#1
Things could have been better, but they could have been a lot worse. There was always enough juxtaposition, an even ratio of life's lowest and life's finest moments, that everything made sense. But there was seldom, if ever, a constantly stark contrast between what was beautiful and what hurt- the good moments always had an edge to them and the bad moments usually had a dim light above them. A bottle of over-the-counter drugs would take away the pain long enough to make me feel better until I realized I was numb; a song on the radio would make me dance until I realized I hated the song. I was happy when I forgot to be sad, but my memory never failed me for too long. I guess that's just how life works- we're all just trying to find grace in the elegance of a ballerina's movements until she stumbles and shatters the illusion of beauty.

I remember sitting in a dim-lit coffee shop with James and Laura, laughing together about the awful taste of cheap coffee and stale bread in our mouths. Sharing stories about college, stories about work, stories about girls and boys, men and women, just celebrating our time together after being apart for what, at times, felt like forever and, at times, felt like only a day. Taking a few minutes to step outside with Laura so she wouldn't have to smoke her cigarette alone, even though smoking never appealed to me and thinking back, years later, how I wish I could have shown her the rotten holes forming in her lungs, shown her how her eyes would sink into the back of her skull, how she would lose all color in her face, warmth in her laugh, joy in her heart- all before she ever found herself holding her own smiling, laughing child and how that child would grow with no mom to tuck him in at night and would call me Uncle Thomas, asking me questions about the mom he never met, all between drags of his own cigarettes.

I remember thinking, "Hey, maybe I can actually do this, maybe things will work out," and taking the chance to spend a semester in France, despite not knowing the language and not having much money to my name. And even when my parents filed for bankruptcy and I failed my term abroad, even though I was diagnosed with seasonal depression and my mind was haunted with thoughts of rainy nights alone and the constant teenage fear of never being loved, even though I couldn't afford the plane ticket back home and ultimately spent four years in France, I regret nothing, all because of a chance encounter made in a remote and rundown art gallery. It started with a French girl in a cute scarf and her laugh being more beautiful than any of the artwork surrounding us; it ended with Isabelle in my arms, happy and content, dancing and smiling, even if our apartment was small and cramped, our jobs menial and stressful, and our eventual separation painful, yet mutual.

I remember returning to my old home after years away only to find my childhood neighborhood desecrated by yellow, government-funded machines- replacing my home and its yellowed lawn, the oak tree in the yard, the cul-de-sac down the road, my buddy Paul's clubhouse from fourth grade, everything else I was once so fond of- all with a bustling shopping center and its endless parking lots; a modern teen's wildest dream-come-true, a certified hotspot to "spend every dollar your parents give you on things you don't need and won't want in a week". And when I visited my parents' new home for the weekend, I went to that same shopping center without much protest to purchase groceries for my now-widowed mother, spending the night talking about her past and my future over a cup of expresso and whole-wheat bagels.

I remember living a life and continuing to live it despite the vicious cacophony of incredible and terrible things that marked my existence.

I remember being the ballerina and having the world sitting on the edge, waiting for me to stumble. I remember stumbling, falling, crashing, and catching myself in time to recoup with a pirouette and a "Thank you for coming."