Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My So-Called Life

If I were to create my life from scratch, including every little detail I’ve ever fabricated, starting from now, this would be it.

I will graduate from BYU-Idaho with my Bachelor’s in English: Creative Writing in April 2010. My mother and grandmother, I am told, will come to my graduation for sure. They will stay at the Best Western or the Inn by Applebee’s for a few nights. My mother will jump up and down, grab my face, and kiss my cheek, saying how I am her only child to graduate. And I will introduce them both to some of the greatest people I know. We will eat at Café Rio or Macaroni Grille in Idaho Falls.

I will stay with Brittany for three weeks—one in Utah, and two in Rexburg—while I prepare for the British Literary Tour. I go to France, Ireland, Great Britain, and Wales and fly home, to Austin, from Salt Lake City.

By this time, I will have a job lined up for me to come home to, hopefully using some of what I’ve learned in the past five years. I will work in downtown Austin at one of the high rise buildings. It will be a professional sort of job, and I will dress professionally every day—in Anthropologie. After a month or two, I will buy a car. And I will begrudgingly attend the Austin Institute of Religion.

Within a year or so of working at this place, I will take cake decorating courses, become a Daughter of the American Revolution, have a flat stomach, get my scuba diving license, learn how to rock climb and play the harmonica, join a band, read books on eastern religions, prepare for the GRE, and work towards Italian citizenship.

Then, I will go to Boston University and get my MFA in creative writing. While I’m at BU, I develop a great camaraderie with those in the same program. One of whom is a muscular man with thick, wavy, brownish-blonde hair and brown eyes; he wears plaid button-ups, scarves, braided-leather shoes, and pea coats. We will talk about Thoreau, Faulkner, and Plath, about Sting and the history of the Bee Gee’s, and about pop-culture of the 1980’s. We’ll listen to Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, and Bob Dylan. We’ll make each other laugh. He won’t act like an emotional girl, or play any games with me, and he’ll actually like me. We like watching artistic and foreign films—edited, of course—and making/eating our own trail mix.

One day, we’ll take a walk in a snow-covered park. I’ll be in heels from Anthropologie, and my hair will be really long by now—I’m like 26 or 27. He’s like 28 or 29 and 6’3”. He’ll carry me over the icy parts and move my hair out of my face with his fingertips.

I decide to take a weekend trip to New York City. By this time we’re both graduated, and Dream Man is a professor at NYU. He buys me an affordable, Tiffany cushion-cut engagement ring and proposes on a bench in Central Park. We get married in the Manhattan temple and have our reception in his parents’ backyard in Rochester.

He’s making millions by now, and I decide to open up a cake café—people eat cake while reading from my favorite novels. We live in a small, downtown apartment, like the one Meg Ryan lives in, in You’ve Got Mail. I have it decorated with Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, and I refinish old furniture from Goodwill and the D.I. I accent with real white Dasies and Spray Roses.

We decide to start our family. I’m like 30 now. But we don’t want to raise our kids in the city, so we move to New Jersey or Connecticut or Upstate New York. We drive eco-friendly cars. We have a small house, like the cute little ones in Rexburg and downtown Salt Lake and downtown Austin, and about 4 acres. We own three horses, two chickens, a potty-trained pot belly pig that we let live indoors, two cows, and two caged doves. We have four kids—three boys and one girl. I have a small square foot garden and plant basil, parsley, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, and lavender. We have an apple tree, a cherry tree, and an orange tree. I cook Vegan food, and bake purely organic cakes.

My husband plays guitar, and I play the harmonica, the violin, the cello, the piano, the six-string, and the harp. We sing songs like the Von Trap family. I play in the community orchestra. I teach my kids six weeks at a time, and the next six weeks they attend private school. We take road trips through the American and church history sites. Once a year, we visit my family in Austin. For major holidays, we do service projects as a family. At Christmas, all gifts are from Santa Claus, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. Each person maybe gets five gifts. The rest of our time and money goes toward helping needy families. We do Christmas Jars and make gingerbread houses. I read my children Truman Capote’s Christmas Memory. For Easter, I hot glue moss and fake feathered birds to baskets. We decorate a small Easter tree. My boys don’t watch televised sports or obnoxious cartoons. They shovel dirt and play soccer and listen to good music and ask girls on dates when they’re sixteen. They all get jobs. My daughter knows how to sew and bake and cook and quilt and paint and play instruments, and she has long legs and dances.

My children get married to people just as amazing as they are. My husband and I retire and read books. We’re both published writers and edit each others’ work. I paint and get my art into a gallery. My husband and I travel through Europe. We serve missions in Romania, Russia, Italy, Japan, French Canada, Brazil, and San Francisco.

