My life up until now has been so defined by awkward moments, one of my friends jokes that I should have my own hashtag: Julie**** ‘sAwkwardLife. When she wanted to make a single girl at the bank feel better about her Valentine’s Day, she couldn’t even tell the full story of the one that awaited me, because she thought it would sound too exaggerated to be true. I have always been like the clumsy leading heroine in a tale, but where it feels far less endearing in real life.
I used to let that fear of embarrassment constrict me, a coiled serpent wrapped around my neck.
I used to be someone who stayed within the restrictions of the page, never allowing myself to spill out beyond the corners.
Something transformed within me, like a chemical reaction of chutzpah, ablaze at the pit of my stomach, when it dawned on me I didn’t have to relegate myself to stepped-on wallflower anymore. I let go of the life I had thought I wanted for four years, and let myself timidly step off the pages at last, into a world of unseen discovery.
I transitioned slowly. I remember the first time I kissed someone new. My thoughts were racing. I felt myself changing already, even with just one simple, physical moment of truly letting go. I had met him the day after the most difficult breakup of my life- when I ended not just a long-term relationship, but an emotionally abusive one, I had to learn to rebuild the essence of who I was; who I could be. I had to change. I had to adapt so I would never feel imprisoned inside the pages of a controlled life again.
When I first met up with a new boy after four years of being emotionally beaten with the sense that could never be a possibility, I borrowed a friend’s clothes. I wanted to feel brand new. Every item of clothing reminded me of the life I no longer wanted. I dove into recklessness. I invited this boy out to the bar where I used to go with my ex all the time, but this girl convinced me not to let that stop me from doing what I wanted.
I had just finished saying, “Do you want to move away from the dance floor so we can talk some more?” when all of a sudden, there I see my ex entering with his friends, in a sea of plaid flannel. Of course the weekend after ending things, I would run into him while talking to my first new boy. Seconds after asking to leave the dance floor, I then awkwardly was forced to say, “Actually, let’s dance!” We ended up leaving in a hailstorm of regret. He wanted to kiss me that night, but I knew I wasn’t ready. When he finally did, all I could think was how strange it was to be brushing my lips against the unfamiliar. Like wading into a pool of confusing intrigue.
When you live in Louisville, you run into people all the time. When I dated Mr. Darcy, he was perfect on paper, but the chemistry was palpably missing. I wanted both. I sought real emotion paired with undeniable passion. I also wanted the rush of breakup hair. In chopping off all those thick, spiral, endless curls, I was daring to become someone different. And I relished how it felt.
The night after I attended one of my favorite foodie events for the first time, just around this time last year, my emotionally abusive ex had posted a tirade, ranting, insulting, indirectly disparaging me to the internet world. Because as anyone who knows any kind of abuse knows, the abuser portrays themselves as the victim. You’re just the terrible person that one day gulped the necessary courage to leave. And never looked back.
When he thought he could use his same tactics to shame me back into his submission, as infuriating as it was, it was the exact breaking moment I needed to block him from my life forever. And that was the match under the firecracker of my year that burgeoned into beautiful, wild, full-hearted abandon.
When I went to New Orleans, I had not traveled on my own since before my nerve condition. I was ready to embrace every exciting challenge, every unknown discovery. It was a Jewish convention, in the middle of Purim and St. Patrick’s Day. When i was hesitant, retreating into my old pages of bashful reserve, my friend put it rather succinctly: “Julie. New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day. And you’re legitimately questioning this, because…?!” I booked my plane ticket. I packed my bags for four days. I braved to explore two days before the convention even began. I flew to the city of scintillating jazz and decadent baked beignets, powdered and crumbling deliciousness. I met my adventurous match via a Hurricane, a NOLA drink that rivals any LIT.
