Acorns (To Laughter)

For our friend, Mason. x

Learning you left was a helpless kind of pain -- 
a fresh-out-of-the-shower in December,
hair-dripping-down-my-back, I 
forgot my towel in the other room, so
I guess I’ll just stand here in a puddle
on the icy tiles as goosebumps itch across
my skin, painful. It immobilized.

But it was warm; it was September.
The leaves were barely gold. You lived
so much too quick, you left October crooked.
What could we do with all the you 
we still carried?

In a treehouse those two meticulous
hands of yours helped build, on the torn
edge of a river you once swam, a 
Sunday sunset shivered orange across
the sky, and the horizon 
rained acorns.

The first, kicked from the floorboards.
The second, flicked off a railing, and
grief found its playful side. Between
the rafters of branches arced acorns, right beside
sworn dares and regrets and promises
no one thought we’d have to make for decades still--

Still.
We swore. We held. Acorns dropped.
All of us, there and not.
You, there and not.
And somehow -- impossibly -- we remembered
that even the worst returns to laughter.

Practicing gratitude

Every year around Thanksgiving, I am always more mindful of the things I have to be grateful for. This year, the list is the longest it's ever been. And though I've said it many times before, it bears repeating: I never thought I even had the right to ask for a life this good, and I will make damn sure I cherish the time I have, with the people I have, now.

I'm grateful for my family, and that they are working on taking the time to care for themselves. I'm grateful to have a job that is fulfilling and helps me pay my bills and put food on the table. I'm grateful to have a car to take me places, and gas to fill up that car -- and I'm grateful that I have places to go to in that car for adventures. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to see the Pacific Ocean, to fly above the Grand Canyon, to swim and boat (and jet ski!) in lakes and oceans and rivers this summer.

Friends. I'm most grateful to those who have given me room in their hearts. I'm grateful for my adopted families, my "work moms" who look after me and friends who are so close I feel like I've known them for years.

I am grateful that I am able to take the time and energy to work on my anxiety. I am grateful that I found someone to talk to that has been helping me work through the tough times.

Peter -- I'm grateful to have his time, patience, support, and love every single day.

I'm grateful for the bed I sleep in, the books I read, the strangers who smile back. I'm grateful for the dogs I see walking down the street outside the window of the wonderful house I live in. I am grateful to have people around me who challenge me and make me want to be a better person.

A skill I'm working on currently is practicing gratitude. I think I do a pretty good job of showing that I am thankful for the way my life has unfolded, but I can always do better -- I can always be more consistent in recognizing the luck I've been given and the hard work I've done that is paying off in a number of ways. I can be more vocal in my recognition. On days I let my frustration or anxiety win, I try to sit and quiet the noise of my head and remember all that I have and let that fill me up, instead. Because, like I said, my list is the longest it's ever been, and it's still growing.


The probelm with Icarus

As a young girl growing up I learned a story of 
a boy drowned from heavy, melting wax wings. 
His father gathered feathers and tacked them together
with a warning (or a lesson) for his son:
 don't stray too high, don't fall too low. 
The ocean has as much power to sink you as the sun.

But the trouble with flying is that warnings
made on the ground shrink and are forgotten when
surrounded by clouds and wind and birds
and other impossibilities.

Icarus flew. He skimmed the water and 
kissed the edge of dawn with his waxy feathers.
On the wings his father gave him, 
he touched the corners of our atmosphere.
He nearly held the sun.

Inevitably came the fall. 
The weeping wax, downing an almost angel;
the icy ocean, dragging him home.
Hubris is often accused as the siren who
called Icarus to Heaven, but his father warned
him twice: don't stray high, don't fall low.
The ocean has as much power to sink you--

The problem with Icarus wasn't that he flew too close to the sun,
but that his wings were constructed of wax and feathers.
The problem with Icarus wasn't that he flew too close to the sun,
but that he flew too near to the ground and dampened those feathers.
The problem with Icarus 
was that his wet wings needed the warm closeness of the sun to dry.
The problem with Icarus 
was that he never questioned if the wings his father gave him were the wings he needed.
The problem with Icarus
is that we remember the lesson he died for wrong.
The problem with Icarus
is our own fear of flying.

Tough, but good

Where I am in my life right now is someplace really, really good. I am in a place -- financially, emotionally, physically -- that I never knew I would have the privilege or right to experience, and I am grateful every single day to have made it as far as I have. It took a lot of work, and it took a lot of convincing myself that what I've done to get here is a big accomplishment. It's difficult to see it that way at times when I have this tendency to compare myself to others around me. But that's not fair. It's not about how I measure up to others, but how I measure up to who I was before. I am, and will continue to be, a work in progress, and that's okay. I have to remember that.

The good, and bad, thing about being in such a good place right now is that my brain decided, "Oh, okay, you're safe and happy right now, so this would be the perfect time to go through all those boxes up here you shoved aside when you had other shit to deal with." Cool. You know that quote by John F. Kennedy? "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining." Well, the sun is shining, and I'm out on the roof.

Essentially, I spent a lot of my time growing up living in what I consider "survival mode." I got through each day, sometimes by hanging on by the tips of my fingers. I fought just to get through my weeks. So when something bad came up -- something that threatened to pry those fingers off the ledge -- I would push it aside to deal with later. I had to recover from this problem/threat first, and then I could handle that one.  I repressed, sometimes in the moment, so I could survive. But because I was always in this instinct of protect, survive, move on, I ended up collecting a lot of these problems, cluttering the back of my mind. When you're always in survival mode, there's no time to deal with anything but surviving. There's no time to deal with problem number two (or three, or four, or five...).

The Void, I've called it before. I put the problems in boxes and shoved them deep, deep down. And now they're resurfacing. Which is tough, but good. Tough to deal with -- but a good sign, because it means I'm safe. It means my brain thinks I'm capable of opening everything up now. One box at a time.

But it's hard, when there are so many boxes that I don't know where to begin. Or I don't always remember what's in those boxes. And that part scares me most of all, I think. I'm not sure how many boxes of trauma I've stowed away, and I have no idea what's going to happen when I open them up. What will I find?

One of those boxes sprung open this morning. I had the same nightmare, three or four times in a row. But it didn't feel the same as a regular nightmare. It was vivid in the same way that my nightmares tied to memories are. And it was exactly the same, each time it played out. I woke up in a panic, realizing this was not just a bad dream, but rather something from my past I was remembering. The details at the end of the scene I had to watch on repeat this morning are a little fuzzy still, but my brain is slowly trying to untangle it for me, in a way that I will be able to manage. Again: tough, but good.

I will take it one memory at a time. It's nice that I have someone who is always there to remind me that no matter what I find, no matter what I remember, I am in a better place now. I am safe, I am happy, I am so much stronger. This past Saturday I got my fourth tattoo to remind me of this. It's a little sprig of lavender blooms. It reminds me of growth, of fragility. Of grace, silence, and calm hope. I will carry it with me, always.


