Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak - Castle Share Post


What if you were on the cusp of marrying the guy of your dreams and reaching that career goal you set for yourself, only for all of it to be taken away in one fell swoop?
What if you then had to start from the very beginning, right down to moving out of the city and back to the suburbs to live with your parents?
What if this all happened a month before you turned 30?
This is the story of Jill Stevens, who after being forced to move back home, finds a list she made in high school of thirty things she wanted to accomplish by the time she turned thirty.
With a month left and hardly anything crossed off, she decides to team up with her best friend and her old high school sweet heart to accomplish as much as she can before her birthday. Along the way she discovers that it’s not about the achievements in life but what you learn about yourself getting there.

I’m standing in front of the old Victorian home I grew up in. It looks almost like a dollhouse you’d find in your grandmother’s attic. It’s a sandy color with dark brown shutters and a wraparound porch. I remember when we moved into this house when I was five years old. When I was little, I used to pretend I was a princess and this house was my castle.
My perspective has really changed since. I feel now as if this is where I’ve been sentenced.
I’ve just spent close to two hundred dollars to get here, and now, as the cab drives away, I feel my whole life is driving away with it. I’m back to square one.
“Honey!” My mother comes out the front door and opens her arms. “We’re so happy you came home,” she says as she meets me halfway on the front lawn.
“Thanks,” I mumble.
“I’m so sorry about everything,” she tells me, gripping me tighter. She has a much stronger grip than I remember. Maybe all of the Pilates she feels the need to call and tell me about are paying off. She looks good, though. She’s clearly aiming for the Susan Sarandon look. Her curly hair, which I inherited but certainly don’t embrace, gets tangled up in my mouth as she hugs me nearly to death, her silk blouse brushes against me, and I notice I’ve seen her in this outfit two out of the three times I’ve been with her this year.
“Mom, no offense, but could we not do this on the front lawn with Mrs. Mildred over there watching us?”
My mom looks over and sees her staring us down from the rocker on her front porch.
“Sure,” my mother agrees, plastering a fake smile and wave to Mrs. Mildred while pulling away and leading me inside. At this point my father comes out to grab some of my luggage. “Glad to have you home, kiddo,” he says, patting me on the shoulder.
“Oh, honey, it’s just awful what’s happened to you,” my mother says as she ushers me inside. I notice her khaki pants come up to her rib cage. My mother always shops but somehow still manages to find the clothes that have been out of style for ten years.
“When your mother told me everything, I thought, she’s been watching so many soaps, she doesn’t know reality from fiction anymore,” my father says as leans down in his Hawaiian inspired shirt that overlaps his pleated shorts. Come the first sign of summer and he suddenly thinks he’s Jimmy Buffet. He slips out of his Birkenstocks, while trying to lift my bags. I can see that the top of his head is burned, I’m sure from all of the yard work he’s been doing.
“Seriously, what kind of man does that? I mean, that’s just heartless. I have a right to call his mother.” She opens the screen door with a little more force than necessary.
“Mom, you never even met him and you want to call his mother?”
“Well, have you ever met his mother?”
“No, because she’s dead,” I say in a deadpan voice, and walk past her into the front hallway.
“Well I guess that explains it then. Only a motherless son could act that way.”
“Mom, be reasonable,” I plead as I head up the stairs. The house smells like my mom’s fragrance. It always has. It’s like it’s been baked into the walls. It never bothered me before, but today I’m pretty much choking on the scent, and I’m barely handling the steps with my massive hangover. I hold the bannister for dear life as I climb.
“Can I make you anything?” she calls out to me from the bottom of the stairs.
“No, I’m fine, Mom,” I tell her.
When I reach the top of the steps, I suddenly feel a mix of emotions—nostalgia and depression. Not that I had a sad childhood or anything. I have a lot of great memories here. And it’s not as if I haven’t been home in forever; I was home just a few months ago for my parents’ anniversary dinner.
