I Don’t Want Anything to Change.

One of the hosts of my current favorite podcast (still devouring these episodes — what a delight!) made an off-handed reference to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Don’t Want Anything to Change” song. She invoked it as the perfect song for when you need a good cry, whether you’re nursing a broken heart or grieving the loss of a loved one. And though I was not feeling lachrymose on that particular chilly October morning, I tuned in, and these lyrics left me swallowing, hard, as I walked up Columbus Avenue and thought back to some of the emotions I grappled with when my friend E. was very ill:

I can feel you fading
But until you’re gone
I’m taking all the time I can borrow
The getting over is waiting
But I won’t move on
And I’m gonna wanna feel the same tomorrow

And I don’t want anything to do
With what comes after you
I don’t want anything to change

I always think a lot about change this time of year, because of the turn in seasons. And I think a lot about E. this time of year because her birthday was September 26th — and she loved birthdays. There were always thoughtful presents wrapped in carefully selected paper, long and effusive cards detailing the ins and outs of our friendship, peppered with inside jokes that I can only barely make out as a thirty-five-year-old when I have the emotional stamina to thumb through some of the memorabilia from our young friendship, cupcakes from boxed mixes with goopy letters frosted on top, occasionally balloons, brought to school and stowed by her locker. Do I have this wrong or did we occasionally write on the windows of her car in the school parking lot with window markers to celebrate the day? (T.D.(T) or E.S.(P), please clarify.) And her parents always threw her a proper party at their home in Vienna for the occasion. I can see so clearly her bright and happy face excitedly chatting with all of her girlfriends fanned around her, the entire day joyful and silly and feminine — just like she was.

Oh, I miss her.

When I think of her now, I often wonder what life would be like if she were still alive. Would she come up to visit me in New York? Would we be comparing notes on child-rearing? Would she send me middle-of-the-night texts while breastfeeding her own child? Would we meet in the summer at a beach house somewhere between Virginia in New York, where we would inevitably spend two or three nights re-living our youth? (And would she remember that summer afternoon in the parking lot at Kings Dominion?)

These unfair and unproductive musings are markedly different from the kind of grieving I experienced just before and after her death, when I was appalled to think about the gaping chasm she would and did leave behind. Her absence was a shock I could not accommodate. It was an acute kind of grief that — when I wasn’t thinking directly about her passing — softened around the edges into mushy, maudlin, ephemeral observations of the changes in my life now that she was gone. I would be driving down Wisconsin Avenue past Thomas Sweet ice cream shop and I would think of the evening we marched over there with our parents and a posse of our friends after the awards ceremony that book-ended every school year, and the way we laughed and whispered and held big cups of frozen yogurt with sprinkles as our shoes caught in the red herringbone brick of the Georgetown sidewalks and the sun set behind us. And I wouldn’t think directly about her so much as the fact that we would never walk that stretch of Volta Street together again, or get frozen yogurt together, or talk about that night together — and how everything was changing, and how awful it was.

If you were to toss out the word “change” at random, I would reflexively think upon it in favorable terms: turning over a new leaf! open doors! new beginnings! progress! movement!

But change is a trickster, a Janus. And it can be the grimmest of reapers. It is woven so deeply into the fabric of grief that I occasionally forget that its churning gears are to blame for much of the gritty heartache of mourning a loss. The befores and afters. The retiring of things once used. The way I still wrote her birthday into my planner for many years though I’d bite my tongue every time I’d do it. The acerbic longing for the normalcies of what once were.

And change is hard, full-stop, no matter what age you are or how well-supported and emotionally aware you find yourself. Change is hard when you are a toddler and are suddenly accommodating a new routine, or a new brother, or a new home — or, like our child, all three at once. (Yikes!) Change is also hard when you are a thirty-something woman recovering from a c-section and overwhelmed by all the new thoughts and emotions and responsibilities that are swirling around you. And I would venture to guess that change is still hard when you are in your fifties and sending your children off to college, or when you are in your sixties and retiring from a job your love, or when you are in your seventies and moving from your home into a retirement community.

