You work your way through a an Ivy League college. You go to a top tier law school where you work hard. Excel. You land a job at a prestigious New York law firm. You spend your twenties working, sometimes living in the hotel across the street from your office. You never get to really see the city you moved thousands of miles to experience. You move to California to try and get a life. You get laid off. You get a job. You get laid off again. You haven't dated because you've been working your ass off for a decade.
At 30, you are diagnosed with incurable, inoperable cancer.
The woman I've described is real, a few details tweaked, let's call her Alice. An old friend -- who has known Alice for many years and loves her very much -- is planning ways to spend time with her. I haven't seen my friend in almost 10 years, but tonight we stood on a Manhattan street corner for an hour, talking about life. She's had a lot on her mind. Trying to be a good friend. Struggling to deal with hearing her friend talk about last times.
I have had those conversations, and when you know you're having them -- as opposed to the last conversations you don't know are your last -- you let go of some of the bullshit we put between ourselves and each other to make things hurt less. This is going to hurt like hell. But I'd rather have no regrets -- and tell you how much you were loved -- than protect myself. I have lost a friend like this.
What do you do with the time you have left? When you realize things really are as fleeting, as precarious, as we all pretend they are not... Who are you?
Riding home on the subway, I thought about D., my baby niece. I babysat her today. We went on the swings and the slide in the park. (The slide is very competitive. We didn't fare well.) I made a video of her eating pudding. When she hurt her hand, not only did her mom have to kiss it better, I did too.
I thought about Alice. She wants to do things with her nieces, whether they'll really remember her or not. They are babies.
I would want D. to remember me. To know that I held and and hugged her and kissed her boo boos. That I rocked her to sleep in my arms after some man broke my heart, and promised I'd try to keep her from ever knowing what that felt like. That I let her sleep snuggled against my shoulder, and though it was the cutest thing ever when I woke up to find her looking at me and say "hi." I would want her to know what my voice sounds like. What I like. What I look like. How very much I love her.
Sometimes it's hard to let people in. I've talked about this before. Sometimes just when we decide to open our doors to someone, they slam theirs shut. Or we never even work up the nerve to really show ourselves. Most of our little secrets aren't that sexy, and falling in love involves a lot of illusion, up until it doesn't.
I wrote a list once for an old lover of things he never learned about me that I wish he had.
I'll share some of it here. Little things that show my flaws, my strengths and my quirky nerd side. My softness. My secret regrets and should-haves... My wishes, favorites and near misses. To remember me by.
I don't really like eating fruit very much, but love raspberry sorbet.
Sometimes I drink too much and fall asleep on my couch.
I am afraid of having to raise kids on my own.
I love Greek yogurt with cherries and primate photography.
If I had to do it again, I would have double majored in biology and economics, but I'd still be a writer.
I feel like I wasted a lot of my twenties sometimes.
I sometimes wish Lucy were Harold. I miss him even more than I miss you sometimes.
I used to steal books from the bookstore I worked in.
I subscribe to the newspaper but never read it. I just want to make sure it still exists.
I wish I liked fish and mushrooms.
People think I read a lot more than I do.
I spent months reading trashy online fan fiction when I worked the night shift; I was that unhappy.
I loved things about you that you probably didn't notice about yourself.
A friend once talked to me about wanting to wake up next to his lover every morning and be grateful that he got to be there with her that day, and many others. I thought that about you.
I wish I had a window in my bedroom.
I love cloth-bound books and paperbacks of unusual size.
Sometimes I wish I had become a doctor.
I like my toes but not my fingers.
I love the smell of salt marshes, musk and jasmine.
I felt a little bit smug when the vampires in Twilight wanted to go to Dartmouth.
I have never been able to fall asleep very easily. I'm torn between wanting today to be longer and being afraid of tomorrow sometimes.
I never trust my intuition, but it's usually right.
I love Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" song.
I don't always think $1,000 is too much to spend on the right handbag.
I am afraid of riding in cars in the passenger seat, but not so much in the back. Driving isn't scary.
I like being able to do push ups now.
I let myself believe the Magic 8 ball speaks the truth when it says what I want to hear.
I will spend all day watching the Lord of the Rings if it's on TV, but never put on the DVDs I own.
I want children but am afraid of being pregnant.
I think Twitter is silly most of the time, but do it anyway.
The first time I tried Scotch I was an exchange student in Scotland. I thought it was terrible.
I totally judge people by the contents of their book shelves.
I love best that time of day when you first wake up and are half-asleep and your body is perfectly rested.
I touched the South China Sea and the Arabian Sea before I set foot in California.
I don't really care if I get to all 50 states someday. Some of them don't seem that awesome.
It's a start.