why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 1}

My freshman year of college, I had a huge crush on a boy who lived in my dorm. Let’s call him M. He was friendly and witty, with a crinkle-eyed smile, and talked about world issues and politics like no one I had met before. These were the days before wireless Internet and smartphones, back when you could only watch TV on actual televisions, and not everyone had TVs in their dorm rooms. The girls across the hall from me had a TV, and their room became the “hang-out spot” on our wing, and M would often come upstairs from the boys’ floor to watch sports games in the afternoons. Our dorm rooms were shoeboxes, and we kept our doors open for the illusion of more space. I’d be working on a homework assignment at my desk and I could hear his shouts and groans and cheers from across the hall. We started talking. We became friends; to my surprise, he became one of my best friends. And I quickly developed a crush on him. This was no secret to anyone in our friendship group.

Looking back, I smile at how naïve I was. I went away to college without my first kiss. Everything I knew about romance and relationships had been culled from YA books, rom coms, and the Disney channel. I whole-heartedly believed that when two people liked each other, they would start dating. Simple and easy as that. One night, when we were all piled in the room across the hall watching a movie, I was sitting next to M and he held my hand. I went to bed that night with shooting stars in my belly, certain that this meant we were now dating.

But it meant no such thing. The next day, when M sauntered into the room across the hall to watch a baseball game, his perfunctory greeting made it clear he was going to act like nothing had happened. I felt silly and embarrassed. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. This was college, after all. People probably went around holding hands all the time. I told myself to get over it; he obviously just thought of me as a friend.

Time marched on. We had long conversations about random things. We laughed about inside jokes. Every time I would feel sure that this was it, we were friends and nothing more, and I was okay with that—something would happen that would make my heart flutter anew with hope. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I marched down to his dorm room, knocked on the door, and unequivocally stated that I liked him as more than just a friend. I remember how he stared at me, his expression unreadable. “I have to think about things,” he told me. “I’ll get back to you.” Like I had invited him to a birthday party and he had to check his calendar.

But he never did get back to me. We didn’t talk about it again. The turning point came after the Handholding Incident 2.0, when he kissed me after a party and then acted like nothing had happened when I saw him the next day. I decided that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, ballooning with hope and then breaking my own heart over and over again.

I’m done, I wrote in my diary. I’m over him, once and for all. And I compiled a list of all the reasons why we would never work.

“I’m done,” I told my friends. I remember this moment vividly—a Sunday evening in my dorm room, the streetlights blinking on outside my window, the door closed for once so no one walking by would hear our conversation. “I’m going to find a guy who actually wants to be with me and doesn’t play these stupid games. And someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late.” My friends braided my hair and handed me cookies they’d snuck out from the dining hall and assured me that one day he would grow up and realize how dumb he had been to let me go.

In that moment, I desperately wanted to be “the one that got away.” I wanted him to yearn for me the way I was yearning for him; to hurt the way my heart was hurting. Looking back now, it almost feels like I cast a spell that day. If my life were a novel, our narrator would step in right now and warn, Be careful what you wish for…

The rest of freshman year carried on. I forced my feelings to ebb away, and gradually they listened. I dated a few other guys. By the time we moved out of the dorms, I genuinely felt nothing more than friendship for M. It only stung a little to hear him talk about the beautiful girl he had a crush on in one of his classes; I even helped him pick out a gift to give her on the last day of class. Whenever those voices in the back of my head would pop up, sneering that he didn’t like me because I wasn’t pretty enough, cool enough, smart enough, I would look back at my diary entry and say the words like a promise: One day, he’ll look back and regret it. I’ll be “the one who got away”…

Summer waned and we returned to school for our sophomore year, excited to be living in off-campus apartments with balconies and kitchens. {By this time, I had developed an entirely new huge crush on another guy who would alternately woo and shatter my hopeful heart, but that’s a whole ’nother story.} I was so happy that I had finally let go of my pointless feelings for M, because it felt like we were legit friends now. He was the guy friend who insisted on walking me the couple blocks from his apartment to mine late at night; who came over and made me soup that time I got a really bad case of the flu; who gave me a guy’s honest opinion when I was trying to pick out an outfit for a date. He laughed at my silly stories and listened to my ideas. Now that I no longer cared about trying to make him fall in love with me, I was just myself around him. It was freeing to hang out without over-analyzing every little thing he said and did, searching for clues about his “real feelings” for me.

