September 28, 2012

Question 2: In which I admit to being an asshole

Another birthday question submitted by a reader: Say one of your children figure out that space/time continuum thing and you’re able to go back in time and meet the 22-year old you.  What advice do you give?

Interestingly, I’ve been discussing the flux capacitor with Zachary lately, so if anyone has a deLorean to spare…

This question calls for a story from the August before I turned 22. It’s a month short of the age in question, but I hope the questioner will give me a little leeway:

I spent the summer of 1996 subletting a room in half of a duplex on 41st and Walnut Street in West Philadelphia. The other half of the duplex was a house full of guys, including J, my boyfriend and someday-to-be husband, although I didn’t know that yet. The half of the duplex that I lived in was filled with women I barely knew who had been living there for a year. Both the men and the women were rising seniors at Penn, a university from which I had now collected two degrees that had prepared me to be a high school English teacher, if only I could land a job.

There was a lot of cross-dating going on between the houses. The guys were generally decent fellows, although predictably disgusting in the whose-turn-is-it-to-do-the-dishes-this-month and why-would-we-bother-to-scrub-the-pink-stuff-growing-in-the-bathtub manner of a collection of eight college men. J was good friends with several of the guys who I had known for a year and a half at this point.

When the time came that I finally did land a job, I searched for an apartment in Center City, finding a sweet one-bedroom-plus-study-and-living-room, two-story apartment on Moravian Street, not even a block from Rittenhouse Square. That Moravian was not actually a street but a back alley with all the dumpsters from both Walnut and Sansom did not dim my enthusiasm for the $500 a month rent. That the homeless population occasionally used Moravian as a bathroom was, admittedly, somewhat of a drawback.

I threw myself a housewarming party complete with warm beer because the fridge died when I moved in, one in a series of refrigerators that has conked out the moment I sign a lease. I invited friends from my masters program, undergrad friends who were still around, Tara who was then my best friend and is now My Person, J, and a bunch of the guys from his house. I also invited one or two of the women from the house I was living in.

What I do recall is that I didn’t invite one woman in particular. She had been dating one of J’s best friends for several months, and I wasn’t that into her. I invited her boyfriend, but not her. It was an intentional omission, meant to send the cue that we weren’t really friends even if our boyfriends were close.

Her boyfriend told me that she wanted to come and that he had advised her to come anyway. Looking back now, I know that she felt left out, but more than that, she was a genuinely caring person who wanted to wish me well in my first post-college endeavor. I was too wrapped up in myself to see that. She came, and she brought me a rose-colored, oversized mug and saucer with packets of hot chocolate. That mug was not a plea for friendship but an offer to forgive me my rudeness.

What I didn’t know then was that our sweethearts would be roommates the year after they got out of college. We would both eventually marry these guys and attend one another’s weddings. Our mutual struggles with fertility treatment would bring us closer together. When J and I moved to London and then Los Angeles, she would be one of the few college friends to make sure to keep in touch. She would be one of the few friends from New York who bothered to rekindle a relationship with us when we moved to NJ. Her daughter would be a lifeline for my eldest when he felt alone and rejected in New Jersey. The mug she gave me would follow me through every single move.

I didn’t know then that there would someday be a picture framed in my basement of the two couples after we married but before we had kids, smiling as we sat together on a couch. I can’t put the picture out, because they are no longer together, but I can’t bear to get rid of it either, so I keep it in the basement even though their dissolved marriage isn’t about me and I shouldn’t make it such.

When I was 22 and stupid, I didn’t know that she would be one of the staunchest supporters of my writing and the steadiest of my blog readers and even five years on would still be reading and would submit a question for my 39th birthday asking me what I would tell my 22-year-old self.

So, my friend, in answer to your question, I would tell my 22-year-old self to not be such an asshole, not just because you shouldn’t treat people that way, but because I was blowing off one of the kindest, most loyal people I will ever meet.

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