Brady was supposed to come but he got held up with a case he had to work on that weekend. Do I even believe that anymore? Six years and he never once made an effort to introduce me to his father or try to meet mine. I guess I just always wrote it off as us both being really busy. Not to mention we had to keep quiet about our relationship for the first three years because we worked together. Office romances weren’t all that accepted at our firm.
I look around the hall again. I start to feel depressed about how I’m about to turn thirty and I’ll be living at home. This isn’t exactly where I thought I’d be at this stage in my life ten years ago, or yesterday, for that matter.
“Move it or lose it,” my father grunts as he practically knocks me over for blocking the top of the stairs. He throws my suitcases down on floor of the hallway. “What do ya have in there?” he asks.
“My entire life,” I tell him.
He gives me a look that says I’m being overdramatic and continues to drag the bags to the end of the hallway until we reach my old room. I hear my mom from downstairs yelling at him not to scratch up the wood floors. Some things never change.
My room’s a lot smaller than I remember. Then again, maybe it’s all the useless crap I’ve accumulated over the years.
“I know it’s a little tight, so anything you want to keep in the office for storage is fine for now,” he tells me.
“Thanks, Dad,” I say, looking down and slumping my shoulders. I still can’t believe the situation I’m in.
Sensing my uneasiness, he gives me a sympathetic look and pats me on the arm. “It’s good to have you back,” he says. I feel the stubble on his face as he kisses me on the cheek.
I give a half smile as he leaves and I’m left with a pile of suitcases. I look at my twin-size bed and wonder how I ever fit in there. I take a seat on my bed and run my hands over the quilt. Nothing has changed about my room since high school. My lacrosse letters still are tacked up on my wall next to a collage of pictures with my friends. I realize I don’t even really talk to any of them any more except for Liz. Liz was one of my best friends from high school. We did everything together, and then just as time went by we saw less and less of each other.
Impulsively, I pull open the cabinet door on my nightstand to find a scrapbook from high school. I open it and start flipping through the pages until I see our class graduation picture. Wow, I think, my eyes making a beeline. Chris Matthews. I haven’t seen him in over ten years. I flip the pages and stare down at a picture of the two of us.
We had broken up senior year. He was smart, but completely unmotivated. Things came to a head senior year when I decided to take advance AP classes for college and he just wanted to live it up.
Then again, look at me now. Maybe he was right. What good did it all do me?
“Sweetie, I made you a sandwich. I’m sure you haven’t eaten anything,” my mom calls from downstairs.
“Be there in a second,” I tell her. I close the book and immediately lose my train of thought, because I really am starving. Since last night’s trip to hell, I’ve had nothing in my system but vodka.
When I get downstairs I see my mother has prepared a plate for me: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, along with a bushel of grapes. Next to the plate is a tall glass of milk. I haven’t had this lunch since elementary school. I realize this is probably the first time in over ten years she’s gotten to feel like a mom, maybe even longer. I was always extremely independent, possibly because I was an only child. Also, my parents both worked.
Maybe that was why I always felt the need for a boyfriend? Maybe I subconsciously wanted the attention I didn’t get from my parents. I make a mental note to tell that to my psychiatrist if this situation drives me to a mental breakdown.
Seriously, though, I don’t blame my parents for anything. My father is a salesman for a manufacturing company and my mother is a nurse. They work super hard and always urged for me to do the same.
And I did. I just always wished for something bigger for myself. I wanted to be the daughter my parents could brag about.
“So do you want to talk about it?” my mom finally asks me, taking a seat next to me with a cup of tea.
“I’m not really ready to recap,” I tell her with a mouth full of peanut butter. “I’m still trying to process everything.”
My mother basically got the hysterical gist of it when I called her at midnight, crying, and all she could make out was “pig head … boyfriend … cheated on me … fired … homeless.” She sat on the phone with me while I tried to pull myself together, and finally ordered me to pack up and get on the next train home.