Then, one night, he came over and said exactly the words I had wanted to hear from him the year before…

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever. Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. 😉

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

Céline, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

sautéing my way through grief

Hi everyone! I wanted to share with you a piece I have published on Modern Loss, about how cooking has been a helpful grieving process for me in the aftermath of my dear friend Céline’s death. You can read the piece on Modern Loss here, which also includes a few of my favorite recipes.

The first week after my friend Céline died in a car accident, I barely ate at all. I was too consumed by grief to even think about food.

The second week, my appetite was back and I craved junk. Potato chips, cookies, greasy burgers. You know, college food — which, in a way, made sense.

Ten years before she died, I met Céline on the very first day of college, as I was unpacking my clothes and trying to suppress my anxiety. Céline knocked on my door. She said she lived across the hall and asked if I wanted a popsicle. I chose cherry; she picked orange. Then we sat on my bed and chatted. With her stylish asymmetrical haircut and dangly earrings, she seemed way too cool to be my friend — I figured we would be dorm-acquaintances before drifting apart sophomore year. But that was okay. Céline had a wonderful warm presence that you were just grateful to bask in for as long as you could…

Read the rest of the piece here.

 

Here are some other posts I’ve written about grief:

dear celine, this is how you made me feel

celine

This is Celine. She was one of my best friends, and on Monday I found out that she died in a car accident. I can’t quite believe I’m writing about her in the past tense. I’m having an extremely difficult time believing that she is gone. It all seems surreal and incomprehensible and just plain wrong. Her brother Cameron was in the car with her, and he is in critical condition — please send your prayers and love to him and their entire family. ❤

Celine was one of the most vibrant, joyful, loving and beautiful people I’ve ever known, and I want to tell you about her.

me and celine

She was the first friend I made in college, on move-in day in the dorms. Her dorm room was kitty-corner from mine. My parents had left and I was sitting on my new dorm-room bed, feeling a little bit sad and scared and alone in my new life, when Celine came in with a box of popsicles and asked if I wanted one. We started talking, and I learned she grew up in L.A. and had a younger brother around the same age as mine. I felt comfortable with her right away — she had a genuine smile and a contagious laugh, and she was so expressive you wanted to keep swapping stories with her forever. That day, she looked so sophisticated in a newsboy cap and colorful sunglasses, and I remember thinking, “This girl is waaaay too cool to want to be friends with me. I’ll just ride this wave as long as it lasts!” Later, once I realized she actually *did* want to be my friend, for reals, I told her about my first impression. 🙂 We would joke about that throughout our friendship.

me and celine milkshakes

It is probably not an exaggeration to say I spent as much time in Celine’s dorm room that first year as I did in my own. We ended up living together throughout college, and all of us shared so much more than just an apartment. Those girls were my second family. We shared meals and clothes and shoes and makeup; we celebrated holidays together; we threw the most fun themed parties of my life; we whiled away hours and hours discussing everything from crushes to politics to High School Musical, sharing stories from our pasts and daydreams for our future; and oh, boy we laughed. We laughed so, so much. I feel incredibly grateful that I found such special people to share college with.

roomie party

all the ladies soph year

Celine was a true original; a bright light; fearless and colorful and brave. She was goofy and funny and FUN. Celine’s authenticity brought people together in the best way. She taught me to be proud of the silly parts of myself; that I can be a serious and determined person yet also retain a childlike enthusiasm about the world. She taught me that often it’s the little things — the jotted notes, the inside jokes, the impromptu dance parties — that are really the big things. And she taught me that life isn’t just about being productive and “accomplishing” things and checking items off my daily to-do list. Sometimes — actually, most of the time — the most important thing to do today is to enjoy it, to have fun, to make ridiculous and beautiful and spontaneous memories with the people you love.

goofy roomie photo

Celine loved fashion, and she was such a talented designer. Our senior year, she sewed a whole ensemble of clothing for a fashion show benefit to combat malaria. I like to remember her sewing away on our living room floor as we all watched DVDs of The Office and did homework. I’ve never thought of myself as very fashionable, but she helped me feel confident in myself. She was always delighted to help pick out an outfit for a date, or a special event, or simply an ordinary Monday. We had many fashion shows in our apartment. Celine could pull off any outfit with pizazz. I think of her wearing an American flag sweater and colorful socks, and looking perfectly chic and perfectly her.

