Back To The Basics

 i.

There were bright flashes of light carrying little reminders of what mattered before, met with staccatoed glimpses into the year that changed everything. Moments of impact. The big, loud, desperate need to grieve, and the hesitation that trailed behind me. The drive home from a sushi restaurant that Friday night in early November filled to the brim with anxiety. The drive home from work that Monday night less than two weeks later that played over like a tape in my head. The tears, followed by guilt, followed by anger, followed by fear. A death and a potential life-threatening illness rattling my bones. Empty promises made to shut everyone out — that it was okay, that was okay. Life became defined by a  timeline: the before it happened and the after it happened, and it was only myself that was let there stuck figuring out which pieces to pick up and which to leave behind.

* * *

December 31st is slowly melting into January 1st. I am sitting in my best friends living room watching Mariah Carey give a performance that is destined for headlines. It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve, a gentle nudge into the next year, and a less-than-subtle confirmation that even the slightest change in tradition seems wrong. It’s the first quiet New Years Eve since before the day stopped meaning watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve on the couch with my parents and started meaning big, glittery, liquor-infused ragers. And though much has changed throughout the years — big and loud slowly transformed into more subdued, classy, champagne-infused gatherings, this year’s quiet journey into the New Year marked a tremendous shift in my life.  Sudden illness, an unexpected hospitalization, and other plans got in the way of tradition. The shift in dynamic, the quiet Happy New Year’s that replaced the once rowdy clanking of champagne flutes was symbolic — a reminder, to me, of just how important those moments are. It was a reality that knocked the wind out of me and left me clinging onto nostalgia the way I always do when things start to change.

I ended the night in my own bed. Another first in many years. There might be more of these moments in the future. There might be more moments I find myself sitting in a room a lot thinner than it typically is, whether intentionally or not. And in those times — in those moments where life seems to shift, and change, and twist all the way ’round, I want to hang on tight to the moments that made me feel full, and whole, and happy, and loved. Like masquerade themed New Years Eve’s and the sound of laughter at seeing my friend come out in a Taylor Swift mask. Or a Sunday dinner, sitting around the table, talking about the things we never thought we would. Or throwing hatchets on a Friday night and thinking to myself, this is good. These people are my people. This is the stuff that makes all of the other stuff fall away.

And so, I ended one year and welcomed another a lot different than years of the past, yet still so very much the same. A list of resolutions were written and drawn out: goals for the year, a check list of 30 things to be done by 30 rattling away under a layer of dust. And finally, a promise, like years before, that this would be the year, whatever the year was supposed to mean.

ii.

A hard month; always one of the hardest months. Riding waves of anxiety like a novice surfer, clutching onto the tiniest breath of fresh air, only to come to find the anxiety growing thicker and harder to manage in the month ahead. In between those moments of sheer panic, brief flashes of hope. Repeatedly telling myself to practice what I preach. Trying to get it right, trying to find the motivation, trying to keep the promises that I’d made 8 year ago, and 7 years ago, and 6, and 5, and 4, and 3, and so on and so forth. Promises that don’t seem to matter sometimes because he isn’t here and I still am. And the whole entire world gets to move on even when someones heart stops beating. Even when someone stops living. And doesn’t it seem unfair that the world gets to move on and live when he hardly had a shot?

Treating myself like a human punching bag, beating myself up over the same promises left unfulfilled from all those years ago. He will never have what I have — time. Time to mourn. Time to grow. Time to change, to move mountains, to shake the dust. Time to take chances to grasp and any and all of the strings dangling right in front of me that always seem to slip right past me. Empty, deep, swells of grief. Swallowing the hard truth: I am 8 years older now, and time, for him, has always stayed at 21.

Grief has always come to me, teetering between the first two stages: denial and anger. It starts like a sharp pain in my chest, but quickly gets wrapped up and tucked away before anyone has a second to hear the gasp of air and deep breaths and shattered heart. Time cushions the loss, but regret is a stronger force. Regret that I didn’t have another day. Regret that I am not taking advantage of what I have. Regret that 8 years can pass and though so much has changed, so much also has stayed the same.

February came and went, as it always does: with a long hard look in the mirror, a promise, again, that this has to be important. That if time is all I have, then I ought to use it. That these bones aren’t hollow and my words aren’t empty and maybe, just maybe, I deserve to loosen the grips on the boxing gloves and start treating myself the same way I treat others.

iii.

A slight reprieve from the bitter cold nights cloaked in anxiety. Just slight. A whisper that reminded me: life is transient, life is transient, life is transient. You know this, you’ve seen it; don’t waste it. And then, a louder reminder of just how fragile time is. A road trip to North Carolina — a heavy heart for an old friend, but a full heart at surprising her under the worst conditions. A genuine reaction of shock. A moment I wish I could have bottled up and kept forever on the days that I feel like time can’t hold onto the people and things and memories that matter. Clarity in the midst of sleepy eyes on a quick 48 road trip. The celebration of a life lost and a life lived over clanking glasses filled with wine. Love being the driving force that week — friendship sitting in the passenger seat. A quiet trip back home — a solemn promise to myself to let the people I love know. And just on this side of agreeing to be better, just a few seconds within walking in my door back from the road trip, another reason to grieve. Again, another loss. Another sting. Another young person’s life gone. A screaming, shouting, reminder that you can blink for one minute, and it can all leave you. Tears. Loss of sleep. Regret, after regret, after regret. An awakening. A promise, again, to be more intentional. And even as I write this, that promise seems to have faded away.

Anxiety and grief took turns steering the wheel in March. Anxiety, being the nagging neighbor tapping on my window just as I would find some sort of stable ground. Grief, the unwanted house guest that plants herself on my couch and refuses to leave no matter how hard I shake her. Even months after, admitting that feels a little more like a sucker punch to the gut than a relief — like the sting after ripping the proverbial band-aid off, like holding your breath for a second too long, like the slight burn on your tongue after the first sip of coffee.

iv.

Hanging tightly onto the mask of perfectionism and wrestling with myself for falling short. Getting slapped with a bitter dose of reality, the white flag barely over my head: maybe it all does hurt. Maybe I am still grieving. Maybe it’s all I’ve ever done. Maybe this does sting. Maybe it all does. Maybe I do have a hole in my chest that can’t ever be filled with multiple jobs, and plans, and things to do. Maybe I need to reach out for the hands held out for me, instead of tiptoeing around all of them.

v.

Remember to breathe.

I wrote the words down for someone I’ve been working with for awhile. I’ve said the words out loud to the same person more times than I can count. A reminder, and sometimes, an urgent request: please, please, remember to breathe.

* * *

The ebb and flow of moods. Seesawing between the need to get up and get out of myself and the need to stay in and hide. Remembering to breathe. Gripping tightly onto that white flag of surrender. I still have this. I still have this. Covered in a cloak of defeat, but desperate to find scraps of motivation, of hope, of persistence. A desperate need to get away. An even more desperate need to be pushed to get away. A weekend trip to Georgia to get away. Remembering to breathe. Moments of frustration. Moments of joy. Moments of reflection. Moments that mattered and moments that never came close. A little boost of hope. A day filled with inspiration — the loudest message: Arrive Already Loved. Remembering to breathe. A low-key holiday weekend with friends. A promise to each other to keep celebrating birthdays together. To keep being there for the big moments. To make them matter. A reminder to myself that I decide what stays and what goes. I decide what hurts and what doesn’t. I decide who hurts and who can’t.

Remembering to breathe.

vi.

I don’t wanna keep on wishing, missing
The still of the morning, the color of the night
I ain’t spending no more time
Wasted

Carrie Underwood blaring through the speakers, unwittingly carrying with her a begging, screaming message.

She kept drivin’ along til the moon and the sun
were floating side-by-side;
he looked in the mirror and his eyes were clear
for the first time in awhile.

I was driving along a beach town road, seemingly straight into the reflection of the full moon when this song came on the radio on my way home from work last week. The melody filled my car — the lyrics wrapping themselves firmly around my heart. My favorite Carrie Underwood song.

I don’t wanna spend my life jaded
Waiting to wake up one day and find
That I let all these years go by
Wasted

We are six months into the year. Six months. I am restless. I am sleepy. But I am more awake than I’ve been in awhile.