“I understand,” she says, sounding disappointed. “We can talk about what you want to do for your birthday coming up.”
I look up mid-bite to stare at her.
“It’s your thirtieth, it’s a big deal,” she presses.
Yes, I know it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because that’s when you’re supposed to have your life together. “Mom, that’s really the last thing I want to think about right now.”
“Fine,” she says getting frustrated. After a few minutes of silence, she leans forward as if to say something and then retreats.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her, knowing I won’t be able to avoid hearing what she wants to say.
“Well, I mean, aside from wanting to know what happened, I want to know what your plan is to get past this? I don’t want you just sulking around the house for the next few weeks.”
“Come on, Mom it’s been twelve hours since my life fell apart. I can’t get a full day to mourn here?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she defends herself, shaking her head as if I’ve blown things all out of proportion. “I was just reading this pamphlet about how to handle adult children living at home that I downloaded off the Internet.” She stands up and pulls it out of a drawer underneath the phone. Then she hands it to me. I scan it over. “When the Empty Nest Becomes Full Again,” I read. “I don’t plan on being here that long,” I say, handing it back to her. “Think of it as a two-week vacation.”
She doesn’t say anything. She simply shrugs and puts the pamphlet back in the drawer.
Finally, I give in and proceed to tell her what happened. My father, who’s come in from the garage to get his keys out of the drawer, listens in and eventually joins us at the table.
“Those bastards,” he contributes.
“Tell me about it,” I say, looking down at my milk and swirling the liquid inside the glass.
“Can you sue them?” my mom suggests.
“For what, exactly? Even if I could, it’s a law firm. You ever try to sue a bunch of lawyers?”
They’re both silent for a moment and give each other nervous looks. It’s obvious they’re trying to be supportive but they don’t really know what to say.
“It’s fine.” I try to convince them and myself. “I’m going to call a headhunter first thing Monday morning and I’m going to bounce back from this in no time. I’ll start looking at apartment listings today. Everything will be fine.” I stand up from my chair.
“I think you should at least stay here until you find another job,” my mother says. “There’s no sense in you getting an apartment somewhere and finding out your apartment is a far commute.”
Stay here? I do a double take. I can’t imagine doing that.
“Mom, it’s New York. No matter where I get an apartment, as long as it’s in Manhattan, the commute will be doable.” I stand up and dump the remainder of my milk in the sink and load my glass and plate into the dishwasher.
“Well, what if you don’t get a job in New York?” she says, turning around in her chair to face me.
“Why wouldn’t I get a job in New York?” I ask, confused, as I close the dishwasher and stare out the window. I feel my body turn to ice at the thought.
“Well, Jill,” my dad says, “the job market is pretty bad, and as great as your resume and your education are, there may not be a lot of opportunities out there.”
“All we’re saying is maybe you’ve outgrown the city, and maybe now it’s time to settle somewhere closer to home. Maybe you’ll meet someone and settle down,” my mom concludes.
“Really?” I say, shaking my head. “You’re really giving me the you-aren’t-getting-any-younger speech when I’m already at the lowest point in my life?” I start to storm towards the hallway. I really don’t need to be hearing this right now.
“Sweetie, it’s not that I’m trying to kick you while you’re down, I’m just saying maybe it’s time to start reassessing your life.” My mom stands up to follow me.
“Thanks for the talk,” I say, walking past her and back up to my room. I suddenly feel like I’m a teenager again as I slam the door to my room.
“Marilynn, she just got home. Go easy on her,” I hear my dad defend me.
“Martin, I’m just following the pamphlet,” she insists.
“Well stop reading,” he says. “This is our daughter, not a case study.”
Living at home with my parents in my thirties? Maybe I really am a case study. I barely made it out alive the first time, how the hell am I supposed to do it all over again?

Thirty Days to Thirty can be purchased on Amazon

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