In a Hurricane haze, I felt invincible. With jazz thumping in the background and the tropical alcohol shimmying down my throat, I could feel adventure like a kite escaping in my lungs and a sparking billowing in my heart. I felt like my most audacious self; a hotheaded daredevil. The kind of girl who could charm even the charismatic boy from California, with a Grammy’s t-shirt and coffee-colored hair falling like the shadow of a sunset over his face. I had laser-minded focus as I coyly peered through my fuchsia French Quarter-detailed mask; in my most James Bond lacy dress, I had never felt so ready to gamble with careless revelry. I sipped on my Hurricane at the Black and White Purim ball before we ventured down Bourbon Street. I thought to myself, “What Would Carrie Bradshaw Do?” I thought, “Remember that Carrie Underwood song.” I asked, “What’s your last name?” Little did I know that I was getting myself into the most embarrassing of Meet the Focker circumstances.
The way my life plays out, my wildest weekend to date would blossom into a fiery long distance romance, turned unexpectedly serious after I decided to brave traveling alone again. I thought to myself, “You will always wonder if you don’t visit him in LA.” On another weekend Jewish convention trip, this time to San Diego (and followed later with LA), I still remember after the beach, after the coconut rum, just wanting to feel brash, impassioned, and alive. When he said, “Julie, I think I love you,” I remember thinking back to the two times before boys had sprung the “L” word on me, all in the same chaotic mindset, taking me off guard with the whiplash switch from caress-turned-confession of love.
Of course this boy’s mother would turn out to be a very specific kind of therapist… And I don’t mean the fun-loving, hilarious kind like Barbra Streisand in a film. This one-time-future-potential-mother-in-law was no Barbra. Let me tell you: There is nothing quite as emotionally scarring as watching your face react to a mortifying iPhone FaceTime while simultaneously enduring it. My face froze in a flustered grin, as if a clown had painted it on; a real-life Picasso. All I could stammer over and over: “It was so nice meeting your son!” I prepped for Thanksgiving. I thought, “What pie from the kitchen will redraft my story back to girl-next-door?” Dutch Caramel Apple, I decided.
Something miraculous happens when you survive dismay’s shrapnel flurry. Almost like a chagrin-induced-rejuvenation. There is nothing quite as freeing as knowing any embarrassing moment you face in the future is downhill from that point forward.
I ended my LA romance at the exact right moment, when the long distance fantasy turned into a reality with harsh lines in the clarifying daylight. I let go of California dreams, just in time to elude the most awkward would-have-been Thanksgiving of my life. My parents encouraged me to venture back into the (Jewish) dating field of prospective future husbands; preferably surgeons, if my mother would have her own fairy godmother Yenta at hand. “Are you really going to turn down free bourbon, Julie?” They know my kryptonite. I’m a Kentucky girl at heart- and I have grown to love me some bourbon.
When I walked into the Evan Williams Bourbon Distillery in total retail therapy attire, as fate would have it, my path crossed for the second time with Sir Bourbon. The first time had been a year ago at the first Jewish bourbon tasting I had attended. I entered with Mr. Darcy, but when I was clearly just a social prop for status, I ended up chatting the entire time with this mystery boy who I never saw again. It was coincidentally my last date with Mr. Darcy. One year later, even with freshly straightened locks, Sir Bourbon instantly recognized me, and we reconnected after all that time later. He remembered every detail: writer, foodie, and of course the one that prevented him from calling me- that I was seemingly with Mr. Darcy at the time. “Let’s just say he took me home early one too many times,” I explained, impish and saucy.
Sir Bourbon was to be a groomsman in the wedding my whole family was attending on Valentine’s Day a.k.a. my birthday. He proudly told his father: “She’s going to be at the wedding! *Independently* of me!!” I chose Sir Bourbon for his age. I thought, whiskey tastes better aged. Maybe men are the same. Maybe that was my problem with LA boy, who at the end of the day, proved to be no more than a Peter Pan with Wizard of Oz pizzazz; his grip on reality was all too loose, never making solid stance on the ground.
"What do you want? What are your dreams?" "To work in a climate-controlled office, like you!" I began to sour on Sir Bourbon pretty quickly after that. I need someone who’s ambition and passion for life matches mine. Who complements my optimism and worldview. Three things to know about me, I said. I’m a feminist. I may be Jewish, but I have a love affair with bacon. And also, my guilty pleasure lies in knowing every Christmas carol classic. The feminism seemed to throw him the most.
