My life is different now. Like all things that are meant to challenge you, it happened suddenly, all at once. But it is not the big things that surprise me. It’s not the new city, or the new job. It is not the new friends, or the frustrating crushes, or even the hot, heavy smell of the air here. What surprises me about this life is the small things – the way that today I noticed how gracefully I moved from cabinet to cabinet in my office, as if I’ve been here for years. It is the fact that now when I drive I change lanes seamlessly, weaving back and forth through cars because I know exactly when the lane I’m in will begin to back up. It is the surprising pleasure I find in turning my lamp off at the end of the night, because I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’ve earned it. The things I labeled as mundane at first are the things I now revel in; the simple, flowing beauty of life.
I used to go grocery shopping like I was preparing for the apocalypse. Walking through the aisles, snaking my way up and down the rows, grabbing anything I thought I might want to put in my mouth. The food items I chose were mismatched, never cohesive enough to contribute to an actual recipe. I thought of it as my monthly, if not bi-monthly, grocery shopping.
Exercise used to feel like an obligation rather than a privilege, it was a struggle each time I pulled myself out of the house and into the gym. Some days I worked out hard. Contribute it to the right song playing on my playlist or the cute boy running next to me on the treadmill. On other days, I put in a solid 15 minutes before saying to myself, “alright that’s my quota for the week.” I agonized about how much I didn’t workout, all the while not doing anything about it.
I used to chase men. I liked the chase. It was part of the fun. But you learn something eventually when you are caught in those games – if you’re the one chasing someone, they end up thinking they are the prize.
I was packing my boxes before they even offered me the job. As I packed, I was filled with anxiety, my life could go in two different directions, and I had no clue which was the right one. In one version, I would move to Denver, only an hour away from where I’d lived most of my life. I would bring all my boxes. I would load my red velvet couch, which I loved so much, into a UHaul. I would bartend, because it was good money and I liked it, and it would do, for now. I would move into my aunt and uncle’s basement, and live paying cheap rent in a neighborhood that I would never be able to afford otherwise. It was a path, and it made sense. It was easy and good in its own way.
In the other version, I would get rid of almost everything I owned. I would find a place to live in a city I didn’t know. I would leave my friends and my family and the mountains that had been part of my line of vision all my life. I would say goodbye to a comfort that was hard to explain. They called and offered me the job on a Friday. That Sunday I sold my red velvet couch.
I move through my days with certainty, not necessarily with ease. But I know what’s coming. I know which meetings I’ll have, I know that when the clock hits three o’clock I’ll have to go downstairs to make a cup of tea, imbibe in a much-needed caffeine boost towards the end of my day. I know who will come into the office late and who will be on time. I know what my next days and weeks and even months will look like, because it’s all been planned out in advance. With so little free time, it becomes a strategy of how to use it wisely.
In a sense, I am living my life in circles – the same commute, the same coffee maker, the same ‘hello’s and ‘how are you’s?’ They are the habits I have forced myself to build. Because those habits make it bearable, doable; they’re necessary for this kind of life.
But I find it hard not to wonder what kind of life I am leading when I can’t go outside for more than ten minutes in a day during the working hours, or why I have more allegiance to my desk chair than to the warm fresh air outside. I worry about what the sun might think of me. As I scroll through emails and stare into screens, I yearn to feel the touch of its rays, as you would yearn for a friend whose smile is fading from your memory.
I feel adulthood creeping into my unconscious; seeping into my fingers as I type emails, intertwining its way into my words as I use phrases that sound polite and professional, but not authentically me.
But it’s funny, a part of me feels lighter now.
Away from everyone who knew me as a child and then as a teenager, I am no longer held to the assumptions of my past. I feel as if I can glide, weighed down by nothing but the responsibilities I choose for myself, surrounded by no one but the people I wish to be close to.
After a long day, I open the door to my ninth floor apartment. I drop my bags on my bed and I look at myself in the mirror – in my black slacks, my silk blouse, with my long brown hair tied into a knot, the messy locks beginning to fall around my face. I see how tired I look. I slump onto my couch, unzip my boots, and I think to myself: your seven-year-old self would be proud of you.
I take pride in my new found strength. I workout on a schedule. Holding myself accountable for the days I exercise on a print-out calendar pinned to my wall. Rotating my nights between cardio and yoga, and giving myself a star on the calendar when I’ve finished – a reward that I alone will take pleasure in. The few inches of fat that clung to my body in college have slowly disappeared. My body is smoothing, as if it’s thanking me for saying goodbye to the tequila shots I used to take on Tuesday nights and the subsequent late-night slices of pizza. I’m finally shedding my ‘baby weight.’
I’ve perfected the art of making pasta – a level-up from the pasta I cooked in late-teens. Cooked perfectly, every time, with a simple sauce of cherry tomatoes – roasted in a pot, crackling in oil, until the heat pops the skins and the small red fruits begin to dissolve. Top it with fresh basil and mozzarella, and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar.
It took me 23 years, but I no longer waste my time on men who could care less.
There’s a beauty in adulthood, in routine. I pushed against it at first, sitting at my white desk, in front of my white computer screen, wondering how I was going to fill in this new world with color.
It’s human, I think – our tendency to push against our own lives. It’s silly, really, when you stop to think about it. But we do it anyways. We push against what is, for the sake of what could be. But something happens when you stop pushing – you start gliding.
When you live your life in circles, there’s a rhythm to it, a musicality, a certain tempo that keeps you going, it’s just a matter of being able to feel the beat.