A Decade of Grown-Up Jobs
I turned TWENTY in West Philly in my boyfriend’s apartment. We were tripping acid, eating ice cream and calling everyone we knew, attempting to feed them through the phone to celebrate my birthday. We woke up covered in Ben & Jerry’s containers and Sbarro’s pizza boxes from 30th Street Station. How we made it almost two miles to a regional train depot and back, I will never ever know. Two weeks later, after coming home from bartending at a restaurant called Bubble Tea House, I found him cheating on me with the next door neighbor.
I moved out and into a shithole apartment with a chemist from Dublin and a shiatsu practitioner with a dog. My rent was $300 a month, utilities included. The place was full of rats and the AC didn’t work. One morning an industrial coffeemaker exploded on my legs at Bubble Tea House. I was hospitalized for burns, experienced morphine for the first time and contracted infections while recovering in my sweltering apartment. I got out of town and visited my grandmother for a weekend. We celebrated my TWENTY-FIRST birthday with a 24-ounce beer at Texas Roadhouse in Watertown, New York.
That fall, I let handsome traveling musicians draw on my walls in permanent marker and threw a lot of raucous parties with art installations that I don’t remember. The heat stopped working and never came back on.
Luckily, I found a room with more amenities in a huge, beautifully renovated house with five young men. We destroyed the place, throwing the best Prince themed New Year’s blowout of all time. It was greasy, smelly, and covered in beer and books. We were so manic and so irresponsible. We tore the crystal chandelier out of the ceiling. I clogged my vintage clawfoot tub with papier mache. We sang Waylon Jennings covers on the porch and lived off day old muffins. It was perfect. They were perfect. Nothing perfect lasts.
I got my first “grown-up” job at an advertising agency, designing web banners and writing musician interviews for a blog. I moved to South Philly with my best friend from childhood to be closer to work. The Philadelphia Police came to that place twice. First when two of my friends were robbed at gunpoint on my front steps. Second when I was followed home from work and someone tried to kick in my door.
The boutique advertising gig suited me. I moved up to Art Director, designing packaging for cigarettes, overpriced hipster booze and a snooty Americana boutique. Philly treated me very well. I managed to save a bunch of money and not get arrested or permanently injured. I quit my job and boarded a plane to San Francisco. I ran around for several weeks, enjoying pour-over coffee and rose gardens in Berkeley. After blowing through most of the aforementioned savings, I failed to hand-deliver about 40 portfolio packages to potential employers. What else would you expect from a TWENTY TWO year old?
Thanks to a too-weird-to-refuse deal with my benevolent and completely maniacal former boss, I returned to Philly. I picked up his brand new Chevy Suburban, loaded up two suitcases filled with all of my possessions, and moved to New Hampshire. I lived by myself for a little over two years on a defunct multi-million dollar farm, managing seventy-two acres of property, two barns, three houses, one pond, and one graveyard. I also was charged with making friends with residents, procuring real estate, and paving the way for another snooty Americana boutique and a micro-distillery, both physically and with community “goodwill.” I turned TWENTY THREE years old. My neighbor left a special birthday note on my woodpile. I really did manage to make some real friendships of my own while learning about gentrification, rural poverty, and how to be humble. I also learned about mental health, keeping secrets, and rock climbing. I adopted two dying kittens, raised them to stable health, then pawned them off on my parents shortly after my TWENTY-FOURTH birthday.
Then I dropped everything and moved to New Orleans for love.
The first time, I stayed two months before leaving. Big mistakes destroyed one of my dearest friendships. Healthy coping mechanisms weren’t my thing. When I woke up one morning covered in baby turtles on a mattress in the kitchen of a stranger’s house, it was time to pack up. Lay low, lick my wounds, take a new “grown-up” job up north. I wore pantsuits to look more professional and attempted to shake off my ethanol-soaked doppelgänger. TWENTY-FIVE was just too old for this idiocy, right?
I don’t talk about the second time. Life is never a straight line but it always leads back to Louisiana.
I made it off the waitlist to an M.F.A. program, swiftly took out 40K in loans, and moved to Austin, Texas. I lived in a collective house of bilingual community organizers, and drove to the River Parishes every other weekend until I could move to New Orleans full time. In the process, I unexpectedly found the most significant mentor of my entire life. He helped me find a voice. He helped me find a way to get my thoughts off the page and into the streets. He saved my life in some ways.
My TWENTY-NINTH birthday on Cabrini Bridge was quiet and unremarkable. I was tired and it showed.
I tried to leave again last Fall. My mental health was shot to shit. I’d taken and quit three jobs in four months and was stuck in an utter standstill. I never cried more than I did last summer and fall. That leaving felt like it was for good, but departures are funny events. Sometimes the door closes as you measure each step in the other direction and never look back. Other times, departures are turning points. When the door hits you on the way out, you get up and stick a battering ram through it. I returned. I find small ways every day to move beyond the paradigm of dropping everything for New Orleans.
I accompany many struggles. Or maybe really, The Struggle. That undertaking requires steadfast beliefs and relationships—bonds of community and trust that are not quickly or easily picked up and put down. A fellow organizer gave me an African name (that I forget because I was crying so many happy tears this time) meaning “Quiet Warrior.”
Here I go again.
Leaving to start a Ph.D. A “grown-up job” up north, hey?
My THIRTIETH birthday is in 8 days, and I can’t wait to leave my 20’s behind. I’ve been telling people I’m 30 for months now. At the sunset of the next decade, I’ll have endured thirteen years of higher education. Hopefully the next decade will bring even more twists and turns, but (please) less rats, drugs, and credit card debt. I’ll make different kinds of mistakes. Somewhere around THIRTY SEVEN, there will be some more letters after my name, but that is not and never will be what gives me the right to keep telling stories out loud.