Advice For Yesterday, Today, the Future

“How old will Haley be when Aidan graduates from high school?”

One of my brothers, I can’t remember which one, sincerely asked this question last year while all eight members of our nuclear family sat around our kitchen table eating dinner. Though I hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation, I began to answer.

“I’ll be,” I said.

“Thirty,” Aidan finished.

Aidan is the youngest.

“No, I’ll be twenty-nine,” I said. “You’ll be seventeen. I’ll be twenty-nine.”

“Yeah, for like one more month,” he said.

My birthday is August 3. Aidan’s birthday is August 5. We were born almost exactly twelve years apart.

“Still, I won’t be thirty yet,” I said.

***

Aidan is still a few years away from graduating from high school. I’m still a few years away from turning thirty. But I thought of that exchange while I was sitting at my brother John’s graduation last week. Nine years ago, I sat where John was sitting, on the steps to our high school, sweating through my white satin dress while speeches were made and honors awarded. I’d imagined what it would be like to graduate from high school since I was little. I’d also thought about the graduation days of my siblings and wondered what my life would be like when I watched each of them receive their diplomas. I would be twenty when Jim graduated. Twenty-one at Tori’s graduation. Twenty-four at Dayton’s. Twenty-six at John’s. Twenty-nine at Aidan’s.

Now: Four down. One to go.

Has my life on the day of these four graduations resembled anything I had imagined?

Well, no. Not really.

As a teen, I thought that after one graduated from college, all of the things that were supposed to happen in life just happened. Kind of like The Game of Life. Get a job, make money, find a partner, buy a house, have children. Or whatever the order is.

I certainly didn’t consider the possibility that these things wouldn’t happen easily or at all. I thought that by now, I’d be zooming along that road, maybe stopping on the “Get Married” tile. (I don’t need to tell you this, but I had a very skewed sense of when certain milestones should occur.) I wonder what seventeen-year-old Haley would think of poor (literally poor), partnerless, twenty-six-year-old Haley. She’d probably judge her. But I – twenty-six-year-old Haley – would tell her to calm down. (Even though she hates it when people tell her to calm down.) Like, you’re going to do some fun, weird, interesting stuff in the next ten years. Also, some shitty stuff will happen. But it will make you wiser and a better human! And also, you’re never going to “figure it out”, so just enjoy doing the things you like to do and stop worrying.

All that being said, I still worry. But not really about achieving adult “milestones”. Mostly about if I’m spending my time wisely, how to fix perceived mistakes, and whether I’m drinking enough water.

***

Perhaps this isn’t the most fitting time for me to be waxing philosophical about life and my past and current selves. This year isn’t a big anniversary of my own high school graduation. My youngest sibling doesn’t graduate for another three years. And I am a few years from finishing out my twenties.

However. There is a reason I was thinking about all of this and I’m getting back to it now.

Again, I was thinking about all of this because my brother John graduated last week. He’s going off to college – Go Irish! – in less than two months. I didn’t give a toast at his graduation party last week and I probably wouldn’t be able to say in person the things I want to say to him as well as I can (I hope) here.

As the fifth of six, John’s in kind of a tough spot. He’s not the baby – though he was for four years – and he could never hang with the big kids, as hard as he tried. Growing up, he took endless shit from those of us at the top. We demanded that he leave us alone, stop telling us pointless stories, and accept defeat in the epic wrestling matches that took place in our basement. And then, after being horribly mean to him, we’d ask him to love us. (He was very cute and also the best cuddler.)

Somehow, John made all of that work for him. Today, at eighteen, he is a kind and loyal friend. An improved storyteller. A fierce-as-fuck competitor, a runner who is always thinking about how to win. And also, still very cute and the best cuddler.

I don’t know how much John thinks about the future. Probably at least a little bit, since the future plays such a huge role in the last few years of high school. But if I could give the John of today a little bit of advice – and I only will if he’ll let me – I would tell him to chill out on thinking about the future. Or I guess, think about it, just don’t have any expectations. Literally, nothing ever turns out the way you thought it would or wanted it to turn out. Learn from the choices you make and the things that happen that are out of your control. And – this is lame but I’m going to say it anyway – always try to find the humor in whatever situation you’re in. It makes things easier.

