Bits and Pieces
It’s kind of amazing when I think of the things that have stayed with me. Today, I was standing on the steps alone and yet surrounded by crowds of people at an elementary school in The Avenues. I stood in line to vote for the first time in my life. Yes, as a 23 year old, I know I’m a little late.
Anyway, I had three hours to think while waiting in line. I wasn’t feeling very social. In fact, I felt rather introverted and nearly left the line because I didn’t want to be among the crowds. To keep sane, I brought my attention inward. I started to think about my life. I started to get lost in my thoughts. I realized I had been on this planet for 23 years, experienced 23 years of life…And yet I couldn't even remember the majority of it. I thought back to my oldest memories, the random memories that stayed with me for one reason or another… Even the people that just…stuck.
When I was in kindergarten, I stood up on the steps all of us children were sitting on. My teacher had asked a question, and raising my hand just wasn’t enough. I had to be chosen, my teacher had to see me. So with my hand straight up in the air, I jumped onto my feet. At that moment, the boy next to me stood up too. He kissed me on the cheek. His name was Stephen. I sat down. I had forgotten the answer or the question and no longer needed to be chosen. I didn’t care that my teacher hadn’t seen me.
Once a family moved in across the street. I played basketball with them the first night they had moved in. There was a boy named Sam in that family. He was two years older than me. My parents both had birthdays in the same month, so when I found out that Sam’s birthday was in October too…I immediately assumed that one day we would get married. My dad used to drive me up to Vegas four days out of the week for tennis lessons. I would be outside playing tag or kick the can with the neighbors, with Sam, until my dad would open the car door for me. The day we moved away to Vegas for good, my father had let those kids stay over all the way to midnight. There’s a picture somewhere. All of us in our pajamas. It wasn’t a sad night, but it makes me sad thinking about it.
I remember the first time I held a boy’s hand. It was at the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas. We were on an escalator going up. He reached over and wrapped his hand around my hand. We held each other’s hand all day long, no matter how it dripped of nervous thirteen year old sweat. I told him that I wasn’t old enough to know what love was, so I couldn’t tell him that I loved him. We soon beat the system of me thinking I wasn’t old enough to say those three words by coming up with a phrase, a code, that meant I did in fact love him. When I found out my father was moving the family to Florida to further pursue my tennis career, I snuck out into my backyard and cried under the trampoline.
We picked up Gemmy for the first time in Florida. She was only 8 weeks old then. Just a puppy. She was cute and furry and cuddly. Her eyes were bright and intelligent. Her paws were big and clumsy. I sat in the back of the car with her as my dad drove. When we started to drive away, Gemmy started to whimper and look back at her home. I was so surprised that she knew she was leaving her family. And in her whining, I began to cry. I petted her and told her I was sorry. I told my dad I didn’t want to take her from her family anymore, and I apologized to her the entire way home as we cried together.
I met a boy once. Strange enough, I can’t remember specific things about him. I can’t gush about the color of his eyes or the sound of his laugh. I just know that when I was near him, I felt the strangest kind of good I have ever felt. To this day. I don’t know if it was some strange kind of chemistry or just seventeen year old giddies. But I couldn’t shake that feeling. He was too young for me, by society’s standards. So I kept my distance. Except, only one night I gave in. I picked him up in my car. I don’t remember much really. I don't remember what we talked about or where else we went. But I remember swimming with him. It was night, and we were in the water. All I wanted to do was ask, “Do you feel as connected to me as I do to you? Like I have the ability to be the happiest person in the world when I’m with you? Like there’s a joke between us that only we can understand?” But I didn’t. I dropped him off at his house, told myself he had years to grow up, and never saw him again. To this day, I still wonder about him, about that feeling. . . I still wonder if it was all in my head, or if we both were in on that feeling.
There was a moment when I started my car in Arizona. I drove quietly away with my bags in the trunk at two in the morning. I cried my eyes dry as I drove through the starry desert. It’s a strange feeling, running away. Like you’re turning your back on something that was supposed to be the one thing you never should have had to turn away from. It felt liberating and scary. Rebellious but necessary. I kept wondering if I was a quitter or a drifter, and then I asked myself if that even mattered. I was what I was, and in running away, I came to terms with that.
I remember falling for a young British lad. I was in Croatia playing a tennis tournament. If I lost that day, I would have to fly home. I would never see him again. If I won, I could stay another day. The green eyed boy from England came to cheer me on. I was alone on a different continent; it was the first time anyone had cheered for me in a month and a half in my travels. I wasn’t good enough. I lost the match. I could not stay another day. I did not get to say goodbye either. I did not cry on the 8 hour bus ride to Umag, but I heard his voice in my head over and over again: “C’mon, Jade. Right here. You can do it.” But I couldn’t.
My parents had called me on speaker phone my first semester of college to tell me they were getting divorced. I said okay and they talked on about a few things here and a few things there. Then, pleased that I seemed to be taking it well, they hung up. I irrationally stopped mid-walk and crouched into the bushes next to the dorm houses. Then I cried with the rose bushes. A girl with glasses and short brown hair walked over to me. She asked if I was alright, and I nodded feebly. Then she smiled softly and left me alone. She’ll never know that I still think about that, that I was grateful to have a stranger ask if I was okay when no one else there did. It was a long and lonely first year at college, but that random concern for me from a stranger gave me hope.
There’s another memory that sometimes comes to mind. It was another green eyed boy. We were naked in bed together for the first time. We did what people who are naked in bed together do. After, he took the chain from his neck and put it around mine. Neither of us had intended for it, but we cared for each other very much. At the time, I was 100% sure that he loved me as much as I loved him. Now I’m 50% sure…But I’m 100% sure that that doesn’t matter anymore.
There was also moment in New York when I sat next to a man watching Annie Hall. We adored the film equally. No, he adored it more. I adored his adoration. I didn’t understand what I was feeling, so I only said what I was sure of. I told him I wished that I ended up with someone like him. And the next morning I flew to Costa Rica without saying goodbye.
Once I was walking down an empty street, maybe it was more of an alley way. But I wasn’t alone. This acquaintance stopped and read me a poem right then and there because he felt I needed to hear it. It was about work and life and love and passion. And suddenly I realized this person knew me because he knew my struggles and he fought the same struggles. We were at war, and he was there telling me I didn’t have to fight it alone. He was there telling me that we were all warriors and each and every one of us counted for something.
Saying no can sometimes be hard. I had said no in a truck once. Being told no can be hard too. This man didn’t like it at all. When I said no, he didn’t listen. When I reached out to unlock and open the car door, he grabbed me by the arm with such strength that it scared me. It must have scared him too. We froze together, and then he let go. He pulled back his hand, his head fell to his chest, and he whispered a sorry. I didn’t say anything. I only opened the door and got out of the truck. I’m not very fond of trucks now…But I am fond of the rainstick he gave me later that Christmas. I still have it somewhere…
There was another time when I had met an old man. He was traveling, and I was the one standing still. He told me I was beautiful, bright, and wonderful. And all I could think of was a week of rough nights serving tables, barely scraping by, and having no direction. He looked at me for a second and then reached into his pocket. He gave me a white stone and recited two lines from a poem. I’ll never forget it:
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
I stormed through all of these strange memories made and imprinted in my mind by other people, strangers, acquaintances, friends, and lovers alike. They made the memories worth keeping. I closed the book I was pretending to reading and looked about the hallways of the small elementary school. The atmosphere was loud and chattery. Energetic and supportive. I turned to the men on my right.
“Hi, I'm Jade. So, where are you guys from?”