Read Five Things I Can't Live Without Online

Authors: Holly Shumas

Tags: #Young women, #Self-absorbtion

Five Things I Can't Live Without

Five Things I Can’t Live Without
Holly Shumas



This book is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.


Copyright S 2007 by Holly Shumas


All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


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5 Spot is an imprint of Warner Books. The 5 Spot name and logo are trademarks of Warner Books.


First eBook Edition: July 2007


Summary: “The witty story of a woman approaching thirty who must abandon her penchant for overanalyzing her life and learn to trust her gut”—Provided by the publisher.

ISBN: 0-446-19754-8



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21


About the Author

Five Things I Can’t Live Without


Many thanks go to:

My parents, who’ve championed me in my writing and just about everything else. Every year I get more in touch with my sheer good fortune at having been raised by people like these.

My editor, Karen Kosztolnyik, for her enthusiasm and spot-on feedback. The book is much richer for her efforts.

My agent, Stephanie Kip Rostan, who knew when to be fun, when to be frank, and when to hold my hand. She made this process smoother than I ever dared hope.

My tremendous inner circle. It will forever include Alan, for innumerable acts of kindness and for always believing someday I’d arrive here. Avie, for knowing me so long and so well, and for being one of my first readers and supporters. Lisa and Jen, fo

r their unwavering friendship and their great stories. Darla, for being my kindred spirit and confidante extraordinaire. And Tara—what role haven’t you played to perfection for me this past year? Miss Y, you are nothing short of magnificent.

C.S. If only I got to write all my endings … Much gratitude for the ways you made my manuscript (and me) better.

My grandparents, those who are here and those who’ve gone. Especially Zayde, who, when I was seven, told me someday I’d write the great American novel. (Well, it’s American, and it’s a novel.) And to Pop-Pop, my favorite character ever.

Chapter 1

130 lbs
Animal biographer
About me:
Under construction
About you:
Under construction
Last book I read:
Can Love Last?: The Fate of Romance Over Time
Biggest turn-on:
Under construction
Biggest turnoff:
Under construction
Five things I can’t live without:
Under construction
Most embarrassing moment:
The window incident

ere’s when I knew it had gone too far.

My kitchen window was stuck, and I was trying to open it. No mental gymnastics required, just simple physical action. There I was, starting to sweat with the effort, and the normal reaction would be,
Wow, this is harder to open than I thought
, possibly accompanied by some annoyance. Maybe the normal person would have been dimly aware that it smelled ever so faintly like cat turds because it was an unusually hot day and the litter box was sitting directly under the kitchen window—a spot that had been chosen because, in theory, that window opens while the living room “windows” are just floor-to-ceiling panes of glass. And the normal person might even go so far as to think what a glaring design flaw that is in an otherwise pretty decent apartment. What the normal person
do is what I did. Which was to think all those things, plus:

Why is everything always so hard? Why can’t anything just open for me? Maybe this window is the symbol, and this is the key moment in my life. Maybe this is who I am and who I’ll always be: some neurotic twenty-nine-year-old woman living with a roommate and her roommate’s obese cat, not even having what it takes to commit to a cat of her own, or what it takes to open a window.

But that’s not true. I won’t always be twenty-nine. And in two weeks, I’ll be living with Dan. Poor Dan. He doesn’t deserve this crap, all the crap involved in living with me, living with me while I live in my head.

Oh, man! That’s what this is! This is me, living in my head right now. Stop it! Sometimes a window
just a window. Stop it! Why can’t I just perform a simple physical action without stepping outside of myself and wondering about it all?

Stop asking yourself questions!

All the while, as I careened from irritation to despair to rage, I was tugging at the window. It must have been the adrenaline from my anger that made the window suddenly yield. The cooling breeze rushed in and I thought,
Well, that should feel nice.

I slumped to the kitchen floor just as the phone rang.

“Hey, you.” It was Dan.

“Hey,” I said, slightly dazed from the physical and mental exertion that had just taken place.

“You sound funny. What’s going on?”

“I’d feel silly if I told you.” I felt silly anyway. “What’s going on with you?”

“I just got a lead on some moving boxes. This obsessive guy I work with actually breaks down and stores all his moving boxes in his garage, and he said he’ll loan them to us.” I noted how upbeat Dan sounded. He’s one of those people who enjoys the little things, doesn’t sweat the small stuff, etc.

“Meaning we have to return them?” I said. Yes, I generally do sweat the small stuff, sometimes quite literally. I wiped the back of my hand across my forehead.

