Fork in the Road

Something in the way she asked “So you’re giving up baking?” has me questioning everything now. Karen is a woman that has known me since I was eighteen. She’s seen me through my first love, calling off my wedding, going to a private Christian university, a year of family crises, a string of short lived dating relationships, pastry school, moving to Spain, moving to Austin… she’s been there through it all. So has Maria. I’ve been a nanny for both of their families for over five years and now they are making me question everything. Maria is more like an actual mom to me where I sometimes discredit what she’s actually saying to me. But to hear Karen’s disappointment and to see her confusion over the last few days and the way she’s totally avoided talking about it… it’s really making me wonder what the fuck I’m doing!

“Yeah, I’m thinking about going back to school for Communications or Journalism.”
“Oh. Okay.”

Owning a bakery, however small it was, and watching it fall apart really broke my heart. It was what I’d always dreamt it would be. I was in charge of my schedule and my menu and I was so happy to finally have this thing that I could pour all of myself into! It held so much promise and was so much bigger than I am. The long days were brutal. I was totally alone, baking bread in my one oven, in my 400 square foot studio where I also lived. It was miserable towards the middle of summer. But when I think about the day I threw a bake sale in my apartment and posted signs all over my neighborhood, and people ACTUALLY CAME, that’s what really breaks my heart. I let go of it all so quickly. I was exhausted and overworked. I was totally not making enough money, but I was somehow breaking even. And when I worked as a pastry cook before at restaurants, I was making shit money, but I wasn’t totally worn down. I had days off and it was okay even enjoyable!

What if I don’t give up on a career in pastry? What if I stay in this field that I’ve poured my last few years into and what if I succeed? I miss being in the kitchen. I miss getting there early in the morning, pouring a cup of coffee, checking over my production list and my mise en place and knowing where to go from there. I miss having work friends and kitchen brothers. I miss the actual work of making ice cream bases and family meals. I miss striving to always get better.

I have some talent. I have a good palette. I’ve been beating myself up because my bakery didn’t and couldn’t grow. I would need so much more than my own hard work and whatever talent I bring to the table. But maybe I got ahead of myself and I just need to backtrack instead of doing a total re-write. I love baking. I loved working my restaurant jobs. What if there is a place for me in this industry? My doubts are that I don’t have enough talent, I won’t make enough money and I will get stuck in an entry level position.

What if in 10 years I look back on these few months and realize I was in crisis mode and needed to break away from it all to see how much I loved it? What if I go back to school, acquire a bunch of debt and a degree and realize I just want to be in a kitchen? Why do I keep getting the same reaction from everyone that I love? It’s the “Wow, I can’t believe you’re giving up so easily” reaction. I don’t want to give up.

Then again, knowing me, this is just another panicky moment where I’m questioning everything and wondering if I’m doing anything right at all. It could pass by the morning. I could still want to get a real people job. But I need to remember that going back to the kitchen is totally an option. I have options. All the doors are open. Sometimes you just have to pick something and stick to it. Other times you have to admit you made a mistake, re-evaluate and go a different direction. Crap. Adulthood is so hard.

Divorce

The question was recently posed to me, “What would your life have been like and who would you be had your parents not divorced?” My gut reaction was that I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today.

I was two when my parents separated, three when they got divorced. My dad had missed my mom’s entire pregnancy and my birth because he had been in the Navy and they had sent him to the Persian Gulf. My mom was 23 years old and working as a waitress when they divorced. My dad was 25 and a security guard at K-Mart. She wanted to pursue a career in nursing. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do. She got impatient and asked for a divorce.

It was just me and my mom for about a year before she met my step dad. I was young, but I remember that year. I remember just having each other and how strong we felt. And then Tom came into our lives with promises of a secure and stable future. He had just been hired on with our local fire station. He was enamored by my mom’s beauty and taken with our story. He wanted to save her. She wanted to be saved.

My dad slowly disappeared from my life, but never altogether, which made it worse. He came and went for a few years and then he married my step mom and they had two more kids together. That was the end of our relationship for a long time.