Tiptoes

On my tiptoes to kiss you,
our hearts nearly side by side.
Hand on your cheek, 
I feel the start of your smile.
This is more than I
had any right to ask for.

"

You are my favorite form of punctuation. 
An open bracket for me to fill, 
a promising set of ellipses… 
 You are the semicolon I’ve been waiting for; 
you are the choice to continue a sentence 
we could have ended half as quick. 
The comma that begs more, the question mark 
that wants to know how and why? And--
it’s you, on the other side of every breath and pause. 
You are the excitement, the passion and energy, 
the joy and surprise of each exclamation point. 
But my favorite (my absolute favorite) is when, 
together, we lay and form a small but sure 
                                                quotation mark, 
 waiting to spill out our very own novel.

Dutch still life

Harwood, MD, USA
One year ago today I had the flu and got fake-married on a cold, beautiful farm in Harwood, Maryland. The project was the brainchild of Kelsey Mattson, who I worked with at the time. Her idea was to take the broodiness of Dutch Still Life and mix it with a Kinfolk whimsy, and Harwood Hills Farm was the perfect place to set the scene. I still look back on that day, even with how cold and sick and miserable I felt, with such fondness. It was exciting to see so much talent and work come together to create something amazing, and I am grateful I was able to be a part of it all. I wanted to finally share a few of my favorite pictures from that day. Read more (and get a cocktail recipe) from 100 Layer Cake, and check out a few more pictures below the cut.






Photography by Sarah Culver Styling by Kelsey Mattson Hair and Makeup by Caitlyn Meyer Wedding Dress from Wren Bridal Rings from Kaj Jewelry | Rentals from Something Vintage | Paper Products from Townley Creative | Flowers from Crimson and Clover | Suiting by Christopher Schafer

His shoulders

He carried the world on 
his shoulders 
as if it had been a gift, 
never the burden it was 
meant to be,
and the universe exhaled relief
that it had chosen
well.

She traced his face with
careful fingers
in the restful blue of night,
memorizing every inch 
of privilege 
the stars asked her to protect inside
her two uncertain
hands.

And between
his shoulders,
and between 
her hands,
they sheltered--together--
two 
beating 
hearts.

It was not a burden.
Instead, a privilege,
a gift--far greater than 
the mind,
the stars,
the universe,
could ever hope to
conceive.

How to fall

The first thing I learned in gymnastics was how to fall. I was very small, wearing my favorite purple leotard with my hair in the messiest five-year-old ponytail and I stared up at our coach as she explained that if you land wrong, you could break your arm. Or your leg. Or pop something out of its socket, or make something bend the wrong way. And not only would that be painful, but you also wouldn't get to go on the trampoline or uneven bars anymore. (This was more upsetting to me than the thought of any level of fractured limbs.)

What you do instead, she told us, was let yourself fall. Allow it to happen. It was in trying to stop the fall -- after it was already too late -- that people usually got in trouble. You fall out of a flip, panic, and stick your arm out behind you to stop yourself and then snap, no more vault for you for a while. But if you just let yourself hit the ground, arms tucked in at your side, chin down, you'll land (hard) and can roll out of it.

"Don't panic," was the motto we learned when we started practicing difficult tricks. "You're going to fall, but it's up to you how much it hurts." Accept the fall, tuck into it, and you'll be fine. Mostly. Covered in bruises, sure, but not broken.

A few years later in a dance class, after my teacher learned I was a gymnast, she decided to incorporate tricks in the routine. The song begun, and I would sprint across stage and jump into the combination. But the studio we practiced in was small, so my lead in to the trick was short, and dance floors aren't known for being particularly... springy. On top of that, the floor was slick, especially in dance shoes. But I'd done the combination a few times already, once with a spot, so I'd gotten comfortable with it. Flips never made me nervous, anyway. Then I went to run through it again with everyone and, halfway through the flip, realized I didn't through enough momentum into it to fully rotate and, at the rate I was going, I was going to land on my head.

"Don't panic."

Instinct kicked in and I coiled up mid-air, head tucked, arms tight, and let myself hit the hard ground and slide. My sister, who was in the class with me, said it sounded like I broke everything. The collision was loud, and I went sliding across the floor and slammed into the wall. Everyone in the class -- except for her, of course, because she'd seen me fall a dozen times -- freaked out until they heard me laughing. Nothing was broken, just bruised. I had them start it from the top again.

I knew how to fall. I was fine. I got up. I went again.

The first thing I learned on a motorcycle was how to get unstuck, by myself. In middle school (get ready for this juxtaposition of a story), I made a PowerPoint presentation for my dad to convince him to allow me to ride dirt bikes. What a nerdy way to go about doing something pretty cool, but it worked. When we got my bike home -- a Kawasaki TTR 125, the brightest lime green, for any curious minds -- my dad started teaching me everything I needed to know about riding.

"You're going to crash," he told me, "and fall."

It wasn't a question of if, just when. Especially since he knew me (and knew I'd want to go faster, jump higher). When I did eventually fall, he said, if the bike landed on me and there was no one around, I was going to be stuck there until someone found me. Which could be a long time. But my dad didn't raise me to be someone who waited around for help; we got out of trouble ourselves. So, it made sense that what he had me do next was lay on the floor of our garage so he could gently lay the (very heavy) dirt bike on me.

"Get out. You can do it."

And he had me do that over and over again until lifting it was nothing, until he knew I had it on my own. He was right, by the way. I did fall. A lot. Once, I was tossed over the handle bars after my back wheel washed out and then BAM that gymnastics instinct kicked in and I rolled off to the side, arms in and ribs aching, before the bike could run me over. I also got pinned under my bike while camping one year, and got myself up and out. I shoved the bike up, shook off the dirt, re-buckled my boots and took off again.

It's weird how some of the things I hold most important in life -- getting up, every time, even after a hard knock down -- were taught in these ways, but the lessons have stuck with me. I know how to recover, so I don't have to be afraid of the risk; I don't let fear stop me from trying because I'm not afraid of the fall. And when I'm down, I can pick myself up. No matter how heavy the weight, I can get myself back up.

Fall, get yourself up, keep going. Do it again, as many times as you need. Keep going.

San Diego, Part 3

San Diego, CA, USA
Sunday morning in San Diego was filled with museums, if you cannot tell. In addition to touring the Maritime Museum, we got to go explore the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier was so incredibly interesting to tour -- and attempt not to get lost in. This thing was HUGE! We spent a few hours longer than we expected there (so long, in fact, we returned to a parking ticket).

The best part of the USS Midway was the wonderfully knowledgeable staff, most of whom had previously served on the carrier. In fact, a few of the people touring in front of us were telling stories of their own from when they served on the Midway -- apparently, one guy said, after a few weeks in the bunks, even if you were an officer and were bunked in the slightly roomier quarters, you wanted to get out because it smelled so much like sweat. At least the had racks (bunks) with a little more space to stretch. It was also interesting to see the links of the chain to the anchor. Each link weighed 140 pounds.

