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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Special

im-specialDue to my seemingly unending bad luck on the job hunt, I hired a career coach to work with on a weekly basis that my friend Stacy had recommended to me. Although I felt like a failure in seeking work, during one of our first phone calls, I was shocked at how she was talking about me — like how smart I was, talented, capable and strong.

“It’s so weird,” I said quietly. “You’re talking about me like I’m special.”

“But you are special,” she said without skipping a beat. Her tone sounded as if she was telling me something obvious, like the world was round. I immediately began to cry, because if there was one thing that I didn’t feel like, that I wasn’t, it was special. Extraordinary. One of a kind.

At one point, I told this story to my friend Deborah, and I could even sense the shaking of her head through the phone.

“That’s insane,” she said. “You’re one of the most talented people I know. You’re gifted, you’re smart, and I don’t know anyone else who can rock a sexy outfit the way you can. People love you. How can you, of anyone, not think you’re special?”

For every Kanye West out there proclaiming their greatness there’s someone like me, who is the biggest self-doubter and her own worst enemy. It was strange to think of myself as anything but a loser, particularly while sitting alone at my computer, which had accumulated possibly thousands of job rejection letters as all my friends and family members were happily getting work. Most of my time was spent cheering for them, helping them, pushing for their achievements and comforts while putting mine on a back burner; after all, I didn’t want to be selfish. When she said that I was special, I couldn’t even think straight. This phrasing of me was a foreign language to my ears while everyone else in the world seemed to think of it as a “duh” statement.

For a whole group of generation Y and millennials who have been told throughout their lives that they’re special, I’m the weirdo. I never expected anything to be handed to me. Growing up, I was a written artist and misfit in a sea of cookie-cutter preppies being groomed for the WASPy elite. There I was, the crybaby who would sob every time she skinned her knee and was told to stop crying in front of others, who in turn learned to hide her disappointment when she didn’t get elected to student council, and then in turn got punished for being groped in the hallways of junior high because she didn’t know how to phrase what had happened. Yet throughout my existence I was taught independence, that I was no better than anyone else, and if I wanted something I had to find my own way.

My hobbies in high school included sitting in the back of the class and writing poetry and surprising people with my talents because I was just that strange girl. There were no college applications shoved down my throat and no AP classes that I was forced to take, even though I did end up in college and getting my degree. But even throughout all my youthful accomplishments, I never really felt special: Guys would never date me but only use me for sex because they didn’t want to be seen with me. My GPA was solid, but on job interviews I would be asked why I didn’t go to UCLA. Going into workplaces left me being dismissed for being too punk and outspoken and not “girly” enough.

After my college graduation, unlike my friends who had their parents paying for their apartments, I commuted back and forth and worked hard at two part-time jobs for very little money. Every job I went to, no matter how hard I worked, I was told constantly that I wasn’t special, that someone could easily replace me. One of the highlights was my first full-time job as a reporter, where one of editors made it a habit to tell me every day that I was one of the worst writers he had ever seen, and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have my job.

Not feeling special was the reason I made some of my life choices, such as settling into a relationship with the first person who wanted me to be their girlfriend and eventually wife, because no one else asked me out or pursued me. He knew this and took advantage of the laden insecurity lying in my very blood. I felt ugly and began gaining weight. I stopped writing for a while because all I could hear was the mistakes that my primary influencers were telling me I was making, and if it wasn’t going to be great and would be rejected anyway, why even try at all?

Yet I still strove to break the surface of the water to show the world I could do something with my life, all the while feeling the hands pulling me back down again into the depths. All I could hear was the “nos,” the “impossibles,” the “you can’ts.” There were the words dismissing me as a child who was no good unless she was doing what the world told her to do in aching detail, and even then still not succeeding. Those phrases echoed in my ears, drove me to the edge where I was grasping at blankets like driftwood to stay afloat.

In the darkness of those years underneath the water, there was one light I distinctly remember. It was a bright December day, sitting in a rustic café in Old Town Orange where I was supposed to meet him after not having seen him for six months. His brothers and dad were there, but left shortly after I arrived, his father hugging me tightly before he slipped away. I pulled out my laptop and showed him what I had created: A time-twisting, unusually true story that was still being finished. We were the main characters; it was our story.

He didn’t have to tell me that I was special; his face told me. There was a phony smile that was for everyone else, but he had a genuine smile that belonged to me that told me that I was perfect just the way I was, that in his demented way he loved me. It was real yet heartbreakingly beautiful, strangely vulnerable for someone who appeared so strong, coming with a bright golden light that somehow broke through my dark, dark surface. He is gone now for so many reasons, where we both have the blame, but one of which was because I never felt worthy of that light he gave me. Yet that moment was a spotlight on my life, and when I finally broke through about a year later and ended up on dry land, I could hardly breathe.

It took me four years, lots of struggle, and hundreds of conversations, with friends, family, therapists and other sundry humans to figure out what took my career coach about five seconds: That I have never felt special, possibly throughout my existence on this planet, no matter how many times of being told I was made of stardust and love. Instead, I would focus on the world and tell everyone else how great they were, because I never felt it about me.

When I told my coach this, she acknowledged it with that slight noise that signals that she hears me loud and clear — the one that my best friend uses whenever I’m mid-rant and upset to let me know she’s there.

“Tell me, would you talk to a child this way? Your child?” she asked.

“Absolutely not,” I said in a heartbeat, feeling my eyes tear up again.

“What would you tell your child?”

I paused, thinking. “I would tell her…” I started, with memories flooding towards me of my past, of the choices made and the people lost. The world was hitting me hard, yet I knew what I would say. What I had to say, because I had made one of the biggest sacrifices in my life for that imaginary child that doesn’t exist yet.

“I would tell her that she’s strong and beautiful, and so, so smart,” I said. “And I would tell her that she can do it, no matter what. And that’s she worth it.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell that to yourself?” she asked.

My mouth tried to form the words to reject that notion, and the problem was I couldn’t. Even though I didn’t feel this way, I couldn’t blast my coach either.

“We talk to ourselves sometimes in a way that, if we talked to our children that way, we would be arrested,” she said. “We can’t. Think of your inner self as a child.”

Somewhere in me, maybe I still was that sensitive child who would cry every time she skinned her knee, who was eternally curious, striving for the impossible while always having her nose stuck in a book. Who was creative and clever, full of songs, hugs and confidence. She’s here, but at the same time she’s not and has to come back to me.

