SCALING DOWN LIFE’S BIG MOMENTS

I was having one of those days when it seemed like nothing exciting was happening in my life, when Teri called and told me she was moving to Colorado. Actually, what she said was that she was flying to Denver on Friday to interview for as many jobs as possible because she was thinking about moving to Colorado.

Same thing.

“Wow! That’s great! I’m so excited for you!’’ I said, careful to punctuate my voice with lots of exclamation points to mask the pinprick-size hole opening just below my rib cage.

It wasn’t just that I’d miss her. Frankly, I was a little jealous. I love big decisions. Big changes.

Never mind that I already did the move-to-Colorado thing when I was 20. After two years at UC-Santa Barbara, I decided exercise physiology wasn’t for me. I was fascinated by my human anatomy class where I got to pull on white gloves and muck around inside real human cadavers (we named ours “Fay Tally’’), but the spark sputtered and died when I realized I’d need a master’s or doctorate to get anywhere in the field. I couldn’t imagine taking all that chemistry.

So I switched my major to business and transferred to the University of Colorado. Had I been there before? No. Did I have friends in school there? No. I was pretty much seduced by the photographs in the glossy brochures the admissions office sent me — old brick buildings with red tile roofs, snow-capped mountains, a heated indoor swimming pool. The business school looked good, too.

Moving to Boulder wasn’t so much about school, though that’s how I sold it to my folks. It was about testing myself. A Bay Area native, I was enthralled with the idea of going somewhere I’d never been. Where I didn’t know a soul. Where mittens and long underwear weren’t things you dug out of a hall closet for once-a-year ski trips.

I knew that if I moved there, whatever I made of my life would be completely my doing. I wanted to find out what I was made of.

Dad drove out with me that January in my wrong-wheel-drive Celica. Reno. Wendover. Salt Lake. Little America, where we stopped at a roadside diner and ate huge bowls of split pea soup with stale saltine crackers. Finally, Boulder.

Two days later, Dad flew home. We said goodbye inside a snow-covered bus shelter, as the shuttle that would take him to Stapleton airport pulled up. “Are you sure you want me to leave you here?’’ Dad asked, white puffs trailing each word in the icy air. Born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., Dad hated snow even more than he hated cats (and that was a lot).

“Yes, I’m sure,’’ I laughed, throwing my down-jacketed arms around his down-jacketed waist. A long padded hug, then he was gone. A little sad, I looked down at my feet as I began the walk back to my apartment, which is when I saw the brown rubber toes of my new L.L. Bean snow boots, the tan leather laces crisscrossing up my legs, and I started to grin. Colorado!

It turned out well, too. I made friends. I learned to run in the snow where the sweat at the nape of my neck would mix with my hair and form icicles. I got a bachelor’s degree. I drove myself home. (My only regret is that in two years I didn’t go skiing once. Too busy studying. I lie about it whenever anyone asks me.)

And I know I could move to Colorado again if I wanted. I even joked to Teri, “Bring back a Denver Post,’’ when I dropped her off at the airport. “Maybe I’ll get a job as a copywriter at a hip, downtown ad agency and we can throw dinner parties every Saturday night.’’

It was fun thinking about it. But I know I won’t go. I love my life here. My family. My friends. My business. My house. The weather.

I belong here.

Still, there’s something about packing it all up and moving to a new place. The bigness. The freshness. Not knowing where the closest supermarket or gas station is.

The older I get, the fewer big things I have left. I already decided where to go to school. What to major in. What to be when I grow up (for the most part, anyway). Where to live.

I’ve already had my first day of school. First dance. First kiss. First love. First job. First house. First business.

I’ve been in car crashes and earthquakes. Traveled to foreign countries. Run marathons. Conquered eating disorders. I’ve gained nieces and nephews, lost grandparents. I was even “queen’’ of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus when I was 10 (my sister won a raffle at I. Magnin and out of shyness, passed the prize to me); I got to stand on stage at the Cow Palace with a heavy pink-sequined costume weighing down my shoulders and wave to the crowd (to my horror, I had to hold hands with the “king,’’ who turned out to be half my age and height).

True. I still have a few biggies ahead of me. Marriage. Kids. And whatever curve balls God decides to hurl my way. There are always curve balls.

Those aside though, from here on out, I imagine the choices, the changes in itinerary, will be smaller scale. Less: which interstate highway to travel down? More: which expressway, avenue, or street?

While this narrowing of options makes me nervous sometimes, mostly it’s fine, because unlike in my 20s, I basically know where I want to go now. What I’m made of. Who I am.

What I shiver at is the idea of driving the same car down the same road listening to the same song on the radio day after day after day. So I try to reinvent myself.

Like last month, on a whim, I dashed over to Home Depot, bought two gallons of flat latex and painted my bedroom walls blue — “French Blue’’ on two walls, “Remembrance’’ on the other two. I love it so much I’m thinking about painting my office next. Yellow? Purple? Green? I’m not sure.

And last week, I plopped down in my hairdresser’s chair, scrunched up my face, and told him, “Ya know? Let’s do something different this time. Shorter. More layers. Maybe a different color.’’

The first thing Teri said when I picked her up from the airport was that she was definitely moving to Colorado.

“That’s great! I’m so excited for you!’’ I said. And I meant it.

Then she gave me a funny look, took a step back, and said, “Something’s different . . .’’ And then, “Oh, my God! Your hair! It’s red!’’

It’s not exactly moving to Colorado (and I’m not that bold: It washes out in six weeks), but every time I look in the mirror I do a double-take.

It’s kind of exciting.

published sunday, november 23, 1997, in the san jose mercury news
copyright 1997 jessa vartanian . all rights reserved
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