She *made* that dress!!

She *made* that dress!!

Yet along with her wonderfully zany side, Celine also had a quieter side. She was a terrific listener. She never judged. She made you feel safe and supported. Freshman year of college, when I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I remember fleeing to her room, sobbing, and she hugged me as I cried. Another time, when I was feeling down on myself because “no boys were ever going to like me EVER” she played me this song, “Somebody’s Baby” by Phantom Planet, saying it made her think of me because I was “so awesome that guys probably just assume you’re already taken.” I still smile and think of her when I hear that song.

Celine saw the very best in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself.

me and celine

Junior year, Celine and Holly studied abroad in Paris at the same time I studied abroad in England, and they came to visit me one weekend.

in london

Then I visited them for a week during my spring break. That week in Paris remains one of the happiest, best weeks of my life.

me holly celine in paris

Celine loved France — she was proud of her French-Canadian heritage and spoke fluent French — and she especially loved Paris. In college, she talked frequently about her dreams of moving to Paris and going to fashion school. And after we graduated, that is exactly what she did. She studied at the Parsons Paris School of Art & Design and ended up working for the Paris College of Art, a job that took her all around the world. I can’t begin to express how proud I was of her. So many people talk about their dreams, but never do anything to make them real. Celine was actually living her dream. She made it happen.

me and celine in Paris

I was lucky to get to visit Celine in Paris once, a few years ago. It was exciting to get a taste of her life there. She was a terrific tour guide, excited to show the city she loved to the people she loved. One thing I always admired about Celine was that she was always herself, and our friendship remained a comforting touchstone even as so many other things about our lives changed. In a cafe in Paris, we giggled together the same way we had in our apartment living room in Los Angeles.

holly surprise party

Even though the miles and time zones between us made our communication less frequent, I always knew Celine loved me, and I hope she knew I loved her. She was there for me for the big things. Like when I broke up with my fiance, she Skyped with me for two hours, even though it was incredibly late Paris time and she had to work in the morning. She laughed and talked with me about random old memories until I felt better.

me and celine xmas

And those times that we *were* able to see each other, we picked up right where we left off. Celine came to visit me soon after I moved to the Bay Area, and we pretty much talk-talk-talked for three days straight. It felt like we were living together again. That visit was such a gift.

20131025_154036

The last time I saw her was in late May, right before my birthday. She was in San Francisco with a couple friends from France, and the two of us met up for brunch. I had a cold, and I remember wondering whether I should cancel; I didn’t want to spread my germs to Celine, or to anyone else my path would cross on my commute into the city. But we were able to see each other so rarely that I thought, “Screw the germs, I’m going!” And my God, I’m so grateful I did. We had a lovely visit, chatting in the sunshine over hot coffee and tea and scones, and before we hugged goodbye in the Bart station I remembered to snap a photo, this one:

me and celine bart station

We’d emailed some since then, and in the last email she sent me, Celine asked if I could resend her the link where I post my short stories online, because she wanted “some reading from my favorite writer!!” She was always so supportive of my writing, and in the wake of her passing I feel a renewed commitment to pursue my dreams with zeal and determination, in her honor.

Celine only graced this world for 26 years, yet she touched SO many people’s lives with the bright light of her spirit. Quite simply, she made others feel seen, and heard, and happy, and loved.

how you made them feel

Our friend Jess put it so well in these words to Celine: “It’s hard to explain how much fun we had and how much living the rest of us are going to have to do to make up for your absence.”

college football game

Holly did too: “Love knows no tense.”

me hol celine

Dear Celine, I miss you. I love you. I will forever be grateful for the spectacular gift of being your friend.

celine dogpile

grad caps and gowns

me and celine goofy

me and celine halloween

goals + meal plan for the week of 10/20

Happy Sunday, friends! How is your weekend going? It’s another gorgeous day here in the Bay Area. I love autumn! I think I’m going to bake another pumpkin pie today, or maybe some gluten-free pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies … nothing says … Continue reading