“We create ourselves by telling ourselves what we are and what we’re not,” she continued. “Don’t tell yourself you don’t have self-confidence; instead, tell yourself that you’re powerful. Don’t tell yourself you’re not special, because you are. And that’s what we’re here to discover. We’re here to discover that special you.”

And as we continued our conversation I struggled, never having another person investing in me the way that this woman had, spending so much time working on myself without talking about other people, pushing for their happiness and comfort while reneging on mine. It was because I couldn’t find my specialness with anyone else but myself. Others could recognize my gifts, but I had to as well. It’s going to be a struggle, but it’s my struggle; all I hope is I’m ready for the challenge.

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Life’s Too Short

I have written about suicide prevention in the past, and no matter how many times I say life’s too short, it is if we don’t try to save others. For more information on suicide prevention, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Life’s too short.

They are simple words, the words that had been echoing in my head for the past week before that Thursday afternoon. My hands felt unsteady on the little plastic water cup, its cool nature contrasting with the uncomfortable heat of the July day that settled into the living room with all these people. No matter how many fans were going, nothing could settle the strained bodies in the room.

The cup was eventually put down, and instead my hands were left feeling the velvety texture on top of a dark green cowboy hat. The room, filled with 12 or so people, looked at me with shell shock on their faces as I told the story of the boy I dated years ago who took his own life. I then ended it with the only words I could: “Life’s too short.”

There was Matt on the couch, cross legged in thought in his clean pressed slacks across the room. Dave’s face was solemn and quiet, not his usual social self. Danny, the man who I was proud to call my spiritual leader, was silent in the stories that the people in the room were telling, sitting on the small staircase. My friend Angela was sitting next to me, and the tears in her eyes were gnawing at me as I pulled her in close to comfort her. It was partially for her, but also for me — if I looked at her, I was worried I would fall apart.

A month has passed since that day in my office where I received a text from my friend who told me that Mark had died. I stood near the elevators, trying to figure out what had happened, forced to go back into my tiny work space, where all I could do was face my computer and try not to cry. The attempt failed, miserably. For days, I tried to write something about exactly what had happened, but all I could get out of my soul was the equivalent of wind getting knocked out of me after a sucker punch. It became even worse when I found out his death was due to a suicide. Depression had come to claim another one of my friends.

My mind was forced to think about Mark, about when I dated him three short years before. He was charming and talkative, and I felt comfortable enough with him to make love to him, with my emotions and not just my standard sex mode where I only think of pleasure. The time we spent together was great, and I remember thinking that this could go somewhere, although I didn’t know how. Then… nothing. Ghosted.

So imagine my shock when, months later, I would show up at a temple service and he was there. He had gained a substantial amount of weight in the passing months, but I knew him anywhere. My anger flushed my cheeks, flustering in a way that I never thought I would.

There were two sides of my frustration, and one of them was in watching my dating life cross over into my social life, which I liked to keep very separate from one another in the wake of my divorce. The other was Mark himself. My pride took over, because I didn’t think I was that bad to date, but obviously I wasn’t worth it to him — not hot enough, good enough, sane enough. For all I knew, he was telling everyone he had dated me and I was something awful. My social anxieties and insecurities kept biting me.

It was this pride that interfered when he came asking me for my forgiveness for his past actions around Rosh Hashana last year, that he hoped that in time we could become friends. I was hesitant to give it, although in the end I made the right decision to hand it over. In all of it, I still didn’t trust him; I figured this act was a nice way to get on my good side so he could date all my friends. Maybe we would built it one day, but I was still angry.

One night over drinks in the warm wooden paneling of the Roosevelt, I would tell Matt about this whole story. He had never known about how Mark and I met, but then said lifting up his highball glass to his lips, “Mark’s got some issues. He’s a nice guy, and I don’t think it was you. But those problems can weigh on you, and hurt others in the process.”

We didn’t know as we were sitting there in that cozy Hollywood hotel. How could we know what was to come in the months after, that we would end up with a death on our hands?

As Danny sat with his guitar, playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” his voice so clear and lovely, I thought about Mark as his favorite song cut through the sorrow. There were two other souls who were wandering with me through that whole week in dealing with Mark’s death: A friend from the comedy scene who also fell to suicide, and JT. Sweet JT, my beloved ghost who I have missed every day since he died from a prescription drug overdose at 19.

He was the boy who wanted nothing but love for me, who would hug me tight and tell me how he wanted someone to hold me close the way he did; how I deserved that. He also once abandoned me as I stood outside a Starbucks near his house in Chatsworth, waiting for him. Not because he didn’t care for me with every fiber of his being, but because his demon of depression was so powerful it can destroy everything. It was this that fueled his addiction that would eventually steal him from me. And this was the same disease that killed Mark.

As the silence fell into the room once more, my words seemed to haunt me. Life is too short, and will always be unless we embrace it and let it take us. It was why Dave and I were hugging at the end of the night when for years we didn’t always get along; maybe it was because we couldn’t see one another for the people we are until life threw us a curve ball. Nothing was worth it anymore.

It was also why I left the memorial that night to have dinner with a boy and allowed myself to laugh through City Target with him. I loved every minute he tried to tap dance on the white linoleum floor or put me into a Wookie onesie, allowing me to giggle about snipping off manbuns. By the end of the night I didn’t want to leave his passenger’s seat. Life is too short, and love is stronger than death could ever hope to be.

In the month that has passed, a lot changed. Mark has popped up in my head here and there, thoughts of him echoing through my activities. I have to remind myself there was nothing any of us could do to save him. That death happens, and it will to us all. It doesn’t make me any more comfortable it, though.

My anger has to be put on hold for the comedians who keep joking that they’re going to kill themselves when they have seen the ravages of suicide for themselves; for my past where suicidal threats were used as a method to abuse and control me; against those who think depression is a joke when it’s maiming and murdering people. It has killed three of my friends thus far, and in the tangled web of tragedy it weaves, it destroys more lives than I could ever imagine.

All we could do is tell the world that it isn’t worth it. That somewhere in the world that there will be people who will make us remember that life is an amazing journey, to not fall into the blind spots. And for the rest of us, it’s up to us to see those we love tangled in those places and be able to pull them out of there. All I know is life’s too short to go it alone.

My Ghost

I have a ghost. He lives with me.

He’s about 5’8 and wears John Lennon glasses. His nose is beaky and his hairline receding into a widow’s peak, even at 23. But his face is round and smile is good-natured. He wears a blue flannel shirt with a musky smell that is all male, all his. His name is Jason, but we all called him JT. Still do.