This was my favorite of the two museums we saw, not only due to its sheer size. My grandfather was a test pilot in the Navy when he was my age, and while this carrier was a little different than the destroyer he was stationed on, it gave me an interesting look at what he was doing. I thought about him a lot as we went through the kitchen, seeing their corn chipped beef ("Shit on a Shingle," as I always knew it and was also told by one of the former Navy museum volunteers it was called). We got to talk to an amazing volunteer in the office of the XO (Executive Officer). Our guided audio tour was telling us that if you got in trouble and were sent to the XO's office, you were in deep. I asked the volunteer if he had served on the Midway, and if he had ever gotten in trouble in this office and he laughed and told us a story where he thought he had gotten called in to be reprimanded but instead received a promotion.

Up on the flight deck, besides getting to look at, and even go walk through if you wanted, helos and planes, you could also see the coast of Coronado. It was warm, sunny, windy and perfectly San Diego. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to live on a ship like the Midway. It was amazing. And, in the bay below us as we stood on the flight deck, a handful of jet skis were flying back and forth, giving us an idea of how to spend the rest of the day.

(See Part 1, Part 2)






San Diego, Part 2

San Diego, CA, USA
More photos from San Diego! These were taken at the first museums we went to on San Diego Bay Sunday morning: the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum had a lot of history about sailors and sailing -- everything from an American submarine, to sailing ships, and a Russian submarine from the Cold War. The subs were my favorite to explore. The American submarine was primarily used for research but had participated in some recent and still-not-declassified operations. The periscope was operational, and it was interesting to look out of it and figure out how the mirrors that made it up worked. The sleeping bunks, for the record, were the comfiest cots we had tested (out of three: the American Sub, the Russian Sub, and the USS Midway, which will be talked about more tomorrow).

The Russian submarine, besides having the history of what happened on the vessel (an action -- or inaction -- by a crew member that prevented a nuclear strike and possibly saved the world by the sailor keeping a level head), also had a simulation through speakers. The disembodied voice of the Russian Captain was yelling orders at me as lights flickered and the sound of distant bombs shook the vessel. Get to the aft of the ship! (Part 1, Part 3)







San Diego, Part 1

San Diego, CA, USA
September 15th, Peter and I flew out of BWI at 7AM to go and have a surprise (for him) weekend in San Diego. I've never been to California before -- actually, I've never been off the East Coast before -- so I was incredibly excited. We were able to fit so many fun things into just four days out there. We went to La Jolla Cove, surfing in Mission Beach, a Brewery Tour, a couple museums, jet skiing in San Diego Bay, exploring Coronado, and I even got to shoot a SCAR at a gun range. I never thought I'd get to see the Pacific Ocean, and I feel like I got to check off a pretty big, pretty awesome item off my bucket list. I loved every minute of San Diego. Here are some of the pictures from the trip. More will follow soon! (Part 2, Part 3)





The price we pay for love

This past week, the world lost someone important. Though I did not know Mason Shaffir as well as many of those around me, I am beyond grateful to have been introduced to him and thankful that I was able to spend what time I could with him. Friends of Mason know that he was a talented, bright young man whose smile could catch a room on fire as it spread. You could hear his laugh from across a party and look over to see him surrounded by other happy faces, enjoying whatever story he was telling (or his spot-on Rick and Morty impressions). He was a talented artist who paid such care to his craft. He was kind -- incredibly, achingly kind -- and always genuine with his concern for others. Mason was someone, I think, who could feel everything in the world all at once and still give you a smile, despite the weight he must have been carrying.

I am grateful to have known Mason, and I will miss bumping into him as I walk around downtown. I am in awe of the strength I see in all of his friends, as they pull together and hold onto one another through these tough days. To say that I am saddened or sorry over the loss of such a wonderful, gentle person is too small a statement, but there are no other words that can come close in such times, so sorry will have to suffice.

There's a quote that's been floating in my mind these past few days. I think it was originally from Queen Elizabeth II. "Grief is the price we pay for love." It's a terrible feeling to be heartbroken over such a loss, as I see so many who knew Mason (no matter how well) are, but it's a fair price. The pain felt in the aftermath of his death is all the proof you need of what an impact Mason left on this world. It hurts because we cared, because this matters, because he mattered so much.

It hurts because we opened ourselves up to experiences, good and bad, and let someone in to touch our lives. It hurts to know we won't have that bright light anymore, because we had gotten so used to it and don't know what to do now that the world is a little darker. But in his flickering absence, I can see the lights of those who loved him flare a little brighter in response. It doesn't compensate, but it's just another way he is being remembered. We loved him, and this grief may not be an easy price to pay, but it is one we will all do so willingly because this pain was worth the joy he brought while he was here with us.

This weekend, I've been hugging friends longer, squeezing hands tighter -- reaching out to friends I haven't spoken to for a while to see how they are doing. These things may seem small, but they are big. Sometimes we never know how big they are. I am going to remember to do this more often, to be a better friend while I can. I am learning so much from those around me in the strength and courage they exhibit. It is truly beautiful how powerful love and friendship can be.


If you have the means to do so, please donate to the Mason Shaffir Memorial Fund for the charity AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), a leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy. And please, if you are having a hard time, or see friends around you struggling, do not hesitate to reach out to ask for or offer help; it is one of the bravest things you can do.

Your Wake

Last Sunday, I was jet skiing in San Diego Bay. Now THERE'S a sentence that brings me so much joy to type out because 1) I never thought I'd get to see the west coast and 2) I've always wanted to go jet skiing, and it was just as fun as I thought it would be, but that's not the point of this post though I feel it is worth mentioning and really, if you have the opportunity to do it, dooo iiiiiit. Anyway, back to the point, we had the jet ski for about an hour, and could ride all the way from under the bridge connecting San Diego to Coronado, back to the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier we toured earlier that morning. (That, too, was awesome.)

While we were speeding around on the water, we were able to take in both the coast of San Diego and Coronado. The sun was high, but sinking, the water was warm, and the wind was fierce. I couldn't stop smiling--I couldn't stop laughing. That day, for many reasons, was one of the happiest days of my life.

When we rode closer to the shore, there were signs posted every so often.


SPEED LIMIT 5 MPH
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR WAKE.

We passed it once, and I thought nothing of it (besides, you know, slowing down). Then we passed it again, and again, and something started to settle in with me with those signs.

You are responsible for your wake.

Obviously, the signs were only intended to indicate a "No Wake" zone, where the speed of every vessel on the water must be reduced so the rider's wash/wake does not cause any damage to other people in the water, other vessels nearby, or property on the shore. It wasn't meant as anything more than a warning for those in the bay to be mindful. But the phrasing got me. It didn't say "No Wake." It said "You are responsible..."

That stuck with me, and I've been thinking about that second layer of meaning a lot over this past week.

We are all responsible for what we leave behind. We are responsible for the way it rolls over into other people's lives. We can pass through fast and violent, leaving a tail of rough waters at our back, or we can do something a bit slower, a little more peaceful.