I want someone who will kiss me like I’m walking in the middle of the streets of Paris, so full of fearlessness; raring to take on the next adventure. Someone who doesn’t expect me to know my order at a restaurant while we are still in the car, 15 minutes away. Someone bold; someone who savors; someone with fire.
It might sound foolish, but there are those little moments that define perspective in the clearest of ways, and Sir Bourbon’s time with me expired when he sent me a picture of his favorite ice cream, the infantile rainbow concoction all too glaringly bright for a 33 year-old who would never be able to get over high school taunts. And half-eaten, no less, when it was supposedly purchased for me.
I sent my tailored break-up text. I really did value the time we spent together. But no more could we continue. I wished him all the best. He responded by emailing me with “Re: ‘Sir Bourbon’” as the subject line.
Cue awkward 26th Valentine Birthday wedding, with my whole family there, eager to see who the newest fallen conquest turned out to be. This time, the groomsman, who was the stepbrother of the groom, with his whole family in tow as well.
Thus, I made a plan to celebrate my birthday on my own terms the weekend before, with all of my favorite people, hair shining full-chestnut with my first Keratin treatment, and glam jewelry to feel as fierce as Beyonce. I had my dancing leather boots on, and I was ready to let loose.
But in the sitcom-that-is-my-life, in the middle of the dance floor at Nowhere, who should I glance out of the corner of my eye but my first ex’s best friend’s cousin. It’s like the first ant you see under a lovely picnic blanket. The one that lets you know that as soon as you lay eyes on that glinting exoskeleton, brief panic sets in: How many else to follow? I loudly exclaimed, FML! to my gorgeous posse, and promptly exited the dance party. On my way into the next room, who else should I see but my ex’s best friend; who I had not seen since the bitter breakup a year and a half ago.
If there was ever time for an emergency drink, it was at that moment. In the midst of downing my emergency drink, all of a sudden, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” started blaring from the DJ’s speakers. If you know me at all, you know that that song is my ultimate jam. It’s everyone’s! I thought, “This is my birthday celebration.” I gritted my teeth. “This is the year you face your awkward moments.” From zero to hero, I jettisoned from awkward dad-dancing at a barbecue to provocative gypsy taking over the dance floor. The kind of dancing where you feel every guy’s eyes on you, and you don’t even care. UPTOWN FUNK YOU UP.
Relishing the moment in stride, I high-kicked awkwardness in the face and shimmied right past it. So with that in mind, I carried some mini-Woodford Reserve (mailed courtesy from my friend specifically for wedding reinforcements) in my black and white polka dot Kate Spade purse to Awkward Valentine’s Day Birthday Wedding, preparing to become best friends for the evening with the first bartender in sight.
One instant Sir Bourbon’s sister conversation (my mother asks, “Oh Julie, who’s that?” I of course just looked away with my Picasso smile, and she knew) and two wines in, I was committed to having a grand time at this wedding. I had my new formal black dress that hugs my chest in all the right places (much to my older brother’s dismay), my new gold Cinderella wedges, and Princess Diaries hair for the evening.
Lesson learned: When life launches plot twists in your path, dance the night away. (Preferably with a stellar drink in hand.)
While sitting with my whole family, Sir Bourbon actually had the courage to approach the table just to wish me a happy birthday. I admired his momentary flash of mettle. I smiled to my mom afterwards and said, “That is why I dated him.” When I thanked him in a text to say how much I appreciated the gallant kindness he demonstrated, he responded with the bumbling, “I’m just trying to be nice here,” etc. I muttered to my mom, “And *that* is why I broke up with him.”
The band was playing all the greats. I shook off the topsy turvy sandstorm vibe of the evening with more white wine, moving my legs in shimmering gold hose to the front of the band, as I twisted to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” My dad said, “Julie, you’re a better dancer when you’re drunk!” I was drunk with restored gusto, and never felt so sprightly at 26.
I knew in that moment that I was tackling my new year’s resolution to be graceful in spite of adversity; to be fully immersed in the moment instead of timidly escaping; to be the girl who sways with vivaciousness- and never lets anyone or anything take away from her desire to live with absolute resolve.
26: You have been eventful. You have been a whirlwind. But I love you already.