I sense him when I’m driving long distances and my mind is confused. In my empty passenger’s seat, my body feels him looking at me, touching my hand with the slightest air and letting me know that everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t.

But he’s not here anymore. A part of me wonders if I was the one that made sure of that.

When we first met when I was in college, I thought he was cute. He was three years older than me, wore cowboy boots and his silver car was named Bertha. His favorite song was by a one-hit wonder by the name of Lara Fabian, called, “I Will Love Again.” He had an AIM and we would message all the time. He played piano for the kids at the Salvation Army, and was rather gifted. He would buy me drinks at Starbucks and Chinese food at the mall. He would make jokes about Bertha and my car, the Spacey Crowe Mobile, having a baby car together one day.

Nights in the parking lot outside of our college Hillel, he would hold me tight and tell me how wonderful I was. How I deserved someone in my life to hold me the way he would. He was a romantic, although not with me. Never with me.

He knew my intimate secrets, and I knew his. His were darker than mine, depths of depravity and depression that I would never know, blended with talk about electroshock therapy and highs from mixed cocktails of prescription pills to get away from his intense clinical depression. My ghost was a tortured soul.

There was a choice. I made it. I couldn’t be close with someone who I loved who was hurting himself. I told him to get help, but until then, we couldn’t be friends anymore. He never did.

I saw him six weeks before in the old age home in Reseda during a social action event; he loved volunteering. We talked as we normally had, with the veil between us showing its holes. I was beginning to let go of my anger towards his addictions, hoping maybe we would be friends once more. He asked me to come with him and some friends to a coffee shop. I didn’t go. I should have. I would never see him again.

The day came. I was told that night he walked into his parents bedroom and collapsed. His heart had stopped. My denial took over for the next couple days; 23-year-olds don’t just fall down and die, after all. Girls at 19 don’t lose their friends to death.

I decided to confront my friend David that Tuesday, who was the bringer of the news. I pulled him in to a room with filing cabinets and mint green walls, asking him about JT. Was it true?

“Yeah, he’s dead,” David chirped.

My voice reached a fever pitch, screaming and causing the entire room outside to stop in shock as he started bumbling and getting defensive about some random unrelated rumor. My mind started spinning around the mint green walls, my heart crushed. It was my fault, my fault. JT was dead because I abandoned someone I loved.

There are other ghosts mixed in from the days after, now reduced to shadows of memories. His mother rocking back and forth at the gravesite in a pink dress. His snide ex-girlfriend hitting on his brother at the house after the funeral. The boy who would become my ex-boyfriend three months later after saying I was too fat to be with him, as I grabbed his chubby hand at the cemetery and lead him toward the gravesite. My Hillel leader, who had to announce somberly at the event after the funeral that one of our community members had died. But I see JT’s specter more than anyone.

As I moved on in the years, I blamed myself, swearing that I would never abandon someone in need again. Yet I was still seeking him and his guidance in dark times. There were moments where I was left to wonder what he would think of this guy or that guy, hoping it would make his romantic soul wandering the ether happy.

Yet at the same time I didn’t want to love anymore. Letting someone that close to me, and then the subsequent loss, was just too painful. I thought that if I found someone I really cared about, but didn’t love, it would make my life easier. So I did.

For seven years, I was prisoner to that child, who made me think I could capture what my ghost wanted for me — a person to hold me tight — but instead echoed every insecurity that played around in my head. He used the details that were confided in him and turned them into weapons against my sanity, cutting into my very soul. I tended to my wounds alone, forgetting about my ghost to try to mend the scars.

Then came the night in the white hospital halls with the child behind two double doors. It was the most extreme maneuver, but not the first time he threatened what he did. He was not in need; he was waiting behind those doors with his own version of a knife, waiting to slash at me yet again. I felt guilty, but walked away that night, the traveler’s prayer on my lips, praying for my ghost’s protection along with the loved ones that I had lost over the years.

The healing was not easy. The cracks would show, triggers popping up at first constantly to leave my body shaking on the bathroom floor, then less and less severely. I would crack, but be able to stand. Yet sometimes I would lie in bed crying, and a part of me could feel through my tears a hand brushing my hair from my eyes, telling me that it would get better. That I would find my way, that I would find love again.

There are echoes of my ghost since he left this world, of intimate friendships and reaches at flirtations. The green Jeep of a Christian guy with a receding hairline who was interested in me, but whose family cornered him about why he would want to go out with “that Jewish slut.” The bald head of a boy who knew me better than almost anyone as I was curled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and crying over my divorce as he held me tight and his lips made promises of taking care of me that he would never keep. A boyish faced friend with the softest hazel eyes looking at me constantly while driving me back to my car when he should have been watching the road, my eyes staring at the dashboard craving his kiss good night, but not receiving it. The guys’ beds that I had flitted in and out of, not loving them and using them in lieu of investing in someone for an extended period. Finding ways out of true intimacy because in my mind, love meant losing, and I couldn’t afford to lose again.

JT haunts me, the romantic who was close to me but didn’t want me. Who wanted me to find love but didn’t want to be mine. Who I loved for being in my life and being a friend, who I hated for leaving me behind and not seeing that I loved him, wanted him to stay amongst the living, to get better and grow older with the rest of us.

This wasn’t the life I expected, with my older self — divorcee, hidden romantic yet cynical lover, wandering and desperately healing soul — standing over his grave on a bright summer’s day in Simi Valley. The only way he has left to hold me is through a sprinkler going off at the top of the hill, and me looking down at my waist to notice a rainbow surrounding me. We are worlds apart, yet forever tied together.

As I zoomed out of the cemetery, I turned on my iPhone, played “I Will Love Again,” and just kept on driving. I just hope his angel wings can keep up.

Legends of the Friendzone

Recently, I went to dinner with a good friend of mine who told me about a college classmate they had a crush on for a long time who recently broke up with a significant other.

“Reina, how do I do this?” my friend asked. “How do I take a friend and make them into something more?”

I started laughing my head off, not out of taunting but rather familiarity. It was the famous story of the friendzone again, not the last and not the first. In my recent years of being single, the dance of the friendzone is one that has confused and stumped me again and again. I have never understood it, and I probably never would.

It seemed like a distant idea when I was a married girl watching When Harry Met Sally… on the living room couch of my then-friend in upstate New York back in 2010.

“You realize, of course, that we could never be friends,” Harry says to Sally in the car.

“Why not?” asks Sally.

“What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

The conversation continues as Sally says, “Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.”

“Guess not,” Harry replies.

