Feb 21 – Day Eleven – Happy birthday, Jenna!
It’s my sister’s birthday today! She’s celebrating in Seattle with our aunts and cousins. Family birthdays are something I always miss about living abroad. Everyone in the living room, discussing the dogs, eating Los Panchos or Zacharys (the only two food establishments my family truly needs), talking loudly over each other, Gma Jackie hitting the harmony at the tail end of “Happy Birthday.” And then eating Mom’s yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. And then reminiscing about all the cake disasters we’ve had over the years. Good times.
I haven’t been home for Jenna’s birthday in probably five or six years, since living abroad. But she was really there for me for the 30th birthday. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who I had moved across the country for, and just driven back home, across the entire dang country (shout out to Seghs!) in a kind of depressed, shame-ridden, unemployed funk.
The only point of joy in my life was my mom’s dog, Kismet Oreo, who was the ball of fluff I needed to have a reason to get out of bed every day.
And I was about to turn 30.
I had thought, like most girls who spend the tail end of their twenties in a serious relationship, I’d be spending my thirtieth year, for some reason a huge number year, planning a wedding in a rustic barn in North Carolina, finding a perfect teaching job so I could quit the bartending I had taken up on the side, thinking about raising kids barefoot on a goat rescue farm.
Instead, I had moved back in with my parents and was trying to convince the dog that she liked going on walks. Because walking was the only thing I could do where my body wouldn’t let me cry at the same time. And I carved a footpath in the Iron Horse Trail those few months, walking and walking until the big part of me that was in pain figured out how to be smaller.
I sometimes get really depressed and weird around my birthday, and it was especially so around this birthday, and Jenna decided that instead of sitting around waiting for 30 to happen to me, we could take a trip.
So we went to Puerto Rico. Jenna found an amazing AirBnb, we rented a car, we explored, we tanned, we ate. On my birthday, she let me sit in the kiddie pool on the roof and kept bringing me margaritas all day and let me be a tiny bit of a wreck because she cares and I’ll never forget that trip. I think she let me watch like five episodes of “The X-Files” that day. MULDER! I LOVE YOU!
Love you Jen! Happy bday. Thanks for always being there.
Feb 22 – Day Twelve – How to friend
I joined this group called Girl Gone International when I first moved to HK, and it’s been a total Godsend to be in a community (and several very active Whatsapp groups) with like-minded women who have moved abroad, are away from family and the familiar, and are trying to make Hongkers home. We do happy hours, brunches, birthdays, and give and take great advice. It’s sweet. This week I went to a different kind of event – girl power embroidery and champagne free flow.
We started with introductions, and I ended up having mutual friends with three of them, and quite a few were teachers. Then we got to sewing instruction. I felt the spirit of my Gma Susi smiling on me as I learned how to cross stitch super simple patterns. I felt like a rockstar. The bubbles were adding to the confidence, but as the night wore on, definitely not to my concentration. My piece still sits unfinished in a ziploc bag in my living room, but I’m excited about picking it up again soon.
During the introductions, although we were hailing from South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, California (I don’t say I’m from the States anymore), and Chile, the common denominator at our table was a sense of being slightly overwhelmed in Hong Kong, but wanting to make friends, and glad we’d found the GGI group to help.
Making new friends in your thirties is just about as hard as dating. Where do you find new people? What do you talk about? How do you sustain the friendship when we work and travel as much as we do? How do you get people to answer text messages and commit to activities at a rate that makes you feel like you do have a genuine friendship?
When we were younger, we met people all the time with school and sports, family friends, activities, summer camps, etc. Now it requires much more of an effort.
I’m glad I’ve found others also willing to make it.
Feb 23 – Day 13 – First date jitters
Awhile back, I said I was done with the online dating. I had a pretty terrible experience, blogged about it, it ended up getting worse. A week after I had said no thank you to seeing more of him, there were some nasty text messages and it got a bit scary, so I took the blog down to try and end it. Being a female is hard.
I had started talking to another guy on Tinder. He was older, too, because the older ones are usually more likely to strike up a convo and keep it going to the point where you actually meet up. Younger guys (and my age guys) are there for hookups and the dopamine hit of being “liked” back, I think. The conversations rarely go further than “hey.”