* * *

Back when anxiety was the name of the weighted blanket I wore early on in the cold months of this year and panic was the unwanted house guest tapping on my window, I was given simple wisdom that I tucked away. At the time, as badly as I needed it, I couldn’t hear it.

In order to get my tires out of the mud, I needed to figure out the why and turn it all around. She looked to me with hopeful eyes and said, “Go back to the basics. Back to the beginning of everything. That is how you find your way back again. That is how everything becomes okay for you.”

And I suppose I’ve been trying to do that all along. Just on my own timeline.

. . .

Tonight as I am writing this, I am frustratingly tired, wondering if I’ll ever remember what it feels like to sleep without waking up in intervals with the voice of anxiety coursing through my veins. I am sitting in a sticky 93 degree apartment too burnt out to get up and prepare myself for the week ahead: my sister’s graduation, my friend’s wedding, another friend spending the night, my cousins coming into town. I am debating turning on the AC, reassuring myself the temperature will drop tomorrow. I get up and turn on the AC. I am groggy. I am sleep deprived. I am pouring from an empty cup, all while knowing that tomorrow, I’ll be back at work. Preaching balance, preaching self-care, preaching wellness. All of the things I’m trying to find a place for in my own life.

The last six months felt a lot like stagnation, but in retrospect, looked a lot like a big, long, lesson in grace. I’m learning to give myself full heaping servings of grace without adding shame and guilt as side dishes. I’m learning how exactly to practice what I preach — how to do hard things and have hard conversations about myself, instead of hiding under a role, a title, and a job that allows me to have hard conversations with other people.

I’ll be honest — I’ve sat at my dining room table almost every other day for the last two weeks trying to conjure the words to write as my big grand re-entrance onto the blogsophere. I’ve typed and erased and typed and cursed and typed and felt solemn and hopeful and pissed and relieved. But the words don’t matter as much as the message behind them do — going back to the basics has been the theme of my life the last few months, coming in waves and intertwining with my persistent need to chain myself to painful things. Going back to the basics tells me that even though there are a million thoughts running rampant in my head, a million pieces of wisdom I want to share with the world, a million things I want to get off my chest, what matters is simple – figuring out who I am and what I want underneath the layers of who the world, more specifically my world, has begged me to be.

One day, I will write all of those things I have swirling inside my head. But, for now, I’m here. And I’m back. I’m learning how to allow myself to be authentic in a world that screams crop, the filter, add a caption that makes it sound better than it already is, make sure it’s worthy of a like.. and when all of that is done, then you can post. I am learning to peel off the extra pieces of myself that don’t add up. I am learning to incorporate the who I believe others around me can be into the who I am and who I want to be. And just like everything else, that’s a process — one that starts right back at the beginning of who I am: the basics. So, for tonight, and for the road that lies ahead, the mask is off. The facade is up. I think it’s better this way. A six month hiatus from dusting off my heart and bleeding through words is long  enough, dontcha think?

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An Ode to 2016

Taylor Swift said it best when she said, “Life was never worse, but never better.”

It was the first full year I spent outside the comfortable and safe world of academia. 2015 looked a lot like sprinting towards a finish line, hardly stopping to catch my breath, losing sleep in a bold attempt to be the best student, intern, employee, and person worthy of the things I was working so tirelessly to achieve. 2016, on the other hand, felt a lot like jerking the emergency break after going 80 on the highway, only to find out the speed limit was 40. The year as a whole looked like the steady ebb and flow of settling down. It was living without the pressure of deadlines, learning, and still learning, to simply just be, and grappling with the consequences of perfectionism. It was celebrating milestones– new jobs, and marriages, and housewarmings, and babies on the way. It was getting on a plane for the first time since I was seven, making decisions on a whim, sticking to the same hair color for a whole 365 days. It was moments of immense gratitude, feelings of intense sadness, and days that just were.

It was a bit of me hanging out with the ever present impostor syndrome. I’d spent most of my life running in a straight line, chasing after the next thing. 2016 was about walking, not sprinting, down the road that didn’t have the same destinations it did all the years prior. It was about having to find my groove in a routine that sometimes still feels foreign and wrong to me. It was about telling myself over and over again that I didn’t need to keep looking for the next best thing. It was teaching myself to be exactly where my feet were.

The last couple months of 2016 were spent consumed with anxiety, burnt-out, spreading myself too thin, revisiting heartbreak, filled to the brim with grief, mourning the death of a friend, paralyzed by the fear of change, of illness, and of the possibility of what the future looks like without the people I care about the most. It was a less-than-gentle reminder of the things that matter and the things that don’t.

I didn’t show up for people in the way that I should have. I placed a lot of energy on negativity — on the people who were bad for me, on the people who were bad to me, on the person I had yet to become. I spent so many moments filling my cup, making sure that every second of the day was filled with doing something, seeing someone, being somewhere – unconsciously making sure that I didn’t have a second to be alone. I forgot to live slowly, to enjoy the moments as they come, to enjoy the people I care most about. I lost pieces of myself to the vortex of self-deprecation. I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money doing things that I thought I had to do. Like saying yes when I wanted to say no. Making plans when I wanted to be home. Agreeing when I wanted to disagree.

. . .

There were big moments in the last year, and smaller, quieter moments that I will hold with me as I transition into this next year. There were moments that can only be defined by mini soundtracks, lyrics that embody the lessons that I learned and the memories that I am holding onto tightly. What follows are little glimpses, pieces thrown into a time capsule, of what 2016 was for me–

“When We Were Young” – Adele
We were sad of getting old, it made us restless / oh, I’m so mad I’m getting old, it makes me reckless. / It was just like a movie, it was just like a song, / when we were young.

Adele used to be the soundtrack to my broken heart. Each song she wrote validated the feeling of love lost. In 2016, Adele showed up for me and my heart that was tattered by the reality of growing up– really growing up. This song was gently humming through my speakers one morning during the last week of 2015 the very moment I got a text from a friend telling me she’d landed her dream job and had to move several states away. Much of 2015 into 2016 was about goodbyes. Much of 2016 was about watching how time changes things. It often felt like standing in the eye of the storm and watching as all of the things that were once grounded got tossed along the way.

Nostalgia was a big theme of the year. Change was often met with bitterness, with anger, with sadness. Time was spent looking through old photos, reminiscing on old memories, clinging onto scraps of time. It was also spent accepting that time changes people. That there is no growth without change. And that just as everyone else’s life was moving forward, so was mine.  Life changes in different ways for everyone and at different times. And it’s comforting to hang onto the memories, but also know that friendship doesn’t exist only because of proximity.

Friendship still exists when life changes, when people move, when I do’s are said, and babies are born, and mortgages are approved. I get reminders of how lucky I am, how invaluable friendship is, and how real relationships transcend all kinds of change, when I get invitations to bachelorette parties and weddings after friends move across the country, phone calls to catch up, text messages when TV shows remind them of me.

“She Used To Be Mine” – Sara Bareilles

It’s not what I asked for / sometimes life just slips in through a back door / and carves out a person / and makes you believe its all true / and now I’ve got you. / And you’re not what I asked for / if I’m honest I know, I would give it all back / for a chance to start over / and rewrite an ending or two / for the girl that I knew.

For the month of May, I spent nearly every car ride with this song blaring through my speakers, tears streaming down my face. I met my insecurities in the beginning of May. Without much of a warning, every single one of them came up and tapped me on the shoulder and shouted You’re Not Good Enough, You’re Not What I Asked For, You Need To Be Better. I danced with my insecurities. I kept running in the fire, a masochist preventing myself from just being okay. For a brief moment of time, I believed those lies. I believed that someone else’s vitriol towards me carried more weight than my own truth. And I was desperate in my life-long attempt at being enough for someone who made it so evident that I never would be.

It was in May that I admitted I needed people– that there were things I could not get through alone. May taught me that someone else’s unrealistic expectations of me says more about them and their own insecurities than it does my own shortcomings. And that my self-worth is so much more than someone else’s regrets. And though I don’t think anyone ever becomes fully comfortable with vulnerability, May was the beginning of the lessons that came with allowing myself to be more open.

