August 31, 2012

I Get So Emotional, Baby (RIP Whitney)

Let me just tell you about the past 10 (or so) years of my life. I'm 29 now, so what I'm saying is - let me tell you about my adulthood. (It's a good thing I get to share this with you from behind my computer screen and not in a live monologue or something, because I'm already crying. You're welcome.)

Here I am, barely 18,
fresh-faced and wrinkle-free
I graduated from high school in 2001 and, just a few weeks after I moved into my college dorm room, 9/11 happened...rough entry to adulthood, huh? I tend to think about people my age as different from those even a few years older than me. We're the first group to only have a post-9/11 adulthood. I wonder what that means about us.

Me and my dad, dancing at my
cousin's wedding. I was 17.
Roughly a year after 9/11, when I was a sophomore in college, on October 14, 2002, my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. Obviously, this was earth-shattering for me, but it was also frustrating. I felt like I had only begun to really know my dad in my adult years. Even though I grew up living with my mom and not my dad, I had always seen him and been around him. I loved him and I always knew he loved me. But it wasn't until age 16 or so that I felt like we started to understand each other. I'll never know if this is true or not and I can't speak for him, but it sometimes felt like he just didn't know what to do with my adolescent self and that, in some ways, he wasn't a huge fan of being the person responsible for a child. I don't say this as an insult. What I mean is that, as I got older, we had a lot of fun together and I found myself turning to him, more and more, for advice to my "grown up" problems. And I realized what a great dad he was going to be to my adult self. So, when my opportunity to know him as an adult was cut short, I felt like I'd been robbed of something.

You might know from this post that I kind of fell apart after that. Losing my dad made me doubt everything in my life. When I met Tom, that chaos in my head and my heart calmed down, and I felt stronger, which is certainly the most amazing effect anyone's ever had on me.

It's always a difficult thing to recognize the positive parts of my life that wouldn't exist if my dad hadn't died. It's likely I would have never known what I wanted in life. It's likely I would have never had the courage to go after those things. And it's incredibly likely that I would have stayed in a "safe" zone for the rest of my life. I have no doubt that I would have been happy. When I think about the life I could have had, it's not a bad life. But it is a safe life. And I know now that I thrive on adventure and risk. I know that I love that moment when fear and excitement collide and the immediate future is unsure and unexpected. But I had never experienced that feeling before and I probably wouldn't have experienced it yet if my dad hadn't died.

I am so happy with the person that I am. There are things that I want to improve, of course, but I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of the risks I've taken - both the ones that have paid off and the ones that haven't worked out: changing my life when I met Tom; quitting college; moving to Colorado; moving to San Francisco; working in Jamaica; finishing college; taking career chances; taking this trip. I have to acknowledge that I know myself better because my dad died. And while losing him still hurts, being this person is the silver lining of a painful situation. I know my dad would be so excited about the adventure we're about to go on, because he was a risk-taker himself. He was never quite fully settled in life, which might be why it was hard to be close to him when I was younger. Looking back now, I realize that my senses of humor, fun, and adventure must be from him, and I wish we'd had time to share that common trait with each other. When I do something scary or exciting, I always hear him in my head, psyched up and saying, "Yea Baby!" - a trademark statement of his and my uncle - full of energy and said with an ecstatic smile and a laugh immediately following, and in a voice purely reserved for these signature moments.

We leave for India on October 10 - roughly 10 years after my dad died. It's purely coincidental (I think) that we decided to take this trip now, but it feels like such a milestone - like something I achieved and, in some ways, it feels like a tribute to the past 10 years of risk-taking and self discovery. I know I'll be thinking of him every time I get that feeling of fear and excitement colliding. And I think he would be thrilled to be along for the adventure.

Yea Baby!

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