I’m obsessed with the prior lives we’ve led. And the older I get the more I’m convinced I could never be in a relationship with anyone who hasn’t endured change, hardship, heartache and reincarnation (personal, professional and/or emotional reincarnation. I’m not talking about dating the big J.C.) In 33 years I’ve filled the book of my life with multiple chapters. It’s overwhelming to think about the friends, places, relationships, stories and jobs…and I have many more pages to write.
My past lives have been sprinkled across the country, in different companies, with diverse groups of friends and a few ex-boyfriends (not to mention ex-pets). A San Francisco Bay Area chapter. A Los Angeles chapter. An Indiana chapter. The first Chicago chapter. A very brief Washington, D.C. chapter. And currently? Chicago Part Deux.
My San Francisco Bay Area chapter built my foundation. I was born and raised in Hayward, California – a city a few miles from Oakland. My mom took us to museums, plays and concerts and shaped our love of art and music. My brother is a supremely talented artist. I, with the practical name and overly analytical mind, would spend my afternoons in the library reading the encyclopedia about everything from World War I to infectious diseases. (I had once dreamed about being a librarian because I thought the Dewey decimal system was fascinating.) I was in marching band and endured hours of speech therapy to overcome a lisp. The only thing that saved me from spiraling into complete social oblivion was my athleticism. I grew at a rate much faster than kids my age and loved sports. My brother joked that I was the son my dad had always wanted. I was an avid spectator and participant. My father would videotape my basketball games and force me to watch tape before hitting the local playground to practice free throws. Seeing as I am not currently in the WNBA, that time spent did not elevate my game to elite status; however, it served as a great bonding experience for me and my dad.
I was a college athlete during my Los Angeles chapter. I was desperate to leave home but too scared to leave the state. I ended up at my first choice for college. A beautiful campus filled with even more beautiful people. And in walked the tall awkward girl whose mom bought her clothes, didn’t know how to use makeup and had never had her eyebrows waxed. I received an education in Southern California etiquette immediately. Clothes? Shorts and miniskirts. Eyebrows? We’ll need to do something about those. Conversation? Don’t mention the encyclopedias or marching band. Friends? I found them in an unexpected place. I joined the rowing team my first week on campus and the rest was history. I worked out twice a day, six days a week. Each night I’d set my alarm clock for 5:13 am and developed a system of getting out of the house in less than 20 minutes. I’d spend almost every morning on the water and built some of the best relationships of my life. I walked onto USC’s campus never having touched an oar and left as a varsity athlete. Whenever I get frightened of a task, I think back to college. I always tell people if I can get through rowing, I can get through anything.
People often ask me why I moved to Indiana for law school. I received in-state tuition. But, beyond a nice discount, when I went to visit the campus, I felt like I was at home. I just knew it was the right place. And it was. I love(d) my school. I actually enjoyed law school. I met great people who went on to be inspiring, successful and supportive. I stayed in Indiana after graduation because I fell in love. I moved up to Indianapolis, bought a condo at 25 and started my big firm job. And in Indiana I discovered being an adult was really hard and no one had adequately prepared me for it. My job was demanding and I had no idea how to handle being an associate at a large firm. (I constantly pray for anyone who supervised me during those years.) I was entitled, pretentious and annoying. I became humbled in multiple ways. I endured a horrible experience which changed me forever (I’ve written about it here). I also experienced my first huge heartbreak. That did not change me forever – it did, however, leave me in Indianapolis with a condo and in need of an exit strategy.
The big exit came in the form of a job in Chicago at a large international law firm. I spent the first few weeks in awe that I was even hired. After I received the job offer, I would check my phone every day for the voice mail explaining that they had made a mistake and didn’t mean to hire me. My first stint in Chicago was very different than my current experience. I was in a relationship and very much domesticated. Like many couples, my life was completely enmeshed with someone else’s. I was used to home cooked meals, Friday nights in and Sunday trips to the grocery store.
Washington D.C. was a whirlwind. I landed and all hell broke loose. I was an emotional wreck the entire time I lived there. I quickly dived into drinking, dating and insanity. I’m continuously amazed that people who met me in D.C. actually keep in contact with me. It was a tragic, disruptive and manic chapter. And I regret none of it.
A little over a year ago, I started a new Chicago chapter. It’s entirely different than the first time around. Not better or worse but different.
And within those chapters I built lives with different men. I have had multiyear relationships. And in those relationships I became a “we”. We had friends, routines, and a life. A life that belonged to us. A life that was one of a kind. A life that was fully formed and richly lived. And at some point during that life there was a hope that the relationship would go the distance. At some point during that life there was a sense of relief that the search was over. There was a moment during that life where I let off the gas pedal, opened up my heart and believed that this was my person. Alas, reality stepped in and that life ended. And now, that life is a memory. That life exists in old Facebook pictures and infrequent probing from my parents. Once every 6-9 months my mom will ask “Have you spoken to [fill in the blank]?” And the answer is always the same.
All those past lives contained in the chapters of my life have helped forge the ongoing story of me. These chapters serve as helpful reminders of the past. I learn the lessons from the mistakes. I smile at the good times. I build upon unfinished storylines. But most importantly, I don’t re-read chapters with longing and regret. Rather I skim the hard parts, highlight the great parts and memorize the important parts in preparation for my current chapter.
P.S. I made you a playlist. This playlist has everything (said in Stefon voice) – Frank Ocean, the Walkmen, Demi Lovato, Kanye, Catfish and the Bottleman (seriously, get into them), Modest Mouse, DJ Khaled and Hilary Duff (because why not?)