Tom and my mom got married six months to the day that they met and got pregnant with my brother a month after they were married. It was around that time that Tom, who I claimed as my new dad, started getting loud and angry with me. It progressed into spankings with wooden spoons and belts. I’d have to sit in the corner for long stretches of time, with my forehead against the wall. Once I forgot to give the dog water and as a punishment I had to go the day without drinking. I was eight. I remember going to the bathroom and drinking from the bathroom sink. I was in trouble at least a few times a week, devoid of a voice and scared shitless. He would yell at me and tell me to get out of his sight, he couldn’t even look at me, and as I turned to walk away, he’d kick me for good measure.

There were times that I would overhear my mom and Tom fighting. Once, knowing that I was listening to their argument, he yelled out to me “Sarah, pack your bags!!! You and your mom are leaving!” Twice in my high school years he sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce. Every time I thought they were separating, I felt relieved. I felt like he was finally cutting us loose from his grips. I didn’t know what would happen to my brother and sister, but I knew I would find a way to see them.

Going through such a huge loss and an unfortunate gain at such a young age has made me who I am. It’s given me my good traits and my bad. I know that I can endure a lot because I carried an immense pain with me as a kid and I made it through that. I’ve had to realize that you can feel two things at once about a person- the world is not black and white. I can feel grateful to Tom for providing me with a home and a brother and sister, but I can also feel mistreated and upset. I’ve realized that relationships can be rekindled. My dad and I have a great relationship, even though it didn’t truly get the chance it deserved until I was about 20. These lessons have taught me that people are broken and even when we are trying to do our best, we hurt those around us.

To My Future Little Ones on Their Eighteenth Birthdays,

To My Future Little Ones on Their Eighteenth Birthdays,

I have yet to birth or even conceive you so I feel like this is the right time for me to write an unbiased letter and let you know what to expect. I am almost 24 years old. I’m working through what I think is my quarter life crisis and I’m learning some seriously huge lessons. I would like to give you, my treasured little one, some perspective and advice that I wish someone had given me on my eighteenth birthday. Let us begin.

You’re about to enter toddlerhood all over again. Soon you will be birthed into this thing “adults” like to call the “real world”. It’s horrifying. You’re leaving this safe little cocoon and you’re ready to breathe on your own. You will have to explore the world with all of your senses. Give yourself the freedom to touch and push everything that you’re not supposed to and learn some hard lessons several times over until it sinks in.

Life feels like an uphill battle. I’m hoping that in five years I can write you another letter and let you know that it gets better and easier, but I’m not holding my breath. I think maybe you just get used to the constant state of flux.

You’re going to do some hard work in order to find your boundaries. You will try on lots of different hats. You will befriend lots of different people. You might change your life path and career path 20 times in one month. You might sleep with lots of people. My genuine hope for you is that you find your voice. Listen to your gut, listen to your instincts. This is your voice. Let it grow strong and practice speaking up for yourself and your boundaries.

Work hard to understand your visceral reactions to the things around you. Find what you love about yourself and what you want to work on.

Don’t be afraid to grow and change. I have been a multitude of people. Embrace the changes. Challenge yourself to find the core root of who you are and what you believe in, but don’t be afraid to evolve. Strive to remain on a path of continual learning and education. You will outgrow friendships and lovers. Do not take this as a sign that you are doing something wrong. When you are perpetually moving forward, you tend to leave the stagnant behind, it’s natural.

This “life” thing is a total mess and especially in these first few years of quasi-adulthood, don’t be discouraged when things don’t go as planned. Nobody knows what they’re doing and I’m 85% sure that the word “adult” is a completely made up term. The sooner you learn to let go and let the waves take you where they may, the happier you will be. There is a difference between banging your head against the wall and working through something. Your gut will know the answer. Know when to give up and move on, take what you can from each lesson and keep on that path of natural progression.

Pick your battles wisely. Don’t let anyone tell you that all they want is the easiest path for you. (Not even me.) The path of least resistance leads nowhere. Allow yourself to be refined through the fires that life gives you. How did the beautiful mountain ranges come to exist? Or the seaside cliffs of the Pacific? Through immense pressure and earthly pain, over time and throughout the years of nature taking its course. Work hard, be persistent, and know that something beautiful will come of it in the end.