Why is this? I wondered as I listened to Bonnie’s lyrics again a few days later. It must be in part because we are creatures of habit, attached to what we know, alarmed by and dubious of what we don’t. And if you think about it, every institution in our lives is oriented around stasis. Do you know, for example, how difficult it is to move from one state to another, even in the U.S., a federation of states with a shared government and shared interests? When we moved from Illinois to New York, it felt almost like no one had ever attempted to move between states before we had — everything was protracted, done on paper, faxed to weird back offices, biased against us. For example, it was a multi-month-long challenge to get our fare cards for the L cashed out. We had to fill out a paper form drafted in like 1982 indicating we were permanently relocating, send it via email to a random inbox that I to this day cannot believe did not bounce and wait eight weeks for our check of $108 to arrive in New York. Transferring all of our information and turning off utilities and all that jazz — the entire thing was archaic, tedious, and heavily inconvenient. It made obvious that change is an underprivileged entity. That everything in our lives is optimized for lock-in, for stasis. That there are myriad invisible forces designed to keep us in our places.

And we construct our own centrifugal forces, too: the rituals of our mornings, the sequencing of nighttime skincare regimens, the spots in our home designated for piles of mail, or discarded shoes, or dish towels. Everything around us designed for comfort and habit and routine.

But life is synonymous with change, even when we can’t see it happening. As a mother to two young children, I am often reminded of this fact, as that pair of pants that fit micro two days ago now no longer button, or that puzzle that used to be too advanced for mini is now easily completed — and then, much to my wonderment and glee, placed back in the box and returned to the shelf. (Thank you, Montessori!)

Oh, change, you two-faced woman, at once the mask of grief and the mantle of progress! I don’t know about you or what you’re up to but I’ve come around to the notion that you will be my recurring visitor whether I invite you or not.

Post Scripts: Festive Dressing.

On rather the polar opposite of the foregoing, a couple of items I’m eyeing for some festive occasions in the near future:

+This jewel-collared dress is a prim way to achieve holiday sparkle in a conservative setting. (Also love this style!)

+I’m so bummed I did not pounce on the Ulla Johnson Indah dress when it was stocked in my size (I think it’s sold out everywhere and in every size at this point) — to the point that I might rent it for an occasion from RTR.

+Love this ruffle-sleeved tartan blouse!

+This saucy bustier top (or this velvet one!) would look incredible with high-waisted black trousers.

+Sequinned pants!

+So in love with the Manolo Hangisi this season, but these or these get the look for less.

+In a similar vein: this Miu Miu skirt is EPIC. Pair with this inexpensive Zara score.

+Considering adding this sparkly brooch to my jewelry box to affix to basically everything I wear this holiday season.

+Dying over this jumpsuit.

+This tinsel dress gives me Saloni vibes.

+Love these gold knot earrings.

+This saucy satin number is calling my name. (Look for less with this.)

+Into the embellishments on this peplum blouse.

+Love these mules in the solid black. (I own them in a floral print!)

P.S. More festive dresses worth considering.

P.P.S. She was how she kept time.

16 Comments

  1. This is such a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it! I sometimes struggle with change, but having lived through a lot of it in my life (especially in adulthood), it’s made it easier for me to embrace it when it comes.

    I haven’t bought anything from J.Crew in a long time, but I kind of love that Stewart plaid top! And thanks for the tip on the Ulla Johnson dress — I’m going to rent it soon! No worries, we’re different sizes 😉

    That reminds me — the greyish tie-waist Ulla Johnson pants you posted recently are so cute, but they are EXTREMELY high waisted. I tried them on and they were all wrong with my hourglass-y proportions. Maybe they would be better on you, though? xx

    1. Interesting note on UJ. I do struggle with their sizing. I feel like they are cut really wide/big in some parts and narrow in others, not to mention the length issue. Ugh. I am just not a fit model for them I guess. Ha 🙂

    2. I had a pair of UJ pants from Barneys (RIP) that I loved for a time … but they were a weird cut, wide through most of the leg but tapered towards the bottom, and definitely a bit cropped (i.e. they would have looked so silly on a taller person, oddly enough!) I find that Ulla’s dresses & tops fit me much better than their bottoms. xx

  2. Oh yes, this resonates. “The only constant is change” has been my mantra these days. I’ve been repeating it to myself a lot lately, ever since my best friend in NY revealed to me that she’s strongly considering moving away from the city next year. Not many of my friends here are single like I am, and to think that I might miss the one person I can always call on for an impromptu happy hour, late night hang out, or to be my plus one to the party feels like a real loss. But nothing is ever promised to last forever, and I must not ever get too attached to any particular pattern in life. The only constant is change, and I must change along with it.