I've talked before about how everything we do in life leaves a ripple that spreads out to touch those around us--for better or for worse. But a wake seems more appropriate. And it seems especially appropriate because, in this instance, it considers proximity.

There are places to be fast--to be loud and wild and carefree--but there are also places to slow down and be more gentle. Both are fine, but we are responsible. No one can make us slow down; we don't have to change a thing if we don't want to, but we are responsible for whatever damage we create. We are responsible.

I hope that the wake I leave isn't too rough. There may be times where it can--or should--be, but I want peaceful water around me that doesn't do anyone or any thing harm. I'm mindful of how I move through the world, especially when it comes to those I love and how my actions affect them. I don't want to be a thing of destruction, but instead protection, or affection. I think I'll be carrying this little saying around with me for the rest of my life. San Diego, and this trip we took, is going to stick in my heart forever.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR WAKE.

Peter

*Warning: This post contains mushy romance-y feelings. Proceed in rain boots for the gushiness.

I do not fall in love fast. Before you, there were others who were perfectly fine to fall for, but though I may have loved them, I was never in love with them. You were different. With you, I think I knew right away. I loved you immediately, and I fell in love with you quickly. You made so much sense.

It was a Saturday afternoon when I told you. I had realized I loved you about a week earlier, when we were sleeping in the clouds on top of a mountain in West Virginia. I listened to the rain slide over our tent and you rolled over and I remember thinking this is it. This was what I had been waiting for, in all of those past relationships. I managed to keep the thought to myself a full seven days before I couldn't hold it back anymore. (I didn't want to scare you away. I didn't know how soon was too soon to say these things.) You were laying next to me, on your phone, and I was tracing the leaf tattooed on your ribs as I built up my courage. "Don't freak out"--I warned--"but I'm in love with you." You kissed me, pulled me to your chest, and whispered that you knew. "Good," I said. I didn't want you to doubt for a second how I felt about you.

I didn't know what healthy love looked like, but I had a good idea this was what it was. You made me happy, you brought me peace, you made me better. I wanted to do all those things for you, too. I knew I loved you then, as I know I love you now--as I know I fall further every single day, the more I learn about you. You have me, for as long as you'll have me. I'm yours.

You told me you loved me on a Monday. It was the night after my dad's wedding. We were in North Carolina, getting bitten up by mosquitoes in the hot tub. Under a sky heavy with stars, you told me that you loved me, too. Even though I'd already told you I loved you, you sounded nervous. I said it back so quickly I wasn't sure you understood me, so I said it again, slower. I had never been so happy. I still have the sea shell you gave me that day.


You feel like fate, if I even believe in a thing like fate. (I think I do. You're all the proof I need, at this point.) There were so many things that got out of my way so I could be with you, and I never had to force or question any of it. Everything with you has always been so easy and natural. It's like taking slow, full breaths for the first time ever. The world just bowed back and let me hold your hand. I was fortunate enough you decided to hold mine, too.

Not once in the entire time I've been with you have you made me feel nervous, unsure, or confused. That doesn't happen for me--I'm always nervous, unsure, and confused. But next to you, it's never any of that. It's calm. It's right. It's coming home and finding peace, no matter the chaos of the day. I'm not used to that sort of luck. I'm not used to this much kindness. It's a gift I never knew I was allowed to even ask for, let alone receive.

Sometimes, when I watch you do even the most mundane of tasks, it hits me out of no where how much I love you. I feel so full, so content, and it terrifies me that I could do something to mess that all up. Someone as good as you should have the world, and I work every day to try and be the person you deserve. You make me want to be better, to do more--be someone stronger and more capable. You help me realize all that I am capable of already. I want to do everything with you.

You are so much joy and music. Whenever I hear you whistling around the house, I smile. Every time you laugh, everything makes sense to me. You are goodness, compassion. You are thoughtful care; every single person who knows you can say with confidence that your friendship is genuine and true and so incredibly strong. There is no room in your life for indifference or mediocrity. You are all in. I'm grateful that you consider me something worthy of what time you have--and I know how valuable that time is, with all that you do. You are tireless determination and accomplishment. I've never known someone to work as hard as you. It's inspiring to watch. But I'll be here to remind you to slow down, every now and again. You deserve rest, too.


I used to be afraid of the future. I would live my life a day at a time, sometimes a week if I was having a good run. But with you, the future is all I can see. It doesn't scare me even a little bit anymore, because you're there. That's all I need. There is no version that is acceptable without you. And I know you're going to do so many amazing things--anything you set your mind to, you can accomplish. There will be times we have to spend apart, but I will never be far. I am always on your team. I am always rooting for you. I am always going to have your back, no matter what. There is nothing too difficult for us to overcome; there is nothing that could scare me away. Together, we are stronger than anything.

You mean everything, everything to me, Peter, and I am so proud to be with you. I will never, not even for a second, take for granted the time I get to spend by your side, calling you mine. Everything with you is always so much better. You have been the best six months of my life. I can't wait to see what the next six have in store for us. Whatever it is, I know it will be spectacular. I know you will be spectacular, because you are rarely anything less.

Happy six months, Shark Bark.

Little Things

These past few weeks have been really difficult for me, but it feels like things are changing. There's an upturn of luck, and as far as I can see (for now, that is) I don't have anything before me that I'm particularly stressed about. Besides the usual, of course -- balancing working full time and classes beginning again is exhausting, but that's a type of stress I'm used to dealing with.

Now that I am free from that feeling of impeding doom I'd been experiencing recently, I can take the time and truly focus on what is happening to me now, in the moment. It's allowing me to appreciate the little things.

Last night as I was driving home from my class I had one of those moments. It was late and dark, and the roads were pretty empty. I was driving over the Naval Academy Bridge, a favorite bridge of mine because when you're driving up it you cannot see the other side sloping down so it looks like you're driving into the sky. As I was driving toward the stars, with the bright white glow of the Academy to my left and the streaky gold headlights of a bridge across the water to my right, one of my favorite songs came on. I wasn't listening to a playlist, but a radio station that was completely random which made it all the better. I smiled, rolled my windows down, and turned up the music. I was exhausted, but I was so happy in that moment, on my way home to people I love and food waiting for me in the crock pot.

Little things.

It's hitting me in waves, this contentment. I'm relatively unused to this sort of feeling, and I'm learning to embrace it as it's happening and not worry myself about wondering how long it will last. Trying to be "mindful," and all that -- like they tell anxious people like me to do. Well, I'd never been able to manage such  mindfulness before. There was always something creeping up to cause me to worry and look forward with nervousness. Now, the times that I do look forward, it's with more excitement than anything else. Again, that's new for me. I like it.

Little things are so important to me now. They build into something great. My favorite part of the day is getting to go to bed and wake up next to someone I love. I'm grateful I have a job I find fulfilling, no matter how difficult or tiring the work. My family, friends, and even coworkers are generous, thoughtful, and supportive. I'm taking time to look around me and notice how beautiful the world is, and what gifts the universe has decided to give me. Thank you, universe.