“Yeah. And we can’t write on them, either. You know how normally you write in Magic Marker, ‘kitchen’ or ‘bedroom’? Well, we need to work with the existing writing. If it says ‘bedroom’ on it, that’s where you’re packing your socks.”

“Okay,” I said. “Cool!” I realized I was overcompensating; no one sounds that enthusiastic about used moving boxes. On loan.

“Nora, what’s wrong?” Dan’s voice was somehow warm and expressionless at once. He was remarkable that way. Even-keeled, that’s what my mother had said when I first told her about him. She’d said it approvingly. She thought I needed someone like that “to balance me out,” like my stepfather, Ed, does for her. It infuriated me because I suspected she was right.

“I went to open the window, and it wouldn’t open, and while I was trying to open it, the whole time, I was thinking and thinking and thinking, analyzing and analyzing, and—” It all came out in one angsty, humiliating rush.

“Nora,” he broke in firmly, “you’re doing it again.”

“It” meant leading my meta-life. Meta-life is the opposite of living in the moment. It’s the syndrome of simultaneously having an experience and being an observer commenting on and questioning the experience. By observing something, you change it, sometimes for the better, but in my experience, usually for the worse. You know you’re in the meta-life when you’re critiquing an experience while you’re having it (“This is fun but it would be more fun if …”), trying to talk yourself into happiness because you
feel it (“It’s a beautiful day, and all I really need to be happy are fresh air and sunshine”), or worrying that you’re not getting any closer to the Big Important Things (“Sure, this is a great date, but what are the odds this guy would ever marry someone like me?”).

“I know,” I responded miserably. “I
I’m doing it again. That’s the worst part. I know, and I do it anyway.”

“What could you possibly be thinking while opening a window except ‘arghhh’?”

“Oh, you’d be amazed.”

“Try me.”

“No,” I said, shoring my resolve. “I’m not going to talk about it. I’m going to get on with my day.”

Dan gives me semiregular interventions, which are much appreciated. The only problem is, he thinks of me as having discreet episodes of meta-life, when, in fact, it’s more like meta-life is the norm with discreet episodes of being fully, wonderfully, unthinkingly present. Maybe I should correct his perception, but I don’t want to scare him off.

I completely adore Dan, but we’ve only been together six months, and I’ve been around long enough to know that you just never know. We’re still in the flush of it all, though moving in together wasn’t even a decision born of that flush. It was born of my roommate Fara asking me to move out so her boyfriend could move in. Dan and I had one of those “Well, you’re over here so much anyway …” conversations, and after the decision was made, we were both lying there, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to let on to each other how freaked out we were at the prospect, and we sealed the deal with some perfunctory sex.

Speaking of my freak-outs, lately they’re coming hard and fast. It’s probably the stress of being only nine months from thirty. Now, I’m fairly certain that once I actually turn thirty, it’ll be fine. But the approach—well, that’s something else entirely. It lends a whole other level to my self-evaluation process, and believe me, what I don’t need is another level.

It’s worth noting that I’m not actually worried about my diminishing fertility, and I’m nowhere near ready for a husband or kids. But it’s hard to resist feeling on edge when everyone takes it as a given that thirty will inspire panic, when well-meaning friends have started asking “how I’m doing with that whole turning thirty thing” and my friends who have rounded the corner pat my hand reassuringly and say, apropos of nothing, “Thirty is actually really great.”

Okay, so it’s not all cultural anxiety. I’ve got more than my share of personal anxiety. Turning thirty puts me in mind of something one of my ex-boyfriends once said while he was trying to pass a minivan illegally on a two-lane highway across a solid yellow line: “Life is about jockeying for position.” Asshole context aside, it’s true. Before I’m actually ready for marriage and kids, I need to get in position. Certain things need to be lined up: the great relationship, the satisfying career, the level of success that will allow me to, say, cut back to part-time while still maintaining the fantastic lifestyle to which I will have become accustomed. So on one hand, I’ve got the run-of-the-mill, pervasive, irrational, culturally driven backseat-borderline panic, and on the other, I’ve got the fact that for me, personally, turning thirty is about having a secure place in the world, the beginnings of a nest. Meta-life means all I see are a bunch of twigs.

That night, I made a vow. I pledged to go a full twenty-four hours without self-investigation, starting first thing the following morning. I swore I’d be vigilant about not getting too much into my own head, and planned to internally yell “Stop!” every time I felt myself waxing self-referential. What this would accomplish, I wasn’t yet sure, but it felt significant.

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