Good luck, Johnny. (Even though I don’t think you need it.)

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Garbage Shoes

“I’m going to throw these shoes in the garbage today,” I told myself, even though I knew I wouldn’t do it. I was walking from my apartment in Greenpoint to the Bedford L stop and my sandals, which I bought last spring because I desperately needed sandals to wear during a trip to Florida, were really bothering me. I don’t know how to explain it but it sort of felt like I’d worn in the straps too much and that my feet were going to slip out of them. I was concerned, but not too concerned. I started thinking about other things, like how much edamame I’d eaten in the last week and the fact that I like every version – including remixes – of “Love You Down” ever made.

Then I tripped on the sidewalk. Not a big trip. Just like, haha the sidewalk is uneven, whatever, it happens. I didn’t even look around to see if anyone had seen me. Then I tried to take another step and my sandal flew off my foot. Well, “flew off” is kind of a strong way to put it. It just lazily fell off my foot, which I noticed when I set my foot down on the cold sidewalk. I tried to slide my foot back into my sandal but that didn’t work, because both of the straps meant for holding in my toes had separated from the sole of the shoe.

This is how I ended up standing on Bedford Avenue with one shoe on for some amount of time that seemed significant, but was really only five to seven minutes. I didn’t want to look at anyone walking by because then I would have to notice them noticing me wearing one shoe. I looked at the ground. I thought about how I was going to get from where I was standing to the subway stop, one block away.

I put the broken sandal back on my foot with the ankle strap that was still attached. I thought maybe I could shuffle to the subway stop, get on the subway, shuffle through Union Square Station and then on to my office, four blocks away. I was nervous about how this was going to work out, but I knew I just had to suck it up and face the embarrassment of shuffling around two different boroughs before 10 AM. I would quickly realize that this plan was bound to fail. My shoe flopped off again after I took one step.

I briefly thought about walking back to my apartment barefoot, but ruled that out after picturing how dirty and possibly bloody my feet would be at the end.

I noticed a clothing store across the street that sold shoes. I wondered how I could possibly cross the street before I realized that it probably wasn’t open at this hour of the day. I googled the store to make sure and found that it wasn’t open until 11. After considering waiting half-shoeless on the sidewalk for two hours until the store opened, I thought that it might be a good idea to ask some people who weren’t in distress to help me.

First, I texted my roommate to see if she had left our apartment yet. I could wait fifteen minutes for her to bring me shoes. Or not. Because she texted me back to tell me that she had already left.

So then I did the next logical thing, which was to call my mother. I don’t think I expected my mom to do anything. She lives 25 miles away. But I did think maybe she could tell me what to do, since she’s really honed that skill over the last 27 years. Anyway, she didn’t pick up.

Luckily, I saw a cab pass by me, at which point I had the brilliant idea to take a cab to the office. I wish I’d had the foresight to hail the cab with my shoe, because I think that image would work really well in this story, but I did not. Instead, I put the shoe in my purse and hailed a cab standing with one foot on the pavement.

I practically dove into the backseat and gave the cab driver my office address. I was sweating. I was now 30 minutes late for work, which is a normal amount of late, but I thought I should probably email my boss and let her know I was being held up. I wrote the following email:

“So…my shoe broke on the way to the subway a little while ago. I had to take a cab from Williamsburg, so I’ll be arriving a little late, wearing one shoe.”

As we sat in traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge, I started wondering how I would procure two working shoes. I’m not one of those people who keeps shoes under my desk at work, partly because I sit at more of a communal table than a desk and partly because I don’t really have enough shoes to just leave some at work. I’d have to find shoes to wear in order to buy shoes. I figured I might have to ask co-workers if I could borrow their shoes, which I thought might be weird. Like, I can only imagine the shit I would talk about someone who asked me if they could borrow their shoes. Unless, of course, I really liked them or wanted to impress them. Then I would be like, “Oh my God, PLEEEASE borrow my shoes.” At this point, though, I thought I should take my dilemma to Twitter.

I tweeted this series of tweets:

9:21 AM: If you just walked by a distressed-looking woman on Bedford Avenue wearing one shoe and holding the other in her hand, that was me.

9:26 AM: How do I get new shoes if I only have one shoe to wear to the store?

