On this balmy night,
young couples argue on stoops.
I chuckle softly.
Air and sky are warm,
and softly coax into rest
the long summer night.
Today I say goodbye to my little apartment. During the past four years, my fourth floor walk-up has served as my West Philly hobbit hole– a tiny dry space to call my own and provide sanctuary. Today, though, I leave my hobbit hole and move just two buildings over to something new and bigger. After a year together, my boyfriend and I going to have a home to call our own.
I didn’t expect to be as emotional as I have been this final week in my apartment. I like new adventures and new phases. I am excited that Frank and I will finally be in the same county, living in the same city, sharing a home that’s big enough for us to have mat space to drill and train together. I think it’s going to be awesome. But several times this week, I looked around my apartment and felt sad. Like, this is it. Time to say goodbye. At first, I didn’t know what I was saying goodbye to, but I the best way I can put it is that I’m saying goodbye to some part of me.
I’ve lived alone for the past five years and spent four of them in the place I’m leaving today. While parents and teachers may have always described me as “independent,” when I started living in this apartment, I think that’s where I developed my strongest sense of self. I’ve written many times about my former long-term relationship and how I felt after I left it. I felt like I’d spent seven years half asleep. By the time I moved into this apartment, I’d been out of that relationship for two years and was just starting my social work career. I felt ready to swim across the ocean, regardless of the conditions.
In the four years that I’ve lived in my apartment, I learned that I like to make my bed each morning. I learned that I’m a pretty good baker. I’ve practiced my chin-ups and done countless kettle bell swings in my small living room. I’ve made it to judo and jiu jitsu after terrible work days and sought relief in an Epsom salt bath. I’ve spent Sunday afternoons sitting on my concrete slab of a back deck, sipping Mr. Brown iced coffee and listening to This American Life. I’ve eaten dark chocolate peanut butter cups in bed. I’ve collapsed in tears on the hard wood floor after long runs when I’ve been ignoring my feelings for weeks on end. I prepared my for first conference presentation on my couch. I developed incredible friendships. I grew closer to my family. I became a person I like.
So maybe I’m not saying goodbye to a part of me. Maybe I’m saying goodbye to a process. If I hadn’t spent the last few years on my own like this, I wouldn’t have been prepared to enter a relationship rooted in love and mutual support and respect. I don’t think I’d have been able to see all the good that Frank has, and I definitely would not have seen the good that can come from sharing your life with someone else.
Even as I write this, I’m still sad to say goodbye to this era in my life, but I know that I won’t stop growing. And now I have someone amazing in my life and we get to grow together. So in the next ten minutes after I post this, I’ll continue my Saturday tradition of going to the farmer’s market in Clark Park to get a bouquet of flowers. Today, however, I’ll put them in the window of our new home.
Thick air and street grit
coat my skin as I ride home.
My bike doesn’t mind.
Last night was a perfect night. After a week of stressing and obsessing over all the things in my regular life and my work life, I needed to chill out. I hate that right now I’m one of those people that “live for the weekend,” but that’s where I’m at. Yesterday, I left the office at five o’clock, felt guilty for leaving on time at five o’clock, then annoyed at myself for feeling guilty for leaving work on time. I peddled home, got ready to go to open mat at the dojo, and then peddled on down to South Philly.
Admittedly, I don’t do a ton at open mat. Like a lot of clubs, our open mat is self-directed free practice for the judo and jiu jitsu students to drill techniques, trouble shoot problems in their game, and get in some extra sparring. It’s useful time to have. I’ve been lifting Friday morning before work, so I don’t have much to give by the time I get to open mat. I’ll work on a technique or two, roll for a couple sets, but that’s about it. Mostly, I go Friday nights because I want to see my friends. On Friday nights, no one has to rush right home afterwards since the weekend is here.
Last night, my friend Joy had her heart set on tacos and outdoor seating. I always have my heart set on tacos, so I was ready to help make her dream reach fruition. Joy, her BF who also trains, me, and our buddy and his GF headed over to my neighborhood in West Philly to this little taco spot. We got some cold beers from the little bottle shop around the corner, sat outside with our tacos and burritos, and chilled out. Since the night was so nice, we headed over to Clark Park, and sat outside, drinking beers and loitering like a lot of teenage hooligans. It was great. We talked about serious stuff, like our families, and dumb stuff, like the Renaissance Fair. After a while, it was time to head home. I felt so relaxed and content. I had this little flicker run across me signaling that my life is pretty good. Things are hard right now, but if I can eat a bunch of tacos and sit in a park on a Friday night, talking and laughing with friends, I’m doing alright.
