You would think that just working one job now that I would have time to sit down and work on my art more. Truth is I work just as much as I ever did but my focus has changed. I once thought that the only thing that made me a viable, productive person was the amount of hours I put in. I thought that if I racked up all these hours that it would measure how much I was worth. If I worked sixty hours a week, that meant that I was a useful member of society... but then I realized something so much more valuable. I realized that the status of my own worth was for me to determine. Let's face it. Waiting tables is not a job that is going to save or damn the world. What I do is provide a service, an entertainment of sorts for the masses that could just as easily get it from anywhere these days. The true value of my job? It's bringing a smile to those that I encounter. To get through a shift, sure, that has to be the one thing that I hold onto because some days I get one nasty table full of people after another. But, like any other job on this planet, you suck it up and you smile and eventually you will be sitting down with a nice cold beer enjoying the company of people you actually do want to be around. There was a point that I was scared to take days off. I thought it somehow made me look like I didn't care enough about the job, that people would look at me differently if I took some time just for myself or to be with my family. The expectations that I have for myself are utterly ridiculous because honestly there are many days I just cannot live up to what I expect me to be. My husband often tells me to give myself a break. I can't always be the answer to everyone problems. I should remember to eat more, to relax more, to sit the fudge down sometimes. He encourages me to step away, to get lost in my art, to explore all these beautiful and quirky parts of myself that he fell in love with more often. He's right. I should do all of those things. So that's what I've been trying to do though I still have some work to do.
I think as a mother I naturally want to kiss things and make all the boo-boos better around me. If you're having a rough day, I want to hold your hand and make you smile even though I should be doing a million other things to help my art career move forward. If there is tea to be made, I want to be the one to make that tea so you can go outside and take a break even though I haven't had one in hours. Over the last few months, I've realized that sometimes I can't always be the answer to someone's prayer. Not because I don't want to but I've got prayers that need to be answered, too. By stepping back and improving myself is not selfish or wrong as long as I am not doing at anyone else's expense. As a mother, I have learned to put others before me. It is a natural instinct for me to rub your neck if you pinched a nerve. I like helping others. I always have but sometimes that love for helping was at the expense of my own needs. My husband and I took a trip to Baltimore a week ago. It was the first time it had been just the two of us since our Honeymoon almost seven years ago. It was wonderful. I sat with this lovely man of mine and we talked for hours about our life. We talked about our dreams for us as a unit, for us as individuals. We made a map of all the places we wanted to go, of all the adventures we wanted to take, of all the demons we wanted to conquer. We talked about our kid and how strange it would be to become more of an observer in her life than such a vital part of it. We sat outside that haunted hotel with all the cars going by, with the constant honking in the background under the city stars, drunk on one too many cocktails and I took a picture of that moment in my mind. I placed it with all the other moments I will cherish because in that moment I had the realization that these moments are what really matter. These moments are the ones that measure my life, my worth. It's not about how many hours I work or how many loads of laundry I do. It's not about how many tables I can handle at one time or how many glasses I can carry on a tray without spilling them all. My worth is measured by the way he looks at me, the way you smile back at me, the love I live my life with.
I wish I had realized this earlier in my life. I wish I had figured out that being the best to everyone wasn't as necessarily as important as being the best version of me to myself. I would have accepted that I am not invincible so much easier. I would have learned the lessons my tears were trying to teach me much quicker. I would have enjoyed more moments in my life because I wouldn't have worried so much about what the people around me thought of me so much. I would have accepted the fact that not everyone has to like me and then I would have let them go without the guilt. I've had some extra time since I quit the other job, true. I've been a lot happier since I left that negativity behind me, too. Sometimes though I realize that the expectations I put on myself I often transfer to everything around me as well. I see now that it makes it tough not so much for me but for everyone around me. If I can't always be what I want to be, it is unfair to assume that everyone around me can either. Since I've left that other place, I have taken time to spend with my husband. I've taken time to spend with my daughter though she's a teenager and clearly Mom is not first on her priority list and that's OK, too. She knows I'm right here. I've spent time with friends and seen my family. For the first time in a long time, I've taken some time for me, too. I bought myself a desk and some new shoes. I've allowed myself to relax, to breathe, to give myself a break. I did not realize how important it was to just let myself be until now. I believed that making myself necessary meant that I made myself worth more. The reality of that mentality is that I just consistently burnt myself out for someone else's benefit, leaving me pretty empty at the end of the day. So when I would sit down to write or to draw or to create something that anger would vomit all over the paper, this anger that I would never admit that I felt. That's never who I wanted to be. I expect better out of myself because at the end of the day I want you to smile when you read my words, to love when you look at a picture I drew. But really if I am being honest? I want to smile when I read these words and I want to love when I look at something these hands create. In everything that I do, I want to be proud of the final outcome. In these last few months, I have taken the time to get back to myself, the way I have always been but sadly been sidetracked by circumstances I could not control. I had a table last night. The gentleman was being unnecessarily rude to me about drink specials. I realized the tone of this table and I knew I had a choice to make. I could either feed into his negative energy, allowing him to determine what I was worth. Or I could just let him be, answer his questions, provide good service with a smile on my face and let these feelings that he was trying to cause me go. I walked to the back and I started to laugh, telling my coworker about the interaction. I decided to laugh, realizing whatever tip he left me didn't matter because I was not going to allow him to tell me how much I was worth whether he left me nothing or twenty dollars. I could tell you what he left me (actually pretty good) but it doesn't matter. What matters is that I finally understand that I am the measuring cup of my own worth. Some days I'm not going to live up to the level I would like and other days I will surpass even my own expectations. As long as I try and keep on trying to be the best I can be, isn't that what matters? It's been nice living my life again. It's been lovely smelling the roses. It's been wonderful to get back to my basics, to not feel the weight so heavy on my shoulders, to allow sun to shine on every part of me.