May taught me that there are people who will try to invalidate your pain by telling you that it will get better and that there are worse things in the world. And while those are all well and true, the people that you need are the ones who say it hurts because it matters. It hurts because you want it to be different. There are people who will just get it. Who will, quite literally, welcome you with open arms and a shoulder to cry on, and words that don’t make it okay– but make it more bearable. There is incredible strength that comes from friends that validate your experience.There is hope, and there is solace, and there is the feeling that someone genuinely understands. And though it didn’t change anything about what I was going through, having someone to share the tough stuff with that night made all the difference.

May happened, but in the months that followed, I’ve learned to stop being the girl in the sad song. I learned that making your entire life’s existence surrounded by the need to envelope the world around you in compassion can destroy you. Looking at behaviors that hurt you through a compassionate lens is only helpful in understanding why someone is the way they are– not in forgiving them for hurting you. You can’t forgive someone for spitting venom at you and expecting you to stand right back up. You can’t out-love a shitty person, no matter who they are to you.

“Roses” – Kelsea Ballerini
And I thought I needed you like air.

This song was a reminder to stop being so dependent on the people you can’t depend on. Nearly a decade ago, I read a quote that encapsulated a lot of what I expected to always feel: “I learned very early in life that I was always going to need people more than they needed me.”

I’ve made it my life mission to overcompensate, to over-extend myself, spread myself thin, be everything to everyone. But in doing this, I’ve lost so much of myself to people who expect it. To people who don’t value me unless I’m doing for them. This specific line in this song is a reminder that I don’t need people– especially the ones who only want me when they want something– to breathe. I don’t need the people who only appear in my inbox when their hearts are broken, or they need a ride, or they don’t know which way to turn next.

It turns out that quote doesn’t need to be the mantra to my life. I don’t need people in the same way they need me, and that’s okay. Because the people I need in my life, the people who get me, they show up without asking for anything in return. And I can’t, in the next year, neglect those people.

“Better Man” -Little Big Town
I wish it wasn’t four am, standing in the mirror / saying to myself, ‘you know you had to do it,’ I know / the bravest thing I ever did was run.

I used to be haunted by the memory of the March night and the way he looked in my rear view mirror as I drove away. We were hopeful that we would keep the promise of staying friends and keeping in touch, but I think deep down we knew it would never work. Once the evolution from friendship to love happens, it’s rare that it can ever find its way back. Not in the same way. There are some things that I will always remember– like his small room, his old cologne, the way the sunlight used to creep in my blinds, reminding me to wake him up. His pile of books on the corner of his dresser, in an effort to be as well-read as me. The way he took his coffee. The way it felt every time he ignored me. And the way my heart beamed when he came back around.

But part of loving people right and being brave with your own heart sometimes means giving them up. Bravery is surrendering the belief that people are boomerangs. People are not things. They can’t be tossed away with the expectation that they’ll always come back. Being brave sometimes means being grateful for closure, being happy for the time spent, keeping the memories and the love that once was in your heart, and allowing yourself to finally be free.

“My Church” – Maren Morris
When this wonderful world gets heavy / and I need to find my escape / I just keep the wheels rolling, radio scrolling / til my sins wash away.

This song reminds me of feeling weightless, and how rare those moments can be. It reminds me of being surrounded by friends and knowing that I am known, and seen, and understood. It’s throwing your head back laughing, forgetting about everything that hurts just for a moment. It’s rolling down the windows, blasting the radio at an obnoxious volume, and having a singalong with a car full of people. It’s making last minute plans that you don’t expect to happen, but that end up working out seamlessly. I am grateful for all of the times this song and this feeling showed up for me in 2016. Like on Valentine’s Day, when I spent it with a group of friends that I never knew I needed so badly. Or on the occasional Sunday afternoon spur of the moment trips to Chipotle for dinner. I felt it every time I made last minute plans with friends– whether it be for half-price Appetizers reminiscent of high school glory days, or it ended up in the middle of a dance floor wondering if we were too old to be doing this, but laughing because if we were, at least we had each other. I felt it every time I celebrated taco Tuesday, and treating it as if it were, indeed, a holiday. I felt it every Wednesday night I stayed a little too late at work, laughing my ass off with my coworker about everything and nothing and being so grateful for those moments that make what we do a little less heavy. I felt it on a cold night on the boardwalk after getting my palm read for the first time. I felt it on my birthday, when my old friends and new friends came together. I felt it on Friendsgiving, surrounded by good food, and good company, and good wine. I felt it as I closed out the year with the same people I’d welcomed the New Year with for many years prior.

“You Should Be Here” – Cole Swindell
This is one of those moments, that’s got your name written all over it / and you know that if I had just one wish, it’d be that you didn’t have to miss this. / You should be here.

November taught me that pain doesn’t get vacation time during the holidays. While the world is cloaked in glitter and the gentle hum of Silver Bells, people are hurting. People still get sick. People die. Parents have to bury children. Families wake up on Christmas morning without anyone to cook for. Relationships fail. Regret is ever-present. Loneliness is an old friend that sticks around without an invitation.

I spent a lot of November questioning my own mortality — because that’s what happens when someone dies, you question everything. You wonder if it were you, would you have done enough? Said enough? Loved enough? Who would miss you? Who would be sitting on the very same chair you were sitting on, tears in their eyes, the stages of grief swirling in their heads?

There’s this thing about loss– you expect for it to hurt, you expect to feel immeasurable pain, you expect to cry, and sometimes, you expect it to come and go like the passing of seasons. But grief doesn’t end with a magic wand waving in the air, sprinkling some magic dust that sometime makes it hurt any less. Death is painful, and it produces this feeling of regret and this feeling of resentment towards the clock, as if somehow, things would be different if we had another second.

I could sit in regret, wishing I had more time, and trust me, I have. I could close my eyes at night and wish that our last words exchanged weren’t about making plans in the future. I could wish that we did, in fact, make plans. I could wish that our last interactions weren’t Facebook or Instagram likes. I could wish for more pictures, more memories, more time. More time to rewrite old endings, or to laugh about a few more things, or to remember the good ol’ days. The truth of the matter is, when you are faced with the end of things, whether it be because of death, or a breakup, or changes far beyond our control, there never really is enough time. We could have spent every waking second together and it would not be enough.

I think we often hang onto the notion that we could’ve done more. If we had more time with the person, maybe we wouldn’t miss them as much. Maybe it wouldn’t sting as much. Maybe we wouldn’t have cried as much. It would be easier to grieve, wouldn’t it? Nowadays, I’m not so sure.

I’m grateful for the time spent. I’m grateful for the memories. In fact, I’ll take them with me wherever I go. I’ll hold onto them. I’ll carry them with me and learn to recognize how important it is to just be present with the people in my life. Instead of wishing for more time, I want to remember the time that was spent. Though pain and grief and loss is valid, so are those memories. So is the joy. So is friendship, and love, and the moments that were a part of our story.

I don’t need time to hold onto memories and I don’t need time to let go of grief. I’m not even sure if that is what I even need. What I need to do is put one foot in front of the other to honor a friend that only got to see 27 years of life. I need to survive. I need to live.

. . .

The days leading up to the New Year are much like the days surrounding birthdays, full of introspection, reflection, yearning, acceptance. 2016 was a good year in that it leveled me out. I shared many beautiful moments with important people. I learned its senseless to guard my heart with such force. I learned that perfectionism ruins the natural course of what should come and that vulnerability is scary, but there is no growth without it. I’ve learned that robbing yourself of authenticity does you no justice when you’re already living in a world that is begging you to be everything that you are not– to be cold when you are soft, to be tall when you are small, to be loud when you want to be quiet. I’ve learned that even when faced with the most difficult things like illness and hospitals and death and grief, there is hope, a fond understanding of all of the memories you share with the people you love most, and a gentle reminder that this life is all we’ve got and if that’s the case — if time is a fickle friend that hardly ever makes promises, I’d better make some changes with the way I live my life.

My word for 2017 is intention.

I want to start approaching my life with more intention. I want to be intentional with how I invest my time. I want to be intentional with how I spend my money. I want to be intentional with the relationships I nurture.

And so, I am welcoming this new year with an open heart, and I hope you do the same. I hope you learn to live slowly, love boldly, and be okay with the sound of your feet walking away from the things and people not meant for you.

