growing up

Congratulations & Thanks, Little Brother

Yesterday my little brother graduated high school.

*takes a moment to process this*

At 5 o’clock, the school staff ushered us in single file. I walked passed smiling siblings and proud fathers and anxious mothers; aunts and uncles and cousins and teachers; girlfriends and boyfriends and best friends. I knew almost none of them, and yet I knew how they felt when they woke up in the morning, and I knew how they felt walking in the school gates that afternoon. We all shared the same look in our eyes. We all had those smiles that were hard to suppress. We were all so proud.

For me, it was strange more than emotional. As the ceremony started and tissues were shuffled through the audience, I couldn’t help but sit silent, thinking. How is it, I thought, How is it that the infant who used to laugh when I tickled him, the toddler who used to call me “Supergirl”, the boy who used to wake up early to watch me play video games on Saturday mornings, and the teenager who used to ask me for a ride to karate class, how is it that they’d all grown up into this man that stood before me in a cap and gown? How had they become someone I look up to, that makes me laugh, that is my own personal superhero?

As the name of each student began to be called, cheers came in bursts around the audience. Families and friends stood and shouted, hoping to showcase their pride and spread it outward. We were no different. When my brother’s name was called we waved our fists and wooed our “woos”, hoping to let my brother know we were proud of him, and to let the crowd he was ours. And as dozens of other families followed suit, I began to realize why I didn’t feel sad so much as dizzy.

Yes, it was crazy to think that my baby brother, the boy who, over the years, has led people to believe he was my son (which we took advantage of and pulled pranks), my stepbrother (which made no sense because we are essentially the same human), and—after a colossal growth spurt—my boyfriend (which, ew), this boy was graduating high school and could now legally drive, vote, and serve jury duty. Yes, this was off-putting, but not sad. For I had known the baby who grew into a boy who grew into a teenager and then into a man, and seeing him take this next step forward was like accepting an invitation to meet the man he will soon become.

So as the caps began to fly, my heart began to swell. The dizziness had been overtaken by anticipation. I walked through the crowd to find my brother and gave him a big hug, anxious to tell him of all the things I know he’s yet to accomplish. I wished him “congratulations” but what I really meant was “thank you.” Thank you for letting me be a part of your world, and thank you for offering me a front row seat to watch you conquer it. May the future only hold good things for you, crazy things, preferably things that include pizza and In N Out Burger. May you always be brave enough to be yourself and kind enough to let others do the same. May you never stop letting me call you Bub, and may we never stop taking this picture.

IMG_6025

IMG_6043

ACF1E5BF-39B6-4271-BF98-959656A499A6

Dear High School Students,

Hi, it’s me, an adult—or so they tell me. I’m 10 years removed from where you are right now. When I look at you I feel like we’re a million miles apart and yet, at the same time, we’re also five minutes away. When I look at you I can see me and where I was when I was where you are. I was lost and confused and goofy and scared and optimistic and curious and quiet. I didn’t have a clue who I really was or who I wanted to be. I just knew I hoped the future brought good things. Fun things. Things that lived up to all the things everyone told me to work for.

Did I find those things? I think so. Yes. And also, no. I think I found some, missed some, and have yet to discover some even exist. In many ways I feel like I’m you again. Like I was never not you. And I suppose that’s true. I supposed I’ve always been me, no matter where I was or who I was trying to be. It’s been me, in this body, in this life, wandering her way through the world, and this past Monday I happened to land in your auditorium for your spring showcase, with the hopes of seeing my little brother be courageous. Which he was. He acted and sang and even swayed a little, and I smiled from ear to ear with pride and love.

But that was only the half of it.

You see, he had two performances. Two amongst twenty. And as I waited for number one and then number two, I got to see you, all of you, being courageous. You were funny and honest and sad and scary and beautiful and touching and raw. You made it look easy, even though I know better than to believe that. I know some of you spent hours debating what you would wear. I know it seemed nothing looked right or fit right. I know you probably paced back and forth wondering why you couldn’t be more comfortable in your skin or why you couldn’t be as easy going as some of your friends. I know you might have tried to talk yourself out of coming, and that you were nervous you wouldn’t be funny enough, talented enough. You were worried you wouldn’t be honest enough, or worse, too honest.

But you showed up. You showed up and sang songs and acted out scenes and performed monologues. You shared little pieces of yourselves, even if they were hidden behind familiar stories or catchy hooks. You stood up on stage and said, “here I am” and I just want you to know that I saw you. You. I didn’t see the flaws in your outfit you kept fidgeting with backstage. I didn’t see the hair out of place that almost brought you to tears. I didn’t see you as a number on a scale or a statistic in a textbook. I saw you and I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for letting me and the rest of the world see you. And thank you for the inspiration to let the world see me.

