the world by it. It both drew attention to me and protected me by setting me apart. At some point I must have realized I didn't need it. 

When I foolishly fell in love, my whole world did not tilt on its axis or cause me to stumble. He was a friend, who became a boyfriend, who became a friend again. It wouldn't be the last time we tried being "in love," but the time when I was 16, it didn't break me apart. When it was over, I was sad, but felt no real loss because I knew had better support and better friendships in other places.

Essentially, I was not overcome by my weaknesses, but rather I discovered my own strength and was not afraid to use it. I didn't fear it would leave me in a moment, or a day. I was not anxious about people seeing my strength and calling me aggressive, or arrogant, or obnoxious. I chose to show it off. I didn't need to hide under a baggy sweatshirt, or an ugly color. 

I have been many versions of myself in the past 10 years. And even though, when I see this girl, I ask myself, "Who is she? What makes her so strong?" I know I can still find her in me. I can decide to use her strength at any moment.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Worst Wonderful Time of the Year

I love summer as much as the next season-loving grown up. I love the trees and the flowers and the grass, all flushed with sunlight. I love the beach at night and bonfires and camping. I love making iced tea and getting fresh fruit from the farmers' market. I love sleeping with the window open, and picnics, and the squalls of children running wild and free. But I could do away with the rest of summer--obnoxiously peppy music, girls (or women) not wearing enough clothing, the heat, the humidity, the inappropriate volume of hair my dog sheds each day, and the "air pollution level" warnings, More than anything, though, I hate that in the summer each person seems to be screaming, "YOLO!" as they flounce around in swimsuits smaller than napkins with cocktails in one hand and smart phones in the other. 

The summer mentality is, "Live for the moment." This is a great mentality... but I'm usually over it in exactly one moment. I'm not a square, or a fuddy-duddy, and it has nothing to do with being introverted. I just prefer to live without the expectation that everything will be sunny and impressive and fun for an entire three months.

I am the sort of person who wakes up mid-October, notices that summer's splendor is gone, and am shamelessly grateful. Summer and it's shallow mindset is gone. The sunset of the year is upon us, during which my soul sighs and I can enjoy things simply because they are beautiful, not because the sun is shining and I have to fit in all the fun before it goes down.

 My husband and I practically melt into the sidewalk each time we step outside, taking it all in. I am constantly in love, with every tree burst into orange flame, with every watercolor leaf on the ground (which I enthusiastically crunch beneath my feet.) The mornings and evenings are both their own variation of crisp. The smells, more than anything, send us reeling. Apple cider. Pumpkin pie. Frosted dry grass. The scent of the burning dust as the heater comes humming to life. 

But it is also in this season I begin to truly miss home. Autumn in the Midwest is so much different from Washington. In Illinois, the weather can go from 80°F to 45°F in just one day. An Indian summer might last until mid-November, and then it will snow. There are few evergreens here, so the trees are brilliantly colored. In Washington, the colorful trees are more noticeable, because they are so few. It rains, but the temperature is much steadier and there is no humidity. People are much more keen to light fires in their backyard or burn leaves. 

They are different, and I love both places. But that's why it's hard. I have come to accept that I'm here, and have been here for three years, and might be here even longer. And yet I miss home, more and more every day. And every time I go into a grocery story, or a craft store, or just walk down the street, everything reminds me of home. I know that somewhere else in the world there's a Starbucks sitting in the rain, just a couple miles from the ocean, and inside the Starbucks no one is griping about the Dan-Ryan or $45 city stickers or the smog. The world is simpler, with mountains as a backdrop, and evergreens growing out of sidewalk cracks, and nobody carries an umbrella. 

Year after year, I rediscover, it's my favorite season to miss home.