If evolution is all about altering the facets of what you once were so that you can become who you need to be, I think I might be evolving. And I can only hope that one day there’s a life-size model of me standing beside the skeleton of the T-Rex in the Museum of Natural History and that the model is wearing a cute and flowy summer dress and strappy sandals with a five-inch heel and that there’s a Tab clutched in one hand and a Diet Coke gripped tightly in another because everythingevolves, even diet soda, and that pink can of Tab will hopefully match my outfit though, growth aside, I still mostly wear black. But how perfectly will that pink soda can work as a pop of color?
It’s sometimes hard to track changes. Life moves in speeds that can feel both plodding and then wildly frantic and everything is more or less cyclical and I have spent a lot of time cautioning myself that yes, I will definitely continue to make some mistakes, but they’d better be different mistakes than the ones I’ve already made twice. I guess there’s just something about fucking up in a novel way that makes me feel okay about things in the way that repeating patterns and trying to fling my arms around opportunities that have already drifted away connotes failure. And I think realizing that I don’t need to live my days without missteps has started to make me feel more free.
Some of the changes are so minute, I’m not sure anyone besides me would even notice them. I have always sneezed in threes but now I’m sneezing in twos. I have always loved tomatoes, but they are just not doing it for me anymore and, though it’s taken me months to accept it, I have finally stopped buying packages of them that I just keep throwing away, though I think it’s nice that the local raccoons and deer have been fortunate enough to eat more vegetables as they uncover my tossed stash. I have finally found the perfect eyeliner. I have learned the art of patience, and not just in theory.
It was my full expectation that I would become less patient as I got older, and I guess in some respects I have. I’m less patient about how I spend my time and the people I spend it with. If there’s a person I want nothing to do with, I won’t even entertain the notion of trying to trudge my way through an interaction; I just won’t have one. If there’s a person who doesn’t bring something unique or valuable to my life, I don’t need that person in my life. If there are sets of rules in place in a given scenario that I had no involvement in setting up and I question their relevance, I don’t even pretend to follow those rules anymore.
When someone new enters your life, you kind of have to start at the beginning. You reveal aspects of your personality and you watch as they reveal theirs. You tell stories that you have already told to other people countless times before and you get a new sense of whether the stories even work as an anecdote anymore because there actually can be an expiration date on a story and it’s always better to cut it from your repertoire if it’s gone stale. You sift through the bad memories and only trot out the ones that are entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. You get to wonder if this very second of the present might lead to an interesting future.
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I would rather eat creamed cauliflower while pretending it’s mashed potatoes (my mother tried to pull off that shit for years) than be stuck in a situation in which I feel uncomfortable. I’ve got an arsenal of tricks up my sleeve that allow me to book from one of those sticky environments in under fifteen minutes flat, but I hate having to pull one of them out and having to decide which one I should use. I find blaming cramps is always a good way to go but I also find that my real cramps become far more excruciating than usual after I’ve lied about having fake cramps. It would really be lovely if my uterus were fully on my side, but I almost respect it for standing up for itself.
Just a few weeks ago, a bunch of my friends from college and I got together in New Jersey. We were trying to locate somewhere that constituted as “the middle” in terms of travel, though journeying over the George Washington Bridge immediately adds an extra forty minutes to any trip so I believe I traveled the farthest. None of that mattered though, or at least it didn’t once I walked in the front door of my best friend’s house and had some coffee as she prepared for the arrival of three other girls. I guess they’re women now, but I’ll always see them as girls. I met one of them when I was only seventeen and the others before I turned twenty. I lived with almost all of them for at least a year. I have seen each one hung way over and completely devastated and positively joyful and incensed with rage. I have watched them suffer brief moments of an existential crisis as they wonder what any of this might all be for. I have hugged their parents and dried their tears and shared with them some of my darkest fears as the emotion flowed out of me along with some really salty tears.
I have been in many states and many cities with them. I have been on beaches and in bars and in movie theatres and on street corners with them. I have seen these girls at every single hour of the day. I know which ones look almost animated in their beauty first thing in the morning and I know which ones need just a little bit of powder before they are wiling to face the rest of the world. I know what they drink and what they won’t eat and what their superstitions are and they know mine.
