That Girl Then

decisionsdeterminedestiny

I often think of my parallel life. Or lives, more correctly. What would have happened if I had chosen differently? I think of it as a movie reel spliced with alternate endings as my eyes go a little soft and I imagine cellulose curls filled with other choices and players I’ve not yet met falling to my feet. The road forks in my mind and I follow it to another girl’s life, what could have been mine.

My own Sliding Doors.

When I was sweet sixteen and never been kissed I had my first jolting experience with what could be. There were no boyfriends, no prospects and I took to baggy shirts and boy jeans to cover the curves that arrived the previous summer. I was sitting in the living room of a young Indian couple that had started attending my church. They opened an album filled with colors, excitement, presents and gold; their wedding photos. The celebration lasted seven days. There were silk saris in every imaginable color, elephants, body paint and gold everything.

It was amazing.

While the new bride showed me pictures and modeled saris, her mother-in-law began speaking in Tamil. Her husband, Aadhi, conversed with his mother quietly in the corner of the room. I noticed that mom’s tone was becoming more insistent and as my friend smiled from ear to ear, clearly amused by whatever was happening, Aadhi finally looked up, “My mother thinks you’re very pretty.”

I glanced at my friend, Toni, assuming he was talking to her. Aadhi smiled and redirected my attention, “Jeanette, my mother thinks you are very pretty.”

I smiled, thanked her and looked up at the bride as she wrapped a sari around her waist. She looked as though she had a secret as her mother-in-law chattered.

Aadhi seemed annoyed as he nodded to his mother and turned toward me again, “She wants to know if you’re in school.”

I looked up from the album on my lap, “Yes, I’ll graduate next year.”

“What kind of career are you going to pursue?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I smiled at Aadhi, “probably accounting.”

He translated and Aadhi’s mother began to poke him, prodding. He sighed loudly, his wife laughed.

“My mother would like a picture of you.”

I looked up, confused, “A picture?”

Aadhi’s mother was talking a mile a minute at this point and he was quickly stabbing at her with terse Tamil words to keep her pacified, “She would like to know if she can meet your parents.”

“My parents?”

I looked over to see Aadhi’s mother was eyeing me with a Jesus glow about her eyes. She nodded and smiled as if to convince.

Aadhi turned away from his mother and sighed, “I’m sorry to embarrass you. My mother is here to find a wife for my brother. She likes you and wants to see if she can make an arrangement with your parents. She thinks you would give my brother much happiness and beautiful children. He is a doctor in India. She would arrange for a large dowry. Tell me no and I’ll make this go away.”

“Um, I’m sixteen.”

“I know. You wouldn’t get married for some time. You would write letters, send pictures and then when you were a little older my brother would send for you.”

“Send for me?”

“That’s how it works.”

I looked at all of the beautiful saris, the gold, the tiny pierced noses and thought of a life outside of the Florida swamps. It was sexy, adventurous, exotic. I would ride elephants into rivers and fill my fingers with henna. Then I thought of the doctor that would send for me, the brightly colored fabrics glaring against my pale complexion and the likelihood I’d eventually get bored or freaked out, run off to Paris to fall in love with a street performer and bring great shame to my family because I was sixteen. Boyfriend or not I wasn’t ready to be sent for by anyone who had to ask his mother to find me.

“I’m sorry.”

Aadhi smiled and winked and like that my parallel life came to an end.

As I was driving home today thinking of all the roads, choices and simple decisions, conversations and chance meetings that have spliced my life into a cinematic wonder I thought of all the saris and gold. How different my life could’ve been had I been curious enough to pursue an Indian doctor who wanted to, when you get right to it, pay my parents for me.

We were broke and I was mouthy so they may have considered.

I kid.

I think.

I also thought of the summer job as a customer service rep for a regional bank where I got in trouble with my boss for showing up with wet hair. The bank was purchased by a national corporation with executives that noticed something about me (I dried my hair by then) and so began the eventual promotion from “the matchstick girl” (my boss liked that nickname the best) at $7.35 an hour to a woman that travels to places she couldn’t imagine because people value her advice.

I thought of the faces and places that pulled me out of my own way. The demons that showed up on occasion to force me to rise above, to cling to the happiest of endings. The bad boys that made me cry in parking garages with flailing arms and the girlfriends that taught me what it was like to be your barest most primal beautiful self and still be loved.

There were never mistakes. There were definitely decisions I wouldn’t make today, but I had to splice a few movies to build the knowledge base. I can’t fault That Girl Then for the choices made, but I can forgive her because she squirms a little in the remembering.

There were lessons that, in all honesty, my daughter won’t know about until she’s in a crisis in her twenties and needs to know mom was human too. It has to be a good crisis where she’s on the verge of inconsolable with snot running down her face that she’s not even wiping, that bad, but those lessons were the foundation for something better.

