My super smart and spiritual friend, Petey is a comedian by trade. He exudes joy. Legitimately. He talks about people who proudly walk this earth with barbed wire around their hearts bragging that they are “a hard laugh.” And Pete is the exact opposite. He’s an easy laugh. Because laughing makes him HAPPY. He says his heart isn’t bound by anything. In fact, he consciously “stretches that shit out everyday” so that he doesn’t become “jaded, cynical or angry.”
Ten years ago, Pete’s wife left him for another man. And like any person in that situation, he was sad, pissed, and confused. But he was never the victim. He broke. He learned from it. He became a better writer. He became a better comedian. He opened himself up to every possibility and every chance for growth. He had a few relationships and eventually met “Sweet Lady Val.” I’m in love with their love. They care for each other with a purity that is authentic and utterly beautiful. But Petey’s story isn’t just about taking the lemons and making the fucking lemonade. It’s about seeing the disaster, feeling it’s blows, giving it time to settle in and then RUNNING with what life has to offer on the other side. He sprinted so far that he now produces an autobiographical show that he writes and stars in about the very thing that broke him in the first place. And it’s on fucking HBO.
I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m about to drive it home again: I used to be a real bitch. In my daily interactions with others, I left little space for empathy and was REALLY quick to criticize. I was proud of being a “good judge of character.” Apparently I thought I had some magical way of knowing someone else’s life story based on the clothes that they were wearing on the day they met me and the look in their eyes when they were staring back at mine. Oh, and I could size them up in a millisecond… it seems as though time didn’t apply to me and my God given gift of judgement. I used my words and my speaking abilities to cut people (who I thought were in the wrong) down. I used my stone cold face to point out stupidity. I was level headed; neither a pessimist nor an optimist, but a self-proclaimed, “REALIST” (how brilliant of me). I felt like there needed to be more people in the world like me who kept it real, honest and direct so we could balance out the yahoo’s who were walking around with their heads in the clouds. The same quacks who made their decisions based on feelings and emotions.
Everyone’s got their shit. We’ve all had something big (it’s relative) happen to us between the ages of 0 and 18. And whether or not you are conscious of it, that “big thing” has had its hand in shaping your emotional, mental and sometimes physical being. I’m the eldest of 4. My brother, Stephen is just a year younger than me and is categorized on the “severe” side of the Down’s Syndrome chart. I was a shy kid when I started Elementary school and spent a lot of time watching my peers. Early on, I realized I was going to have to become a larger than life presence – and a popular one – in order to protect my brother from being bullied. I knew that if I helped make the rules (and was a little bit ((or a lot a bit)) scary) that no one would have the chance (or the balls) to mess with Stephen. And for the most part, it worked. But that negativity fed on its own energy. What started out as a well-meaning defense mechanism turned into cynicism, snowballed into indifference, and landed in mean-girl world with a bad case of resting bitch face.
Back in October, I was forced to meet with a sales rep from a prominent wine distributor for a training at Cala’s. I had canceled the meeting twice trying to shake the guy but he kept rescheduling. Finally, Thursday came and Darren walked in. He was in his early 30’s with a full beard and hipster glasses. He wore a t-shirt over his micro-brew belly and waited patiently at the bar for me to finish up my tables. I sat down next to him and he talked about what he does, the company he works for, and everything and anything about harvesting a specific grape. The subject of wine is SOMEWHAT interesting but Darren’s presence was intoxicating. His energy was magnetic. His presence was calm, light, passionate and FULL of joy. Meeting someone like Darren is kind of rare, but because of my own transformation, I could practically smell a tragedy that he arose from in his past. So I asked him. We made extended eye contact and my eyes said, “Yep, I’m one of you.” He told me his story about caring for his cancer ridden mother for his entire childhood. About how the doctors didn’t actually think she would live as long as she did and the horrific unforseen late-term side effects from the treatment that were only supposed to prolong her life for a few years. After she passed away and he finished school, he set out to travel to see what life had to offer him. During that time, he met amazing people and his teachers “just happened” to find him. He practiced intense meditation, released the pain from his difficult experience, and made space for freedom and LIFE. He’s literally one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. His passions are fishing and food. He travels almost every weekend. He said, “If I feel like eating BBQ on a Friday night, I’ll drive down to North Carolina and get BBQ for breakfast on Saturday morning.” He’s the furthest thing from a victim. He’s living this one life to its fullest. I spent two hours with Darren at the bar that day and then started following him on social media. Every time he runs through my feed, I see his joy and I’m inspired to stay open… and smile.