“That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.”

The next morning, my then-friend walked into the living room I had slept in as I was getting ready to head out to Albany to see my cousins. The look on his face while he looked me over was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen over the course of my lifetime: His brown eyes narrowed in a peaceful way, crinkling slightly with his smile so relaxed and unguarded. He looked at me in my black sundress and daisy shoes the way my then-husband never looked at me. Like he loved me.

It wouldn’t be the last time he looked at me this way. Every time it happened I felt pure joy inside, but I never knew what to do with that look after my divorce because I was then, and still am, romantically inept. That’s why we are now “then-friends” as opposed to… well, I’ll probably never know, because nothing ever happened and we no longer are friends at his request.

But as my friend asked me over dinner, “How do I do this?” I thought about that boy. About this concept of the friendzone and the plague it leaves on our lives. It’s a concept that destroys friendships and it shouldn’t have to. And I hate it for that, and many other reasons.

In full disclosure, I know that in many of my friendships with men we have known that we were just friends with nothing more. We have communicated as such and that’s perfectly fine with both of us. I cherish these friendships; they give me a different perspective. Whether it’s the little brother nature of my friend Gary, the fun and whimsy of my college friend Paul or singing in the car with Jeffrey, they are amazing people even if they aren’t romantically-based connections. And I hope all of them find love with someone who is worthy of them (although, luckily, Paul found the most amazing woman to be his wife).

Although many feminists dismiss the friendzone as a concept that “nice guys” use to be angry about not being approached by women and feeling that women owe them sex, I will wholeheartedly acknowledge that I have been friendzoned by guys that I have liked. For me, it’s the equivalent of being told that you are super-cool but also that you resemble Sloth from The Goonies; in other words, a kick in the balls to your self-esteem. It never, ever feels good, no matter who is playing it. But rejection happens and we move on.

Meanwhile, over the course of my life I have watched several of my friends come together in romantic relationships, even though they started as “just friends.” I am always amazed by the pure joy of these relationships. It’s like they had a beautiful painting and then looked underneath it to find an even more magnificent masterpiece hidden behind it. The risk is there when they first start out, but when the reward is worth ten times more, it’s worth it.

It’s in these relationships I find my inspiration for what I want in mine. There are things that come with friendship that aren’t always there with traditional one-on-one dating: Inside jokes, shared memories, a sense of values that are already common. After all, if there weren’t, why would you be friends in the first place?

But at the same time, what is it about friendship that can make a relationship work? You can have common memories with almost anyone and you don’t necessarily have to like them all that much. Sure, there are romantic relationships that don’t start out this way, but I have found in the ones where they started as friends there is underlying deep sense of love that may not be in ones that started out a different way.

The other night, I was with a guy friend of mine at a party — ironically, a guy who has recently friendzoned me — who saw me talking to another guy. Halfway through the conversation, I realized that guy was someone a girl friend of mine had dated. She was nuts about him, so much so that she invited him to my birthday at a bar six months prior (he probably didn’t remember).

My guy friend tried to encourage us to exchange numbers, and I very reluctantly gave him mine. As we walked out of the bar, I told my guy friend about my girl friend who dated him.

“So?” he asked.

“So I wouldn’t date him. I would never do that to her,” I replied.

“I don’t see the problem here.”

“It’s not worth it. She liked him. My friends mean more to me than that.”

The guy friend didn’t understand. But less than 24 hours later, I got the call that made me realize that friendship meant something very different to me than to him. The woman who was ripped from my life was called friend — my mother had known her since their 10th grade year, when she would make a habit of copying off my mother’s social studies papers. However, the word friend sold her presence in my life short. She also took the role of crazy aunt, cousin confidante, truth-telling partner and sister in facing the crazy world at large. She was always there as family; she just didn’t happen to be related by blood.

For those who are true friends, the term “friend” sells them short. Maybe because we live in an age where it means someone you add onto your Facebook and never speak to after that. But in my world, it means something more than digital connections. As it is with my friend against her former flame, it was the same with the friend who asked me “how do I do this,” as it is even with my then-friend. There is trust and respect as friends that cannot be replicated and doesn’t diminish even when the friendship turns sour.

With my then-friend, despite the fact we hurt each other badly, I would tell you today how he is the most brilliant man I have ever known and what an upstanding and truly good person he is. I would not tell you details about the intimate conversations we shared. There would be a mention of him being the type of guy I could see myself with romantically, but that time has probably passed now for us. But I would add that I want him to be happy, and no matter where I go in my life, there is a place in my heart that is reserved exclusively for him and, like with friends past, will be there until I leave this earth.

That is the place where I want my romantic relationships to come from — love and respect, the same place where friendships come from. I think it’s more than healthy to want that in a romantic scenario. The friendzone should be a place full of those things, not a place of so-called punishment, because being a friend is a great thing if it’s done right. It’s eating pie with Gary, drinking wine with Jeffrey, hearing my “crazy aunt” begging me to save her Vicodin when I was in the hospital and coaching my “how do I do this” friend as to how to get that college crush — which, in the end, even that advice boiled down to being a sincere and true friend until the time was right to approach the subject of dating each other.

It’s time to value our friends just as much as we value our romantic relationships. After all, when Billy Crystal was asked whether Harry and Sally, the truest of friends in the end, would have stayed together after getting married, his answer was with a smile and a reassuring “yes.”

Remember Me: Yom Hazikaron

There are days where I don’t want to remember. I wake up in the morning in my Los Angeles apartment, blocking out all the steps that put me in this place in my life as I return to consciousness. My bed has shied away of its former red sheets, now draped in deep ice blues and warm chocolate browns. There is no one sleeping next to me; no one except my dearest laptop, the source of my creativity.

Yet at this time of the year, as Rosh Hashana comes along, I turn on my trusty bedmate and put on Idan Raichel’s “Blessings for the New Year.” And after his voice blasts in your ear like the shofar sound, the sound of a traditional rabbi’s twirling voice gives the blessing for the new year, calling out “Yom Hazikaron” — or the day of remembrance. And I so desperately want to forget.

There are the days where I sit in my car where I want to remove from my mind how hard I’ve cried, how deeply I’ve loved, how much I’ve struggled in recent years. On a day where I’m supposed to remember everything, I just want to perform one of those treatments from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, waking up in the morning and feeling nothing, knowing nothing of what happened over the past weekend, the past six weeks, six months, even going back two and a half years. Just… nothing.

