Writer's Note: This post was written before Hurricane Sandy's devastation and aftermath. I may be in San Francisco, but my heart and prayers are very much with New York.
"If I was to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing."
Bobby Hull, the former Canadian ice hockey player, first uttered these words, but through the years everyone from Diana Ross to Bruno Mars has adopted a version as their own. As if, at critical junctures when the brain requires resolution, it's the catchphrase to say, the ribbon to tie up loose ends, the perfect bow on comeuppance. These people seem to know something, that which comes only with the long slough of harder days. Like members of a fraternity, one by one they are inducted to make up a composite that includes the worldly smiles of, say, the redeemed single parent, the survivor of a quadruple bypass, the victim of a bear mauling, the resolved 40-something widow, the resolved 40-something bachelorette.
As for me, I'm none of these, and I wonder what sort of hazing ritual I'll need to endure in order to pin down that sort of life ownership. Because if I was to do it all over again, I'd want to change everything, starting from the Jem-like hairstyle I gave myself when I was five, when well-chewed pink bubblegum doubled as DIY pomade -- and a pliable barrette.
But I try to maintain a semblance of realism. Like fish, a big change is harder to tackle, so I start small. They are the sort of changes only too tedious to enumerate here; like, changing that donut (and a half, as long as we're being honest) I devoured this morning into a bowl of flax cereal and changing how I never seem to pay attention to where my car is parked.
The bigger things are the ones that really gnaw, an endless loop of regrets and hypothetical do-overs. Most recently, it's been my decision to relocate back to California after seven years in New York. There were a number of compelling reasons for the change, though none are easy to remember on an off night. Take this past Thursday, when I spent four hours with my niece and nephew at their Palo Alto preschool's annual fall carnival. (The equivalent of two days in the "real world.") Please don't get me wrong -- they are such fun-sized packages of cuteness -- but it was 30 similarly cute tootsie rolls and junior mints, their snap-happy parents, and then me: "The Cool Auntie." Except, dressed in Lululemon yoga pants and a borrowed Patagonia hoodie, I felt disjointed, fitted for my Halloween costume, "The Silicon Valley Mommy," about five years too early.
In that moment, I couldn't help but wish for a do-over. I had traded in an exciting job in fashion, a city raging with intellect and independence, my friends, my handsome love... to draw stick figures on pumpkins and lose at Candyland to four-year-olds? I felt like taking shots of tequila and then crying into a bowl of candy corn.
I thought, rather mawkishly, If I was to do it all over again...
In the month that I've been home, my inbox has been full with well-wishers offering their congratulations on the big move. "How is the Golden State?" they ask. It's not a trick question, though I've often taken it as such, carefully trying out affirmations like, "Totally loving it!" and adding a bit of, "I've forgotten how relaxed people can be" into the chorus. At times when I fear the opposite is true, I'll finish with, "It's really exciting here. I've been very busy."
Tonight, I may have finally perfected the song and dance. I was driving through San Francisco, catching up with a friend via cell, when I saw orange lights streak across the sky like curveballs. Fireworks were arching over the water, in celebration of the SF Giants World Series win. So when said friend asked me how I was doing, I was suddenly emboldened by my team's new 7th Series title -- as luck would have it. "It's awesome," I said. "I wouldn't change a thing."
It was a visceral response; the first time since returning that I thought my universe shook out as it should. I remembered all that came before and embraced it, because here I was, puttering over the Bay Bridge in my beat-up Volkswagen Jetta, celebrating a redemptive hometown victory with Katy Perry on the radio. Maybe the feeling would be just as fleeting as those fireworks - but it was a glimmer, no less.
I also remembered another, more crowd-pleasing, catchphrase: "Fake it 'til you make it."
Follow Jeanine Celeste Pang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jcpthatsme