Monday, June 6, 2011

Backstory: Life-changing moments happen when you're sipping wine in the fancy room.

It was a Saturday evening about five months ago and, once again, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go (world's smallest violin). I decided to hang out with my parents because they were having a guest over and dad said I would like her.

You could tell this guest was new to socializing with the Phelps, because after mom and dad filled her wine glass, they directed her to the fancy room: the living room with the expensive couches the dogs aren't allowed on, Limoges tigers and the silver matchboxes mom was so intent on becoming a collector of (does four make a collection?). And there we perched, awkwardly.

And we were chit-chatting blandly when suddenly I pop up as the topic of conversation as if I'm not in the room, though I am clearly in the room-- I'm right there by the brass floor lamp that magically turns on when you touch it.

"We never worry about Paige," said my father. "She's always got a plan."

"Yes," my mother chimed in. "She'll set her sights on a destination and she'll have a job lined up and an apartment and a way to get herself there without any help from us."

"As soon as she's got a plan, off she goes," dad laughed.

And bam! It's like the teal and purple pheasant decorative accent serving dish on the coffee table is speaking to me: Girl, you've gotta get a plan.

Get. A. Plan.

Before I continue, let's get something out of the way now: Effexor, Lithium, Pristique, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Abilify, Nortriptylene, Prozac, you name it I've been on it. But this is not about my brain's long-running sideshow. Hell to the no. I'm just pointing it out because at that time I was in a melencholy that I couldn't shake, god knows how I and my trusted Dr. Z tried.

And suddenly I realized it was because I had no plan. But I could change that.

Now we're going to jump back in time a bit, back to when I lived in New York in 2002. I had been living in Atlanta until 2000 and was bored witless. I got laid off from my weird, secretary/party planning job at a publishing company who's main title was a pub called Varmit Hunter and I knew it was time to go North. So I found a job in New York, found an apartment on Craigslist, found a guy named Bob who wanted to share a U-Haul with me, and landed in the Big Apple.

And it was there that I poured out my excitement about living in Manhattan to my new roommate, an Isreali agoraphobic chain-smoker named Inbal.

"I'm so excited! I've always wanted to live here! I mean, Broadway's here and the museums and there's so much to do and so many interesting people and it's always been my dream and..."

"You'll hate it in three years," she said, and exhaled smoke.

Thus, Paige's Rule #1 in Life: Never Live with an Israeli Roommate.

Granted, Inbal was freakishly good with her prediction. Two-and-a-half years in and I was toast with a side of bitter. But I have to say that 2001 wasn't exactly a banner year for anybody in the city (see: September 11) and then almost a year to the day later, August 10, 2002, my sister Brooke, who was 36, was killed in car wreck back in my hometown of Dallas.

Shit sort of soured for me after that.

I'd like to say I had an infinite amount of self-knowledge and poise and was able to accept that it might be time to abandon NYC to head back to a city where I could afford an apartment with windows. A place where I might be able to live without a revolving door of 14 roommates in three years, including the last one, whom I'm pretty sure was a prostitute. (Who, I'd like to point out, walked around the shoebox we called home completely nude. "Are you uncomfortable with me walking around naked?" the Prostitute asked. "Yes," I told her. So she started wearing a thong.) But I didn't.

Coming home finally came down to a phone call home where I was bawling (again) but this time instead of politely pleading with me to give up the NY ghost, my mother Ordered. Me. To. Come. Home. Right. Now. And as soon as she said it, it was like this well of relief opened up in my chest and I could breathe deeply for the first time in two years.

So I went home to Dallas and, after a hiatus to regain my sanity, I got a job as a society reporter with a weekly column. Later I worked at the city's shelter magazine as a contributing editor, and then moved on the big daily newspaper as a staff reporter.

But that's where my Dallas non-plan, that was working pretty OK as a plan, broke down. I was laid off in 2008 (death of the American newspaper, don't know if you've heard about it) and, despite all my protestations that "I was not my work and my work was not me," I found myself in an existential crisis that Bristol Meyers Squibb has yet to conquer.

Then I turned 35.

Thirty-five and I realized something that rocked my world: thirty-five was the age my sister was when she lived the last full year of her life.

I was living her last year.

This fucking hit me like a Mac truck. So I panicked. But once I stopped panicking, another semi was waiting for me: I looked around at my non-plan life in Dallas and realized that if I woke up on my birthday at 40 working at the same job with the same condo and the same melancholia, I was going to have a breakdown so epic it would make the lead on the local news. People named Krystal were going to win Emmys for reporting on that shit.

Luckily, I had just forgotten that I'm really, really good at making a plan.

So there you have it: the conversation I overheard that set me on this path.

Which, don't worry, I'll get into later. But right now it's midnight in Dallas in early June and my condo is a mess with boxes and packing table and bubble wrap because I'm packing up my entire life and moving to a part of the world that I've only been to once, and for which I have pretty much zero frame of reference.

I've never lived in a city with less than 1 million people, and now I've rented an apartment, sight unseen, in a town of 6,000.

But I'm excited! Because, you see, this is all according to my plan.

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