I die in my sleep one day when I’m 88. My husband follows suit a week later.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Whipped Cream

From the three degree weather, I walked into the Ridge apartment with Lauren and Russell.

"We've got cake, ice cream, hot chocolate; do you guys want anything?" I dont remember his name. He talked like a cartoon character. He was the birthday boy.

"I'll take some hot chocolate," I said to him and smiled. He grabbed a styrofoam cup and ran the hot tap water, periodically checking the temperature with his fingers; he put two scoops of cocoa into the cup, stirred, and handed it to Lauren. He didn't go to make another.

"Oh, I'll make my own, I guess," I whispered to myself. And I made my own hot chocolate.

I didn't know anyone there. Boys--who were aged somewhere between twenty-one to twenty-seven--ricocheted a tennis ball off of the ledge above the kitchen; they threw the tennis ball to each other; they aimed the tennis ball at others' faces. Once, the ball missed my own face by about two feet.

"Do you guys want whipped cream for your hot chocolate?" The birthday boy looked at Lauren first, then me.

"Oh, no thank you," Lauren said sweetly. I think she wore fake eyelashes. The boy looked at me, his jaw crunched and his bottom lip covered his top.

"No thanks, I'm good," I said, and I sipped my semi-warm, diluted cocoa.

"You sure?" He shrugged and outstretched his arm towards me. I smiled.

"Yeah, I'm sure," I said nodding, taking another sip.

"I think you should have some whipped cream."

"Fine, I'll try the whipped cream," I sighed loudly. Nobody laughed. The boy walked to the fridge.

"You sure you don't want any whipped cream?" Oh my gosh.

"Yeah, I really don't want any whipped cream," I said sternly. I looked at Russell. His eyebrows furrowed and he quickly began watching the boys playing with their tennis ball.

Friday, December 4, 2009


“What is it like to be so beautiful, yet so alone?” My friend Matt asked me this as we sat at my kitchen table to design the EAS Halloween Reading poster together. I was looking for a legible, spooky font.

I looked up from the drop down menu to see Matt’s face. His blue eyes didn’t smile; he was serious. “Um…” I hesitated. I looked back down at the laptop, watching the curser move with my finger. “Well…” I looked up at Matt again. “Honestly?” He nodded quickly with his mouth closed into a tiny smirk. “It sucks!” I clenched my fists and pressed them to the table. I swallowed the lump in the bottom of my throat, and Matt rubbed my shoulder to comfort me. I realized then how consumed I was by this emotion.

My mom says things like: “You are going to make an incredible wife and mother... You have such talents to share with your family... You’ll find someone someday that will be crazy about you.” I think, no I won’t. I can’t see it. My mom was beautiful. My mom was talented. Look what she got. “All of your blessings say that you will get married, that your husband is being prepared for you.”

“I don’t think I believe them,” I say. Maybe all of those blessings apply to my life after death. But there have been times when I believed my mom, when I believed my blessings.

Last February, Jordan said he’d talked himself into everything—into marrying me. I forced this from him during a phone call on my birthday at three in the morning, and I cried in short breaths like a child when we hung up. Now it’s October, and I see him at the Reading Center through a long string of glass windows every time I come to work. He’s a business major, I think, why would he work there? When I got my job at the Writing Center in January, he was the first I told, even before my mother. It’s become my sanctuary. When I am not in class or at home, I am at the Center. I come here to write—this is my space. I come here to talk to the friends that I share my greatest fears with—they are my friends. His wife has applied to work here twice since I’ve been here. I can’t imagine sharing essays like these with my ex-boyfriend’s wife. He smiles at me when he clocks in at the computer, and I think things like, we decided to name our first boy Dominic, and you were the first man I ever loved. I met Graham a week after Jordan and I broke up.

In June, I told Graham to stop calling me from Alberta if he felt obligated to. So, he did stop, and I never understood why. Coming back to school this semester, I was addicted to the idea that Graham and I finally lived in the same city. I’d walk through the Crossroads cafeteria and hope he’d be sitting at a round table somewhere; he’d see me and ask me to come eat with him. I’d imagine him bringing a Political Science paper to the Writing Center and requesting me to be his tutor. Or I’d think maybe, since I live with his step-sister by coincidence, he would have a good enough excuse to come over without being obvious. Maybe he’d leave me a note on my hippie bike—that’s what he used to call it. Maybe he’d ask me to go with him to Music Outlet or play him one of the new songs I’ve learned on my Jasmine acoustic.