Don’t focus on soul mates. It’s an unlikely possibility, statistically speaking.

If you ever find yourself asking “am I in love?” You’re not. You will know so immediately and it will hit you with such force, that there will be no room for doubt or error. If you find yourself questioning “is this person in love with me?” first seek out your own projections and insecurities, work through them, and if the question still remains, they probably don’t. Move on. And when you do find the person that is as equally enthralled by you as you are by them, have all of the hard conversations right up front. Ask all of the scary questions. If you can handle the answers or come to some kind of agreement, hang on tight. That person is worth it.

Most of all, frequently remind yourself that you are human. This time on Earth is limited. At the end of our lives, you will not remember the fact that you have thirty five cents to your name, but the creative ways in which you survived your early twenties. Give yourself room to breathe. Accept your high standards and your challenges and know that just the fact that you are thinking of where you want to go and who you want to be, are surefire signs that you, my sweet unfathomable angel, will be okay.

Best,
PW

Gods and Humans

The young are often given a set of strict guidelines in regards to their elders, in order to set up the long established hierarchy.  Passed down for generations, as surely as our biological manuals on how to breathe, the young take in these guidelines as unfailing truths. “Those are our elders,and we treat them like gods.  They know what you’re going through and what you’re doing. They love you, they have your best interest at heart. They only hurt you, sometimes because they love you too much.”  We, as tiny humans, take that information and internalize it. It is Fact, it is Truth. But then the day comes when that god hurts you, and you realize this god has been hurting you for eighteen years, and you’ve believed it was because they cared, but really it’s because they are broken and they are human. The understanding sinks in “Aw, he’s human. Now I understand.” and then the second realization hits you “Oh. He’s human. He is a human. And I am a human. And he is treating me as less than human because he is broken like I am broken. Yes he may love me, and he may care too much, but he is not a god because he loves me. He is not allowed to treat me this way.”

In ideal situations, this human in disguise as a god gets help. They realize they are human. They realize that they are broken and are indeed hurting other humans around them, humans they care about. They stop behaving the way they have been. They see that they are human and other people are human.

Then in other instances, the god continues to behave in angry, erratic behavior. They get angry at the person who is calling them a human and they claim “I am a god, don’t you understand? I see things more clearly than you do, tiny human, I am not the problem, you are the problem!  You and your brokenness are sad and weak and I only wish there was someway I could help you, but you must stop blaming your weakness on me.” The tiny human turns to the human in disguise as a god and says “Man, Fuck You. You cannot beat me down my whole life and proceed to claim your godliness. You are a human, and maybe if you saw that you might understand that as a human, we are allowed to be broken and as a human, I am allowed to tell you to treat me like a human.”

The god becomes desperate to understand. He puts on his most endearing face, just begging for clarity. How have things become this ugly when all he did was love the human? All he wanted was the best for the human. And sure he raised his voice a few times but it was only because he cared too much. And maybe he hit the human a few times, but hadn’t he apologized? Besides, when he hit her it was nothing compared to the way he had been hit as a child.

The human flees the situation, shutting the god out of her life hoping for the day he realizes he is a human and needs to treat others like humans. She realizes that she cannot maintain a relationship with someone who refuses to see their faults in full, realizes the depth and capacity at which they have done damage and flees from their life of abuse and intimidation and seeks out a life of peace, compassion, and genuine understanding.

It was Wednesday. It was 11:30. That’s close enough to noon, right? That’s close enough to a somewhat reasonable hour to smoke a bowl. Yeah. She had already been to the gym. Shit, she got there by 8:30 this morning. She even went with a friend. That’s double points. There was a song that came ringing through her ears every few days lately. “Nobody likes you when your 23… what the hell is wrong with me, my friends say I should act my age, what’s my age again? What’s my age again?” There’s a little ping of nostalgia that comes with old pop songs. She vividly remembered being on the bus when she was 10, coming home from school, kids playing that song on their Walkmans at top volume so everyone could hear it. She knew she couldn’t seem too interested. She was too much of a nerd to be acceptably into Blink-182 and if the other kids saw she liked it, they would call her out and laugh at her. That was a rough time, but she maintained that 23 is by far the hardest of all the years. Now it was a different story. No longer was she pretending that she wasn’t into Jay-Z or even pop punk (which in 2014 was a faux paux). In fact, she was unable to hide anything. Unable to look people in the eye when they asked her “how are you” and just say “fine, thanks”. She was unable even to maintain regular conversation or small talk with anyone, but especially strangers.