I have a lot of good things in my life, and I'm not going to take them for granted. I'm going to practice this mindfulness, this gratitude, every day and hope that this happiness doesn't have an end, because I'm really starting to get used to it now.


16 Years Later

Today is always a hard day but it is important to take the time to sit with those memories that might upset us, remember, and be grateful for where we are now and what we have in our lives. It is a day to hold tight to your family and think of those who lost theirs, either during the attacks or in the war the followed.

I was in fourth grade during the attacks of 9/11, and sixteen years later the day is no less vivid than when I was nine. I've spent years watching strangers and friends go to war to defend the freedom we fought so hard for. I saw debates, intellectual and impassioned, about what we do and where we go from here. I saw neighborhoods and schools pull together to support those who needed them most. And the one thing that always returns to me, every year through the images of terror, is hope.

There's a resiliency to American hope, an elasticity that no one in the world could have imagined. It's because, I believe, love -- for our country, for each other -- is an unshakable value we all share. Despite our differences, we come together. In recent times, this may be difficult to remember, but it is no less true now than it was then. When one of us is under attack, all of us is under attack, and each of us should stand at the ready to care for and protect one another. The best way to overcome evil is to drown it in goodness.

On a day like this, there's a speech from Aaron Sorkin's West Wing that I think is especially appropriate. I hope the words stay with you the same way they've stayed with me:

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Galaxies

You contain galaxies on your shoulders, 
 in freckles and scars, 
and all that is alive and good 
has been born between your ribs. 

I can still taste the echo 
of last night's stars 
in your morning exhales and sighs. 
We are a universe, expanding.

Before the sun even considers rising, 
before the night concedes to day, 
lean in closer and forget your name.
For just a moment, stay.

Taller than Trauma

The older I get, the more free I feel to open up about my past. My childhood was not the nicest of childhoods. There were happy times, as there always are even in the midst of trauma, but I had to live through things no child should be expected to deal with.

During those times, I would do my best to focus to on the good because if I didn't, I would drown. For the most part, focusing on the good meant one thing: my sister. Growing up, though we would argue, we were best friends. We got closer as teenagers, and even more so as adults. She was my reason to be strong and smile. She still is often my reason for those two things. I am thankful that we had very different experiences growing up so she could think back on our family with a pervasive happiness through her memories.

I have come a long way from when I was a child. I am a stronger person now because of what I went through then. I have my priorities very clearly in line. I know what I want, I know what I will not tolerate, and I am willing to work hard to have a life I not only deserve, but one I will earn. With determination and luck, I've found a happiness that would have been absolutely unimaginable as a child. It means everything to me, and I'm holding on tight to it.

Recently, as I've been thinking more about my childhood and remembering moments I tried hard to forget, I feel like I'm shrinking again. This Wednesday, my grandmother (Regina) passed away. (It's odd that it was only yesterday morning; it feels like so much time has already passed.) Besides dealing with the grief of losing a family member, I am also trying to cope with reemerging trauma associated with my mother. It would be a lie to say there wasn't part of me that is terrified of seeing her again at the funeral; I am worrying about things I should not have to worry about before burying my grandmother. But my mind wanders on its own accord and I feel like I'm a teenager again, not in control--not free and happy as I am now.

I am fortunate enough to have someone next to me to remind me that I am in control and no one can hurt me anymore, in any way. I have come so far, I have done so much, and this person in my life is too small to take any of that away from me. I am so much taller than the trauma I've seen. I am so much better because I have gone through it, grown from it. It's nice to know that. It's even nicer to have someone who loves me and believes in me so fully to be there, holding my hand and reminding me. That support next to me makes it easier to face things that scare me. It makes it easier for me to know that strength looks like different things to different people, and even though everyone may not understand it (or agree with it), I am making choices that are good and healthy for me. And that's okay.

It's going to be a difficult weekend, saying goodbye to my grandmother as I face down my past. But I am going to make it through, as I have made it through so many things before. This is not nearly as difficult as what I've already survived, and now I am surrounded by so much light. And when that fear comes back to me, I can remind myself that I am stronger than all of it, and everything I went through--both the good and the bad--not only made me into the person I am today, but led me to the life I am so privileged to be living. No one can take that from me.

I'll repeat it like a mantra: I am here, I am strong, I am in control.

Regina

Growing up, I called my grandmother on my mother's side "Grandma Gina." I saw her as tall, blonde, and always worried about what I was up to. And, to be fair, I did give her things to worry about -- I was a child who liked to climb, swing, run, jump and would always come home to her with scrapes, bruises, and scabs. She wore Keds sneakers and striped shirts. She had my favorite juice (Hugs) in a basement cooler every time we came to visit, and she loved strawberry ice cream in waffle cones on hot summer nights. It took me until I was around four or five to realize her actual name was Regina. Weird, I thought, that it never occurred to me she was anyone other than Grandma Gina. But she existed before I did, and had a life I had no idea about. So I asked questions and she told stories; then she would ask questions and I would tell stories back.

After my younger cousin was born, Grandma Gina was renamed. "G.G.," was her new moniker, and my little cousin would sing it over and over again in the kitchen high chair he sat in while we all watched Wheel of Fortune while trying to adjust the picture on the TV. (God, I loved those metal bunny ears. I was pretty upset our TV back at home in Maryland didn't have them. Was it specifically a Pittsburgh thing? I didn't. know.) My sister tried to persuade him otherwise -- she was Grandma Gina, not G.G., didn't he know that? -- but he was not to be deterred. Even long after he could pronounce Grandma Gina, she stayed G.G., and we all adopted the new name.

I think of my grandmother in the summer most often. Every July we packed up the car and made the five hour drive from Ellicott City to a suburb outside of Pittsburgh. On the fourth, we would walk (or, if I was lucky, I'd be carried on someone's shoulders) a few miles down the road to the local park, lay out blankets on the grass, and watch the fireworks and listen to music. During the days of visiting her, I would explore her tall house, especially the attic with its funny ceiling, scary hatch door that led presumably either to Hell or Narnia, and I would go through all of the secret treasure the space hid.


On particularly hot days when my aunt was willing to sit outside and watch us, my sister and I would swim in the pool in my grandmother's back yard. That pool deck had been rebuilt a number of times but somehow always bounced when we ran on it, splintering our feet. For hours and hours, long past the point of pruning fingers, my sister and I would jump from the side of the pool, gulp a giant lung-full of air, and swim down down down to touch the bottom. We would float on our backs and stare at the sun while our goggles dented our cheeks and noses. As I got older, I would do handstands and flips off the stiff, low diving board or stand in the shallow end, propping up a book on the deck to read. I remember very specifically standing in the corner of the pool one summer, making my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was the biggest book I'd ever read at that point.

My grandmother comes to me through specific snatches of scenes and senses. The way the red shag carpet of her house felt between my toes. The low clang of the doorbell. The warm, golden dust of the attic. The chlorine of the pool, the burning smell of fireworks. The bells she kept on her fireplace, that I was never supposed to play with but secretly (not so secretly) did. The treadmill in her office with the stretchy bands hanging over the handles.

