The next morning, I went for a long run on the treadmill. With every pace, I thought of Tracy and how she gave me the gift of form. I’m not running like a hungry, scrawny teenager anymore. I’m running like a miler on the USM track team.
After the run, I prepared breakfast for everybody at YOTO. I knew it was one of the last meals I’d be preparing as a resident. But I promised Marquis and Luiza, who’ll be around for another year or so, that I’ll come back on weekends when I’ve got a chance and make pancakes for breakfast and tofu tacos for lunch.
Deon threw a party for all the YOTO kids and staff.
He said he wanted to celebrate all of us–those who were graduating and those who had another year or two to go.
I was alone in the kitchen while I was pouring lemonade for everyone, and I listened to the voices and the laughter from the living room.
I don’t know when I’ve heard such happiness. I felt a feeling like family, and it felt so amazing I had to soak in it.
When I brought the tray of lemonade out to everyone, I found Aadhya standing alone.
“You feeling OK?” I asked her. She’d been having dizzy spells and headaches. Her acupuncturist said he thought it was nothing serious–low sodium levels, that’s all. But she seemed to be looking sad and thoughtful more than usual.
She shook her head, took a deep breath, and smiled.
“Of course I’m OK!” she replied. “It just hits me sometimes, all these life shifts. You’ll move out so soon, dear one! I can’t help but feel a little sad with all this joy and pride I feel, too.”
I promised, for the millionth time, that I’d keep in touch. San Myshuno is still only separated from YOTO by a short ride on the RT. I’ll be over so often! I keep telling myself, and Aadhya, too, that I’m not leaving. Moving out doesn’t mean leaving.
But of course, it’s a change. That we can’t deny.
I took my guitar out to the porch. Karim was talking to a friend of his.
Pretty soon, Luiza, Adriene, Clara’s husband, and Emiliano joined us.
They were listening to me play. I made up a song, taking snatches of other tunes I’d heard here and there, and stitching them together the best I could to make something whole.
I played my best.
Marquis and Nadja came out to listen. Britney was there, too. Every note I played blended with what came before, and I tried to put all the feelings of life into that song.
At that moment, I wasn’t alone. None of us were.
Then earlier tonight was my Mentors’ Dinner. Every graduating YOTO kid has one. The kid invites the six adults who’ve helped the most–the ones that, if it weren’t for them, there’d be no graduation.
Of course Deon was the first on my list. I invited Ted, too, but he was in the back country. Aadhya came, and Britney, and Clara Bjergsen, and Nancy Landgraab. I mostly invited Nancy because I felt a sort of connection to her, after we went through that grief experience together. She always tells me that I really helped her. I don’t think I did–but I think that by her saying that, she helped me. I started seeing myself as someone strong who can help other people, thanks to her. And I’ve got a feeling this is a good way for me to see myself.
We held the dinner at the fancy restaurant I like across from YOTO. I’m sort of addicted to their stuffed bamboo rolls.
After we ate, the waiter brought out a birthday cake.
“What is this?” I asked. “My birthday’s not for a month and a half!”
Deon shook his head. “I knew you’d think it was silly.”
Clara said, “There’s nothing silly about it! It’s your re-birth day! And we’re all celebrating!”
Britney spun the noise-makers, and Aadhya began to sing the happy birthday song, and I felt so many tears behind my smiles. No one has sung that song for me in four years. She even sung my gran’s version, “¡Feliz cumpleaños!”
We danced after cake.
While I was dancing with Clara and Deon, I didn’t feel like a kid anymore.
I felt like I was taking my place with them.
I made it. I had so much help. And I had to rely so much on my own self. And that combination of help and self makes me feel like I can sail through any storm, and, if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll be able to pass it forward someday, too, just like Deon did for me.
The party ended.
I took the RT to San Myshuno, the whole time, feeling with my fingers the outline of the key in my pocket. My own key to my own place.
And now, here I am on the balcony of the flat I’m sharing with the violinist in San Myshuno, looking out over the world as the east begins to signal that dawn is coming soon, and I’m ready for the rest of my life to start.
Author’s note: This is the end of “Shift.” Thank you so much to all of you who read along. This story turned out to be meaningful to me–I’m not sure why, but I’m grateful that it was. And I’m grateful, too, to all of you who shared it with me. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments. May you, too, find that the combination of Help and Self allows you to accomplish great things, even if those great things are simply moving with grace through the shift of life.