I sit with spring time
and wait for summer to come
with promise of change.
About five years ago, I flew down from Philadelphia to Miami for my cousin’s wedding. He and his now-wife/then-girlfriend asked me to be a bridesmaid. I’d never been a bridesmaid before, but I was pumped to accept the role because I love those guys. I arrived in Miami the day of the rehearsal dinner, the night before the wedding. I don’t remember how or why, but I missed the rehearsal. Don’t worry, I was reassured by my cousin and his mom. Apparently, two of the groomsmen were still en route from Philadelphia. They, too, missed the rehearsal. When they finally arrived, we learned they didn’t have tuxes. This was all just the start of the folly leading up to the actual wedding, which was fun and gorgeous and unforgettable. Getting there was rough though. I remember cuddling on the couch with my cousin’s mom the day of the wedding, asking her how her poor son was managing. She told me that my presence along with his other girl cousins from Philadelphia meant a lot to him. “You guys,” she said, “are his psychological safety blanket.”
That phrase, “psychological safety blanket,” has stuck with me. To me, it means any person whose simple presence offers reassurance and comfort whenever you’re feeling awkward or anxious or about to lose it in a public or semi-public situation. I have a few of those at judo and jiu jitsu. If I’ve had a rough day and I’m feeling fragile, if one of my team psychological safety blankets are at practice, I can make it through. Even if they don’t know anything is wrong with me that day, their familiarity and easy nature will keep me steady.
Lately at work, I’ve felt awkward and anxious and like I’m about it lose it pretty frequently. Now that I’m in a management role, I feel alone a lot. I’m no longer on an interdisciplinary team. I no longer share an office with someone else in the social work department. It’s just me. When I was a team social worker, the other professionals on my team felt like a tiny family. We worked through tough situations together and celebrated together. We supported one another. It was nice. Now it’s gone. I’m team-less.
This week was difficult for me. My family is going through some stuff, which weighed heavy in the back of my mind and made everything going on at work seem either trivial or impossible. I was distracted all week. I wanted to cry in every meeting I sat through. One day, I had four meetings, so that was an especially strenuous exercise in containment. Yesterday, my dad reached out to me with more bad news. That was it. I was done. I paced around my office, door closed, alone. Was I going to cry? Yes. Do I want to cry? No. What do I do? What do I do? I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be alone. What do I do?
My gut told me a I needed a psychological safety blanket. Go to the safety blanket. But I’m at work. Who helps keep me steady at work? After mere seconds of deliberating, I dabbed my eyes with a tissue and sped down to the second floor, down the hall towards the Rehab department and into the office of my former teammate, our Occupational Therapist.
When were worked directly together, we were a dynamic duo. We got stuff done. Nothing was too hard; we’d handle anything. I loved it. I liked her from the start. Calm, empathetic, motivated, creative, efficient–the ideal teammate. More than that, we clicked on a personal level. We can talk about a ton of stuff outside the realm of geriatric community health. She’s a little older than I am, married with a family, so I like to hear her perspective on life and relationships. Her influence on me is so good. She knows life is a mess with so many hard things, but she doesn’t take it out on other people. She is mindful and self-aware, patient and giving, prioritizing her loved ones and her own sanity. Plus, she is silly and fun.
So into the OT’s office I ran. Unwittingly, she wrapped me up in that little psychological safety blanket right away with her familiar smile. I told her a little about what was going on, let myself cry for a moment, and she gave me a big hug. Then we just chatted a little, about her family, about the weekend, about silly things on the internet. She told me to go home early. I said I would, and we separated as co-workers came to her office to address actual work stuff. I went back upstairs to my office. I started replying to emails. Maybe I’ll stay. I looked around my office. I was alone again, surrounded by bare white walls and beige filing cabinets. Nope. Time to go home.
When I got to my apartment and sunk into my couch, I felt relieved. I didn’t cry again, probably because I didn’t have to fight so hard to stay composed. At 5:00, my phone rang, and it was the OT. “Are you home?” she asked. Yes. “Good. I said to myself, ‘yeah, she’s going to back up to her office and she’ll probably stay.'” She knows me well. Not this time, I told her. We talked for a moment. She wanted to make sure I was going to do something fun tonight and not be home alone. I assured her I was going to practice and my friends would be there. She approved of that plan. We hung up.
I am team-less at work, but I’m not blanket-less.