I think of my daughter’s Sliding Doors and that makes me squirm too. All parents want the perfect life for their children, but that doesn’t build them. They have to lay the foundation, brick by brick, concrete messes, cracks and rebar. I know that she will have choices to make that could lead her away from me. I just hope that the editing I’ve done has created such a rich story line that she will always find comfort knowing she has a willing production assistant and a soft place to land when she has her own alternate endings to consider.

As I write I smile. I am fully aware that 75 year old me will one day stumble upon this post, The Me Today, and think of all the life I had ahead of me when I wrote this, look at you thinking you are so grown up and have lived a full life. Aren’t you adorable. You haven’t even (enter something amazing and completely unimaginable) yet. Just you wait.

I hope I make her proud and at the very least, give her some memories to cherish.

I’ve certainly given her stories.

Gratitude and Grown Up Shoes

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I got a new pair of shoes. They’re really cute. I receive a lot of compliments on them and they’re the perfect sandals for sundresses and running through airports.

Stick with me. I swear I’m not going to talk about Pumpkin Spice lattes and glitter pens.

I grabbed them during a sniper shopping spree. I needed new shoes for work and quickly pointed to five pairs, tried them on, pointed to two pairs that made the cut, “I’ll take those,” and handed the salesman my card. He laughed, “You are the fastest female shopper I’ve ever met. Very decisive.”

It was simply an errand because I had incredibly important things to do before the beginning of the week. I had big meetings scheduled in Denver and I needed to get it done so I could run home and pack for my trip.

I packed. I drove myself to the airport. I flew to Denver, nailed my meetings and even fit in dinner with friends who noticed my adorable sandals. It was as I was sitting in the bathroom stall, of all places, at DIA before I boarded my flight back to Las Vegas that I looked down at my feet and wondered when it was that I stopped being grateful over a new pair of shoes.

New shoes were a big deal when I was a little girl. Most of my clothes were hand me downs, but I almost always got one pair of new shoes when I outgrew the last. I always had school shoes (sneakers) and church shoes. I gently rubbed a little soap on my church shoes with a washcloth after every few wears to make sure they stayed pretty since I wasn’t sure when I’d get a new pair. My mom threw my sneakers in the wash here and there and over time they always turned that unfortunate gray color that smacked of putty and the smell of a child playing in the street till dusk. You know the throw back photos from the 80’s. The ones with the kids with stringy hair, dirty knees and skinny legs that stop at these block of a dirty shoe on their feet.

I remember the first time I bought my own shoes for work. I was sixteen and had my first summer job. I took my time, walking down every aisle of a store my parents would have said was for the materialistic. I smelled all the leather. I touched all the buckles. I daydreamed about the women who walked in and just picked out shoes like it was a Tuesday. I wondered if I was being ostentatious, spoiled and finally naive to think I deserved such nice shoes, who do I think I am?

The pair I selected were gorgeous and extremely expensive for a part time student clerk, but they made me walk with purpose. They were sleek and gave me grown up feet. I no longer had clunky, silly kid feet, no. These were pointy, purposeful, grown up feet that were feeling more in control of life, a nod away from my poor neighborhood.

My shoes were pointing me in a new direction.

When I was in my twenties I had to save up for going out shoes. There was a time when I wanted a sparkly pair of silver heels so bad, but they had no tangible purpose except for making me look like a sex pot. So, I had to pinch my pennies until I could afford my dancing feet.

When I came into my career in my thirties my closet filled with shoes. I have shoes for lazy days, shoes for big meetings, lucky red shoes for when I need a little extra something, party shoes, beach shoes, yawning shoes, sneezing shoes, grumpy shoes, smiling shoes, frowning shoes, serious girl shoes, playful girl shoes and on and on I could go. Oddly enough my feet are less happy than they’ve ever been since all these beautiful shoes do note exactly promote foot health.

But, there I was flitting through my day, my meetings and dinners all checked off the list and staring at my pedicured feet strapped into sandals that I just noticed with the eyes of the sixteen year old staring down at her first grown up shoes. They were sandals that would have been a luxury. They were not purposeful shoes. They were not a neutral color to go with any outfit and I was not grateful for them.

I walked to my plane, boarded, put my bag up, took my seat and pulled my phone out. I found my Notes section and started a list, “I’m grateful for…”

I was grateful that I was the little girl who had to wash and air dry her shoes to keep them pretty.

I was grateful for the shoes I bought when I was sixteen that opened up my world for me, pointed me in a new direction.

I was grateful for the struggle to afford my party shoes.

I was grateful for the job that brought me shoes that I strapped to my feet to experience my life in all its iterations; the celebrations, the dates, the vacations, the experiences I couldn’t have imagined when I was cleaning my church shoes.

I was grateful for forgetting.

But, more importantly – I was grateful for the moment I remembered.