“We stop existing and start living.”

So, Michael Jackson died.

Say what?

I know, right?

That was my reaction, too, when I got home from work last night and flipped on NY1 to see crowds of people gathering not in Azadi Square in Tehran, but outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. I descended on to the futon and sat there staring at the TV and wearing my doubleyoo-tee-eff face—the one I use to bait instant assistance in hardware stores and auto service stations.  One eyebrow up, one eyebrow down, nose wrinkled a little bit, mouth quirked up on one side and mouth dropped open (the degree of openness depends on the extent of my confusion).

Like Michael himself, my grieving process was unconventional.  In lieu of anger, bargaining, and depression, my emotions hopped from yeah right to uhhh, for serious? to this is super freaking weird and then I had to call my dad and ask him why so many bad things are happening in the world.

My Cool Aunt gave me Dangerous on cassette tape for Christmas when I was eight years old and I lllllloved it. I just listened to iTunes’ 30 second preview of each song and I recognize only five: Heal The World, Black or White, Who Is It, Give In To Me (sort of?), and Will You Be There. Those are tracks 7-11, and from that I deduce that Black or White and Will You Be There were my favorite songs, and I learned to like the ones in between them (and the one right before Black or White because I had to hear some of it every time I rewound my tape to play through again—and again and again, for weeks straight).

It was the first mainstream album that ever captured me (previous fixations included the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid and the greatest hits of Sharon, Lois, and Bram). It’s hard to understand retrospectively exactly what it was, but there was something about the music—and to a lesser extent, the lyrics—that I really felt. It sounded beautiful and interesting and emphatic in a way that I hadn’t yet realized music could sound.

Obeying weather patterns

Sometimes it snows in March

Last week, I was tromping around in the snow on the roof of my office building.  It was so windy that my pupils couldn’t focus properly, like I had a layer of slush coating my eyes instead of tears.  My hands were slow and stiff in the cold, but I managed to take the token self-portrait above.  For posterity.  Because I hadn’t expected to hear the voluminous hush of snow again in Winter 2009, and then I got this one last chance.  And you never know where I’ll be for Winter 2010.

Over the weekend, positively balmy temperatures drained away every remnant of that last chance snow storm.  I went out in a cotton tank and a light wool cardigan.  Wearing sporty silver flats.  My bare ankles were exposed and they were like, “hello world!”  We opened all the windows on Saturday morning and when I got home early, early Sunday morning, the smell of warm, damp bricks still swished around the perimeter of the apartment.

One year, my high school closed for a day in the middle of May because all the school buses had been vandalized.  Usually it takes a snow storm to cancel school, but they couldn’t transport students in buses with blacked out windows.  The weather was warming up, but that day, the air just happened to be saturated with the scents of sun and grass.  It was so, so hard to go back to school the next day, having had that taste of summer, and knowing that our long vacation was so close.

Now that there’s no real summer vacation to anticipate, the weather taunts me with just the coming of a different season.  Me and my ankles.

Not a story about my Baptism

In the eighth grade, right before the weather got too hot and the rigor of middle school final exams fell upon our shoulders, our teachers took us to see a play.  I don’t remember what the show was, but when it was over, the Land Jet buses commissioned for the field trip across state lines shuttled us to South Street Seaport, where we had a couple of hours to feed and entertain ourselves.

It would be two and a half years before terrorists attacked the Twin Towers, a ten minute walk across the Financial District.  We were just a year away from the Columbine school shooting; a team of reporters would come to our cafeteria to ask us how what we thought about the comparisons drawn between our high school and Columbine.  These were the days before snipers staked out gas stations in the Beltway and the annual D.C. trip (which my class had taken in October) was canceled indefinitely because, really, what choice was there?

But in the spring of 1998, the world was safe enough, apparently, to set two hundred fourteen-year-olds loose in a retail and entertainment slash historical district with a loosely-defined border and poorly-enforced boundaries.

The big, bad city on one side and the East River on the other, and the lot of us killing time in the middle.  Maybe it was a test.  Overcrowding was a hot issue in our school district; maybe they hoped to whittle down the class of 2002.