I can’t wait to see what a year of intention brings to me.

Look Up Now

A childhood friend of mine passed away nearly two weeks ago.

I found out that she wasn’t doing well only a week and a half prior. One minute, I was having sushi with a friend I went to graduate school with, ranting about our perpetual existential crises and life stresses, and the next, I was on the phone with my cousin, hearing the heartbreaking news on the other end of the line. After battling a life-threatening illness for three years, her body couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, Danielle, was losing the fight. Suddenly, the ranting and raving that took place only minutes before dissipated; reality struck me like a gust of cold wind that shook me to the core.

Only 11 days passed between that phone call saying she was in the hospital, and the message I got saying she had passed, and yet, time seemed to stand still between those days, as if preparing me for the gut-wrenching feeling of being paralyzed by grief.

Young death is an unfathomable tragedy that often reminds you of the brevity of life. It’s sudden, and it’s swift, and it shakes you so deeply, and with such force, that you can’t help but feel profoundly betrayed by the world that’s supposed to keep you safe and let you grow old with the people you love.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when she passed away. The universe often works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? That day for me was a fog. It was coasting through a short work day, and going for a drive, cursing the sky above, asking What’s the point? What’s the point in all of this? She didn’t ask for this. It was repeating to myself over and over again, She was only 27. She was only 27. She was only 27. It was somehow ending up at the grocery store with no list or plan in mind. It was walking down each aisle, angry at all of the people filling their carts with the proper fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. It was the desperate feeling of wanting everyone around me to stop what they were doing and feel even a fraction of what I was feeling. It was praying for a familiar face to come up to me and say I get it, I get it. I miss her too. This sucks so much. It’s not fair. It’ll never be fair.

It was being surrounded by strangers who couldn’t possibly know what my favorite memories are. They don’t know about the elementary school pool parties, or sneaking in bouts of laughter between getting in trouble for torturing your old neighbor together. They don’t know about the sleepovers in middle school, or the time you finally felt like you were growing up when your parents trusted you enough to go to let you go to the mall alone. They don’t know about how Ruby Tuesdays became your tradition because that was the first restaurant you spent your hard earned cash that you made at your minimum wage paying jobs at. They don’t remember what it was like to get dressed up in matching fuzzy sweaters and Kangol bucket hats (both of which I am eternally grateful faded out of style) just to take funny pictures that will forever be a part of me. They don’t know about the nights when it was just you, your cousin, and your friend, and how those quiet moments between deep breaths and tears and wishes made for the future and promises that we’d all be friends forever, laying on a blanket, talking over cups of hot chocolate, were some of the most profound moments of your life. They don’t know that those are the moments that you will hold onto when the grief gets bigger and the anniversary of her death gets further away.

And they don’t know how much you are kicking yourself over and over again for somehow allowing the last conversation that ever passed your lips between the two of you to be about hanging out soon. Soon is a concept I’ve become all too well acquainted with. I’ll get to it soon. I’ll call them back soon. Let’s hang out soon. Sometimes, soon never does come.

. . .

The holidays are trailing behind in the wake of her death. The twinkling lights and Christmas carols flowing through the airwaves are an indicator that it’s supposed to be the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and yet the older I get, the more it feels like the Busiest Time of The Year.

This year, it feels like the Coldest Time of The Year.

The holiday season always seems to creep in, taking with it the magic of what it once used to mean. August, September, and October have notoriously been hard for me – a season of big change and crippling transition, sending me straight into a time of year that is supposed to be met with gratitude, and warmth, and cider, and reflections of Remember When?

Instead, the end of November is a less-than-subtle reminder of the things we have left to do. Did I buy everything I needed to for Christmas? Did I sent out my cards? Will the gifts I order come in time? Did I miss any parties? Do I have time to finish all of the goals I made for myself for the year in the next 31 days?

In the midst of what is supposed to be a magical time of year, it’s hard to remember to enjoy it. To stop, to breathe, and to look up. To feel the crisp air and be enveloped by the scent of peppermint. To watch those twinkling lights with the same mesmerized glow you did as a kid. To feel and express gratitude. To just be present and have that be enough.

This holiday season is a hard one. It seems that these days, all of the people in my life are hurting in some capacity. Hearts are broken all around me, even when outside our windows, there’s twinkling lights, and smiling snowmen, and kids in their bedrooms making wishes to Santa, all with hopeful hearts.

The reality in my world is this: people around me are hurting. People in my life are waking up every morning and putting on their best smile just to get through the day. People are scrambling to figure out if they can afford food, or water, or their electric bill. Christmas gifts are the last things on their mind. People get sick. People get sick so suddenly and so quickly and without so much as a warning. People pass away, even during the most magical time of the year. People forget you. They’ll forget how much of you was a part of them; you’ll see them and be reminded by a bright flash of the past of how much it all meant then, but it’ll be taken from you so quickly like you never even mattered. They’ll whisper words and promises to keep in touch, to stay friends, but they’re empty, and hopeless, and weightless.

The recurring theme in my life is one that is prominent this holiday season: stop romanticizing being busy. Stop glorifying exhaustion. Stop utilizing being busy as a symbol of status, when really, it’s a barrier and a wall built to keep you from your own reality. Spreading yourself thin isn’t admirable, in fact, that’s probably the reason I’ve been sick for over two months. Stop burning yourself into the ground for the sake of making sure that your schedule is filled up, leaving very little room to sleep, and rest, and relax.

Things happen when you’re busy. People you love get sick, and you aren’t able to be with them when they have important doctors appointments. You aren’t able to sit with them while they talk about how scared they are. You aren’t able to tell them that you’re scared too. People get hospitalized and you can’t swing missing work to go see them. People pass away and you kick yourself for never getting a chance to follow through with your unmade plans. You make empty promises of future plans with people, but you don’t always follow through. Because you’re busy. And sometimes, being busy has an expiration date.

So many people, myself included, wear busyness like a crown of honor – like we are deserving of some reward for the bags under our eyes, the exhaustion that weighs us down, and the stress that is undoubtedly affecting our health. The truth is: busyness is an illness. Busyness keeps us from facing reality. Busyness keeps us from showing up for people. Busyness keeps us from showing up for ourselves.

. . .

There is confusion and guilt that lingers in the weeks following Danielle’s death. There’s questioning how there are people existing in what seems to be happy little bubbles, so consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, thriving, it seems, in a world that glorifies trivialities. There’s the constant ebb and flow of the stages of grief. Today, it’s anger at how unaware everyone seems to be at the profound loss the world just experience. There’s perspective — a lightning bolt, an electric shock, a drop of cold water on a hot day — a reminder that there are so many more important and grave things going on in the world, and that sometimes, all of the extra stuff just doesn’t matter when there are hearts broken all over.

Have you ever taken the time to genuinely look up at the night sky? We are so, so small compared to the world above us. We are tiny grains of sand — just specs of matter. Years from now, none of the extra stuff we do will mean anything. It won’t matter if we worked a 70 hour work week every year for 40 years. It won’t matter if we lost sleep over deadlines, and time frames, and progress notes left undone. It won’t matter if we hit the ground running every morning, just to come home with our gas light on E every night. It won’t matter if we dedicate our lives to cultivating a life we dreamed up, but never really living it. What will matter is heart and truth. Were you there for people? Did you show up when you were needed? Did you listen? Did you love? Did you pay attention to the people who needed you, but never asked? Did you ask for help? Did you listen to your body when it told you to slow down, take a deep breath, and be where your feet are?

Most of my life has been spent with my head straight, eyes forward. I’ve known what I’ve wanted of life for a long time, and I’ve done nothing but work tirelessly at building it from the ground up. I am dedicated, I am hard working, and I am relentless in my fight to get what I want — but these days, it’s kicking me in the ass. These days are a constant reminder that if you don’t look up every once in awhile, you’re going to miss a hell of a lot.

Sitting at the services for my friend Danielle, I noticed everyone looking up. Everyone was looking at the person we came to honor. The room was full of people who knew her in some capacity, and loved her as tremendously as the next person in the room. It was in those quiet moments, between sniffles and tears, that I realized only do we ever look up when we are forced — when there is something to look up for. When we are reminded of how very fragile and precious life is. When we are reminded of how quickly it can be taken from us.

