My alarm shot off like a rocket in my ear. I jumped up, startled. I found my phone and shut off the alarm in one foul swoop. I lay back in bed and peered out through the slits of my eyes. The sun was rising bright in the bare April sky.
How could I forget to shut off my alarm? Today was Saturday and I could’ve slept in until noon. Mad at myself, I rolled over and sandwiched my head between two pillows. Maybe this way I could pretend it was still night.
What time had I gone to bed? What time did I get home? I couldn’t remember.
It was all a blur. I remember being at happy hour at Whiskey Priest in Boston’s Seaport and then taking an Uber over to Lincoln. Did I eat dinner? I moved my tongue around in my mouth. It tasted like bad pizza. Must’ve been another late night trip to McGoo’s on my way home.
Who was I out with? I remember it started with a few work buddies but surely they couldn’t have been with me the whole night. Was I at the bar alone? I could only imagine the sort of trouble I got myself into. It was a tough town to be single in. I couldn’t bare to look at my texts.
I nuzzled my head even further into the pillows, mad at myself. How could I let this happen again? I was almost 26. I’d be hungover until the the late afternoon and had a birthday party I was supposed to crash tonight. There was no relief in sight. Tomorrow I’d wake up feeling even worse and have to get my head back on straight before work on Monday.
This all was too familiar. I did the same thing last weekend and the weekend before. It was like this for as many weekends as I could remember. Every week had become an endless cycle of grind-it-out workdays and weekend binges. I never gave my body or mind a chance to rest. At all times my head was either overly sedated on booze or overly caffeinated on Starbucks.
I could NOT go on like this forever… could I?
I jumped up and sat straight at the edge of my bed. My head throbbed even harder now. I had to make a change. I had to end this vicious cycle. But how? All I knew was this lifestyle. I could hear my roommates starting to stir downstairs. Soon sports would be on and Saturday drinking would begin.
I had to escape. I had to get space to clear my head – to rethink things. I got dressed quickly, put on my sun glasses, grabbed a notebook and crept quietly down the stairs not to wake my roommates. Within a minute I was out the front door looking down the desolate Southie streets. It was too early for the mayhem to begin. I was safe.
I started walking. I wasn’t quite sure where to go, but I knew I had to get out of Southie. I found the Red Line at Broadway and took it north to Cambridge. I had heard things were different on the other side of the Charles but I didn’t really know what that meant. I arrived at Central Square as the world began to wake up. I saw a Starbucks but veered away – there had to be something more “Cambridge.” Eventually I found a little cafe around the corner – one that my friends wouldn’t be caught dead in. This is perfect, I thought.
I ordered a coffee and sat down in the corner. I took out the notebook and a pen. For a while I stared blankly at the page as more patrons filed in. They all seemed happy and well rested. Many sat down and opened up their MacBooks. What were they all doing? It was Saturday. I didn’t get it.
I looked back at my blank page. Well I was already here. Maybe I’ll give this a shot. I began writing whatever came to mind. At first it was the negative thoughts that I carried from the night before but then it morphed into thoughts about work, family, girls and my future. I was a few pages in before stopping. I took a breath. This actually felt good. Despite, my throbbing headache, I felt the best I had in weeks. My mind was working in ways it hadn’t in years. It was like I had woke up this dormant part of my brain that had nearly died off.
I then flipped to a blank page and drew a line down the middle to form two columns. At the top of each column I wrote down “Good” and “Bad.” I used the columns to divide up all the things I did and did not liked about my life. In the “Good” column I wrote down things like family, best friends, professional growth, travel, cheese. In the “Bad” column I wrote down things like drinking, student loans, cold calls, bad TV, losing control, lack of sleep.
After filling up the page, I eyed the list carefully. Reading the “Good” list gave me this rush of optimism. While the “Bad” list left me with this all too familiar wrench in my stomach. I took a sip of my coffee.
I folded the page in half so that I could only see the “Good” list. I smiled. What if my life could be all these things? What if it could be only these things?
I looked up from my page at all the people typing busily away on their laptops. I looked out the window onto Mass Ave. Why couldn’t I create a life of all the good things? I had the power to choose, didn’t I? I could break the vicious cycle. I could start today.
In that moment I had a flashback and remembered being in my Grandpa’s garden as a kid. He was down on his knees ripping out weeds while I dug my hands into the soil next to him. He was making way for the petunias. The gardening process always took so long and I never understood it. I remember asking him why we couldn’t just plant the petunias and be done with it.
Grandpa laughed and then turned to me and said “we need to rip out the weeds so the flowers can grow.”
Fifteen years later and it finally made sense. The weeds and the flowers cannot exist together. You need to get rid of the weeds first in order for the flowers to bloom.
I had to start gardening. I had to cut out the bad habits in my life and make way for the good so that I too could bloom. I smiled to myself and caught a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror across the cafe. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time.
I felt clarity, hope and wonder set in all at once. I was born anew.