January: I get a call back from a company I had submitted an application for a few months earlier. I really wanted to work for them, but I thought they had passed me over. I clean my apartment from top to bottom before my Skype interview, though they can barely see my face. They offer me a job for the summer; I gleefully accept. It is the first job I truly earned on my own.
February: It is getting colder. Really cold. Colder than is hospitable for humanity, I have decided. People shouldn’t live here. The challenging-but-fun computer science class my roommates and I enrolled in to expand our horizons is suddenly challenging but decidedly not fun. Challenging might not even be the right word. Impossible seems more appropriate. I go to Boston once to watch the Superbowl with my family and to visit my Grandfather – my beloved G’pop – in the hospital. Who knows how long he will be there.
March: The harsh winter lingers, and our heaters are not working properly. I spend my nights huddled on the floor of my room with a space heater pointed at me, wrapped in a blanket and my bright blue bathrobe. The cold is always there; I can feel it settling inside me. I am leaving the apartment less and less, but I do not like it there.
April: I am fairly certain that I am going to fail every final as it approaches. I am fairly certain there is nothing in this city for me, but every phone call home reveals some new, slowly unfolding disaster and I am fairly certain there is nothing for me anywhere.
May: My finals are over and I am aching for home but first I go to G’pop’s. He has finally been moved home from the hospital but he can’t leave his bed. He can say nothing but a word or two at a time and I am utterly tongue tied when I am near his rancid room. I get him a frappuccino (he likes coffee and sweet things) and a bird feeder for his window.
My dad takes me home, finally, and on the road the anticipation and hope swells inside me. For some reason I can’t help but feel like this emptiness inside me is going to go away if I can just get home. I never felt like this when I was there.
We arrive and I discover that the house is empty – sparsely staged and stripped of personality. My parents are getting ready to sell. On the 15th, I turn 20 and I remember thinking bitterly that if my life were a novel, critics would complain that the author was being a bit heavy-handed with the depressing coming of age imagery. I cry constantly. In the shower, driving home with Chinese takeout, drunk in Cape May with friends at a stranger’s house party.
June: I return to my G’pop’s house and start working. The house is the very picture of decay, as decrepit and sad as its owner. I sit with him for about an hour every evening after work, but I get no better at talking. We used to talk. I sit there next to him and berate myself – say anything dummy! But I am hamstrung by the worry that if I talk about living my life it will come off as bragging as he lies there unable to move. This man who loves motor boats and big cars, stuck still, in pain and bored.
He dies in the night. It is the most expected thing, and yet I receive the news with gutting shock. It feels worse than I anticipated, unspeakably so. The loss is absolute, stunning. I am winded, I can’t breathe, I can’t believe.
My poor mother.
July: My job takes me to New Haven for the rest of the summer where I live in a hot dorm room and work among young free thinkers and dreamers and creatives. I think of G’Pop often with sadness, but also with love and tenderness. I am healing with each day of hot sun and busy work. Then again, there are countless moments of normalcy that are pierced by sudden grief, sudden flashbacks to those ghostly open eyes. But they are fewer and farther between, and I am doing my best.
A few of the guys at work are visiting me in my office throughout the day and buying me drinks at the bars on nights off and I am starting to rediscover, in fits and starts, that I am not unwantable. There is one in particular, one who can make or break my day ten times over in an hour, who reminds me that it is human nature to crave this, that insulating myself from risk in turn insulates me from reward, and that this particular reward is something of a non-negotiable human need.
August: The insidious icy thing that held my heart still for so long has loosened its grip, but my job is coming to an end and I am afraid of sitting still for the next few weeks. School is going to start and I am desperately trying to fight off the notion that that cold feeling will inevitably return.
I buy plane tickets. I go to Atlanta to see my grandparents and my little cousin who is about to start college and then I go to Pittsburgh to see my best friend for the first time since last Christmas. These people are like balm for my soul. I am near them and I feel whole. We sit in the hot sun for hours and it warms me to my very core, melting that vise a little more.
I stay in no place for more than a few days, traveling from there back to Philly and then on to Boston before my return to school. I hate every goodbye, but I find I enjoy this feeling of floating, of never quite planting my two feet very firmly on the ground. I spend both my last night in the house where I grew up and the last night in my G’pop’s house before they are both sold. It is a staggering upheaval; I am somehow feeling a little calmer about letting go.
September: A new term begins and I am back in Montreal. We are in a new apartment, one that is comfortable and full of light with a view of this beautiful city. I am taking classes in the business school and everything there has a gloss and sheen that cannot be found anywhere else on campus. We take advantage of the last of the warmth and spend long, late nights outside, giggling on sangria and remembering we love each other.
October: We have a revolving door of visitors who come and distract us wholly each week. A few friends from work, a friend from Germany, a friend from Japan. Sam and I have begun blogging and are bubbling with ideas. We do P.A.C.E. and I am hit with the stunning revelation that my angst about my future is a result of my attempt at conformity. I finally let go of all notions of obligation to climb the corporate ladder. I feel free.
November: I get that job back, with a promotion. I grow a little too careless with school as my tolerance of its quirks and BS wanes close to zero. I am restless, missing the motion of the summer, and cannot stop dreaming and rambling about traveling and the adventures I feel so ready to have. We are baking and blogging with vigor now and creativity is pulsing within us as we are no longer quashing that compulsion to make. I meet a boy and think about him more than I should.
My best friend’s boyfriend is killed in a car accident and I am at an utter devastated loss.
December: I sit around the dining room table with my roommates, our books and notes strewn about us. We get coffee, we watch movies, we tease each other. We are tired of letting school make us miserable. Experience has finally taught us that we need to study but we do not need to panic. We are going to do and be just fine.
I finish and fly home and my oldest friend, who will be my host this week, picks me up at the airport. It is the first time I have seen her since her life fell apart, since the great man she thought was her future was ripped from her, from this world, too soon. I still cannot believe it – I feel sick at the thought. She feels sick constantly.
And yet there is lightness in my visit. My friends somehow think to do something for me, as if I’m the one who needs it. They throw a surprise cookie party, carrying on a tradition that I have kept going since I was five but am unable to host anymore. It’s a gesture more grand to me than I think they even intended. As this year of change and tumult comes to a close, as I prepare to go to my parents’ new home and leave this one behind, my friends do something in one fell swoop that cements that this place, these people, will forever be in my heart. A house is not a home. Alone the next day I walk past that old house; I sneak around my old, empty back yard.
I smile, at peace, and think, “This is where I grew up.”