Have you ever sat at a table surrounded by people you love and thought to yourself that this is what life is about? Christmas carols humming in the background, kids playing with toys downstairs, and a gentle buzz from the homemade spiked cider filling the air. And in those moments, you realize how full your heart is, how good this life is. I want to capture those moments. Preserve them. Remember to seek them every once in awhile. Because when you are too busy, you don’t have time to appreciate the good life, and the good people that are right there in front of you.

This month was a big, bold, painful reminder for me to start looking up. And what I would do to go back and live a life that didn’t require these kinds of life-altering reminders. Don’t be so busy that you need something this big, or this bold, or this painful to tell you to look up. Look up because life is too short to keep your eyes down. Look up because the world around you needs you — the people you love need you. Look up now.

The Church of Brené Brown

“Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, 
and until you can clean it up a little, you don’t want to invite anyone inside.”

Just as a musician falls in love with a chord, or a photographer falls in love with the way the sun sets, making for perfect lighting for a picture, I have always fallen in love with words. I am deeply enamored by the way some words seem to find each other – how some words can string themselves together and sing a harmony that jumps straight into your soul.

The words above dove their way into my heart about a year ago when I first laid eyes on them. At the time, I just thought it was a beautiful quote. One year later, it seems to me that the words were a bit of foreshadowing into what the year ahead would look like.

I turned 28 on Thursday. And while birthdays, for most people, are usually always a time of reflection and contemplation, this birthday in particular brought me back to this quote and how those words embody almost exactly what 27 was for me.

The months closing in on 26 and leading up to 27 tested my strength, my faith, and my resilience. I was caught in the middle of one of the biggest transitions of my life, going from full-time graduate student and juggling all sorts of odd jobs, to settling into something much more secure and stable — two things I was so unfamiliar with. While that might sound like the ideal situation, somehow having things fall into place in one part of my life almost always means that things are falling apart in another place. At the same time that things were coming together professionally, I was met with some really, really tough stuff personally. I was reacquainted with demons I fought off long before I even hit my 20s. I came face-to-face with skeletons that I thought were buried so far in my closet. And in the last few months from 26 into 27, I learned survival. I learned how to figure things out on my own — how to stand on my own and how to be on my own. Little did I know how what I perceived as a strength would come back to bite me in the ass.

Perhaps 26 into 27 was about claiming my independence, and 27 into 28 is about coming to the realization that independence, for me, has been a lot less romantic than than it has been isolating. Independence has been a lot less about me standing on my own two feet, gracefully tip-toeing through life, than it is about me keeping people at an arms distance and wrapping my heart up in caution tape, careful to make sure there were no holes in the tape — no cracks in my shield. Independence, for me, has taught me less about what it means to be my own person, and more about what it means to keep things hidden, in fear of being seen, known, or exposed.

* * *

I’ll be honest; this post has been sitting idly in my drafts for a little bit over a month. The idea behind what I wanted to write about came to mind after having a conversation with one of my coworkers — someone who quickly went from an acquaintance to a friend. The thing about being friends with my coworkers is that they see me, even when I don’t let the light out. They hear me, even when I’m not speaking. They know me, even when I give little to work with.

Somehow, we got onto the topic of my apartment. Without so much as a second thought, I blurted out the same sentiment that I tell anyone when they ask about it: I hate my apartment. No reason why. No words followed. No further desire to discuss it. Conversation then shifted into a talk about vulnerability — how there’s obviously more to my story, how evident it is that there are some things I keep guarded, and how helpful it would be for both my personal life and my professional life if I just raised the white flag and opened myself up to the possibility of maybe letting someone else into my fenced in yard.

I am the kind of person who has only ever known how to see other people. I am best when I am serving someone else, but put the spotlight on me, and I run. I am no fan of vulnerability when I am the one that needs to reach for it. I am horrible when it comes to being seen.

After the conversation I had with my friend, she sent me a Brené Brown video about perfectionism and told me to watch, to listen, to pay attention, and to start attacking that fear of vulnerability in the face.

I went home and spent the weekend watching a bunch of feel-good TED talks, bought tickets to see a TEDx event live (crossing things off my 30 before 30 bucket list one at a time!!!), did a lot of reading about perfectionism, and got to work on writing this.

And here comes the irony – I’ve spent the last month writing and erasing things that I wanted to say. I’ve written paragraphs with intensity and passion, and with barely a second thought, deleted them. I spit out sentences that I thought were appropriate, and meaningful, and important, and shortly thereafter got rid of them. The words coming out of me weren’t good enough for what I wanted to say. They weren’t strong enough to convey the depths of what I felt. They weren’t profound enough to describe that light-bulb moment that happened when I realized just how big the role of perfectionism is in my life, how hard it is to allow myself to be vulnerable, and how much of myself I keep closed off. I struggled with putting something out there that wasn’t perfect enough, while trying to lay out a map of what it means to struggle with perfectionism. Irony.

The second irony is my career. In my career as a counselor, I am fortunate enough to get the chance to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain, and watch as they allow themselves to break down the walls they’ve built to protect themselves. I sit with clients who are so, so afraid to share things, because once they put out the secrets they’ve hidden from the world, they’re losing an old friend — the one thing they’ve kept for themselves. And the beautiful irony is seeing clients who have the insight to know that without cutting themselves open, without allowing someone else into their world, there is no growth and there is no change. In my work, I’ve found that a measure of good work is when you are sitting with someone and they offer their truth — when they trust you with their own reality. When it’s just you and them and nothing but a room full of hard truths and vulnerabilities. And yet somehow, here I was, doing that exact work with a caseload of clients, struggling tremendously with it myself.

And who would have thought it all started with a quote and ended with a metaphor.

* * *

Before watching the video, I saw perfectionism as a part of my life that I left behind. I thought of who I used to be: an academic at heart. I looked at perfectionism as getting straight A’s in school, and beating myself up over an A- or B+. I looked at perfectionism as making sure I won all the spelling bee’s in elementary school, at making sure I was in the National Honor Society, and being a part of all of the extracurricular activities that I could fit into my life in high school — even if they didn’t fit my hobbies, interests, or who I envisioned becoming. Perfectionism meant being what was expected of me for my parents: going to school, getting a job at 15, getting the grades, being quiet, being small, being good enough. Perfectionism meant going to college and having a job to come home to on top of a job by my college. Perfectionism meant that schooling didn’t stop at at Bachelor’s degree. Perfectionism meant painting a scene for what my life is now that I have all of the things I’ve worked for: a Master’s degree, a career, an apartment of my own — all without ever stopping once to admit that maybe my shelves are a little dusty, maybe I’m missing some things, maybe life isn’t just solely about the stuff that I’ve accumulated, or the person that I appear to be. Maybe there is more.

Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence, or healthy striving… it’s a cognitive behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this: if I look perfect do it perfect, live perfect, or work perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”

If I never talk about the things that I don’t like about myself, maybe someone else won’t see the cracks in the foundation. If I never address the things that I am afraid of, people on the outside will look to me as strong and courageous. If I never come face to face with the reality of why I keep certain things hidden, I will never be seen. And how authentic can I be if all that you get is a snapshot of who I am?

The thing is, I crave it. I think we all do. I think it’s human, and it’s innate to want people to see us for who we are. I want to be able to talk to a good friend and tell them what my fears are — how sometimes, I am fearful that I gave all I had at love in the past, and not one person has measured up, and how it’s likely that I won’t find someone who can be that guy again for me. How I fear that maybe, I won’t have kids. How I say that this is okay for me, but really, it might not be. I think we all want to be able to look at our parents and tell them what it was they did that hurt us so badly, all while knowing that sometimes, parents mess us up without even trying. And it’s not always their fault, but that’s just what happens. We are all human. I think we all want to avoid it. We want to avoid letting people in too far, so we can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, or looked down upon, or seen. Because if we are seen for who we are, they will know. They will know that we are imperfect. They will know that we are scared. They will know that the picture they have of us in their minds is cropped, and airbrushed, and placed under a filter.

