Breaking up is hard to do.
The summer of 2000 saw me break up with someone I’d been dating for years. Our lives were so interconnected at some point, there was no place where hers started and mine ended — especially when it came to friends and friend circles — there was just life.
Breaking up was hard. Unraveling that was damn near impossible. So impossible actually that we never did; we stayed really good friends. Out of respect for each other and also, I think, out of an acknowledgement that we were both too invested in that life and those people that nobody should have to be unraveled.
In hindsight that seems simple. In the moment, it was hard. I threw myself into my work obsessively. I was working on the eBusiness side of a large financial services company in downtown Manhattan and living in Jersey City.
We had incredible perks; one of which was a car service to take you home after hours.
I made heavy use.
I’d come into work around 8:30/8:45 in the morning. I was trying to be the first in and I’d set 9am meetings to set the tone for the day. As one of the youngest on the team, and easily the youngest manager (I had a team of 4), I was always looking at ways to stay ahead. I had to.
I’d come in early. I roll through the day. I’d then find a way to skip out for dinner and drinks with some friends; come back into the office and work usually until 4-5am. At which point I’d take a car home. Sometimes, at least twice a week, I’d have the driver wait for me downstairs. I’d run up to the apartment, shower, change, brush; and then have him bring me back into the office. This was such a pattern that I started getting the same guy to drive me; and he’d tack on 30 minutes and let me sleep extra in the car when we got to the office.
I thought I had it good. He had a family, was working the night shift, and I’m pretty sure he know that I didn’t have it good; that actually, I wasn’t in a good place and so he wasn’t being generous as much as philanthropic.
The car, while moving, or a movie theater with a movie playing, were two places I knew I’d fall asleep. Because everywhere else, anywhere else, I didn’t want to sleep.
I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to lie down. I didn’t want to be home in that apartment. I didn’t want to stop doing things, anything, because doing so made me miss.
So I kept. I just kept.
It was frenzied. I’m notorious for not sleeping much. This was some next level operating fueled by avoidance, youthful lunacy, an aggressive desire to indulge, and a salary, lifestyle, and job that equipped me to do all of the above.
So I kept. I just kept.
This wasn’t a healthy lifestyle. I’d often go lengthy stretches without eating a real meal. There were a few points in my life where I physically felt my body get lean: 2000 (because of this), 2004 (before business school), 2011 (in Charlotte and before multiple surgeries), and this past COVID-induced quarantine (especially given that I can’t exercise due to knee and back problems — the fact that I’ve built muscle and lost a waist size is solid).
Nevertheless; I’ve felt myself go lean a few times. Sometimes deliberately; sometimes not. 2000, was not.
One night I came home on one of those benders and was ready to sweep into a transition from home to shower to back on the road, when I heard a voice call to me over our upstairs loft and fall perfectly at my feet as I entered our apartment.
Immediately as you enter the apartment, a small open kitchen was to your right. The first thing to your right was a cabinet; so the first physical thing you could add to the kitchen was therefore immediately past that cabinet on the right, on the countertop.
We used that first space we could influence to hold a microwave.
Immediately as you enter the apartment, a bathroom door stood to your left. Then a closet door. And the first open space was reserved for stairs going up to the second floor which landed with a loft flanked by bedrooms on either side.
We used those stairs to go up and down.
What did you think I was going to say?
We used those stairs to go up and down. But words, sounds, traveled.
And on this early morning, words rose over the lofted balcony and glided to my feet; and in parallel, those same words descended those stairs and rested right at my feet. Actually, these words were so warm, so consuming, having come at me in every direction and way they could have, that they actually rested on my feet.
Caught me by surprise.
And shockingly comforted me.
Have you ever been shockingly comforted? You should try it.
You should try to feel it; and you should try to impart it on someone.
It’s an incredible feeling to simultaneously feel shocked and comforted. In order to do so you have to catch someone off guard, in a way they’re not expecting, and extend them an offer, that requires no convincing (because that would remove the “shock”), and the result of your actions has to leave them feeling comforted. Where their joints slacken, their shoulders relax, and the edges of their mouth lightly dispel gravity but without making a powerful statement, simply saying “I’m going to turn up a bit, just a heads up.”
Shockingly. Comforting. Words.
Now hugging my feet and making their way up to my ears.
A voice that was tired, sleepy, but simultaneously alert and so off-puttingly precise.
“Honey, there’s a falafel in the fridge. Open it. Take it out of the foil. Put it on a plate. And microwave it for 1 minute. Then eat it before you take your shower and go back to work.”
Guys. It was well after 3:30am and well before 6:30am.
Even if you’re preparing for this specific time and moment, nobody should be that precise in that time window on a weekday.
But this voice was. She was. It was my roommates sister who was staying with us in our loft. I knew her because … well she lived in our loft. But I can’t say I knew her enough to expect to be given, or be expected to follow any instructions at 3:30am.
Yet in honor of her precision; out of respect for her explicit instructions; I followed through, warmed up, and devoured a falafel.
It was a dope falafel. Which is really funny. Because …
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a reheated falafel. But they suck. They always suck.
They used to always suck, actually.
Except this time. When you’re shockingly comforted with precise instructions that fall at your feet, remove any thinking on your part, and fill a void in your stomach that’s so desperately calling to be filled.
It was a shockingly good and a shockingly comforting falafel.
She was precise. Mommy is always precise with her instructions. She talks in checklists. What you need to do to be a better you and for you to be a healthier you. With some people you get a prognosis. With others, you get a diagnosis.
With Mommy, you always get a prescription.
It took me a while to realize the power of that falafel. And by a while, I mean getting back into the car and heading back into work that same morning to realize that it wasn’t the falafel that was so wonderful. It was the prescription.
Mommy hadn’t filled a void in my stomach. She’d filled a void in my heart.
It’s been 20 years since that night that you went from roommates sister, to voice from the loft … to Mommy.
And you still find a way to shockingly comfort me.
It’s probably because no matter what you’re going through, I walk out of a conversation with you with a checklist. With a new ‘script. Doesn’t matter if we’re meeting at Variety, at a bar near your house, at the now defunct Argo Tea, or on the couches in your lounge. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 minute swing by that took 30 minutes to prep for; doesn’t matter if it’s longer and later at night.
None of it matters.
Except the ‘script.
For 20 years since that night you became Mommy, I want you to know that I’ve done my best to practice finding ways to be shockingly comforting. I think it’s shocking how discomforting I am and can be; but it’s not for a lack of effort, or on account of poor role modeling.
You crush as a role model. You suck as a nail model. But you crush as a role model.
I’ve gotten to a place where I actually feel my happiest when I’m able to shockingly comfort someone in some ridiculous way. Some unexpected way. Some simple way.
It’s been 20 years, Mommy. I’m still not healthy. I’m still finding reasons to avoid, to skip, to ignore. We all find reasons.
It’s been years since Charlotte and all that’s happened since and I’m also telling you right now that I’m past the videos and the #boom t-shirts and I’m dropping this for you because I haven’t had a falafel in a long-time (this quarantine is ridiculous on my food game!)
I’m dropping this because I felt like it was important to acknowledge one thing before I take that step into the second half of my 40’s.
Know this, Mommy.
If anyone ever asks me what my single favorite food is.
My answer is going to be one thing and one thing alone:
“A reheated falafel”.
I love you, Mommy. You. Your ‘scripts. Your crazy reheated falafels. You #makemestronger. Daily.