When I was a super senior in college (yes, I did half a
victory lap—an extra semester to finish my Honors program requirements and
Theatre minor as majoring in music puts you on the ridiculous end of credits
per semester) I applied to graduate school. This process was trying and
horrible, and in my mind, I didn’t get in, or if I got an audition, threw up on
myself, and didn’t go to graduate school, became unemployed, and died in a
cardboard box in an alley.
Seriously, that’s always where I end up. A cardboard box in
I was always in a hurry then…rushing from class to one of my
three jobs or rehearsal or something. And it was in the rushing on one of these
days that I ran into Robbie.
Robbie Griffith was one of the first people I met at
college—one of my new friends in my dorm went to high school with him.
As we were both housed in the College of Creative Arts over the next 4.5 years,
we ran into each other quite a bit.
We were never really close friends, but the kind of
acquaintance that always stops to have a conversation. This was more Robbie
than me—he was a talker and an asker of questions, and a 2 minute conversation
could easily turn into 20 and I was suddenly late for choir.
I ran into Robbie on that day, after leaving from my
required Honors Political Science class, heading to the parking lot to get in
my car and drive 45 minutes to teach for 5 hours and then drive back and do
more homework. It was a tight squeeze on those days, and I didn’t really have time
to stop and chew the fat.
So I didn’t stop…he walked with me. Even though it was out
of his way.
I unloaded my fears and stress of not knowing what I was
doing with my life, and that grad school provided the out for me for being
unsure of myself and my future, and that going to class felt so pointless
when I wasn’t learning any skills that would
be really useful in getting me a job.
And Robbie said, “Relax. If you don’t get into grad school,
you don’t get in. Your life isn’t over…” here he shrugged and continued: “just
get in your car and drive…and experience life!”
I thanked him, bemused, and went on my way.
That was the last conversation I would ever have with him.
He died in a car accident four days later.
The anniversary of that death comes up on October 14th. I can't get through this time of year without thinking of Robbie.
And so, to commemorate his death, and his vibrant life, and
his great impact on mine even though we were not that close:
It has been seven years since last we talked. You told me to
experience life if I didn’t get into grad school.
I got in, and I went. But I was determined to experience
life. And part of that was through road trips—getting in my car, and driving,
and experiencing life
In the last seven years, I have logged over 150,000 miles in
three cars. One of those I totaled, escaping death so narrowly that I’ve never
looked at life the same way again.
I’ve been to as many states as my age (a number which now
shall remain unmentioned). Along the way, I met someone who loves road trips as
much as I do, and who has been as supportive of my creative endeavors and
shooting for the moon as you were. I married him. Many of those miles were
logged with him.
To date, I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, shopped at Amish farm markets, gotten lost in countless terrifying neighborhoods, eaten
Cuban food in Miami, jumped on trampolines at an indoor trampoline park in Denver, sat under the stars in Texas—they really are big and
bright down there—I’ve gone to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, had BBQ in all the
states that claim to have the best (the winner is Alabama), gotten the hell
outta’ Dodge, had famous frozen custard in St. Louis, disappeared into the
woods for days in West Virginia, and seen one of the four largest balls of
twine in the world.
I’ve learned to sail, and to knit, and to cook without
catching anything on fire like I used to do. I moved to New York City and I sold my car and I don't get lost on the subway. I've worked as an opera singer (like I always wanted), babysat, done mindless office work, taught at a college, was an extra on tv shows, and took tickets at a movie theatre. I've made money. Not lots, but enough to get by.
I've failed countless times, and often paid attention to those times more than the times I've succeeded. I know, I'll quit my whining and keep trying. I'm sure that's what you'd tell me now as you did then. I still worry about my future, only now it's can I afford to have kids and am I getting enough work and saving enough for retirement...it goes on and on, and that part of me that worries will never really go completely away.
But I've experienced life. In vast, painful, stunning, terrifying, joyful quantities. And I go into the things that ought to frighten me to death with a courage that is nothing my own at all. It's a good deal more like you. And I can't thank you enough for giving me that.
Thank you, my friend. I look forward to seeing your smile again one day when I tell you in person that you were right.