When you're younger, you think about what it would be like to walk back into your high school twenty years later, right? You imagine that you will be one of the most successful people in the room. You believe that the life you have lived since the day you graduated will have been this amazing adventure full of travel and women/men and grandeur. You convince your youthful self that the sky is the limit. You can't wait until all those people that once doubted get a load of you now, right? I often think of the movie Gross Point Blank when I think of going to my reunion. I think I would actually enjoy telling people that I am a professional assassin though it would be the furtherest from the truth. I feel guilty when I accidentally step on an ant. The other day I got the invite to my twenty year old reunion. I knew it was coming, I suppose. After all, it was twenty years ago that I took my last steps from that high school that is now long demolished. My class graduated with 74 graduates. We all knew each other's names, birthdays, secrets. There was little to hide when you only had a few to gossip about. I have to admit I had some mixed feelings when I saw that notification. At what point does it matter what these people that you spent so little of your life with stop mattering? And why do we want to prove so much that we're better than the other years later? I admit. I struggle right now whether or not I'm going to attend. On one hand, I've kept little contact with them. I have few friends that I check in with now and then. On the other hand I am curious, just purely curious on how my fellow classmates turned out. There is no fear of seeing them again. Maybe it's just confirmation that we turned out all right.
The last reunion I went to ten years ago I decided to go raging drunk. At the time I thought it would be hilarious to be wasted talking to all these people that I once knew. Now looking back at it? Looking back at it I was terrified. My life did not turn out the way I thought it would. I was supposed to walk back into my ten year reunion a published author with novels and novels on my resume. I was supposed to walk in there, proving that I was as bright as I was when I was voted Friendliest of my Senior Class. The reality of my life? I was a single mother who was struggling. I was a young woman who was incredibly angry, incredibly insecure, most certainly lost. I didn't want to tell them I was working at a coffee shop or that I was divorced or that I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't face the questions about what happened in college with our classmate sober. I had heard rumors of my whereabouts over the years. All of them made me laugh. What would I say to that? I chose to go along with it because it was easier to hide behind these absurdities than to truly admit how broken I was when I stepped through those doors. There was still this need to be something more than what I was to them even though I knew when I walked back out that door it would be another ten years before we saw each other again. And I guess in a way a small part of me hoped that there would be some closure. There would be some closure from those years that, in those moments, seemed so important. What I saw when I looked at the people across from me wasn't ten years later. What I saw was us ten years ago, bickering over these inconsequential events in our lives but in those moments, didn't they mean everything?
So how do I feel going into this twenty year reunion? It's been ten years since I've seen some of them. It's been twenty years since I've seen others. How does my life stack up now? I ran into a classmate yesterday actually. I was waiting for my daughter and there this girl was. It made me laugh. I thought what a small world. With our reunion looming, what a strange time to run into her? We started talking about high school. What humored me was that she barely remembered any of it. What I found curious is how slightly envious I was of that. I often over analyze everything about my life. This is no exception. I remember every face, every laugh, every joy, every wrong doing, every stupid fight that I ever experienced in those four silly years of my life. I catalog them in my mind, pull them out when certain feelings are required for my writing, my art. I believe that everything we go through is important even the little stuff that doesn't always matter. I laughed to myself after we left that she probably didn't even remember my name. I thought that was OK. So is it OK if I walk into that room and nobody remembers my name? I think I would prefer that. Not because I am ashamed of who I was back then but because I am so much prouder of who I am today. We were kids twenty years ago who knew nothing of who we were, what was out there, what we wanted to become. In the last twenty years, we've experienced life. We've felt all the pain, the joy, the grief, the hurt that life brings. That experience has either made who we were better or erased who we were at all. I realize that ten years ago the reason I needed to use alcohol as that crutch was because I had lost every part of who I was. Some of that loss I blamed on them so it didn't matter if the white lies I told hurt anyone. It didn't matter if any hurtful words came out of my life left a sting because I was still reeling from a pain I didn't know how to heal. I realize ten years later I don't have anything to hide. Am I where I want to be? No, not professionally at least, but I am where I want to be personally. Isn't that what matters?
To the question, am I going? I don't honestly know yet. If I don't go, it's not because I am ashamed of where I landed. It's not because I am terrified to stand in front of my peers. It will not because there are certain people I don't want to see. The relevance of high school in my life has long since passed. I mean that with no malice. It's just I am a grown woman in my late thirties with a teenage daughter, a husband who loves me, friends who I adore. My life is on a wonderful trajectory towards exactly where I want it to be. If I don't go, it won't be because I have anything to hide. In the same breath I also don't have anything that I need to show off. The proof of the goodness in my life, in the success of my life is in the child I have raised, the man who smiles back at me, in these creations that I make. And if I go? It's not to prove I am anything more than what I am. We get to a certain age in our lives and we realize that we have no desire to be that eighteen year old again. The romantic part of being that shiny penny has long gone because the loveliness of our lives becomes brighter. If I go, it won't be because I need closure from people who left my life years ago. I will go to see some old friends who I lost touch with. I will go to have some laughs about all those times we were dumb with nothing to lose. I will sit with these old familiars and bathe in our glory days... and then I will move on like we all must. I will come back to my teenage daughter, sit with my sweet husband, and curl up with these words. Perhaps I did not invent Post-Its. That's OK. What I did invent is the person I became today. She's been worth every step. And most importantly? That girl that I used to be is proud of how we turned out. When I walk into that twenty year reunion, it's her who will be waiting for me with open arms.