Yet every year we are commanded to return. Go to our temples, pray to our G-d, tell him to remember us for the Book of Life in the coming year. Yet at the same time I want to climb up to G-d’s throne and challenge his/her dominance. Why does the Lord Almighty does theses things to us? Force us to endure broken hearts, soul-squeezing obstacles and frustration beyond compare, and then come back in repentance and hope?

Every year I’ve prayed for a better year. Things were difficult every time, fighting for survival. How long could things be so difficult? How much could I lose? Each Rosh Hashana, standing in temple as the lights on my grandparents’ memorial plaques shone across the room, I prayed for good things: a loving relationship that would lead to a good marriage and a family of my own; a good job that would give me financial security; the health of myself and those around me. Every year I stand before G-d asking for these things. And every time I find a year has gone and these same prayers are there, but with heartbreaking twists.

As my body sways and my mind calls for G-d to remember me in his Book of Life, there are times where I approach the throne with the disdain of how this deity can make me a play toy. Yet I can’t turn my back on my spirituality because I know it and love it so deeply. Where I want Hashem to put a helmet on my head and say, “Let me forget, because tomorrow I can wake up blissfully clueless and find a better path without the clouds of the past in my eyes.”

The image of Joel and Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes into my head. There were two people there who did everything in their power to forget: Removed items, wiped memories, explained what was happening to their friends and families and how they were trying to ease the pain. Yet as all the characters in that universe learned, you can’t simply forget; the universe will find a way to remind you, to pull you back in. Rosh Hashana is ingrained in my blood; I feel it calling me, my body preparing to come before the Almighty. This is the day I have to remember, despite what life has brought to my doorstep.

And I remembered last night as I sat across the table from my friend Audra. Sweet Audra, who made it her job when I got home from Israel to keep me awake so I would fall asleep at a regular hour, who sat on my couch on the two-year anniversary of that horrible night that I was so desperate to forget and shy away from. I had only known her a year, but it was like she had been there the whole time. I wanted to forget a lot, but I didn’t want to forget her, particularly when singing “Jack and Diane:” “Yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”

And then I talked on the phone with my friend Rachel, who had known me for so many years, and we laughed as I talked about the cricket that had taken residence in my room and how I was starting to act like Liam Neeson in Taken (“I don’t know where you are. But I will find you. And kill you.”). And we laughed despite our tears of years of never-ending changes of jobs, loves and homes; we remembered despite the heartbreak, and as I longed to hug my friend, there was no way in hell that I wanted to forget.

The circumstances make us want to forget, but it’s the people that call us back to remember: My beautiful friends and their incredible souls, going home to my mother’s table for Rosh Hashana dinner, hugging my cousins during our traditional family lunch after temple services. And my grandparents’ memorial plaques wink at me from across the temple, but their love, sealed upon the Tree of Life outside the sanctuary walls, where they engraved their eternal devotion to their children and three granddaughters, is there too.

And I will remember. The pain throws the love into relief, searing into me and branding my body with scars that indicate that I belong to G-d, that I will keep breathing and that despite the awful things that have happened. There are gifts that have been bestowed upon me that cannot be returned or blessed enough. And I will still pray for a loving relationship that will lead to a marriage and family, a good job that will give me financial security and the health of myself and those that I love despite it all. Because there is more to life than simply forgetting.

Would You Take in a Jew?

In Nazi-controlled Europe, there were people who stood up against the regime by taking in their Jewish neighbors. Not everyone was so willing, though: To harbor Jews and keep them from the Nazis meant risking your life, so it is the rare person that became what is known now as the “Righteous among nations” by Yad Vashem.

As the uprising in the Middle East occurs, so does the anti-Semitic language that fuels Europe. Jews having their businesses bombed (as pictured above) and being cornered in synagogues in France. A rabbi beaten in Morocco. A Twitter hashtag, #Hitlerwasright, trending. Protests in Germany with shouts of, “Gas the Jews!”

And when I hear this and read my friends’ criticism of everything to do with Israel, I wonder about if they would ever turn on me. What would happen if we ever had to face persecution and destruction on the scale of the Holocaust? How would my non-Jewish friends respond? Would they be the righteous among nations and take in their Jewish friends… or find that politics are deeper than any friendship that we have promised to each other?

Before Nazi Germany, many of the people who would become loyal to Hitler lived side by side with Jews. They were their intellectual equals, playmates, fellow students and family friends. But then, as the changes began to sweep through from the new government, those loyalties shifted too. It wasn’t sudden, but rather baby steps to get there. It was rare when a person followed their moral standing and housed their neighbors, co-workers, lovers or friends. But as the tension rises in Europe, it makes me wonder who would change their loyalties on the turn of a dime.

I know what I would do if the role was reversed. If I had a Muslim friend who was being persecuted, I would take them into my home and protect them with everything I have. It’s the kind of person I am, and it takes a lot for me to renege on a friendship. For me, it’s better to be doing what’s right according to my conscience than to stand on the right side of the law.

I have learned that people come before politics, but not everyone thinks that way. I feel like as I have gotten older my friends have become more polarized and use their politics as battlegrounds, not as a meeting of minds. They know me as a Jew, but not that kind of Jew — whatever the hell that means. I can’t hide my identity, nor should I have to. Many Jews do, but this is not my choice.

Yet I sometimes wonder, as the politics rise up and we get swept away, who would take me in if I had no place to go? I wonder if they would see me as an “Israeli Zionist pig” rather than a human being who would love them no matter what. We work together, sing together, play together and celebrate together, but it sometimes doesn’t take much to turn us on each other.

It’s interesting, because as many people bring up the Holocaust in terms of the creation of Israel, they don’t bring up a more important case: The Dreyfus Affair, when in 1894 a French military captain named Alfred Dreyfus was convicted for treason for allegedly selling military secrets. He was an easy target, since he was Jewish and considered therefore to be “unloyal.” He was embarrassed publicly, with crowds shouting, “Death to the Jews!”

It was this case that inspired Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement. He realized that the Jews needed a place to go, where we could be safe and protected. When the Holocaust occurred, there was no place like this, and Jews were turned away from almost every country, including the United States. As a result six million Jews went to their deaths. The righteous among nations stood up, but they were steady rocks of character that don’t often have equals. And now I live in a world where if anything were to happen to my people, I could go and be welcomed into a country with open arms.

I would like to think that most of my non-Jewish friends are people of character who would see me and never let anything bad happen to me simply because I am a Jew. But I can’t help but to question sometimes, as some of my friends hold their politics higher than anything else in their worlds. Would they forget that I am a human who loves them no matter what they believe? Could they remember that we are friends and if, G-d forbid, they were in my situation I would protect them? Would they put their politics aside for one second and see the faces of their friends, lovers and co-workers rather than the blindness of their moral outrage?