So, I don’t invite people into my apartment because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to clean it up a little bit. There’s a part of me that thrives in the chaos and wishes someone were strong enough to crack that wall down and come dance in the mess.

* * *

Years ago, when I started this blog, a mentor of mine told me to write my truth. She told me that the most important part of writing was honesty, and that if I could be honest — if I could write my truth, no one could take that away from me. I’ve referenced that profound piece of advice over and over again, and I sometimes forget the importance of speaking my truth and owning my truth and being the kind of person willing to tell a story based on what I know very well to be true.

So today, five days into closing the chapter on 27, and dancing into 28, here is my truth:

I am in a good place career-wise. I am in a good place with the majority of the people in my life. I am grateful, and I am happy. But, there are days when I want to pack my stuff up and run back to my parents house, all while knowing exactly what kind of chaos I would be running back into. There are days I wake up in the morning, take a good look at myself in the mirror, and ask myself how on earth can be the person that people trust enough to be vulnerable with and disclose the dark parts of them. There are days I don’t feel good enough. Not a good enough daughter, or friend, or sister, or therapist. There are days I don’t think I am where I am supposed to be — days when I feel despite all that I’ve accomplished, I’m still five miles behind. There are days that I am so fearful I somehow did something wrong, that I somehow made a mistake and I’ll regret my life in the long-term. There are days I have to sit and calculate if I have enough money to buy groceries and afford my electric bill, all while scrolling through social media in envy over new cars, and jewelry, and houses. There are corners of my apartment that are still not furnished; there are things that I still haven’t hung up on my walls. There are days I open my planner and wonder how the hell am I going to squeeze in all that I have. There are days when I can’t make commitments with my friends, because I would rather lay on my couch and watch Netflix than listen to everyone talk about buying houses, and having babies, and how much money they have saved for the this next big thing. There are days I am fearful that I am not doing enough. There are days that I really, really hope that I am.

* * *

Apparently I’ve become somewhat a victim of growing up. I’ve somehow slid my way, not so gracefully, through my early and my mid twenties, and landed face-first in my late twenties.

I guess this is 28. I guess this is another trip around the sun for me.

There are things I want out of 28 — like health, happiness, abundance, adventure, experience. And then there are the things that I know I need to work on — like practicing what I preach, allowing myself to be open to the possibility that maybe I don’t need to go at this alone.

I think we sometimes hesitate to invite people into our lives for whatever reason. Our space is hardly occupied. Our shelves still have dust on them. There’s still boxes where there should be furniture, and a coffee table where there should be a TV stand. If only we could sweep up the rubble, or get rid of the dirt or put together a piece of furniture, we would be ready. If things looked better, it would feel better to let people in. Today, things still don’t quite match. There are dishes piled in the sink, piles of laundry that has yet to be washed, picture frames leaning against the wall that have yet to be hung, garbage overflowing the can. Our situation isn’t quite what we want it to be. We aren’t where we want to be. My hope for 28 for both myself and for anyone who feels the tremendous weight of perfectionism and the difficulty with vulnerability is this: start going to church. Start attending the Church of Brené Brown. Start looking at all the walls you’ve built around yourself, and fight back all those fears you have. Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be known. Don’t let the dust on your shelves or the rubble all around you stop you. Invite people in anyway. 

Because of August

It’s late on the Tuesday after Labor Day when I finally get around to writing this. I’ve had thoughts and words knocking on my door, begging to come out of me since Sunday night, but haven’t much time to sit down and write.

It’s the second September that I am working as a counselor and am not frantically trying to figure out how to fit in working two jobs, having an internship, going to school, and somehow trying to maintain all of my sanity and an ounce of a social life. It’s also the first Tuesday since summer started that I’ve been alone, and the first Tuesday in years that I haven’t had some sort of obligation — work, class, or babysitting.

I say babysitting for lack of a better word. Babysitting just seems too formal for the time I got to spend over the last five years watching my best friends son grow up. I spent nearly every Tuesday watching and hanging out with her son, and I spent every Tuesday the last few summers with both him and my little sister.

My sister turned 13 on Friday and started her first day of 8th grade today. My friends son starts kindergarten later this week. And here I am, on my first free Tuesday, virtually ever, trying to hang onto fragments of time that seemed to have blown right past me. It seems that all I had to do was blink and I suddenly found myself in this very moment.

But first, back to Sunday.

I was baking cupcakes late on Sunday night for a Labor Day get-together. At some point, I ran outside to take out the trash. And in the minute trek from my apartment to the dumpster, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of kids playing and laughing. It was odd to me. I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly a year and have never heard kids playing outside any later than sunset. And here I was at 11 pm on a Sunday night, listening to the genuine belly laughs of little kids. The sound tugged at my heartstrings a bit when I realized that it must have been their last night of summer vacation. After Labor Day, it would be back to school for them.

I thought to myself they had to have been hanging onto these few precious moments they had left. They had to have been savoring every last bit of their time away from school before the summer sun sets and they’re awoken by the bitter taste of the transition into the next school year.

. . .

I was talking to a friend in the end of July about how certain times of year are more difficult than others for everyone. We were on the topics of breakups, and how, even years later, there are traces of our ex’s that still linger in us. And it got us on the topic of big life events that shape us and change us and make certain months a little more difficult than others to get through. For many people, the holidays are the worst. For me, it’s always been summer into fall — August into September.

Now, I never intended on being the kind of person that stores all of these bad memories in some sort of self-deprecating bank, just to pull out and revisit when I’m already feeling low. I don’t think anyone really ever sets out to be like that. But, I do genuinely believe there are certain times of the year for everyone where you feel a little bit thrown off course, like the stars aren’t really aligned, and somehow, you are living in a paradoxical world, unbalanced, and propelled back to this ugly state of nostalgia.

There’s something about the way August nonchalantly makes an Irish exit and dances her way into September that has me gripping onto the edge of my seat, eyes staring straight ahead, just waiting for the exact moment when it all comes crashing down.

The time between August and September is notorious for transitions. It’s always been about the start of something new and the beginning of something else ending. Ever since kindergarten, we are conditioned to know that August into September is about change. August has been about starting my first job at 15. It was about packing up my life into boxes bigger than me and leaving my hometown for college for the very first time. It was in August that I started to see cracks in what I thought was love. And it was also in August that I began the long-drawn out goodbye from the only thing I ever knew as love. It was about walking away from old jobs and settling into a new chapter of my career. It was about signing my first lease and getting ready to move out on my own. It was about struggling with anxiety over losing people who meant more to me than I would ever let myself verbalize. It was about feeling like a stranger in my own home, and even more so in my own skin. It was about trying to find even an ounce of hope in all of the rubble — trying to find some sort of stable ground to walk on when the rest of the world around me kept on turning and moving and changing.

August has always been notorious for transitions.

Last August brought with it a season in my life that I would love to not remember. It’s hard, I think, looking back on a time that you’d rather forget. If the doctor could write me a prescription to erase a few months off the calendar, then I would run straight to the pharmacy. Last August was a whirlwind. While the big parts of my life were falling together, the foundation of my life was falling apart. I had recently graduated with my Master’s and flew straight into my career. I was doing well on paper — much better than all of my classmates. But there were still jagged pieces of my life sticking out. Things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they’d be.

I remember putting all of my energy into work, and into the relationships I had with people, that I started to neglect myself. I avoided going home, because nothing about walking through those front doors ever made it feel like it was actually home. I drove around every night after work, desperate for company, and if I didn’t have someone who would meet me for coffee or a late night appetizer, I remember turning the volume up to the highest it could go, without making my car sound like a crappy teen club, and blasting every sad song on my iPod. I remember circling empty parking lots and driving on old roads that used to mean something to me. I remember pulling over to park every time my eyes welled up and cursing the sky above me. I never asked for this. I never wanted this. I never understood how you can get all of the things you worked so hard for and still not everything in your life aligned in quite the same way. The universe is funny that way, isn’t it? It pushes you without ever really trying.

The truth is, August has always been a little bit of a fight to be enough.