But this guy and I had been chatting nonstop. He was sarcastic, had a lot to say, also in education, handsome, etc. This went on for two weeks and I had to be the one who said we should move it to Whatsapp. And then I had to ask if he was ever going to ask me out on a date. He eventually did, and we decided to meet up and go see a light installation I’ve been wanting to see, and I asked him to figure out the bar. He named a place, and when I told everyone I know that I finally had another first date and the place we were going, I was promptly informed that said bar had closed. Perhaps it was a bad omen I should have paid more attention to at the time. Alas.
So he found another place, a British pub, and we agreed to meet up on Friday.
For SIX DAYS I had the absolute nerviest of nerves. Because what if it’s amazing? What if this is the first date that ends all other first dates? Based on what I know about him, I have already plotted out the rest of our lives together.
What if this first actual meeting is a story we end up telling over and over for forever?
I actually googled “things to do on a first date” and “things to talk about on a first date” and “things NOT to talk about on a first date.” As if I have ever met a stranger or ever had problems talking to someone in my life. But when we play this whole dating game, especially in our thirties and living abroad and online so much, the point is, at least for me, to find THE ONE that will be there for the rest of this life. So I get nervous. I pace in front of my closet in a towel, texting my friends, trying to invent last minute excuses for canceling on a date. I can’t word. I giggle and sweat. I swear too much and say things I shouldn’t, share things I shouldn’t on a first date. Or any date.
The flipside of “Because what if it’s amazing?!” is “But what if it sucks?”
What if after texting nonstop for two weeks, we come to find out that there is no IRL (in real life) connection? No genuine spark?
What if, because we feel disappointed by that, and upset by that, but feel like we have to be nice about it all, we pretend that there is? And just go along with things for a while, perhaps too long, to the point where we realize that this is leading someone on, but by now it is too late?
What could happen that would be okay then, that doesn’t leave you feeling a bit sad, and upset with yourself, and the system and the world and the patriarchy and anything else handy to blame this on . . . and missing the texting conversations you’d had, while knowing it would be unkind to keep dating someone when you’re sure there is no future.
First dates are too hard. I can’t do this much longer. I just one want more. Please and thank you.
Feb 24 – Day 14 – happy bday month, gma susi
happy birthday month, gma susi. been thinking about you a lot lately. wish i could share these teaching adventures with you. you’d get such a kick out of the places i get to go and the people i get to meet. but, rest assured, kids are the same anywhere and everywhere. i give and get lots of hugs.
You died before i moved to north carolina. You died thinking i was running off to marry that boy at that time. We’d gotten to talk a little bit about my first four years of teaching, but nothing since. You dont know that i lived in brazil for three years! That i saw the most beautiful beaches and capybaras and antartica and monkeys crashed church service. You dont know about Carnaval, and wine country in Argentina, and salt cathedrals in Colombia, and that I can speak Portuguese now.
You dont know I moved to hong kong, and have been tramping all over asia now, and seen so many things. That im considered tall here, and delightfully fat to the point im pointed out of stores, and that i make constant blunders with asian culture.
I’ve seen japan, thailand, cambodia, vietnam, malaysia, the philippines, indonesia, korea, macau. Youd love it. I teach all English language learners! How much we’d have to talk about.
Sometimes when i think about you, when something like Ritz crackers, or the Oregon trail, or caffeine free diet coke, or sewing, or teaching first grade comes up, i can hear you talking, looking over the rim of your glasses at me, your big bottom lip sticking out, your painted nails clicking the pen as you worked on the crossword puzzle at the back of a “People” magazine, head shaking just slightly, hair thinning and curly on the top of your head.
“Now, Rachel . . . “ you’d always say to me. All your sentences started with “Now, Rachel . . . “
I’ve spent more time with primary teachers now, and I understand you better. How it’s not something you can turn off so much. I want to ask you questions, like: How to deal with crazy parents, and how to deal with administration that just doesn’t get it. I want to ask you how you celebrated the 100th day of school, how you found the energy to drive to Antioch and teach every day for so long, how you differentiated your learning, how you did it all without a learning assistant or computers or the internet.
How on the weekends you still puff-painted shirts for us and made jumpers and flower girl dresses and later sewed my prom dresses and costumes for “West Side Story” and “Grease.” My God. You were a wonder woman and I didn’t know it enough at the time and I’m sorry but I will say it now.
You are amazing. You’re still with me. As long as a “MRS/MS/MISS WEIGHT!!!!” still rings out in excitement every school day morning, you’re still with me.