After about a month of disillusionment, I asked him to come over to talk. He only agreed to come over when I told him over Facebook chat that I needed this to move on. We sat about three feet apart on the couch. I shoved my body against the stained armrest and watched my own fingers pick at the torn knee of my jeans. “You’re going to pick those so much you won’t be able to wear them on campus anymore,” he joked. I sighed a laugh and told him I still loved him. I took the brown hair tie from my wrist and weaved it through my fingers. “I dunno, Aly,” he said, “I just wasn’t happy.” He grabbed my hand from my lap, and I took a deep breath to suppress showing what I felt. He told me he would never want to “rekindle an old flame,” and I smiled to prove to him that I was okay. We hugged goodbye.

When I see attractive men on campus, I think I bet you’re a jerk. Because I remember how Jordan had to talk himself into loving me and how Graham lost interest after four months. I remember the time when I dated an attractive salesman in Texas for a week, and after asking him what his intentions were he said that, basically, all he wanted was someone to kiss while watching Casino Royale on a big screen. I remember the time my dad told me he’d be in the parking lot at 1:00 p.m. on early release day, and he didn’t show up until 7:00 p.m. When I see attractive men on campus, I get this contracting feeling in the back of my throat, like a gag. I feel my upper lip turn, and I clench my molars together. I don’t know if I’ll be able to trust any of you again, I think. When I see a couple—even a married one—hugging in a hallway or kissing goodbye, I think, I wonder how long that will last. And I walk faster with my head up and my shoulders back. I’ll be one of those amazing, single women like Sheri Dew or Barbara Thompson, I tell myself. I’ll write books. I’ll get my MFA and teach. I’ll travel; I’ll sing; I’ll paint.

The truth is there is nothing I want more than the love of a man. That’s all I’ve wanted from the time I turned 16 and could date. I want to get my simple B.A. in English and start my family with a man who will ask me to explain the symbolism in my collages. I want him to remember that I like dark chocolate over milk, and that I can’t stand it when the toilet paper is facing up. I want a thousand small pieces from what I’ve had in my past relationships to combine into one person—a person I don’t even know how to define.

I think a lot of what I do want I’ve picked up from the movies. Still, when the movie is over, I think, Now what happens? Does Meg Ryan move back to Baltimore after she finally meets Tom Hanks at the top of the Empire State Building? Do they try long distance for a few months, and one day, Tom decides he’s been talking himself into everything? Does he decide she’s not worth calling anymore? I’m afraid that what I want is a lie, an elaborate fabrication, something the media or my own imagination have told me to believe.

All of my siblings are married, and the favored topic, when I am there or not, is my dating life. One time, during a family gathering, this was brought up again. My sister-in-law Lindsay related her stories. She told us that when she met my brother, she saw so much of her dad in him.
“You know,” she said, her tiny hand pointed towards me, with her palm up, “they say that you marry your dad.” She smiled at me, and I felt something inside of me drop. “Aly, you’ll probably marry someone just like Chuck.” I looked at her, trying to smile, and I excused myself from the room. I don’t want someone like my father. That’s all I am sure of, and it makes dating scary.

I remember New Years this year; Jordan flew from Puyallup, Washington to my home in Austin, Texas and stayed for five days. We had waited to exchange Christmas gifts so we could open them together. He told me earlier that he wanted to learn the guitar, so I printed every Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer guitar tab that I could find from the internet. I alphabetized them in a book and collaged the outsides of it to say Jordan’s Book of Guitar Tabs and Chords. I wrapped it in gold paper. I glued a Reese’s to the top—his favorite candy. He bought me a scarf and had it wrapped in the bag it came in. I smiled to be polite and later on, couldn’t help but think of the Christmas my dad bought my mom a toilet seat cover from Home Depot. The farther I get from my relationship with Jordan, the more similarities I see between him and my own father.

This semester, an old roommate introduced me to Adam. He’s an illustration major, and he wears four leather bracelets on his right wrist. I asked him if he had a story for them, or if he just wore them to look cool. He spent the next fifteen minutes talking about a week-long pioneer trek in Nauvoo and a little girl in Guatemala. Adam has shown an amount of depth and sensitivity that I look for. After dating a week, he invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him and his sister in Portland. I thought that’s something you did with someone you were serious with—I felt trapped. One night before the holiday, as Adam and I sat on the cold leather seats of his car, I told him I didn’t want to date him anymore. Now, I wonder if I threw something away that I shouldn’t have. I wonder if I threw someone away who will ask me to explain the symbolism in my collages or who will remember I love dark chocolate over milk. Maybe what I want is perfection.

And here I am, buying my own 3-dollar ticket to watch 500 Days of Summer at the cheap theater on a Friday or Saturday night. Some nights I’ll make fat-free popcorn and write rhetorical essays about deductive and inductive arguments for class. Other nights I’ll go to bed at 9:30 p.m. without being tired, texting my mom about how I want to go home or how I need her to tell me she loves me. I’ll be one of those amazing, single women like Sheri Dew or Barbara Thompson, I tell myself, because until I find what I want, I will be alone.