9:32 AM: Actually, someone please help me. Where would one buy flip flops at 9:30 am? I feel like no stores are open.

Somewhere in between tweets, I called my mom again. She picked up this time and asked if she could call me back. She was at a meeting for my brother’s high school.

“Okay,” I said. “I was just calling because…my shoe broke while I was walking to the subway.”

She asked me if I was okay and how I was getting to the office. I told her I was fine and that I was taking a cab. She was worried that I would be late, which then made me worry that I would be late, even though I had already emailed my boss. Thinking about that now, it’s easy to see why I’ve always been anxious around authority figures of any kind.

“I just don’t know how I’m going to get shoes,” I said.

“Maybe someone at work will let you borrow theirs,” she said. I agreed that I would probably have to try that tactic, since she had also had that thought.

When I hung up, I looked at Twitter again. I had these responses to my last tweet, which I guess was desperate and earnest enough for people to pay attention:

1. “A big Duane Reade? Bonus if they have Jellies.”

2. “just walk around until you see a guy with no feet and you’ll feel better”

3. “honestly, if you just need crappy ones to walk in, a drugstore, like walgreens”

4. “I love everything about this question”

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of the drug store thing. Like, there I was freaking out that I would have to wait until a Gap opened to buy shoes while there were literally one million drug stores in the city open and ready to sell me cheap sandals.

I directed the cab driver to drop me off at the Walgreens in Union Square. When I got out of the cab, I tried not to touch the hot garbage water on the street with my bare foot. I mostly succeeded. I somehow got my broken shoe on my foot and shuffled across the sidewalk to Walgreens’ revolving door. Before I could get there, however, I stopped and let an older woman pushing an even older woman in a wheelchair pass me. The woman appeared to be missing the bottom half of both legs, and thus, her feet. I say “appeared” because she had a blanket over her and also, I think I might have just wanted to see someone without feet at that point.

Anyway, I took my broken shoe off once again and entered Walgreens. I walked to the escalator and rode it up one flight, where I saw two women unpacking boxes of facial cleanser. I asked them if they sold flip flops, smiling and sort of theatrically looking down at my shoeless foot so they would get that I was totally in good spirits about my shoe situation.

“Downstairs,” one of them said, smiling back at me.

I had the same conversation with two other Walgreens employees downstairs, each of whom got me closer to the flip flop section. When I finally reached my destination, I was very relieved. However, I quickly became upset again while surveying the flip flop selection, which was mostly sequined and/or neon. I picked the least offensive pair, blue neon jellies with a white sole and took them to the cashier.

Ten minutes later, I walked into the office, my sandals squelching not-too-loudly under my sweaty feet. No one asked me why I was late or even turned around as I passed. I sat at my desk and turned my computer on. Then, I reached into my purse and threw my broken shoe in the garbage.

Five Things I Liked This Week

I feel like I had about 1 free hour to consume media this week, but somehow I read/watched/listened to enough stuff to make this very short list. I haven’t managed to actually write anything in, um, weeks. Please don’t give up on me! I promise I’ll be back to writing some longer pieces soon. For now, here are five things I liked this week.

1. “A Young Adult Author’s Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature’s Most Maligned Genre” by Kathleen Hale (Nerve)

2. “It’s Raining” by Irma Thomas

This song felt…appropriate this week. Today, especially.

3. “The Trials of ‘Entertainment Weekly’: One Magazine’s 24 Years of Corporate Torture” by Anne Helen Petersen (The Awl)

4. “For Hire: Dedicated Young Man with Down Syndrome” by Michael Bérubé (Al Jazeera America)

5. “Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate” by Maria Konnikova (The New Yorker)

Five Things I Liked This Week

This week, a simple list.

1. “Lana Del Rey Is Anyone She Wants To Be” by Duncan Cooper (The Fader)

2. How To Dress Well’s “No Words To Say” Mix

 

3. “Gradual Impact” by Alison Bechdel (The New Yorker)

4. “Laugh Track: Jenny Slate’s Winding Road From ‘SNL’ to ‘Obvious Child'” by Carrie Battan (Rolling Stone)

5. “The MacGuffinist” by Mark O’Connell (Slate)

(This last one is about Geoff Dyer, which is not super clear from the title.)