Salt. Everyone gave her such a hard time about how much salt she would use.

Cereal. She always asked us what kind of special cereal we wanted when we visited -- no matter how sugary, she would get it. (Reese's Puffs were my favorites.)

The flagpole in her front yard that I would swing on and try to climb while no one was looking. I always was caught.

The front porch with the stone railing that I would balance on, even while she watched and worried I would topple off and break my arm. I promised her that I wouldn't fall, and if I did it was okay because I knew how to fall -- that's what gymnastics was for!

The teal-blue small car with an angel on its visor. I would watch that angel and cross my fingers that the little engine could handle the steep hills of her neighborhood.

Pop, she said, never soda. Always Pepsi, never Coke. Gum bands, not rubber bands. I still give her a hard time about that one. My G.G. is someone who has a quiet, subtle strength. She's hardworking, no matter how tired or pained she was, she was always on her way out to work. Even when she didn't have to be up, she would always get out of bed at five in the morning and drink her coffee, black, as she watched the news. There is also a sass to her that I never realized she possessed until I got older. But she has a mouth on her sometimes -- not crude, just smart. She gives my sister a run for her money. Watching them go back and forth makes me smile and wish I had that same connection.

She is also so unfailingly proud of her grandchildren. Everything we've done, even if she doesn't understand it, she's there cheering us on. She has read all of my books. She asks my sister about school. She knows everything about my cousin's hockey games.

I wish I was closer to my grandmother. I think everyone always wishes that, even when they're relatively close to begin with -- we are always wondering about what more would have done for us, if it would have been enough. I wish I could explain some things I know she doesn't understand, some choices I've made and why even though they might not have made sense at the time, they were good for me. They are good for me. But again, she doesn't need to understand to support and love me. And for that, I will always be grateful.

I promise, I'm writing

A few years ago, I was churning out books so fast it made my head spin. When I started working full time, that changed. It took me a while to get used to the difference of pace and realize that just because I ceased sprinting, did not mean I chose to stand still. I am still writing, though less consistently and much slower. This is necessary both because of the time and energy I am devoting to my new job, and also because of the sacredness of my current piece.

"Sacredness," I realize, sounds dramatic. But it's the most accurate word I can use to explain it. This book, these characters, are the most me I've ever written down on paper (or screen). It's scary to see it become a thing and with so much left unwritten, I'm worried about not getting it out right. Classic first draft fear. But I am writing. I promise. I'm carving time to bring it all to life.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a chapter. There are many more significant segments of writing that have to do with the exciting bits of plot, but I like this one quite a lot. For one of the main characters, it's a flash of falling, something so big that usually happens in the smallest of times, in the plainest of moments. It's a scene of sudden, surprising surety and stillness. I've already teased a line of it, but here's more.

--------------------------------------------------------

“Switch places with me,” Theo said.

“What?” Scottie looked behind him, next to him. “Why?”

“Do me a favor, will you? Quick.”

Eyebrows pinched, Scottie stood so Theo could take his seat. He sat back down where Theo had been sitting next to James and leaned his elbows on the tabletop, tuning back into the conversation at hand--which Lewis now controlled.

Theo waited, but it wasn’t long.

She arrived next to him, gentle, still, and silent. It was a moment that was subtle in its significance, but inevitable in its occurrence. Anticipation and relief ran through Theo’s veins. Serendipity swept through the air, bringing a chill more unshakable than the November noise raging outside. With her by his side, he experienced an anxiety like never before, but when she spoke, his nerves realigned themselves. For the first time, he settled.

“Gin, please.”

Without having heard her speak before, he was immediately familiar with the song of her voice. It was as intimate as a dream, as startling as dejavu. Already, he knew her--in the way he knew fear and pleasure, of goosebumps rising before mouths met and parted.

It was only a stuttering second, but everything changed. How impossible that something as casual as a girl ordering a drink would seem so momentous.

When he turned, she was looking at him.

Up close, she was even more unbelievable. She had hollowed cheeks and small ears that she tucked her hair behind with practiced poise. Pink and porcelain-skinned, Theo wondered what his dark hand would look like against her flushed chest, what his fingers would become if they were to run over the wings of her collarbone and slip farther down.

The solidity of the ground slipped beneath his feet. The Earth spun on without him while she was within such close proximity. Vertigo, he remembered James saying earlier. She was the cliff he stood at the edge of, inches from disaster. He’d relish the fall; it would feel like flying.

“Nice camera.”

Who tells your story?

I am a girl consumed by wanderlust. Not necessarily with regard to travel -- though believe me, there are cities and mountains and beaches I will make it a point to see before I run out of time. Mostly, my form of wanderlust is intricately tied to an on-again/off-again feeling of aimlessness with life. Aimlessness might not be the perfect word for it, but it's the closest way I can articulate it. There are some days where, even while I'm headed in a clear direction, when I'm happy with those I'm surrounded by, I still feel sort of lost and inadequate. I'm always worried if what I'm doing is right, or if what I'm doing is enough. It's that "enough" part that snags at me most.

This isn't a unique feeling. It's the human condition. Doubt and fear and the horrible, shrinking feeling of being something temporary. Life is a blip, and we are all dust floating in an ever expanding universe and the chances of us doing something memorable (let alone something that will actually be worthy of being remembered) is slim. *Cue speech from 10 Things I Hate About You.* But do you know what is also a part of the human condition? Fighting back. Denying the odds and trying to make an impact anyway. Do all that you can, as best as you can, with the time you are given. That will be enough.

From Hamilton:
But when you're gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?  
And this is why I turn to art when I find myself in a wandering/wondering state. Art always answers me, quiets me down. It's not what we leave behind that we should be concerned about; it's who we leave behind, and how we leave them. Who have we loved, who have we lost, who has lost us? What ripples do we leave, what lives have we touched?

It's not important that the entire world remembers us. "Enough" isn't necessarily a big gesture to the universe; it's not an obvious moment of impact. It's the brief exchanges with strangers, small gestures and conversations that stick with friends long after you part ways. It's the hearts you held, the gentleness with which you touched the world. It is in both the good and the bad -- the ones in between. Every connection is an impression.

I have a small circle of friends. It is high in quality, not quantity, and for that I count myself blessed. I know that each person I have in my life has left a lasting impression on me. There are a select few whom I know, no matter how much time has passed, I will always hold with me. I will tell their story in the way I live my life, carrying with me all they've taught.


The impression I hope to leave behind -- my story -- is one of courage and compassion. I want to be brave, I want to be good, and I want to do all I can with those two forces driving me. I want to be remembered one day as someone who smiled freely and loved easily. I want to be thought of as someone who, despite the odds, did not give up and never developed a callousness toward the world, even though it may have been easier to do so at times. In the end, I don't know how many people will tell my story, but I do hope it is a story worth listening to.