Just last night, she’d gone in to have a cup of coffee and do some writing (which was code for desperately searching the internet for different careers. Her google history looked something like “Literature teacher salary. How to become a journalist. What is marketing? Personal Relations. Personal Assistant. Shark Vac and Steam Instructions. Preschool Teacher”). It was 6pm. The cafe was nearly empty except for a few business dads, “doing work” on their laptops, avoiding the chaos that surely awaited them at home. The barista asked her how her day has been. “Uhhh… yeah… pretty good.” She tried. “I stayed in bed until noon today. And then I went to the gym. Just really, the life of the unemployed…”

“Aw shit, did you lose your job recently?”

“Uh. Well. Yeah sort of. I started a bakery earlier this summer. I got into a bad car accident and wasn’t really able to keep baking.” She oversimplified/exaggerated.

“It’s been a rough summer.” “Yeah, that happens, huh? I’m coming out of a bad year. I had my jaw wired shut and it was about a week before this huge comedy competition. I did the set. With my jaw wired shut.” “How’d it go?” “Not well.”

“How are things looking since then?” “Pretty good. But every year seems to get harder and I’m waiting for it to all fall apart again.” “Yeah, I hear you. I keep telling everybody 18 to 23 must be the hardest time ever. If it gets worse than what these last five years have been like… I don’t see how our suicide rate wouldn’t be astronomical. What’s been your worst year so far?”

“Well. 17 was pretty bad. 18 was pretty bad. 19 was rough. I’m 21. It just keeps getting harder.”

“Fuck. I thought maybe you were older than me and you could give me some advice or something.”

“Nope. Sorry. Do you want a French Press or a Pour Over?”

“Whichever is cheaper.”

“Word.”

The thing was, besides the pot, she was doing everything that she needed to do. She was taking care of herself. She was going to the gym every day. She wasn’t really over sleeping. She was getting out of bed when her girlfriend went to work each morning. She half made the bed, gestured towards putting out some clothes, even made breakfast and coffee some mornings. But as soon as Lauren would leave, she would get back in bed and watched 5 episodes of Parenthood. She knew she shouldn’t be staying inside and doing nothing in her pajamas until noon. So that was something she could fix. But she had even stopped drinking, because she knew it was a depressant and she knew she shouldn’t. She’d been hanging out with friends, too and even talking about whatever was on her mind. Even the hard shit.

She kept looking forward. Researching the future, making maps and plans in her head. So why wasn’t anything getting easier? The night prior she’d had a vivid dream: there was a big room. It looked a lot like the attic she pictured that Anne Frank and her family hid in. A mix of all the plays, movies and the imagined places in her mind. There was a lot of furniture and somehow she’d been tasked with the rearrangement. Two twin beds. One huge bookshelf. A guitar. A few chairs in the far corner. Another thinner, taller bookcase. Her younger brother and sister were there. They were supposed to be helping her, but they were really just dicking around and getting in her way. Typical. She grabbed a bookcase, the big one, the one that spanned the length of her arms. She lifted, totally with her back, regardless that she knew better. It was way heavier than she had imagined. The back fell completely off. The shelves started to come out of their respective pegs. It crumbled. She pulled at all the pieces, trying to get it to come back together. On and on with each piece of furniture. Crumbling at first lift. Everything had fallen apart in the last year.

But it didn’t really matter because she was only hanging on by a thread before. It had been a gradual and messy untangling. She’d finalized the divorce from her parents. She’d broken up with her best friend. She’d started a bakery and then let go of a bakery only a few months later. She fell in love with a woman and had come out to everyone. All in the last 10 months. So it was almost a welcome break. Almost.