You have every right to believe whatever you believe. However, remember that I have two eyes, two hands and a beating heart with blood pumping through my veins. Just like you. Just like everyone else in this saga.

Beauty or the Bro?

He kept calling me bro.

Hanging with a group of friends that night, he did handshakes with me like I was just the guy at the bar instead of the enveloping hugs that I used to get from him, the ones I love from my friends. This boy with black hair and the smattering of chest hair over his casually buttoned shirt was looking at me with wide eyes from across the table and buying me beer. I was wearing a long black maxi dress with red lipstick across my mouth. I thought I looked pretty. Yet I was a bro.

I had a crush on him for as long as I had known him. I had talked to him at parties and made casual conversation. The pheromones I was giving off must have been vibrant, because two girls came up to us a month ago and asked us how long we had been together. I stammered, because I didn’t want to say we were just friends, because I was trying not to close the door on the chance we could be more. Later when he asked me what my type was, I was very tempted to say, “You. Half-naked, in my bed. That’s my type. Bro.”

As the night ended and he drove me to my car, he grabbed my hand first before the hug and sped away as soon as I shut the door. As I drove home, my dejected face was at the same time accepting. I was used to being cast in this role of bro. My height, unfiltered mouth, devil-may-care attitude and ability to go beyond the superficial has made me an unusual creature in Los Angeles. I love makeup, wearing dresses and being flirty, but I also love drinking beer and showing off my brain. And as a result, I’m often cast as the bro: The chick who’s cool enough to talk about anything and not care, but you would never date because… well, G-d forbid.

Turning down Venice Boulevard on my way home, it reminded me of several weeks before as I watched as a so-called guy friend of mine seemed to hang out with me to try to get his paws on my friends. Girls who were shorter. Thinner. Prettier. Less flighty. Less loud. Less open. And certainly not insufferable know-it-alls like me. Needless to say, his friendship with me as a woman to get a woman didn’t do any favors for my ego, and as soon as I set him up and it didn’t work, he was gone.

Grumpy as I settled into bed that night, I messaged one of my guy friends about it who was online, asking if I had the “bro” look. He said no and then complained about dating too — an ironic statement, since he had been dating one of my friends up until recently. He then asked me to come over and “hang out” sometime, which in his language meant come over and do stuff to him. Angrily, I snapped at him and shut off my electronics for the evening.

I woke up in the morning, the heat of the day already killing me. I passed by the mirror, naked. My brown hair was disheveled and my body seemingly drooping into a strange fat vortex. I have lost plenty of weight in recent years, at my smallest probably since college, but it doesn’t stop the onset of those days where you feel like you can take over the world with your size. I frowned and jumped in the shower, soaping up my body and feeling less for the wear. Wrapping my fluffy purple towel, I looked in the mirror and asked myself why such a gorgeous boy would want a slob like this girl. It wasn’t like boys were actually asking me out (although my friends argue that’s an overall thing). But I was cool, so guys wanted to still hang out with me. Just as a bro. Or because they wanted something from me, like sex or to date my friends.

It made me question everything about my life as it currently stood, from relationships to career and my family. Am I simply too ugly for someone to love me? Where is my life going? Should I change something, maybe go back to school or find a new path? Did I really want to stay in Los Angeles, where I could never compete with the insane amount of superficiality and shallowness that travels this town faster than coke addict hearing a rumor of snorting in the bathroom?

I thought about that bro boy as I went on my Facebook and watched a TED talk with a makeup artist. Her voice seemed to soothe me as she mused on beauty and how none of us as women think that we are. That is, except if we were ill or dying and really just couldn’t afford to care about things like that anymore.

Illness. My mother came straight to the surface of my mind. My mother, who now has no hair and doesn’t wear makeup anymore. I remember watching her prepare herself at her vanity while I was growing up, brushing on her gray eye shadow and combing those fine wisps of silver hair. At one point, I was sitting at her kitchen table and she somehow found a gray hair in my brown mane. She wistfully grinned. “You’re graying like me. I started getting gray hairs around your age,” she cooed. “And in the same places too. Except your hair’s wavy. Like Nony’s.”

When I think of my Nony, my grandmother, I think of her as an incredibly beautiful woman. She wasn’t traditionally pretty by any means, and if you ever asked her, she always wanted to be a blonde and skinnier than a size 14. But her joy was infectious, her smile bringing brightness into every room she ever occupied. It took over her entire face and crinkled her eyes, making them twinkle and her very skin glow. Just like mine does whenever I grin from ear to ear. Nony was not a standard beauty, but to her husband and everyone around her, she was breathtaking.

That boy I was crushing on may see a bro, but under all these layers, I now see my beauty. It’s different from physical perfection; it’s recognition, understanding and a sense of peace. If he couldn’t see me as beautiful, he also couldn’t see all the people I love who I think are beautiful too, and that’s really his loss and not mine. Somewhere under all this muck that is dating and the insanity therein is someone who wouldn’t see me as the “bro,” but see the light within that draws people in. It took me years to love this light, and sometimes I stumble when I’m feeling hurt and rejected. But then I remember to put on a giant Nony smile, and tell myself that for every one boy who doesn’t want me romantically, I get ten times more joy from the world around me. In turn, I start feeling blessed again and continue marching on to my own drum.

Too bad he can’t see all that beauty behind the bro.

My Arrival and Survival

My arrival iIMG_1636nto Tel Aviv was supposed to go something like this: Get off the plane in glorious joy, collect my bag as graceful as could be and get through customs. Once I got out, my friend Ron would be waiting for me with a big smile on his face and a cell phone for me to put a SIM card in, and together we would ride the sheirut (or transport) to Jerusalem, where I would go to the kotel for the first time in almost 15 years.

Yeah, that would have been nice. Here’s how it actually went.

My plane touched down in Tel Aviv after a semi-comfortable El Al flight (and a cattle-car style one on Virgin America to JFK from LAX). As I walked through the sleek airport architecture mixed with that traditional tan stone that seems to be only found in Jerusalem, I was whiny and tired from a lack of sleep and the air pressure change. Not to mention my TED hose were getting to me, bunching up behind my knees as they had been doing for hours. After almost 20 hours of wear, I was getting restless. Before I could do anything else, I stopped on a random corner and immediately pulled down the ugly white hose. I got a look of weird looks from passersby, but I didn’t really care. If they weren’t wearing the ultimate in ugly stockingwear, they had no reason to give me the eye.

