I’ve just spent the better part of a week in warm and sunny Florida. It was quite a change of scenery from New York, which was still chilly and windy when I left.
I mainly went down to spend time with my oldest friend and her kids. I try to do this as often as I can, especially while the girls are as young as they are right now. Making memories with them means everything to me.
On my way home, I’ve gotten to spend a couple nights with Natalie. We’ve talked about doing this for a while now, and I’m so happy that I had an opportunity to make it happen. It’s our first time hanging out IRL, but thanks to years of blog acquaintance, it feels as though I’m visiting an old friend.
The trip has been really nice, and in spite of how afraid I was of falling behind on work, I’ve actually been more productive thanks to the change of scenery.
It’s funny that I dragged my feet to buy a ticket, because I can see now that this was a perfect moment to get away. As I gazed at palm trees on the side of the highway near the Fort Myers airport and watched them give way to lush foliage on Captiva Island, I was reminded of another trip, years ago.
That was in 2014, when I went to California to visit a bunch of friends. It was March, same as it is now. It was also only a month or so after I found out that I hadn’t gotten into medical school.
As with all seemingly catastrophic disappointments that get absorbed into our life stories, I now look back on that rejection and see how fittingly things worked out. But it didn’t feel fitting at the time; it felt crushing.
I booked my flight to California because I wasn’t sure where else to go or what to do. I bought the ticket in spite of sudden panic about my student loans and the fact that I had no imminent professional path with which to justify them.
A week before the trip, I called my closest friend in New York. He was the first friend whom I told about the med school rejection. This also meant confessing to him what I already knew in my heart, which was that I wouldn’t try to reapply. Technically speaking, I could have done that, but in reality it wasn’t an option. I’d given the med school attempt everything I had.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do next,” I whimpered to him on the phone.
“Oh,” he responded, in his characteristically calm way. “I don’t think you figure that out this week. Or even this month. For now, I think you just focus on getting to California.”
So I did that. I got to California. And after a few days in LA, I hopped aboard the Coast Starlight Train to Monterey, where I would spend a few nights with my friend Christina.
At the time, Christina was a language teacher. We hadn’t seen each other since completing our post-baccs together, and I jumped at the chance to visit her. Christina has lived all over the world and travels often; she’s as loyal and steady a friend as they come, but she’s rarely in one place for very long. To spend a week with her felt precious.
I remember watching the California coastline unfold before me with wonder on that train ride. I remember how empty my car often was, so different from the crowded, commuter-populated East Coast Amtraks I was used to.
I can recall eating a meal in the dining car, peeking out my window at a landscape that seemed to morph completely every few hours. (I wrote about it all here.)
Most of all, I remember trying and failing to summon up a sense of what would come next. I wanted to prod my heart into feeling more upbeat and resilient, but I couldn’t.
Instead, I kept returning to Sam’s words. I let myself feel all of the fatigue and exhaustion, the sorriness and disappointment. I leaned my head against the train window and took a lot of little naps; I cried a few times while I listened to music.
I tried as best I could to stay focused on the only thing I knew for sure would come next: a week of friend time with someone I love.
I haven’t been at quite so dramatic a crossroads lately. But it has been a weird month, with its own unravellings and disappointments and that lost feeling that I keep writing about lately.
When I finally bought my ticket to Florida, and throughout the trip to Captiva on Tuesday, I thought about my train ride to Monterey in 2014. And I oriented myself in the same direction that I did back then: toward the embrace of a good friend.
As my car crept into the rental on Tuesday night, I could spot lights on in the living room and a few of the kids’ toys strewn around the room. When I got a little closer, I saw Chloe, my oldest friend and the person who’s like a sister to me, reading to her older daughter on the sofa.
It was all so comforting. And it reminded me that, when I’m not sure where to turn or what comes next, I can turn toward the people I love. That’s always the place to go, the next indicated step, the right thing to do.
There’s a funny thing about these moments that happen right after endings, disappointments, things coming apart, or any other set of circumstances that leaves us with the sensation that we don’t really know where to go next. Very often we begin writing a new chapter before we realize that we’re doing it.
That train ride to Monterey felt like a blur of landscape, tears, muddled feelings, and melancholy playlists. But tiny seeds were being planted, even as I stewed in the feeling of having been thrown off-course.
I was exchanging texts here and there with a guy I’d recently been on a first date with. He and I went on to date for four years. In spite of my best efforts not to plan anything new, I was already making peace with the idea of more school. That became my journey to becoming an RD, which is work that I thank my lucky stars for now.
When I got to California, I told my friends Geoff and Jordan about the med school rejection and my choice not to keep going. They were sorry it hadn’t worked out, of course, but they didn’t think it was the mark of failure that I did. This is when I started to figure out that my worth isn’t measured by professional or academic successes or failures. Nobody’s worth is.
Looking back, I can trace so much of what came next to that strange, adrift-feeling time on the West Coast. The line between endings and beginnings is blurry. We don’t always know where one chapter is ending and another is beginning, and very often those two things are happening at the same time.
I can’t tell you whether the seed of something new has been planted in the past week or month, even as it seemed to me that I was sad and stuck. Maybe this has simply been a time of recovery, pause, and allowing myself to be held and supported by friends. If so, that’s fine.
And maybe I’ve written the first few lines of the next chapter, without really meaning to.
Who knows? Anything is possible.
Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.
These harissa spiced cauliflower steaks look incredible.
An easy, wholesome vegan taco soup.
It’s never a bad idea to meal prep a big batch of tofu over the weekend. This braised tofu looks super flavorful.
Aimee’s primavera risotto is exactly what I want to eat as spring approaches.
Speaking of my talented friend Natalie, I wish I’d made her chocolate covered strawberry bars in time for Valentine’s Day this year!
1. A cool, 10-minute listen about the wonderfully intricate system of our senses, which extends beyond the five we typically think about.
2. Chef and writer Kate Telfeyan reflects on “family meal” in restaurants, which acts as a “grounding, congenial” ritual in spite of the pitfalls of allowing family-like dynamics to exist in the workplace.
3. Five lessons learned from remembering the life of Paul Farmer, the global health visionary who passed away on February 21 of this year.
4. I love my microwave more and more with every passing year, and I was charmed by Helen Rosner’s essay on learning to embrace the meals she makes in hers.
5. A beautiful, honest, and heartrending reflection on terminal illness, fatherhood, and surrendering control by sports writer Jonathan Tjarks.
It’s a bright, beautiful morning in Florida, and it’s time to be with my good friend.
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