The chaperones, mostly teachers, seemed not much more apprehensive than usual.  As the buses shimmied through traffic in the last few blocks before the seaport, my Social Studies teacher rose from her seat to stand in the aisle right next to the driver and gave orders to travel in groups of four or six, and to maintain an unobstructed view of at least one classmate at all times.  And then the bus doors opened.

My first impression of South Street Seaport was the sun drenched cobblestone pavilion, and beyond that, weather worn wooden steps down to the water.  The breeze tossed my long ponytail in a way that I hoped was attractive.  I put on sunglasses and pretended to know what it felt like to be a grownup.

After lunch, I browsed souvenir shops with my group.  I was still waiting in line at a toy store when the clock struck; we were supposed to be back at the bus, but everyone waited for me to pay for my Sea Slipper toy (a water balloon that slips inside out itself, like a Möbius strip, like this).

We hurried to join the crowd of students waiting for the buses, hoping the authority figures wouldn’t notice our tardiness.  None of them did, but our classmates told us that we’d missed an impromptu class photo.  The principal had been so pleased with our collective good behavior that she decided to document the occasion.  Our class had already been photographed on the bleachers in the gym (officially) and at The Awakening outside of D.C. (unofficially).  I felt guilty for holding up my friends just for a silly toy, but if anybody cared, they didn’t say so.  We took turns playing with the Sea Slipper, passing it between our seats the whole ride back to school.

We were over class pictures, I decided.  Beyond them, above them.

A few weeks later, I brought the toy with me to Sunday School.  Attendance was mandatory; I was expected to at least fake my way through my Confirmation at the end of the year.  I needed something to distract me from the resentful boredom I endured every week.

I let it slip and slip and slip through my fingers, and then without thinking, I slipped my thumbnail under the taped seam.  The plastic bubble burst, dousing my hands and the front of my sweater in blue water.

My classmates laughed so hysterically that I left the room only under the guise of going to the restroom to wring myself out.  I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t go back.  In retrospect, they were probably not as gleefully entertained by my mishap as they were grateful for the distraction, but I hated them for laughing. I left the deflated water balloon in the garbage, wet clumps of glitter clinging to its shapeless skin, and I slipped over to the church to sit with my mom.

The girls found me at coffee hour after the service.

“You never came back,” they said.  Well, no.  How could I?  It was bad enough to take Communion with that faint blue stain on my sweater.  I certainly wasn’t going to let those jerks sit and stare at it instead of listening to the Gospel lesson.

I was done with Sunday School, I decided.

Not long after that, I was confirmed, and if God noticed my truancy, He didn’t say.

We probably don’t have to worry about me doing crack either

I’m a needle-phobe.

I was a Ranger at Camp Jewell the summer before I started college and the campus health center came calling.  They sent notice in the form of a blank immunization record: I was due for a tetanus booster.

The camp nurse shuttled me off to the local doctor.  I accompanied a nine-year-old with her arm in a sling and a fourteen-year-old with a head cold who never lowered the hood on his sweatshirt.  I was the stand-in counselor, responsible for the kids’ IDs, paperwork, and behavioral supervision.  That I just so happened to require my own medical attention was gravy.

The doctor took the kids first, leaving me to sweat it out in the waiting room, surrounded by trucks with three wheels and a Fisher-Price animal sounds spinner toy that was stuck on the sheep’s baaa.  The Colebrook Family Practice collection of communal hand-me-downs.  I sorted pieces of mixed-up puzzles into their rightful boxes, pretending it could distract me from the dreadful needle anticipation.

By the time I got my turn in the exam room, I’d gotten myself all worked up.  The doctor opened the door and my chin began to tremble.  He snapped my college admission health form to his clip board and I flinched.  He prepared the syringe and I started to cry . . . and continued to cry as he administered the jab . . . and continued to cry as he applied a bandage and I threaded my sore arm back into the sleeve of my sweatshirt.

The doctor made his notes and signed my form and stepped out of the room.  Before the door swung closed behind him, he glanced over his shoulder at me.  I had blotted my tears with a shredded tissue and was fanning my face with both hands, hoping to look less pitiful when I faced the campers outside.