Charlottesville

Stop. In all the chaos swirling over last week's events in Charlottesville, I find myself coming back to one question. And it's not the angered question about why we still have such prevalent acceptance of white supremacy in 2017, how that's even possible. It's not the question about why our president refuses to take a stance on the subject, and how anyone finds it less than laughable that speaking against Neo-Nazis is where he draws a line. It's something I thought would be more obvious, but apparently, isn't.

Why are statues of dead white men (many of which are steeped in a history of oppression and the monuments glorifying such acts/people might serve as a racist reminder that emboldens bigots and barbs those still experiencing discrimination, but you know, whatever) deemed by some to need more protection than black lives? 

They are statues. These are people's lives. How is this even a discussion anymore? Why are we even entertaining anything less than a firm and absolute condemnation of such indisputable racism and hatred -- from anyone, let alone our Commander-in-Chief?

We should be so much bigger, so much farther, than we are right now. If you have have the means and the opportunity, get out and do something about it. Every small action counts.

And if you're at all interested, let me recommend a book to you that I am currently reading -- "Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond." It is already (and this is nearly unbelievable) outdated in numbering statistics of injustices, but Marc Lamont Hill gives an excellent, impassioned account and overview of how heavy a hand the economy, and the system we have built around ourselves, discriminates against those of color, and those in poverty, while protecting and favoring white America.

Do more. Don't stop. We can be better.

Sad & Selfish

I have a really, really good life right now. It’s a life I never would have imagined possible when I was younger—a life I wouldn’t have known to even wish for because it was so far from my reality I would never have gotten my hopes up this high. Every day, I take stock of the things in my life I am lucky to have: a job I am excited about, a house that keeps me safe and comfortable, family and friends who want the best for me, a boyfriend who is the most compassionate and caring person I know. I've done more in these past few months than I have in my twenty-four years of living, and these opportunities will never be forgotten.

I take my tally of everything wonderful and have a moment of quiet gratitude. The universe didn’t have to let me have these things, but it did, I do, and I am thankful.


Which makes me feel like a garbage human when I have moments of stress, or sadness. It hit me this morning, out of the blue, with no cause. I finished my breakfast, washed my plates, and then sat there in a pool of unreasonable melancholy. And I got frustrated because 1) there was no trigger that I could point to that would have instigated any sort of sad feeling and 2) what right have I???

 Like I said above, I have a good life. I am so happy and grateful to be living the life I’m living and I never take a single second of that for granted. But sometimes that makes my more sensitive days all the more frustrating. I don’t want to waste time being sad when I have so many good things going for me. I want to be the smiling, energized Erica people like to hang out with. I don’t like who I am when I’m vulnerable or sad or anxious. I’m going to have to be okay with who I am in those moments, but it’s not easy.

I live in this strange cycle with anxiety and depression where my anxiety/depression acts up, I feel selfish for letting it act up, and then am increasingly hard on myself the longer it stays. I tried to explain it the other week like this:

 I get anxious. > I feel like a burden for being anxious, even though the other person is doing absolutely nothing to make me feel like a burden. > I’m told I’m not a burden. > I feel like more of a burden for making them feel like they made me feel like a burden.

 And so the spiral goes.

This is just another thing I’m adding to my long list of “areas needing improvement.” It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, even when I have things in my life that make me happy. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it means I need to sit down and try to figure out where that feeling is coming from. (And sometimes the answer is nowhere. Sometimes it’s the depression.)

My bigger task, though, is to work on the burden thing, because that gets me the most. I’m always worried that if I am not perfect and happy and everything people expect me to be—or what I think people expect me to be—that I’m going to eventually become too exhausting to be around. I don’t want the moments I have hard times to become too heavy for someone else to carry, so I’ve always carried it all on my own. It’s difficult to remember I can share part of that load, now. I’m getting better, but there’s still a far way to go.

Who I was vs who I am

There are no circumstances under which I could have ever guess that I would be where I am today. When I look back on the past year and review everything that conspired to put me in the place I am now, it’s hard not to believe that I’m getting help from some hidden hand, pushing me along. I’m not particularly religious (I would love to believe in a God, but jury’s still out as I sort through a number of things), and I don’t like to believe that my life is predetermined and that nothing I do makes a difference in my ending. But I do think that there’s such a thing as fate—probably many fates—and timing. Timing is a big one.

A year ago, I was a wholly different person. I’m not going to say that there weren’t redeeming qualities about the person I was, because there surely were, but I did not like who I was. A year ago, I was just surviving. I got through my days with grit teeth and a smile that I was working really hard to feel as real. I was sad and lonely and anxious. I had a habit of sabotaging myself, convinced that I should stay where I was in life because it was safe and steady and any risk I took might be met with failure.

Today, I am happy. I feel safe; for the first time in my life, I feel quiet and grounded and secure. I am surrounded by purely positive energy, and I am genuinely supported. There are still times when I feel like a burden due to my anxiety, but it’s getting better because of that support, and I’m slowly learning how to ask for help when I truly need it.

Who I am now is someone who is brave, and certain, and headstrong. I take risks. I say yes to things that I want to do, even if they scare me. I push myself to open up, to break through the walls I’ve spent twenty-four years building. I’m learning that I can still be selfless while remembering I deserve care and attention, too.

I still struggle. Anxiety will always be with me, but I don’t let it affect me nearly as terribly as it used to. And I’m always trying to grow more, to be able to put myself more fully in other people’s shoes. I’ve always been an empathetic person—sometimes to a fault, where I let it affect my mood, my day—but I’m trying to look beyond the emotion and go deeper. I may not be able to fix the problem, but I am better able to understand the underlying issue. It’s opening my eyes to a lot of thing.

And this year, I am loved more than I ever have been in my life. I know better what gentle means, how powerful acts of service can be. I value time spent with those I love, and am wholly satisfied to be gifted with just that: time. I know what it’s like to have someone understand me, to see the darkness in me and not turn away or shrug it off as a nonissue but instead grab a flashlight and help me explore it. It’s nice to have someone next to me who cares enough to ask questions, to know when to push me and when to hold me. I am very grateful for that, and I am very lucky.

When I look back on my life, I would relive it all again; good and bad, I will take it all. It’s led me to where I am now, and has pushed me down the wonderful road of opportunity. I think the hard things I went through were put before me so that all the goodness I’m about to stumble upon—that I’m living in now—evens out. Darkness and stars, and all that.

Hesitancy Toward Happiness

When I think of my mother, I remember her arm across my neck, pinning me to the wall in the hallway outside my bedroom. Behind her was a large window that overlooked the court we lived at the bottom of, and I saw a car come and go as she said nasty things to me that have since faded into a vague sense of abuse that only sharpens into something clearer and cutting on bad days. The car loped slow through the street and I wondered if they noticed the window I was looking out of, calculating how quickly I could get outside. Was I even visible through the trees that were just starting to grow dense with leaves again?