I have slept in a bed with every single one of them.
But all of that shared history aside, the five of us haven’t been in the same room together for a good long time. The separation we’ve experienced is due to life – bumpy, inconvenient, busy life – and I suppose there was a part of me that felt some anxiousness about how it all would feel once we regrouped. We’re kind of different now, you see. Once a solid unit, there are now factions that have developed. Some of us speak to one another more than others. Some of them know just about everything about my daily life and some of them only know the major shit. But I think, in spite of all of it, I’d trust every single one of them with my life or my boyfriend or my future.
The old me – the less evolved me – might have run different scenarios in my head before the event. I might have imagined conversations and greetings. I easily could have overanalyzed everything, including what kind of bagels would be served. The old me analyzed a lot. She was very good at analyzing. She understood subtext and she avoided information she thought might hurt her.
She was more than a little bit foolish, more than a little bit cowardly.
The evolved me cares less about the past and more about the now. I’ve released resentments and questions I have no answers to and the belief that every single person will act and react in the same ways that I do along with the misguided notion that my way is the way that makes sense. And the letting go and the acknowledgment that I haven’t always done things in a way that has best served me or those in my personal stratosphere has been liberating.
Of course, the moment we were all together, it was as though time hadn’t passed at all. Catching up felt effortless and conversations moved quickly because there’s still a shorthand that comes with a shared history. You don’t need a punchline when you understand the meaning of an expression. You don’t require an explanation when you see a shrug that you are fully aware connotes a plea for silence.
Maybe one of the things that I love most when I see people I have been apart from for an extended period of time is how they immediately look different to me the second we see one another but then, as we talk and laugh, their faces morph into what they once looked like. It’s not a dramatic rearranging of features but there are expressions we each have that are unequivocally our own and there are ways we each run our fingers through our hair or pull it up into a loose bun while we’re talking or the way some of us punctuate words with hand gestures. There are the unique ways in which we all laugh, like how one of us throws her head back and gets red in the face and how another one has more of a throaty giggle that has always read to me as the kind of thing a guy would find very sexy and the way that my own laugh is the kind of sound that inspires others to laugh at me laughing. And through all of that laughter – which in so many ways serves as a mix-tape of our years together far better than Pearl Jam and Nirvana and R.E.M. ever could – what I mostly focused on was how all of our smiles are still the same and how my friend Alli’s eyes sparkle more twinkly than even a Disney Princess and how Katie’s skin hasn’t changed even a little bit and how Nikki’s hair always gets so streaky and gorgeous in the summer and how Becky is still this petite little thing who could undoubtedly kick your ass if necessary, even while she’s wearing a cute maxi dress and shooing you out of her kitchen when you try to help her clean up.
We talk about new things now. We’re all very passionate about our careers and we all have accomplishments we still want to achieve. We celebrate each other’s success in the way that not every friend of mine over the years has been able or willing to do.
But it’s also undeniable that time has gone by and I guess it makes things foggy sometimes. I pulled out my phone and showed a picture to Nikki and her response was to smile and ask me what the story was there.
“That’s Devin,” I told her blankly, and she laughed for a minute straight because she just thought the guy who had his arm around me in the picture was someone else – like a guy I might be sleeping with – when in fact the guy in the picture was my grown-up brother. The last time she saw him he was a kid and now apparently he looks like someone I could date if I moved to some area near the Appalachian Mountains.
“Tell me about the other guy,” she said then with a smile. She was talking about someone I’d recently hung out with a few times.
“He’s fun. Very smart. Looks like Eddie Vedder,” I responded.
“And?” she replied and I smiled at how she still can drag a word that is only one syllable into one that is about seven syllables.
“That’s it,” I said.
“Nell doesn’t say much until she’s sure,” one of the others said – and she’s right because not everything about me has evolved quite yet.
But perhaps more important at that particular moment than the mandated-by-me silence was the beautiful and shimmering dawning of understanding that someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time still clearly knows me so very well.