A Wake-Up Call

Candid thoughts from a solo trip to Austin, Texas, during SXSW

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My boyfriend of a year and I broke up about a month before spring break in 2016. The loss of him in my life shattered my reality. I became numb and indifferent. I lost sight of my responsibilities, drank too much, and started to slip drastically in school. My friends were trying to fill a void and pick up the pieces all at once. My parents were calling every day to check in, asking if I was sober and going to my classes. I wasn’t.

I had been in touch with them about my plans to travel over spring break and they knew it was part of a travel writing class project. They were also well aware that I desperately needed to get away. It was my dad’s idea for me to stay with my cousin, Maria, in Austin, Texas. We often hosted her in our house when she made her way from Portugal to The States for various solo trips of her own. She had always said that, when my time came to explore, I’d have a place to crash. I was looking into other options as well, but something about Austin during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film and Interactive Festival spoke to a part of me that had been buried for too long. My parents knew this. I clung desperately to the possibility that time away would wake me up from a deep slumber.

I gave myself over completely to being in love and lost half of myself along the way, not because he ever forced me to but because I was too eager to please. I prioritized him over myself and began to feel like I was disappearing. The half of me that had been raised unconventionally by a rock and roll father and a gypsy, belly-dancing mother grew small. In short, I subconsciously began to shed some of the “weird” from my identity.

In order to remember who I was, I clung to memories of summer days when my parents hosted parties in my childhood home. When the day grew dark, friends would make their way from our yard to the basement for secret adult jam sessions that never failed to peak my curiosity. I dreamt of being down there with them. My little cousin, Dylan, and I would play “spies” and creep down the stairs like mice, hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic coming from the basement through thick clouds of smoke. I marveled, wide-eyed, at the shadows of bodies dancing, the cacophony of grunge music blaring from inside, and the overlapping voices engaging in the kinds of conversations I was too young to understand but wanted to be a part of.

Sometimes, if I was lucky, my parents would let me say goodnight to everyone before bed. To ten-year-old me, that was like being handed a VIP pass to the sold out concert in our basement. I made the best out of the time I was given. I would engage in conversations with artists, musicians, writers, and listened intently. I’d jam out on the drums with my dad’s band, soaking in encouragement from people I respected. By the end of the night, I would lie in bed going over everything that had happened. I would fall asleep to the sweet sound of music and laughter coming from below me. I knew that was my world. I felt fulfilled.

For a year, while I was lost in a relationship, I struggled to find that same sense of fulfillment that tied to the roots of who I am. I neglected my needs, desires, and passions. It was as though I had become an extension of someone else who kept growing and evolving while I remained stagnant. I was free-falling. I thirsted for finding my place or purpose again and made the decision to be alone so that I could begin a new journey without anything or anyone clouding my judgment.

I landed in Austin at midnight on Sunday, March 13th. Only an hour after I arrived on southern soil, Maria and I found ourselves weaving through thousands of people on 6th Street in downtown. The city was overflowing with drunk people, rock and house music blaring from every corner. I passed and bumped into over a dozen musicians lugging around heavy amps and guitars from gig to gig. I watched a handful of girls in stilettos make their way to clubs; one tripped over her friend’s dress and they both went down like dominoes. My eyes darted to the obvious poverty as well, the homeless men and women wrapped in blankets, trying to sleep on the concrete as party-goers walked around them. This was downtown Austin during South By Southwest. It was chaos! It was alive. The city slapped me in the face, and I had only just arrived.

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I knew Maria from the handful of times she came to stay with us throughout my life. We’d always catch up on a few things but she was never around long enough for us to truly get to know one another. I saw her as this poised, elegant, and naturally beautiful enigma. She was independent, always traveling and building a successful life for herself. I admired her. Maria had only been living in Austin for a couple of months. Within that short amount of time, she had rented what I deemed the “Snow White Cottage” in all its mythical stone-lined glory, landed a grueling yet rewarding job as a teacher at a juvenile detention center, and attracted a rock lead singer and guitarist hottie who only lived a couple blocks away. Within this seven-day period, the two of us bonded and connected like old friends. We laughed and opened up to each other about our personal lives during every car trip back and forth from downtown. I felt at home in her presence. Most importantly though, she gave me space. Whatever independent spirit hid in the depths of me, she conjured it out. She encouraged me to explore the city on my own while she was off healing lost children. Maria inspired me with her own stories about traveling alone and forming friendships with strangers. I told myself that if she could do it, I could too.