This summer, while on a family vacation, my friend Kate caught her husband having an affair. When she walked into my house to deliver the paddle boards that she had borrowed for the week long getaway in New Hampshire, she looked as though she had been run over by the commuter rail. Like run over by the commuter rail in Manchester and then dragged through Lynn and Swampscott. See, Kate is ALWAYS put together. It was the first time in our 7 years of friendship that I could feel her starting to break. The following week, she was angry and weepy. We drank wine and cried. But then the week after that, she was suddenly put back together with several lists organized to propel her over this divorce hurdle and carry on with her life as it once were. My “oh shit” radars went ballistic. I lovingly reminded her that this moment in time was actually a gift. That this was life giving her the second chance that she wanted/deserved. This was how she could reinvent herself and be ANYBODY she wanted to be. But only if she broke. Only if she were to become vulnerable in the most uncomfortable way possible. Which to her meant admitting to herself, her family, her friends and even her community that she was indeed, only human. She was ashamed and she was embarrassed. And then the light shone down upon her and she picked herself back up and became a “yes” person. Where there were so many rules and “no’s” in her “before life,” she decided to start saying, “yes” to most everything and has found a lightness and a happiness that her teeny tiny human body hasn’t felt in decades. She’s extended a warm hand to both her ex-husband and his girlfriend. She talks about them with kindness and she really wants everyone to just be good. She’s let go of the manipulative role she played for her entire marriage and plans to apologize to her ex for her part in the marital demise. Because life is too short to be stuck in that shit.
It wasn’t until l was in my mid 20’s when I made the connection between my bitchy behavior and the role of my brother’s keeper. I didn’t change anything. I just finally had a reason and an excuse for my attitude. My initial transformation didn’t happen until my early 30’s when I started to break. I randomly met a soul mate who held the mirror for me to see how much of a douche I was being. We later, and inevitably, shattered each other’s mirrors and my heart broke wide open. To this day, that pain was one of the most memorable and intense feelings that I have ever experienced. It left me vulnerable and weak. But not dead. When I started to pick up the pieces of my mirror, I realized I didn’t WANT to put it back together. It no longer suited me. That person wasn’t happy. I wanted to bring on the joy. I started taking advantage of what life had to offer me. I talked to people who came across my path. I read books that were placed in my hands. I started making decisions based on feelings and emotions. I laughed, I smiled, I said “yes” to a bunch of shit that I used to think was lame; like long hikes with my friend Lauren and early morning breakfast dates with acquaintances.
I broke again when I gave birth to baby Sam and then heard the words, “you have cancer.” I didn’t know my eyes were capable of that much swelling. It was a crack so deep into my heart that I was sure I would never become whole again. But then I did. And I like this version of myself even more than the last.
But a few “new me’s” doesn’t mean that I’ve become the final version of myself. If we are lucky enough, it just means we get to grow, break, and find “the new” over and over again. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we ever arrive at perfect. A few weeks ago, Mike, Sam and I were out to dinner. We were seated at a table next to two men in their late 60’s. One of them was being a passive aggressive prick towards the male server. “The old me” sprung up from the ashes. Mike saw it. He picked up Sam, walked out the door and said, “DON’T do it, Jaime.” In that moment, I saw two things: 1) someone vulnerable who needed a stronger presence to back him up and, 2) the green flag waving in front of me. I used my words, my face, my tone, and my eyes to publicly shame the man with just 3 sentences. And it worked. The server thanked me. And then an hour later, I felt the old familiar pangs of guilt, anger, sadness and embarrassment. The thing is, I STILL could have made my point and said something to the man without belittling him. I didn’t have to go low. It took away some of my joy and made me feel sick, stuck, and terrible. It’s unfortunate that I acted the way that I did, but I used that experience as a reminder.
And I started over the next day.
*The picture of me, Stephen and Sam was taken just hours after I was given my cancer diagnosis.