It’s always been a fight to simply be enough for whatever major event was about to tornado its’ way through my life. It was the fight to leave enough of me when I was leaving for college, in the hopes that the people I was leaving behind would pick up the pieces of me and hang onto them when I came back home. It was the fight for me to be the person deserving of some big old profession of love that I never did get. It was me hanging onto a love that hurt more often than not, because somehow that was enough for me. It was me trying to live in a house that wasn’t anymore welcoming then than it was when I was a rebellious teenager. It’s been about me trying to learn what being enough really is all about.

. . .

It’s important to know that I have never been good at transitions, and the foreseeable future doesn’t present itself with an opportunity to suddenly become more graceful at them. I almost pride myself on my inability to move on from things and my ability to catastrophize even the most minor of things. I make a mountain out of a mole hill when I can. I spend nights crippled in fear that I said the wrong thing to someone and that they’re going to hold it against me forever. I hear a song and I’m right back to my old bedroom at my parents house, making empty plans for forever. I feel a tinge of loneliness and I remember what it was like last August for me. And I remember all the things I’ve been bad at transitioning into: high school, college, the year and a half I took off between college and grad school, transitioning back into grad school, life post-grad school, moving out, breakups and makeups and everything else in between.

But as I sat on my couch this morning, feeling a bit lost at having nothing to do for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I was struck by how starkly different my life is this time of year in comparison to last year. I no longer drive around aimlessly, seeking answers for questions I would never ask aloud, on the dark road and in empty parking lots. I’ve moved. I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve been at the same job for almost a year and a half. I’m learning to be comfortable with stillness. I’ve hurt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve loved. But more than anything, I am so much different than I was this time last year.

. . .

I haven’t stopped thinking about those kids since Sunday night. I haven’t stopped thinking about the carefree sound of their laughs and how effortless it sounded — like they weren’t about to embark on the next transition in their lives: entering a new grade in school.  And I was thinking this morning about my sister starting 8th grade and how she was born the day before I started high school, and just how difficult that transition was for me. I thought about going off to college and leaving my then three-year-old sister at home. I thought about how much she’s grown. How she used to be shorter than me and now towers over me. How I want to protect her so fiercely but that I know she doesn’t need me to. She’s not a little baby anymore; she’s growing up, and doing it with the grace of an adult many years her senior. And I was thinking about my friends son. How he always refers to her friends as his own. And how he and I always joke that he is my best friend. But he’s become so much a part of my life that it really isn’t a joke.

I’m struck by the brilliance of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these kids in the last couple of days. Time will always be a fickle little thing, won’t it? There are still going to be different dates on the calendar that send shivers up your spine, but time plays tricks on you and convinces you that we can somehow have these moments back. And because of that, I’ve feared August. I’ve feared remembering what used to be and wanting desperately to get the good back and stay as far away from the bad as possible.

I think we need to start living our lives a little bit more like kids do. They transition so seamlessly. They don’t hold onto things unless they’re important. They move on faster than we do as adults. They forgive easier. They know they are enough without ever really having to question it.

It always comes back to the subtle way the breeze gets cooler and the humidity disintegrates. It always comes back to the way the Jersey Shore sheds its summer skin and grows crisp orange leaves. It always comes back to these seasons of growth.

Because of August, it always comes back to transitions. And without transition, there would be no transformation. And what kind of life would that be?

Yardsticks and Mile Markers

There’s a profound shift that takes place immediately after you graduate college.

Life as you knew it suddenly changes drastically. You will choose to take a year off before going to graduate school and spending three years working towards your Master’s. You’ll have friends that never moved back home — friends whose college towns loved them so much, they offered them a job they couldn’t refuse. You’ll have friends that work odd hours and friends that work nine to fives. You’ll have friends that are content with their lot in life and you’ll have friends that go to home at night wearing the weight of depression like a cloak around their neck.

You’ll try to hang onto bits and pieces of your youth, all while feeling the incessant pang of a childhood long gone before you were quite ready to let it go. You’ll start to feel a range of emotions you never knew existed. You’ll be eager to get your hands dirty and be knees-deep in checking things off your bucket list. You’ll be hopeful. You’ll be confident that this life is going to be exactly what you dreamed it would be. You will be faced with rejection. You’ll stay up all night applying for jobs, crossing your fingers that someone out there will just give you a chance. You’ll lower your standards for what you want out of love. You’ll feel a bit like a failure. You’ll spend nights going through old moleskin journals from all the years you spent scribbling down every single one of your plans. You’ll question your intentions. They were real plans, weren’t they? They were honest, hopeful, well-meaning plans. They were true to who you were. They were exactly what you wanted. But here you are, sitting on the edge of your bed, grappling the truth of what your life has become: monotony.

You’ll start to feel like you’ve let yourself down. You let down the teenage girl that used to lay on the beach at night with her closest friends, under a blanket of New Jersey stars, making big, big plans for what life was going to be.

You didn’t write a New York Time Best Selling novel at 18.
You didn’t move into an apartment in the city with your girlfriends at 22.
You never took any time to travel.
You’ve never even seen much more than what the East Coast has to offer.
You don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

The truth is, you thought things would be easier. You thought that being an adult meant that you were always sure of things — that you would know, without a question, if what you were doing was right. But you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many candles you blow out on your birthday cake each year, because you will always be full of questions. You’ll question your passions. You’ll question your choices. You’ll question if the skin you’re wearing is really fit for the person you are. You’ll question the plans you had for yourself. You’ll question your parents. You’ll question friendships. You’ll question your successes and your failures. And you’ll want to give up and go through the motions when you feel like the seams that keep your life sewn together are starting to come undone.

You’ll feel like you’re being flung across a boxing ring. And you’ll get mad. This is supposed to be what growing up is? This is supposed to be fun? This is supposed to be better than what I’m leaving behind? You’ll go from feeling stagnant to feeling like you’re riding a one-man roller coaster with no handle bars to hold onto. And the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re at a standstill. Like you’re wearing weights on your feet and you can’t possibly run without falling flat on your face. And other days, you’ll feel a gust of wind pushing you towards the finish line, and you have no choice but to ride that wave out.

You’ll surprise yourself at the first taste of envy.

One day, you’ll get a text from a friend saying they landed their dream job. They’ll tell you that they got offered $10K more than they expected and they already had intentions of moving an hour away from your little hometown.

“I’m happy for her,” you’ll repeat those words out loud three times, as you let it all sink in.
I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her, aren’t I?”
You aren’t sure who you’re repeating yourself to. You aren’t sure who is really listening to you.

You’ll go out for a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory drinks. You’ll count on the bottomless champagne and the glittering lights and the music permeating through the walls to get you through the night. You have no idea what that sinking pit in your stomach is, but you paint a smile on your face and you cheer along when you’re supposed to.

You do it for her. You do it because she’s your friend. And you’re happy for her, aren’t you?

You’ll start expecting it — that feeling, again. The bitter taste of jealousy and confusion. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it knocks the wind right out of you, and other times, it makes you grip the chair you’re sitting in. But it’ll always sting.. even just a little bit.

You’ll scroll through Facebook and see that someone you grew up with bought a house. A beautiful little cottage with a white picket fence and wrap-around porch — the house of your dreams. You’ll see a girl you went to high school with posting every moment of her day, working for a well-known, high-end fashion magazine. That was never part of your plan, but you still get green with envy in a way you can’t seem to rationally explain. You’ll see pictures of engagement rings, and sonograms, and nurseries. Your heart will break every single time you scroll through social media and see an ex boyfriend fall in love with someone who is very much the opposite of who you are. You’ll question if you were ever enough, or if it was all a little game. You’ll see posts from a girl you grew up with talking about her plans and intentions to publish a book of essays, and you’ll die a little bit inside at the 100+ likes and comments encouraging her to do so. You’ll get pissed off — wasn’t that what I wanted? Wasn’t all of that what I wanted for myself?

Your friends are getting married. They’re having babies. They’re buying houses. They’re moving into next chapters of their lives at lightning speed, and you’re still trying to catch up on the three years you missed while you were still in grad school. So, you start to create mile markers in your head for where you should be.