Ten years later, I still think of fourteen-year-old Erica. At an age where every small thing was susceptible to seeming incredibly dramatic and world-ending, I subverted. Major problems were dealt with through a shrug. I ignored and buried and boxed up trauma until I ran out of room. It was so much easier to fixate on smaller, petty problems than deal with something that, at the time, seemed unfixable and much too complicated and scary to face the truth of. The sensation of being trapped--in my house, in the life I was living--was overwhelming. One day, when I had locked myself in my room and sat at the bottom of my closet, putting one more set of doors between us, I tried to picture what my life would look like in a year, in three, in five. I couldn't see it. All I could picture was the same days on repeat, the same fear and vulnerability playing itself out in a loop. I would be stuck, and all of the terrible things I was told were true.

No way out; nothing better waiting. I wouldn't deserve it even if there was.

How I ever came to believe such lies is beyond me. There was nothing but better waiting for me. I haven't had actual, intentional contact with my mother in about six years, and the happiness I've found in that time is unimaginable. When I think back to the times I felt helpless, I am endlessly grateful for having made it to where I am, and for those who made me feel a little less powerless. I know I owe everything I've achieved and how far I've come to those whom I loved, and those who showed me what it was like to be loved back. My sister, my friends, my dad--people who, even unaware of what I was going through, showed me unfailing strength and kindness, shining examples of hope. At fourteen, I couldn't see a way out, or forward. At twenty-four, I see that there's nothing but possibility before me.

Now that I've had enough space and time to process things in a healthier way, I'm cleaning house. I'm unpacking those boxes, one at a time, and setting what's not useful to the side and holding onto the lessons I learned and the moments--however bad--that made me who I am. I know, for example, that I have an incredible capacity to care about others that I likely would not have achieved without those difficult times. My sister and I are as close as we are because I wanted to see her do more than I did and be happy and whole. I can endure more than I think, but instead of making me hard against the world, those experiences I survived gave me an acute sense of empathy and a desire to help, protect, and heal.

My hesitancy toward happiness is fading the farther I get away from her. It's been hard to shake the doubt when I have moments of peace, but I live my life better. I know that I am worth the contentment I wish for others, and I am capable of achieving it. It doesn't matter what I've heard in the past, because the voices I surround myself with are more supportive than anything I've experienced before; and the times when I start to forget, they're there to remind me. We are all so much more than we believe, and everyone deserves happiness and security.

I can't see my mother as a whole person anymore. She exists only in flashes of moments, only in instances of anxiety. She rarely crosses my mind, but when she does, I remind myself of all that I want to be better at--I want to be kind and happy and vulnerable; I want to be honest and I want to love and defend, never harm. I'm not mad or angry at her anymore, though there were years where I struggled with something close to hate. I've finally reached a place of indifference. There are rare times when that slips and I let her darkness worm its way back in, but I'm so full of light that it's nothing. Where's a shadow to exist at noon, after all?

She seems so small to me, now. I never thought that would be possible. I never thought any of this would be possible, but here I stand, closer to contentment than I've ever reached before. And I'm still moving forward, because there's nothing but better things waiting.

-----------------------------------
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you have the means to do so, please donate to National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, a program that supplies judge-appointed volunteers to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. 

Mimosa Pudica

On the back deck of my childhood home, sheltered and shadowed by the heavy green limbs of the woods behind our house, was a potted fern. I sat there on my heels, hands folded close to my stomach as I watched my dad plant it, patting the dirt until his hands were wet and sooty with soil. I was still wearing my watercolor blue-and-pink dress from church, so I waited patiently for him to finish before I could run inside and change into something I could wear to run around outside and play.

"Watch this," he said once he was done, and he reached out and touched the center of the thin, soft leaves of the fern.

In a lazy ripple, the leaves folded in on themselves. It closed for a minute or two before slowly opening back up again. He did it a second time, to another leaf. It did the same thing, closing and opening.

"Try it."

With the gentlest manner an excited five-year-old could muster, I reached out and stroked the leaf, letting the fern curl around my finger for a second before letting go. I laughed, half relieved it didn't snap closed on me like I'd imagined Venus Fly Traps did -- catching prey in its mouth and digesting them whole -- and half thrilled with the fact that a plant reacted to my touch. Fern Gully being one of my favorite movies at the time, I could think of no greater excitement than having a thing of nature recognize me.

The little fern had thin, sensitive leaves, as soft as that robin's feather I'd found a few days prior. Immediately, I was mesmerized. I spent hours that day, sitting on the splintered deck in my dress and white buckle shoes, petting the plant. I gave it a name, though I can't remember it now. What I do remember is wondering if there would be a time when I could touch the plant and not have it close up; would we eventually reach a moment where the leaves would no longer feel the need to hide themselves and realize I was a friend, not predator?


The plant was a Mimosa Pudica, though I knew it by the less-scientific names: the sleepy plant, or the touch-me-not. It was the brightest green with small, almost translucent-purple bursts of flowers, and I loved it more than all of the colorful geraniums, impatiens, and marigolds that lined the railing, buzzing with fat little bumblebees. Even though it only lived on the deck under my bedroom window for one summer, it is one of the memories of the dewy months of May-June-July I remember most from my childhood.

Recently, I found myself thinking about it again. Out of nowhere, those leaves. The nervous plant that I felt some strange kinship to nearly twenty years ago. It's an apt and timely metaphor, as I've been fighting back some stubborn anxiety these past two weeks. It's been a stressful time, and like the mimosa pudica, my instinct is to fold up, close myself off from potential harm.

Panic disorder is an incredibly skilled liar. It sends a signal to some primal part of my brain that there is a perceived threat, a predator before me. The alarm for fight or flight sounds, and all I can do is react. Sometimes I have a sense of control over my reaction (mainly, sitting there, still and silent, waiting for the panic to pass because -- guess what! -- there's usually no real threat before me and, with time, my brain might finally react as such). Other times, I have no control. I fold.

There's this article I read about the mimosa pudica and how it evolved in such a way to differentiate between threat and non-threat. The way it folded in on itself whenever the sensitive spines of the leaves were touched prevented it from being properly watered. It would rain, and the plant would seize up. Something that was good was perceived as dangerous, and the possibility of a threat was enough to send it into its natural, ingrained reaction of closing. But, eventually, it learned not to curl up when rain drops landed on it. Scientists aren't sure how, but the plant's reaction changed.

The plant learned.

The plant opened up.

That sticks in my head, this little amazing plant. The times my anxiety wins and the fear in my head steamrolls over all other thoughts, I start to fold in on myself. Slowly, though, I'm reworking that reaction. I don't want to close down, to shelter myself to the point of being counterproductive. It's not protecting me; life is going on without me as I peel myself out again and realize there's no danger, no predators waiting. I'm unfolding. I'm evolving. I just have to open up and let the rain drops fall.

Thunderstorm

He walks around like he carries 
a thunderstorm 
in his pocket. 

 Whenever clear skies are 
too much, he
disappears into 
his rain.

He holds his anger like
a gift.
For what else
could a lightning bolt
be?

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