My dad tells the same stories over and over. One of them is about a family garage sale.
It’s a humid Indiana morning. I imagine my mother straightening the old clothes while my father manages the money. My sisters played in the driveway. I am not yet born.
A woman approached my father and started to haggle about the price of a porcelain owl lamp. It was white, with a golden shade. The price sticker says $1.
“I’ll give you fifty cents for it,” she said.
“Well, actually it’s a dollar,” he responded.
“No one is gonna give you that much for it.”
After another minute of this, dad held the lamp out at arm’s length, said “well, I’ll tell you what,” and then purposefully dropped it on the concrete, shattering it into a thousand pieces at her feet.
I don’t know why I love that story so much. Perhaps because it is so out of character for my kind, gentle father. Maybe because it’s so funny and it makes me think of how many times I have wanted to do the same thing.
Years after that garage sale, when I was in high school and my sister was a freshman in college, I went to visit her and stay overnight in a dorm for the first time. She took me to a fraternity party, where I choked down the first few sips of beer I had ever tasted. I remember it being sour and barely cold, so after those few sips, I left the cup on a table and walked away from it.
I had never seen anything like that party, in a basement with tattered couches and shoulder-to-shoulder people. I remember feeling relieved when my sister and I made our way to the dance floor. With a sudden burst of confidence, I pushed my way into the center of the circle of sweaty college students, and I started serving up my moves.
I am and always have been a bit of a terror on a dancefloor. I am a herky-jerky hurricane, with what some might call a Rain Man-like memory for song lyrics and choreography. And there, in the middle of that fraternity house basement, I turned it out. I flipped and squirmed and popped and offered up my best interpretation of exactly what crime Julio and his friends committed down by that schoolyard.
As we walked out the door, our ears ringing, one of the brothers came up to me and told me that I had an automatic bid to their fraternity when I got to college in a few years.
When I got back home, I tried to write the story of how I felt at that party: attractive and talented and popular, maybe for the first time. It was 1997, blogs didn’t exist yet, and I spent my free time teaching myself HTML so I could have my own website.
There was this growing culture of storytellers in those early days of the internet, and I wanted so desperately to belong. It is my first memory of sitting down to write, but I could never tell the story the way I wanted. So I gave up.
I turn 30 on Monday. I’m not sad about getting older, but a big birthday has made me think about all the ways my life has turned out differently than I planned.
I thought that I’d have published a book or two by now, and maybe have opened in a couple shows on Broadway. I imagined I would have sleeve tattoos and a Lower Manhattan walk-up with a killer view and a chocolate labrador named Rex that someone else walked for me twice a day when I was out doing press events.
Now that my life is built on telling stories, I understand why my dad is so repetitive. For the rest of my life, I imagine I’ll be telling versions of the same story about community and connection, about vulnerability as a confidence, about grief and celebration and the ways that life is never not funny.
Here at the end of three decades, my life has gotten tiny. It has been carved down to fit mostly within a one square mile radius. There is no New York City apartment or book deal. There is no chocolate lab. I don’t have a single tattoo.
My worries about getting older are as unremarkable as anyone else’s: that I will never learn how to make money, that I will lose my friends, that my book ideas will never become manuscripts or that my manuscripts will sit unpublished, that I will be buried under all the stuff that I had to have, that I will never have children, that I will someday not have my parents, that I will one day forget completely how I felt on that crowded basement dance floor.
But as my life has gotten whittled down, there has been an unexpected joy: that the wood shavings of who I used to be have gathered on the ground where I walk. They have formed a kind of cushion for my feet. I am a bit older now, and I don’t remember song lyrics the way I used to, but I can still dance. I can definitely still dance.