“I guess we don’t have to worry about you shooting up,” he said.

It was the first and last thing he said to me.

He was dead on, though.  Intravenous drug abusers must be on crack.

Wait, is crack an intravenous drug?

Yeer Inn Rev-yoo: 2008

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
Flew first class.  Missed a plane.  (Different trips.)  Got a raise for more than fifty cents.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My New Year’s resolutions were to try more new foods and to stop kissing random boys for sport.  Trying new foods (and wines) was not easy on my stomach so I cut myself a break there, but I think I cut my random boy-kissing down by about eighty-eight percent.  I’m resolving again in 2009.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No.  Nobody gave birth while close to me either, which is an even greater relief.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, not this year.

5. What countries did you visit?
Texas, USA.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
Whatever it is that some people have that allows things to roll of their backs. New lightbulbs in the hallway.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
February 24: A randomly recalled brunch with Rachel
July 5: Jill called to tell me that Kevin had officially proposed and I was officially her maid of honor
July 28: First day back at work after my family vacation
November 5: Barack Obama Day
December 3: Black Wednesday in the book publishing business

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Every time I made someone laugh.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Dropping the ball on a lot of social engagements (missed opportunities to make someone laugh!)

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A slipped disc which triggered sciatic pain which triggered depression.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The tree print I got at IKEA. It may be vague, mass-produced art, but it’s my art.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The members of the ASPCA and other organizations who lobbied to protect, shelter, and rehabilitate the pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s property in 2007 when not even PETA thought the dogs would stand a chance.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
People who abuse the little red “urgent” exclamation mark on their e-mails.

14. Where did most of your money go?

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Election night.  My cousin moving to New York.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
Say by John Mayer and Bleeding Love.  And I guess Paper Planes because I think M.I.A.’s licensors wanted it to be the song that always reminds everybody of 2008.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner but not by much.
c) richer or poorer? Richer but not by much.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Weight training. Writing.  Picture-taking.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I hadn’t spent so many Saturdays and Sundays pacing in my apartment because I couldn’t  decide where I’d go or what I’d do once I left it.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home with my parents, my brother, and my dog.  I slept until my mom woke me up with breakfast and I think I finally got used to the fact that my brother and I are the last ones downstairs on Christmas morning instead of the first.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
For me, falling in love is both a masochistic hobby and a guilty pleasure.  Just like falling out of love.  I did both.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No; I think I hate pretty much the same cast of characters this year as I did last year.

24. What was the best book you read?
The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I heard a lot of new music on So You Think You Can Dance over the summer, like Charlotte Martin’s cover of Just Like Heaven.

26. What did you want and get?
A new digital camera.  A bottle of Jo Malone’s Blue Agava and Cacao perfume.  To visit Camp Jewell with the Liftman sisters.  To see the rainbow in San Antonio.  To meet Mariska Hargitay.

27. What did you want and not get?
Peace of mind.  Aviator sunglasses with purple lenses.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Cupcakes. To celebrate turning twenty-four, I invited friends of all genres to Clandestino for drinks on the Thursday before my birthday and ate more cupcakes than I drank beer.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A private turn-down service at my apartment.  Firefox compatibility on my PC at work.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
“I bought this without trying it on because I can’t tolerate waiting in line for a fitting room” chic or “Wouldn’t this look awesome with a scarf or a pin or a necklace?  Too bad I never leave enough time to accessorize in the AM” chic.

32. What kept you sane?
Flavored carbonated water. Talia. My iPod.  My roommate. My scale.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Clearly, Mariska Hargitay.  ‘Fancy’ is a neat way to describe my unabashed adoration.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
The fact that as the war in Iraq goes on and on and the economy continues to suffer, I may never get to see the environment become a campaign priority.

35. Who did you miss?
Rachel, after she dashed off to light up the lives of young leaders all over the world.  My dog.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Amy, who I still believe is meant to be my friend even though extenuating circumstances keep postponing it.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
One in four women think they sweat more than the general population and I am one of those women.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
“I don’t necessarily buy any key to the future or happiness, / But I need a little place in the sun sometimes.”—Moses, Patty Griffin