    1. Yes, yes, yes — so true. It is SO hard to keep this mentality — it takes a lot of focus and awareness! It’s so much easier to slip into the comfort of routine and normalcy. xx

  3. Love this! Change is my recurring visitor these days too as my 2 yr old is finding her place with new baby brother in tow as well. Your words remind me how we always need to find our anchors and safe harbors in the midst of so much change. For me, it’s the gift of having my mom stay with me during this first hard week of having a newborn now at home and the way my daughter likes to greet me each morning, sleepy-eyed in her crib. Over the years, I have found that reflecting on our friendship with E. and all her grace and strength is a touchstone in itself, a reminder of before and after, but also a model of true friendship. She had an incredible knack to make you feel wholly understood and valued- the birthday notes on Grimaldi’s board, decorated boxes/ picture frames with magazine cutouts personalized for you, and yes! sometimes even a decorated car window!

    1. T! First, applause for reading anything at all when you have a week-old at home…and second, YES – the notes on Grimaldi’s board! I had forgotten about that. You are so right that finding your “hooks” can really help guide you through the craziest of changes. I remember there were times in the first few weeks after Hill was born that I would feel so overwhelmed I would just wrap my arms around Emory or Hill (whoever was closest) and sit there with them for a spell, whether they wanted the hug or not. Haha 🙂

      xx

  4. Thank you as always for your beautiful way with words, Jen.

    I was completely struck by your revelation that you generally think of change as a positive — so the opposite of my own outlook! This season always makes me think of change and transition as well, probably because I’m thinking about resolutions for the coming new year.

    Your blog is my daily dose of optimism, and sometimes (like lately) it becomes a bright lifeline of sorts, a way to reinvigorate my outlook each morning. I’m not exaggerating when I say that since discovering The Fashion Magpie I’ve found myself looking at situations that would have once made me anxious and trying instead to see the positive. You remind me that positivity and contentment and happiness take work, and it’s a good kind of work. Thank you

    1. Oh my goodness. Landon actually screenshotted this comment and sent it to me before I read it and it made me cry — OH. Thank you so much for this incredibly sweet and flattering and fulfilling note. I’m so moved and happy that my writing has had this effect! Thank you for reading along and for letting me know.

      xxx

  5. Ahhhh loved this so much! It is so hard to put change, loss or grief into words, and you do it beautifully here. I’ve only experienced the death of someone my age once, and I admittedly don’t know how to process it. I have noticed I’ll remember things that I thought I had long forgotten, which are good memories and make me smile! Of course you run through the “what-ifs”…things had gone differently.

    Loss is not only associated with death, but also of things like lost relationships you didn’t want to lose, and that makes me want to listen to the song all the more. When it’s change we didn’t agree to, I guess, and how to accept it and let go.

    Last, change in everyday life – moving! I finally completed my move last weekend (so funny you mention Kings Dominion – I used it pass it all the time on my drive up from NC and wondered what the heck it was!). It is just unsettling until it is settled. We are wired for stasis, as you said. OH – and the dated, bureaucracy of some processes! I so relate!

    1. You are so right that “when it’s change we didn’t agree to” it’s especially hard. And even when we agree to some of the terms of the change (we needed a bigger apartment!), the disruption to our worlds is very difficult to maneuver around. It’s a complete reimagining of ourselves in our comfortable spaces. Moving is really, really tough. I’m sure you’ve heard this, but many people say that next to a death in the family, it’s the most stressful event a human can endure! Can you believe that?! I mean, I can just having gone through it, but…! Basically, we are not alone.

      xx

  6. I felt compelled to write a comment because I’ve never met anyone else who has lost their best friend so young. My best friend, W., passed away suddenly this year. I have many of the same questions. What would he think if he could see me today? Or, oh how he would have loved this insane new Nordstrom in NYC (which I highly recommend visiting). Sometimes memories of him cut me like a knife because they hit me when I least expect it. And other times, they are sweeter, like when I passed the Nederlander Theatre and thought of him because we both loved the Broadway play, Rent, and that’s where it premiered (off-Broadway, I guess). We used to blast the soundtrack in his Lexus and drive around rural Kentucky singing and laughing and holding hands. We got dressed up super fancy to see it live- twice.
    Anyway- today’s post on change really resonated with me. When W. first died, my first thought was “no, I do not accept this.” I am still figuring out that it’s not something to accept or not accept- it just is. I miss him. I understand what you are talking about with your dear friend, E., and you are not alone in your feelings.

    1. Ah Michelle. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I will be thinking of you — the first months are so incredibly heart-wrenching. Thanks for sharing your experience. xoxo

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