On my last day in Austin, from about one in the afternoon to nearly three in the morning, I explored the city until my legs were numb and my Vans ripped at the toes. I went in and out of endless “Keep Austin Weird” vintage shops, sneaking pictures and pretending not to see the signs urging me to do otherwise.

At the end of South Congress Street, I walked into what seemed like a thrift store, took a quick look at the abundance of Halloween costumes surrounding me in the middle of March, and was on my way out when the cashier pointed out my shirt.

“Are you wearing that for the concert tonight?”

His question threw me for a loop. By chance, I had grabbed my favorite Deftones band-tee out of a pile of clothes that morning. Surely there was no way they were actually here for South By Southwest. I would have known this. I would have bought my concert tickets way in advance. I told him, “I didn’t see them on the lineup.”

Turns out the universe has a great sense of humor. The headliner for the massive Lady Bird Lake concert caught the flu, and the Deftones, already on tour, filled in last minute. One of my favorite bands of all-time was going to be in Austin at 8 PM. The kicker? It was a free show.

I had some time to kill before the concert and decided to head to a bar I’d walked past a few times. The entire place, inside and out, was something out of a fairytale. All of the eccentric and beautiful musicians congregated there like woodland elves in need of a pre-show potion, or many. With my head held high, I walked straight to the bar and sat down; on my left were two traveling ladies in their twenties and on my right was a woman holding the margarita I should have ordered instead of a Corona. It was my last day in the city and I had been in and out of bars alone a few times. I knew what to do. I heard Maria’s voice reminding me to let gobe open, and dive in. I introduced myself to all three women sitting next to me and, before long, neither one of us could shut up. As fate would have it, I quickly discovered that one of my new friends was from Boston like myself. She worked for the successful brand, Timberland, and was attending the festival with a few of her coworkers. “What do you do? Who are you with?” she asked. I explained the writing project, the fact that I was traveling by myself for the first time, my plans to write for a living in the future, everything. She listened intently and explained that many companies, now more than ever, were on the hunt for writers – young, friendly, and charismatic people to go to events like SXSW and document their experiences. My eyes widened. She encouraged me to keep writing, to start a blog, and to reach out to her as a friend in the industry. There I was, receiving words of encouragement from someone I had already grown to respect. I was forming connections, talking about art, music, my future, and began to feel my pieces getting sewn back together again.

I exchanged numbers with my new friends, left a tip on the wooden bar, and set off on the next journey toward Lady Bird Lake for the concert. I couldn’t have timed anything better and was one of the first people to land a spot only fifteen feet away from the largest stage in Austin. That’s what happens when you’re a tad early and the last-second “secret” Deftones concert hasn’t reached everyone’s radars yet. I stood patiently and watched as, slowly but surely, thousands of people came flooding in. What was once a vast green landscape quickly became a boisterous cluster of hipsters. Beside me, while waiting for the show to start, I met another band from California who had just left their gig to watch one of their main inspirations in action. “I can’t believe they’re here!” they kept repeating. They complimented my shirt and, suddenly, I’d made new friends. We instantly hit it off and they promised to protect me from the moshing when the time came. Turns out I wasn’t experiencing this concert alone at all.

An hour later, at the peak of the show, I was merely a tiny speck – shaken fully awake within a sweaty mass of screaming, dancing, and moshing fans. Every hair on my body stood high throughout the entire concert. I was in the thick of it, smack dab in the middle of the action. The combination of exhilaration, euphoria, and the fear of being shoved to death by a two-hundred pound moshing meathead, made for an out-of-body experience. I felt myself bleed into the moment as if the night was infinite. At one point, Chino Moreno, the lead singer, walked among the audience and his arm grazed mine. I must’ve asked myself how any of this was real about a thousand times.

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The show ended too soon and I thirsted for more as the sea of people dispersed. I  searched for the band I’d befriended, but they were nowhere to be found. I followed the mass back into downtown, still running on a high from what had just happened. Eventually I found my way back to 6th Street and decided it was time to hit up my favorite venue, just one last time for one last drink. My entire body was throbbing but this had to be done. I was on my way to the far end of 6th Street when I felt someone grab my arm. “Hey, you! Wait up!” As though the universe still had a few more tricks up its sleeve, I had been spotted within the late-night 6th Street drunk sea of chaos. My band friends from the concert picked me apart from thousands of people. “I saw your shirt” the drummer said. I couldn’t help but laugh. My Deftones shirt was a genie, granting me all my Austin wishes. “You guys want to join me for a drink at Hotel Vegas?”