Years and Years of Questions (feat. Answers)

I recently read the book Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and while there is a lot I could say about the beauty of author’s writing throughout the story, there was one line that really stuck out to me, and has stayed with me in the months after I finished:

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

When I initially read it, I read right on through it, liking the wording but not thinking much of it. But as I got a few more pages in, I realized how much my mind continued to wander back to those words, paying little attention to those that had followed.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Suddenly I found myself thinking of the years of my own life that truly have offered nothing but questions. Where I should go, what I should do, who am I, who do I want to be. Some nights I stay up begging for answers, only to wake up the next morning with more questions. But as infuriating as it is, I took Zora’s words as a reminder that sometimes, as much as we’d like to deny it—especially on those late nights—we’re simply not ready for the answers.

See, we all need to ask and be asked questions throughout our lives, many of which will not be easy to answer. In fact, there’s a good chance some questions will only lead to more questions, which will lead to more questions and so on, making the original question even harder to answer, if not all but impossible to clearly identify. What we need to realize however, is that in asking this seemingly endless string of questions, we are in fact drawing closer to an answer. And while it might not be the answer we originally wanted or it might be an answer to a different question entirely, it is a valuable answer nonetheless, because it in turn can lead us to more questions and then to more answers.

Being a very curious person myself, I ask questions all the time. I’m always the first to Google anything and everything that may come up in conversation and need clarification, and I think this is why Zora’s words meant so much to me. Because even though the years plagued with questions are hard, they are necessary. More necessary perhaps, than those that offer answers. For we can learn a lot about ourselves through the questions we decide to ask, both in why we want to ask them and how we hope they will be answered. Sometimes we’ll even find that the answer is the question itself.

So even though I know I still might have many a night ahead of me when I’ll lay awake feeling like the world has little to offer me but uncertainty, I’m comforted by Zora’s words: That clarity will always come through in the chaos, even if we have to wait a little longer than we might like for it to find us. And how in the meantime, even if it’s the last thing we want to do, we must keep asking questions and then more questions and then more questions, because somewhere in there, we’ll find an answer, maybe not one we were looking for, but rather one that we need.

Moving Out.

“Goodnight family.”

“Goodnight, see you in the morning.”

I turn on the ball of my foot and walk down the hall, passing the nook on top of the art cabinet where the cats eat and the two bookcases topped with outdated picture day portraits, as I make my way to my room. Boxes litter the floor and the shelves of my wall unit lay bare. I look in my closet where my shoes used to be and see a box marked accordingly in their place.

As I tiptoe across the carpet to my bed, careful not to wake my sister, packing tape sticks the bottom of my foot and I tear it off, noticing the mound of my dog’s fur already stuck to it. I smile and call to her quietly, knowing it will take a few seconds to hear the jingle of her collar as she jumps down from my parents’ bed and hustles across the hall. She never liked sitting on my bed, it wasn’t big enough, she usually lay on the carpet beside it when she found me napping on summer afternoons, but today she jumps right up next to me and sets her head in my lap.

A breeze sneaks in through the window, a rarity for a July evening, and I close my eyes as it fills the room with a cool layer of comfort. I lean my head back to rest against the wall and notice the lack of pushpins poking into my curly hair. I look up and see nothing but tiny holes that look like a connect the dot picture of décor’s past.

I look up at the ceiling, at the yellow patch we saw grow with each rainstorm until we got our new roof. For weeks my sister eyed the washcloth she’d pinned atop it, hoping it would hold and we wouldn’t have to set out any more buckets for leaks.

In the kitchen, someone takes a bowl out of the cabinet for a snack and my dog instantly awakens and runs down the hall to beg for a bite.

I get up and walk over to the blinds, looking at the night view between them for the last time as I twist them shut.

“Mom!” my brother shouts from his room, “have you seen my wallet?!”

I listen to their conversation, memorizing the echo their voices make off the walls before I get up to shut the door. With the click of the lock, my sister shuffles in her bed and takes a deep breath and I reach for the turtle figurine hanging from the ceiling fan to turn off the light.

I’ve done this a thousand times in the dark.

I know how many steps it is from the light to my bed to my dresser and back again. I know which plug behind my bed charges my phone faster and how to sneak back out the door almost silently. I know that the mysterious sound outside at midnight is the neighbor watering his plants in his underwear, and that the birds chirping in the morning have a nest above the garage. So as I lay my head on my pillow, I let everything I know wash over me like a breeze all its own. I remember every afternoon I came home to find my brother playing video games on the couch; I think of the different ways my parents open the front door, which always made it easy to tell which one of them was arriving home; I knock my fist against the night air, recreating the “secret knock” my family created to identify strangers.

It will be weird without them. Without my brother and my mom and my dad. It will be weird to have a room of my own and to not hear my sister occasionally murmur in her sleep. The world is going to seem bigger and I smaller as I go out on my own. There will be moments of sadness for the chapter that is ending, but there will also be joy with each turn of the page in the new one ahead of me.

So, as I close my eyes I say “goodnight” once more, but this time to myself. For tomorrow will bring new adventures, new challenges and new beginnings. It will bring new stories to tell and memories to share. New reasons to say hello and goodbye. And should the world ever knock me down, I know where I can find a red door on a corner house that asks only for a secret knock before it opens up to the people always available to pick me back up again.

The Things We Leave Behind