every five years or so i look back on my life and i have a good laugh.
I had a good friend and roommate in college named Jamie. Sometimes we would sit on the balcony of our dorm apartment and harmonize Indigo Girls songs together. If only we played guitars, we could have been the next great folk duo. We both wanted to sing the high part though. That was our real downfall.
There’s a line in their song “Watershed” that always resonated with me, even when I was just a goofy college kid who’d yet to experience many watershed moments: “There’s always retrospect to light a clearer path…Every five years or so I look back on my life, and I have a good laugh.”
I’ve got a birthday coming up next week–this one’s tipping over to the other side of 35- and I always get reflective before a new year. Whenever I feel a little stuck or like I’m not gaining enough momentum into the next great “whatever”– career move, personal victory, important life change– I find it pretty helpful to look back a few years and remember that change happens gradually, with a slow build that sometimes becomes difficult to recognize until we take the time to notice. I hope you’ll indulge me while I take some time to notice.
My first big move–from my birthplace of San Antonio to beachy Galveston, Texas. According to my mother, I was an angel who rarely cried or fussed and was a giggly, cooing delight 99% of the time. That woman has selective memory, but I do enjoy thinking of my baby self this way. My brother Adam came along when I was 17 months old.
I wasn’t too sure about that guy at first. Eventually I came around.
Six years old…what is that? First grade? We lived on a street called Antilles, which always sounded very exotic to me, especially for a series of attached beige townhouses that all looked exactly the same. I’m sure I had some personality characteristics that distinguished me from other six-year-olds, but if I had to summarize my life at this point it would go something like: backyard forts, beach sandcastles, Barbie, fruit roll-ups, sibling rivalry, fart jokes, naptime, chicken nuggets, Barbie.
Hello awkward phase! My hair went from sunny blonde to flat brown and my body decided to torture me with the early onset of little boobs and big hips that made me painfully self-conscious and physically uncomfortable. Everyday, I shimmied out of my training bra in the back of class and shoved it in my backpack. I was embarrassed by everything. I read a lot of Judy Blume. It was the late ’80s and fashion was just incredible. I lived for acid-washed jeans, slouchy bedazzled socks and summer camp. I am certain I had a crush on at least 3-6 boys at one time, none of whom showed the least bit of interest in me. I must have rolled my jeans wrong. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I had three teeth in my face.
I was an insufferably peppy teenager, genuinely lacking in the angst and ennui defined by this season of life. I had lots of friends, lots of interests, adored my parents, went on ski trips to Colorado, lived blocks from the beach and was gifted a shiny red Mustang. I was a lucky kid, and I knew it. What in the world did I have to complain about?
I didn’t smoke, didn’t curse, didn’t have sex or anything close to it. I never pierced anything interesting or wore something to make my father nervous. I was the designated driver, the one girls said they were spending the night with when they were really hanging out with their boyfriends. I was the kind of girl boys brought home to meet their mothers. But this was high school, and boys had no interest in bringing girls home to meet their mother.
When I think back, I cringe at this wasted opportunity for rebellion. When I think forward, I imagine I was the type of daughter I’d want to raise myself. Former classmates– thanks for not punching me in the face or keying my car. Mom and Dad–you are welcome. Teenaged Jenn–I am so sorry I was too scared to let your freak flag fly.
As a college senior, this became the year of great introspection. I began to ache for requited affection, and fell in love with a very nice guy who didn’t love me back. I spent a lot of time between classes and happy hours driving by myself in the Texas hill country, dreaming about my future. I was a journalism major and got this weird idea to move to New York City after graduation to get a job writing for magazines. Jamie and I took ourselves sky-diving to symbolize our leap into the unknown. Such depth. We should have become folk singers.
After three years living in New York City and writing for a woman’s magazine, I moved to Colorado. It was my first time living alone, and it felt like it. I was very lonely, so I spent a lot of time driving through the Rocky Mountains, contemplating my future. I was in school again, this time studying elementary education. I have no idea how I stumbled on the idea to become a teacher, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
My little brother got married, and I invited a friend from New York to be my date for the wedding. I wasn’t too sure about that guy at first, but eventually I came around. We began dating, and spent that year flying back and forth between Denver and NYC. I fell in love with a very nice guy who loved me back. He brought me home to meet his mother.
I was in school again, this time studying clinical social work. I have no idea how I stumbled on the idea to become a psychotherapist, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d been back in New York for a while, and this was the year my boyfriend was finally going to become my roommate. In October, he moved all of his things into my Queens apartment. I was ecstatic. Four days later, he got into a motorcycle accident and became bed-bound for nearly four months. I was a nurse.
I began to ache for the comfort and stability of marriage and spent a lot of time dreaming about our future. Except this time it wasn’t while driving. It was on the subway. Fellow riders– thanks for not punching me in the face or stealing my Ipod while I was so distracted.
Next week is my birthday, and I’ll be celebrating it in style with my husband and and a brick of cheese in Paris, France.
I’ve been a therapist for the past four years, and have been deemed adequate enough to become a supervisor. After a few detours, I’ve finally found something I believe to be my life’s work.
I have a client who is 21 and feeling anxious and confused because she doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. I welcome her to the human race.
She leaves the room, and I write my session note. I feel an ache of nostalgia, mixed with cautious relief. I take a look back on my life and I have a good laugh.
*Because I am a therapist (a pretty nosy profession if there was one), I’d love for you to share your life in 5-year increments in the comments or on my facebook page. Have things changed in ways that surprised you?