If any place could recreate the same magic I felt coming from the basement during my parents’ grunge parties, Hotel Vegas was it. On the outside the venue looks like a cheap southern motel from a Quentin Tarantino film. Myself and the band got to know each other on the way there. Turns out the lead singer was Azorean and spoke fluent Portuguese, just like me. The universe, again. The flickering neon “Hotel Vegas” sign greeted us at the entrance and the five of us walked, through thick clouds of smoke, into the party I had been waiting for.

When I was ten and allowed access into my parents’ basement parties, I knew that as much as I felt part of it all, it wasn’t my time yet. Here I was brought back into that world, only now I could truly live it. I was one of the writers, talking to other aspiring writers, musicians, dancers, creative people of all kinds. We were all feeding off of each other’s energy. I danced my heart out. I let myself go completely until all of my “weird” was out for everyone to see. I didn’t give a shit about anything. I laughed until beer came out of my nose as my lead singer friend did “the Carlton” when the ‘80s music came on. The two of us attracted a crowd of dancers and all I could see was blurred bodies and light. I let that light consume me. I don’t know how long this party lasted. I don’t remember every inspiring conversation I had. What I do remember is the moment I felt myself watching this scene from afar, like a film. I realized that everything I had attracted in front of me, I accomplished on my own. I felt whole again.

You

Let me ponder your silhouette

all that was yours alone, which now is ours

Stand before me in the flesh

with wine lips, trembling, whispering professions

of eternity

A glance from your eyes overshadows the mundane

The only perspective that matters

You.

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I Love You?

The words “I love you” have been on my mind today. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about how they’re used and whether or not people think twice about their meaning when using them. The word “love” expresses an emotion that, to me, not even a word can accurately convey. Typically, we use it as an attempt to describe a feeling within us toward someone in our lives that we cannot be without, or whom the thought of losing is unbearable.

The only reason I’m explaining all of this is because I hear the phrase “I love you” directed at me countless times a day, from the most unsuspecting people. For the most part, I hear it from female acquaintances or “friends” and usually feel obligated to return the favor as part of a social code or something. I just find it hard to understand why girls typically feel the need to say “I love you” to each other so early in a relationship. It feels insincere and also usually leaves me feeling like some of the relationships in my life are dishonest. I was raised with the notion that the word “love” was meant to be saved for a select group of people in life, in addition to family, who deserve my utmost affection. I use the phrase “I love you” so often that I’ve forgotten to consider its worth. When I direct it towards the people that matter most, it feels worn out and unsatisfying. This makes me wonder if the people I truly love know how much I mean it, with every fiber of my being. I almost wish I could give those select people a quick peek into my head, show them all the ways I see them so that they know I set them apart.

As far as I can remember, I’ve had a hard time speaking that seemingly simple phrase to people. It makes me feel exposed. Like, here I am loving you, hope you feel the same way! I don’t know. I think it has to do with the fact that I grew up in a house with people who actually loved each other in a very real way. I recognize that love can be divided into separate categories, for very different people in our lives. I just don’t think it’s necessary to say things like “You’re the greatest person in the world” or “I love you so much. You have no idea” during situations that don’t merit those intense reactions. This happened to be all the time in the beginning of college during those first few months when everyone’s racing to form as many friendships as possible. Half of the girls I was friends with then aren’t even in my life anymore. Looking back now, thinking about all the times they said they loved me, it’s hard not to laugh.

Growing up in a house with parents that truly loved one another, in an environment that felt honest and genuine, I developed a real distaste for people being fake. I think I have an eye for spotting when people are being manipulative or insincere, which is definitely both a blessing and a curse. Overtime, it’s made be very selective of the people I choose to surround myself with, which can be a little isolating. I think everyone does this more and more as they get older though. We begin to see that quality is vastly more important than quantity.

All in all, I hope to continue saving my love for the people who really deserve it because people who surround themselves with meaningful relationships are the most fortunate of all by far. I intend to be so lucky throughout my life, but also to continue valuing genuineness as one of my favorite human qualities. I wish there was more of it.