After the passport line I went to the baggage claim. As my bright pink patterned suitcase came down the ramp, I yelped in glee as it landed on top of someone else’s case. The joy of my suitcase making it all the way couldn’t be stopped — not even when I tried to reach for it and it was so heavy I ended up landing facefirst on the pile of bags and started moving with them. Instead of taking a joyride on the baggage carousel, I fell. Wise move on my part, as the man down the light watched and then grabbed it for me.

I wasn’t going to let this deter me as I headed out to the lobby, triumphant from 20-some odd hours of travel time. I wheeled out to the throngs of people with signs, flowers and balloons, looking for Ron, the guy who had been bugging me practically every day for the past three years to show up and who was supposed to pick me up.

Frustrated, I turned on the wifi on my phone, wondering how long it would take. When it finally activated, I found a message waiting for me from Ron: He wouldn’t be there. He had a cold. I was on my own. Sorry.

I was arriving with the assumption that someone would come and help me. I didn’t have the first idea of where to go. Plus he had the most important linchpin of this plan: A cell phone. I simply couldn’t travel without one.

As I approached the cell phone counter, I was flush with anger: Here was a person for three years talked such a game about all he wanted to do when I got there and begging me to come and how he was so alone. Yet the minute I needed him, there was nothing. It reminded me too much of the past.

Negotiating a deal with the girl at the counter for a makeshift Nokia phone, the bright fluorescent lights got to me. As she went through the rental agreements and mintues, my brain started to shift, wondering if there was time to ball up and cry. The girl sensed this as my eyes darted around.

“You want a glass of water?” she asked nicely.

It was simple, sweet, yet the kindest thing I was experiencing at this moment. I said yes, relieved as she poured me a glass and I downed it like a shot of vodka. She laughed.

“You want more?” she said. I nodded again and she laughed harder. “Just call me the bartender!”

“So do you know how I get to Jerusalem from here?” I asked. I was too reliant on Ron to know how that I didn’t have a clue.

“Just take the Sheirut. It’s right outside. Go out and turn right.”

I messaged all the others in my group with my cell phone number and decided not all was lost. Instead, I called my friend Brad, who I wasn’t supposed to see until Friday when we headed towards Tsfat. He was just as flabbergasted as I was.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “What kind of friend would do that?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I just need help getting to the hostel. I’m going to take a Sheirut to the Old City. Can you meet me at the hostel?”

“Sure! What hostel?”

“The Heritage House, women’s side.”

“Not a problem. See you soon.”

I closed my flip phone and then headed out the sliding glass doors of the aiport, approaching the the Sheirut.

“How do I get to the Old City?” I asked.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Kotel?”

He shook his head, and I almost lost it until the nice Orthodox lady next to me said softly, “Jaffa Gate is probably the best way in.” Her husband, with a snowy white beard, nodded. I pulled my luggage to the back of the van and thanked them all for their help.

As I sat down on the bus, I began to cry. How could he leave me by myself? It wasn’t like I had been in Israel recently and knew exactly what to do. However, I had to accept that with traveling alone came certain ramifications — including how to deal with a situation and keep moving. Within that hour of finding out Ron wouldn’t be there, I seemed to go through all the five stages of acceptance in order, and decided to celebrate this by plugging into my music.

As the Sheirut began making its stops, almost like a miracle I saw it. There was no fanfare, unlike the last time I was here. All I saw was that Dome of the Rock shining in the sun, that indicator of my arrival in Israel,after 15 years of absence. As it disappeared from my sight, it was like being exposed to an intoxicating smell and then being removed. My eyes were hungry for it.

As I got off at Jaffa Gate, I hadn’t realized how I far I had to drag this heavy suitcase. It was bad enough in Los Angeles, but now it was ridiculous. I moved down the walkway, watching the Israelis try to corner me so I could go with them (and not trusting them), eyeing a cart with tasty breads walking through the gate. Still mystified, I pulled into the Ministry of Tourism, desperately trying to figure out where to go, and called Brad again.

“Did you pass by the guy with the bread cart?” he asked. Only in Jerusalem would this be a discernable marker as to where to go.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Just keep going straight. I’m going to come meet you.”

As I kept moving forward, another Israeli tried to pull me over. As I was dealing with a heavy suitcase going uphill, I couldn’t outrun him as he was trying to get me to come into his shop.

“No, come, sit, meet my brother,” he said. “We’re not going to pressure you to buy anything.” (I learned later this means, “We are SO going to pressure you to buy something.”)

Just as if it was a saving grace came Brad, wearing his tzit-tzit and new yalmulke. As if to ward off the shopkeepers, I gave him a giant hug.

“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to hug,” he said. Shomer negiah, or the practice of more religious men and women not touching one another, didn’t matter to me at that moment. I was no longer alone, and that meant everything.

He grabbed my suitcase as I took my carry-on bag and purse and went in search of the hostel. We wandered through the tan archways as he told me about all the different places we were passing and where his friends lived. So imagine my surprise when we got to the hostel and it was closed for another two hours.

“Not to worry!” Brad said. “I have this friend. We can drop off your bags there.”

“How long have you known him?” I asked.

“About a week.”

“Seriously?”

“You have to understand something. Things operate… differently here in the Old City. Here, watch.”

He ran up the stains and knocked asking for the man of the house. Brad greeted him and two of his daughters and explained the predicament. The man, cleanshaven but wearing a black felt yamulke, nodded his head. I pulled my suitcase up the stairs.

“I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to come in,” I said.

“His wife is here,” Brad said. “It’s okay.”

As we walked in, I warmly greeted the man and his wife, who was wearing a long black skirt and a turquoise head shawl, and thanked them profusely for their help in leaving my bags there until the hostel opened.

“It’s nothing,” the wife said warmly. “Don’t worry.”

As we left, Brad looked at his watch. “I don’t want to abandon you, but I made an appointment with this man about his yeshiva,” he said. “I know you want to go to the Kotel…”

“Brad, you’ve done more than enough,” I replied. “Just point to me where it is.”

He led me towards the steps and we agreed he would call me when he was done so he could continue to tour me around Jerusalem. As I approached, I felt this overwhelming sense of dread. And as I got to the stairs overlooking the square, my body seemed to be in disbelief. It didn’t want to feel it, but it was true. After over 7,000 miles, I finally came home.

