You Will Not Own a Porsche One Day
By Nicole Skibola
In the garage of my childhood home is a large blown-up magazine story from Porsche Excellence Magazine mounted on a laminated plaque profiling the black Porsche my immigrant father had restored in his auto body shop. The Porsche is pictured from various angles, shimmering on a bed of bright green grass, sleek and sculptural. That car will be yours when you get into Stanford law school, my father would tantalize me – the same words immortalized in the text of the magazine article.
I never wanted a Porsche. Not to say that I didn’t like nice things – I always did – but I was never driven by them. What drives most teenagers, beyond friends and awkward courtship forays, is difficult, if not impossible to say. In my late ‘90s Catholic prep school existence, the subjects that captivated me are those that only make sense to me now that I’m in my late 30s. One of them is The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s turn of the century masterpiece about literary icon Edna Pontellier.
I read The Awakening when I was sixteen, with little worldview to understand Edna or what it would mean years later to reject the norms to which I was expected to conform as an adult. My draw to her was a premonition, an early reference point that nonconformity could be heroic, at least in the pages of a book. As a teenager, my wild nature was crushed swiftly by the iron fist of Croatian discipline. And yet, I read the final pages lusciously describing Edna Pontellier’s death by drowning again and again – the musky pinks, the hum of bees floating on ocean air as Edna swims nude toward the horizon and away from her bourgeois life. "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself.”
I always understood the book to be about feminism – which it was, and remains today one of the most important pieces of feminist literature. Deeper than the feminist themes, however, are the questions of identity – the layers of conditioning, of societal roles, and good girl expectations that burrowed deep into my chest from the earliest I can remember. Marked with a sixteen-year old’s blue ballpoint notes, my faded copy of The Awakening became a secret handshake, a talisman for an unconventional and unpredictable adult future.
By the time I began law school, my confidence in my life path of economic prosperity and stable career oriented choices had begun to waver as I drifted in and out of professional identities. I had taught yoga, been a floral designer, done various internships at non-profits, and worked as a law clerk at a big firm, which I hated most of all. None really felt like “it,” and yet I didn’t know what “it” was supposed to feel like. So I continued on the path before me to law school, through two bar exams, as my sister completed medical school. We were on track to fulfilling my father’s wildest immigrant fantasy.
By my early 30s, I had abandoned practicing law and was working as a management consultant in New York, something that I deemed socially acceptable given my extensive amount of education. I felt deep satisfaction taking the subway to Midtown and owning the same J. Crew pencil skirt in four colors to work a job that elicited success if not passion. I was making the most money I had ever made and I’d experienced my first business class travel to Asia. I took my parents out to a fancy West Village dinner on a family visit to New York. To your new success! we toasted over glasses of Barbera, and I beamed with pride as I paid the check.
I had arrived, at least until the consulting gig ended, and I reentered tumbling professional status. And then I entered tumbling life status with a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But in some ways, it was the best. Every path I had set into motion, every sense of identity I had blindly accepted was decimated. My work prospects disappeared and my desire to succeed was replaced with the myopic focus on survival. Moving back to California – something I had always associated with failure – became an accepted fate. I was drowning.
California stillness replaced the New York City hustle, which made way for the hungry mouth of grief. I carried my recent cancer as a heavy secret, the shame of loss and failure burning hot. I was just taking a break from New York City, I’d tell strangers. I can work from anywhere, I’m a consultant!, I’d respond to the confused inquiries about my vague professional status.
I almost immediately formed a friendship with an 80-year-old painter named Robert who taught me how to draw. Robert and I cruised around Marin County haggling at garage sales and discussing aesthetics and antiques. Where my father was sometimes unable to see beyond his own aspirations for his children, Robert saw a young woman standing at the shore, terrified to enter the ocean that was summoning. You’re doing great, babe, he’d tell me. And in all of the calamity, heartbreak and anxiety, I began to believe him.
By my mid-thirties, just a couple of years after my diagnosis and California pilgrimage, I was the poorest I had ever been, scraping together freelance gigs and stressing about making rent for my one bedroom apartment in New York. Yet, never had I a clearer sense of who I was, or rather, who I was not. I was not the woman who drives a Porsche. I was not the woman who owned a house that would appreciate staggering Bay Area property value. I did not own much of value, save for the artwork I had begun to collect from friends and the artists for whom I had worked. The farther I moved away from the external indicators of success, the more I realized that I had never valued them at all.
So, one spring day in 2017, at 37 years old, I called my mom and declared that I was going to take her up on her idea to start a cannabis business. My life was, shall we say, open to possibilities. I had no clear direction, my foray into the arts made me un-hireable in the business world, and I had no assets, savings, or plan for the future. All I knew is that I wanted to write and draw, and I wanted a sense of freedom. I knew that I had staggering life experience and unique intuition and I believed in the plant medicine that had served as my anti-anxiety med of choice during my regular financial panic attacks I had nicknamed “entering the vortex.” I also knew that this was the final chasm of normalcy, and that the tremors would reverberate violently and deeply.
After an extended trip to California in the winter ended in a brutal fight with my father, we sat in the front seat of the parked car after a coffee shop reconciliation, and he asked earnestly, Don’t you want a house and a family? Don’t you want security? It was the first time he had so directly vocalized his misunderstanding of the path that I had chosen. I was the bohemian artist, the single woman pushing 40 who was burning down her professional achievements with reckless abandon. Of course I wanted stability, a home, a family. But like Edna Pontellier, I could give up the unessential; I could give up financial security, the consuming quest for a partner. But I couldn’t give up on the woman as writer / artist / healer with whom I was becoming acquainted in the wake of my personal disaster.
The black Porsche still sits in my parent’s garage, and my father tediously maintains it, lovingly dusting it before countryside rides, wiping down the red leather interior and tending to its mechanical innards. It is a work of art, the culmination of my father’s craft, his talent with his hands and an intoxicating symbol of the American dream for a young penniless immigrant from the Eastern block.
After eight and a half years in New York, I recently moved to California to work on Cosmic View, the cannabis company that I founded with my mother last year. My free time these past weeks of transition involves a ritual – walking down the small unpaved roads that weave through Bolinas with names like Kale, Nymph, and Opal, crushing coastal sage between my fingers, and listening carefully to the distant break. I decided to settle in this famously oddball surf town, perhaps to reconnect with the young woman who first escaped to California years ago, but also to do exactly the opposite of what I imagine is expected of a 38-year-old woman. I am now the ultimate un-hireable individual: co-founder of a Schedule I classified federally illicit drug company with an affection for Carl Sagan, unapologetically bohemian artist, former lawyer, partner-less woman, wayward wanderer.
Was Edna Pontellier’s drowning at the end of The Awakening cowardice or courage? Did I give up on the prospect of mainstream success and achievement because I was an overeducated, spoiled cusp millennial who had the privilege of choosing poverty or did I find my way back to the sixteen-year-old girl who subconsciously understood she wanted creative freedom when she read the pages of Chopin’s novel 20 years earlier? These are some of the questions I inwardly mull over on Kale Road, sometimes with a joint in hand. And some days, I visit with my father in the passenger seat of the black Roadster, watching the tall grasses whip by the endless expanse of west Marin ocean. It may be the closest I’ll ever come to owning a Porsche, and that’s just fine.