In April of 2013, I found myself unemployed, dumped, and on the verge of a quarter-life crisis. I was living in a city where I knew relatively no one, and had just badly lost my third political campaign in under a year. A week after losing my job, my on-again-off-again boyfriend of two years called me from Afghanistan to tell me that he had no intention of ever marrying me and was unsure if he wanted to see me when he returned home. I hung up the phone, curled into the fetal position, and stayed there for the final few weeks of my lease. I alternated between crying and consuming vast quantities of twist-off bottles of white wine. The only thing I had ever known career-wise was politics, and after yet another crushing defeat, I was done. Conversely, the only thing that I had ever known romantically was him, and after two years of the “Will they? Won’t they?” dance, he was done. I was lost, and alone, and very seriously flirting with alcoholism. It got low and it got dark. After waking up one afternoon on my bathroom floor, surrounded by empty bottles, I realized that I was traveling down a road that I didn’t want to be on. I packed my belongings in the Volvo S40 I had gotten for my 16th birthday and drove up 95, wearing sweatpants, oversized sunglasses, and a whole lot of shame. I arrived at my parents’ house unannounced, bags in hand, metaphorical tail between my legs, and burst into tears. I spent that night in my childhood bedroom, wearing a cheerleading t-shirt from high school and boxers from my ex-boyfriend, and spent the midnight hours wondering what my life had become. How was I here? How the hell did this happen?
For the next few months, I reverted back to childhood and childlike behavior. I was an unemployed adult living in my parents’ house, and I blamed them for the disastrous current state of my life. I fought with my mother like I had when I was in high school. I nitpicked, I complained, I bitched. I was…unbearable. I cried a lot and I drank even more. I gained weight. I lost the tenacity I once had, the fire, the zest. I was existing. And it was awful. I was working as a glorified babysitter, something arguably beneath my age. As I sat at the pool with the kids I looked after, surrounded by teenagers who were doing the exact same job that I was, I finally had my come-to-Jesus moment. What was I doing with my life?
Slowly but surely, I started getting my shit together. It was little stuff at first: helping with the dishes or offering to cook dinner. Maybe I’d offer to take my little brother to football practice or actually wake up before 3pm on my days off. I started to ask my mom how she was doing and actually listen to her words. I stopped looking at her with disdain in my eyes. I watched TV with my dad and took interest in his work. I neutralized the war zone that my house had become. It wasn’t fair to my parents or my 15-year-old brother. And also, it wasn’t fair for me, either. I had become someone I didn’t want to be. I wasn’t a bad person, per say, but I certainly wasn’t a good one. I got by. I made do. I settled. But I didn’t want to be like that anymore. I was too young to be that miserable and my parents had worked too hard for me to justify the life that I was living. I couldn’t settle for mediocrity, if for no other reason, than for the fact that they deserved better.
As I sat in the backseat of a Volvo wagon this past Thursday on the way to the airport to start my new job, I felt a bittersweet mix of emotions. It was 7am and both of my parents, the day after Christmas, had volunteered to drive me the hour to Dulles International. As my mom sang along to Christmas carols and my dad asked if I needed any money, it almost felt reminiscent to being dropped off at the movies as a teenager. Except this time I wasn’t getting picked up at 11:30pm. This time my mom wouldn’t ask me if my date had tried to hold my hand or whether I had ordered popcorn or candy. This time I wasn’t coming home to sleep in my bed and tomorrow morning I wouldn’t wake up to the smell of my mom cooking bacon and grits or the sound of my dad rehashing Mark Levin’s latest rant on Congress. No, this time I would arrive in a new city, live in a new apartment, and start a new job. My mom wouldn’t be there to tell me to make my bed and my dad wouldn’t be there to remind me that “boys are bad.” After taking a few dozen photos upon our arrival, I hugged my parents, told them I loved them, and walked through security. I turned back, waved, and smiled, and then headed toward my gate and began crying. I was so happy and so excited, and yet it was still like a sucker punch to the stomach.
After months of hating them and blaming them for my every problem, we had gotten to a good place. A wonderful place, actually. And now I was leaving that place. That warm and welcoming safety net that they had provided for me, the (mostly) judgement-free zone, the spot I had gone to when I needed help most…I was leaving it. As I sat on my plane and prepared for my life to take off in every way possible, I realized that I never properly thanked them. I never told them how much I appreciate them or how lucky I am to have them in my life. I didn’t tell them about all of those times they were right. I didn’t thank them for putting up with me when I was at my worst or praising me when I was at my best. I never told them how wonderful they are or thanked them for being my biggest supporters. I didn’t say “hey guys, sorry I sucked for a little bit. Thanks for snapping me out of it.” And I didn’t tell them how much I’m going to miss them.
So, mom and dad: thank you. Thank you for still loving me after all of the times I’ve screwed up. Thank you for metaphorically kicking my ass when I needed it most. Thank you for the credit card bills you paid in college and for allowing me to stay on the family cell phone plan longer than any postgrad really should. Thank you for my new SUV and for my most prized possession, the Vitameatavegamin “I Love Lucy” Barbie Doll. Thank you for keeping me grounded but also inspired. Thank you for showing me what real love is and for encouraging me to wait for it. Thank you for being my mom and dad.
I woke up early this morning and after showering and putting on pants that don’t have an elastic waistline and a shirt that doesn’t have a political candidate’s name across the chest, I ate breakfast, because my mom was right, it really is the most important meal of the day, and I prepared for my first day of work. I thought about how different my life is now compared to what it was six months ago. I hit what most would describe as “rock bottom” but I didn’t stay there. So, thank you for encouraging me to follow my dreams. Thank you for reading my columns even when they make you cringe. Thank you for loving me despite my filthy mouth and for claiming me even after I got drunk and embarrassed you at the family reunion. Thank you for being pretty damn cool. I may not have it all figured out right now and I don’t know if I ever will. But I’m in a good place – and that’s thanks to you. You did good. I love you.
P.S. I made my bed this morning!