The view of the Kotel was incredible, the sky as blue as any that had come over Los Angeles. As I approached, I placed my friends’ notes in the wall, making sure their prayers got answered first, before it came to my turn. My hands touched it and it was as smooth as I remembered it. It smelled of earth and age. And as I pressed my lips to it and shed the tears I needed to cry, it was like my soul was finally at rest.

I stood there for what seemed like forever, praying for my family and friends, falling in love all over again. All problems, home or here, seemed to fall away. My past was done for this moment. And as I sat and looked at the wall and that deep blue sky where it had been raining only 24 hours earlier, I realized my arrival to Jerusalem was far from perfect. However, it found its own beauty along the way, and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

High School Remembered

About a month ago, a girl who I went to high school with was killed in a motorcycle accident on the northbound 405 freeway. The girls from my high school who I’m friends with on Facebook started putting out meaningful consolations to this girl as standing memorials.

And I couldn’t remember her.

This girl was in my 2000 graduating class at Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif. We were in choir together, which was my biggest high school activity. We probably had classes together too. And still… nothing. I felt like a callous, heartless human being.

It has been almost 14 years since I graduated from high school. It made sense that a lot of the people who I knew would be lost to time. They would off living their own lives in their respective corners of the universe. As I looked at the big smile in her Facebook photo, I kept pushing my brain to grab a memory. I should have remembered something about this girl. But nothing came.

High school was its own form of nightmare for me. I didn’t have many friends, and although everyone knew me, I never fit in. I was smart and stubborn, not afraid to stand up for what I thought was right. Teachers were threatened by my rebelliousness, as it didn’t come in a standard “bad girl” package. They were only interested if you were a good girl interested in math or science; boxes that I could never fit in, not when I loved political science, psychology and English, specifically writing.

It was like a fluorescent dull room where I had to wait for my life to start. After I stood in front of 3,000 people to give a high school graduation speech that stole the show (more than a girl with a 2.9 GPA could ask for), I wove my lucky scarf from Jerusalem to my family in the stands as a sign of victory. I was leaving this place and never looking back.

People went off to college, got married and started having kids. We spread out to all the corners of the earth. For a while, I kept in touch with some of the people from high school. But they eventually disappeared, too. They found me later on Facebook, but it wasn’t like they were my bosom buddies. They were just there.

Several teachers, including my favorite English teacher, died suddenly. Others retired to different parts of the country. One teacher got suspended for pushing a kid into a door, only to find he had a history of abusing students. They were too scared to come forward before that point.

That last story was shared with a good friend of mine from high school over Christmas Eve at a bar in the San Fernando Valley, drinking mulled wine and nibbling at a cheese plate. It was the only piece of gossip I had from the past. Meanwhile, that girl knew everything about the others, from how all the super-rich girls were now pregnant at the same time to my high school nemesis killing another classmate in a drunk driving accident shortly after we graduated. Although we never really hung out in high school, I enjoyed spending time with her in our post-college worlds.

It reminded me of a month before this girl died. I announced on Facebook I was going back to Israel in March after a traumatic experience there at 17. A girl who knew me back then asked me about the incident, and I told her honestly. She said to me, “I had no idea you were going through something so hard. It makes me feel so bad I didn’t know and couldn’t help you.”

All these things made me sit back and wonder: Who and where was I in this post-high school world? Did my previous life and these people mean nothing to me at all?

From 18 onward, I felt like I was running. I never stopped, from college to moving out, then on to marriage and an eventual divorce. Every time I came back to Thousand Oaks, all I could think of was getting out again. It was everything that was against my nature: conservative, straight-laced and Christian, where families were overly concerned with your kid getting on the football team or being a part of the national-ranking dance and choir programs instead of the problems of the world at large. There was an overt obsession with how many AP classes you could take, what UC school you would get into, how perfect you could be.

Meanwhile, there was me, cutting my hair short and wearing red lipstick, long flowy skirts and tank tops. My nickname was “Trouble” and I was busy in class ignoring the teachers and writing poetry into different notebooks, holding my pens as if they were cigarettes even though I never smoked, chewing on the ends while thinking. Hating my homework, I would go home and sit for hours on the computer crafting a novel idea or a script for my video class. I had dreams of creativity and fantasy in a town where dreams were meant for cookie-cutter lives. Every time I went into Los Angeles to visit family was like blissful release.

I hated Thousand Oaks, a hatred that caused me to run, and every time I had to come back it was like a punishment for being a naughty rebellious girl. When I eventually moved away, I paid the price: My parents would never come to visit me, and I was like a pariah. I was alone and forced to make a new family for myself. And when it came down to it, I was willing to do anything to prevent myself from going back, even end up in a horrible marriage.

After one more living situation in Thousand Oaks after the divorce, I settled down in Los Angeles. The smog-filled air was more delicious than any I would see in that suburban town, the people filled with big dreams like mine and a determination that had always ran through my blood. But as the death of that girl filled my eyes, and I looked around at all my Facebook friends who still were friends with the girls they grew up with, I wondered where I was in that universe.

I called my best friend, who I loved and knew since college.

“I feel so strange that I have no real connection to anyone I knew in high school,” I told her. “Like, I disappeared off the map on purpose. Her place in the world makes me wonder about mine, because it seemed like all the old high school people stayed together.”

“You decided to go someplace better,” she said. “It’s okay not to follow the crowd.”

“Did that time in my life mean nothing to me? It was almost like my high school was just my college waiting room. You’d think I’d remember something.”

“You do. You remember getting chosen to speak graduation. You remember how awesome it felt to be leaving. You remember how much joy singing with your classmates in the choir gave you. Those are all the things you’ve told me.”

So one morning, I opened up my yearbook and found the girl who died. I saw her face and remembered her in the girls’ choir, wearing what I referred to as the “bridesmaid dresses from hell” of lavender lace with matching gloves and pearls. Her shy smile hidden behind her long brown curls came to the front of my mind.

It brought me back for a second, and then reminded me of what I was now. Everyone else could hold on to the precious vestibules of those memories, and it was their choice. My choice was chase the path of dreams and fantasy away from the place where I grew up, and let the rebellion that I began there still feed my soul. My closest friends may not be the people I grew up with; however, they weren’t people I clung to because of shared pasts but because of present joys. I revel in my eccentricities, and sure the mean girls are still around in different forms. But their voices were turned down on the radio of my mind so I could find true happiness.

So that morning, I put on a flowy skirt and walked down Venice Boulevard to write on my computer for hours in the local coffee shop. Time has a way of moving forward, but despite the years, some things never change.