You should be in a committed relationship right now. You should be paying a mortgage. You should be making plans for a wedding, and a honeymoon, and a family. You should be settling down. You should be setting up registries and picking out color schemes. You shouldn’t be living in an apartment that hasn’t ever felt like home, you shouldn’t be getting stood up by boys who don’t come close to what your standards used to be, you shouldn’t be working extra hours and extra jobs just so you can afford to be in another string of weddings next year. You shouldn’t be making trips to your parents garden for vegetables because you have to choose what you can afford: your electric bill this month, or food. You shouldn’t be sitting on the edge of your bed, clutching your old moleskin journals, wondering where the hell all this time went and why the hell haven’t you gone after all the other things you wanted for yourself? Things outside of a degree, and a good career, and good, stable ground.

When did we let ourselves become robots? When did we start allowing what we don’t have to dictate how we feel about ourselves? When did we start using other people’s achievements as yardsticks for everything we are not?

It’s cute in the beginning, I suppose, this little act of self-deprecation. It keeps you on your toes when it starts. But it becomes a habit — a dangerous cycle. You become whinier. You start to become empty of all the hope you once had and instead of discussing thoughts and ideas, you discuss your shortcomings and how they compare to others’ achievements. People stop encouraging you; they stop filling you with empathy and compassion. Because the things you swore you’d have done by now are just thoughts you scribbled down in that moleskin journal long before you were faced with the things that somehow matter more now: rent, an electric bill, student loan payments, being a bridesmaid over and over and over again, house warming parties, weddings, baby showers, taxes, health insurance plans, retirement plans. The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These days, I’m just trying to get by. These days, I’m trying to set up camp in the valley that I’m living in. These days, I’m trying to forgive myself. I’m trying to forgive myself for tiptoeing around that dangerous trap of comparison — a huge pool that I always swore I’d stay away from. I’m trying to forgive myself for expecting more than what is possible of me. I’m trying to forgive myself for holding up a mirror in one hand and a yardstick in the other, measuring who I am against who I wish I was.

These days, self-forgiveness is the theme of my life. You have to forgive yourself for being a little irrational. Your emotions might not always make sense; you’ll find yourself getting angry over something minor. You’ll find yourself seething in jealousy. You’ll sometimes find yourself sad when you see the things someone else has, even if it’s a life you never wanted for yourself. Your feelings may not always make sense, but they’re always valid. You’re allowed to be hurt, and you’re allowed to cry about it. You’re allowed to feel a little stuck every once in awhile. You’re allowed to kick and you’re allowed to scream. But I’ll tell you one thing: you’re also allowed to forgive yourself.

You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not quite being where you thought you’d be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not being what everyone else wants you to be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not always remembering the things you have accomplished. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for comparing your life to someone else’s. And most importantly, you’re allowed to forgive yourself for being human.

I’m learning that daily. You’ll have to forgive yourself over and over again until you wear the words on your skin. Say it with me: I’m only human, and that’s my saving grace.

I’m only human,
and that’s my saving grace.

Let Love Win

Words fail me today.

Words fail me because I shudder to think what will become of the world that we live in when hate and pain and senseless violence flooding our news outlets are becoming the norm. I can’t fathom living the rest of my life in a world where people make decisions out of fear, without truly grasping the permanency of one impulsive choice. I don’t want to believe that we live in a world where love doesn’t win, because to me, it’s the only thing we have.

It’s hard to stomach living in a world where I’ve woken up every day this weekend to another tragedy — another brutal attack. A preventable crime. Parents are now left to explain to their children that their favorite singer — a talented, beautiful, young woman, was ruthlessly killed when all she was doing was what she loved — meeting fans and signing autographs. Concerts are supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to be healing. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where kids have to fear going to concerts, where artists who dedicate their lives to sharing their craft with us, have to live in fear that if they so much as snub a fan, that suddenly, their lives at at risk. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where people are threatened, harmed, hated, killed, every single day because someone else has a problem with who they love. I don’t want to believe that I live in a world where we have to fear going to Church, or going to a bar, or going to a movie theater, or going to a concert.

I don’t want to live in a world where fear wins. Before you cast your vote, please cross fear right off your ballot. Love wins this election. Love has to win.

Tragedy strikes for all kinds of unexpected, incomprehensible reasons, and I’m not so sure it’s our job to figure out why. Maybe these things happen to remind us just how precious and fragile life is. Maybe it’s to remind us to never go to bed mad at someone else, to always say sorry, to always make amends. Or maybe tragedy happens to remind us to keep believing that magic is still real and that love trumps all, but to not let our own naivety keep us from looking out from under our rose-tinted glasses. There are monsters in this world — real monsters that ruthlessly and mercilessly take lives over petty things.

Maybe these things happen to remind us to keep searching for peace, and to give out our love to everyone in our lives before our time here is up.

Life is so unpredictable; these things happen and they rattle us, they remind us of our transience here on this earth. They shake us up, whisper in our ear to never let a moment pass us by. And then we suddenly forget. Life for us seems to continue to move on after tragedy strikes. I hope that you don’t let that happen this time, because for the people affected by the violence and the hate and the pain, they don’t just get to walk away. They don’t just get to keep on living their lives. Normal is no longer their normal. We have to keep searching for peace.

I think we often forget how lucky we really are — myself included. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of our own lives that we forget just how lucky we are to have this life and to have the privilege to live it — to love and be loved in return. We can walk, we can talk, we have an abundance of opportunities waiting for us if we only just take them. We have the free range to meet new people daily, to get to know them, to share their hearts and share our own. We only get this one chance. That’s it. We get one chance to do this damn thing. We get one shot at putting ourselves out there, at making a difference, at changing our little part of the world. We get one chance at loving right. At spreading love. At showing the people in our lives what they mean to us. At working towards finding peace.

These are the things I need from you:

I need you to go ahead and wear that dress that you think is a little too bright. I need you to eat the cake. Order the Venti Frappucino. Go out for ice cream with an old friend at 2 am and sit on the beach talking about the ways you want to change the world. Encourage each other. Believe that maybe you can be the one who can do it, maybe you can be the one that sparks a little change. Send the text you’ve been waiting a month to send. Screw fear. Punch fear right in the face and don’t worry about what is waiting on the other end of that text. You did your part, the rest is on them. Learn the importance of humility and go out there and be humble. Take accountability for all your wrong-doings. Say sorry. Say sorry and mean it. In fact, when you say anything, please mean it. Say yes to adventures and stepping out of your comfort zone. Anyone that knows me can attest to this: there is nothing I love more than canceled plans, but there is also nothing I regret more than watching as I cross off days on my calendar and seeing that we are already halfway through the year and I spent so much of my weekends off sitting on my couch watching Netflix.

Don’t stay with someone just because you are afraid of what the world would be like from the vantage point of being alone. There is so much bravery in coming to terms with your own independence. You can do it. You can be brave, too.

Say yes to weddings, and showers, and bachelorette parties. Say yes to driving around with your best friend with no end point in mind, reminiscing on the good ol’ days. Say yes to paint and sip nights when you don’t have one artistic bone in your body. Say yes to doing something new — to having wine and cheese with old girlfriends or trying to new Vegan restaurant a few towns over.

Book a road trip to visit a friend who moved states away. Pick up the phone and call your best friend. Talk about real things — the things that hurt you, the things that you are hopeful for, the things that you want. Put your phone down and look up. Life is much better experienced through your own set of eyes than that of an iPhone screen. Do the things that make you feel alive. Do them over and over and over again.

And above all, be kind. Be loving. Kindness trumps all. We have to believe that. We have to believe that at the end of the day, kindness matters. Kindness still wins. Even when the world around us is scary. Even when it’s dark. Even when it’s violent.

Today, please remember to just love each other — love each other well. Make sure they know it. Make sure everyone that you love knows how special they are to you and how important they are to you. And decide. Decide today if you want to live from a place of love, or from a place of fear. Decide if you want to live with hate in your heart or with love bursting from it.

I hope you choose love, because at the end of the day, after the sun sets, after all the bodies are laid to rest, after the world goes back to work tomorrow and starts to slowly forget, after the politicians rattle off their own reasons as to why our world is like this, I just need to know that there is still good to be found — that there are still things that matter.

And though I don’t have all the answers, I know this much is true: kindness is so, so important. Love is so, so important. Without kindness, there is no hope. Without love, there is no peace. Hate is a real thing, but so is peace. So is love. I need to know that love wins. It just has to. Please, let love win.

Go Pick Up The Pieces

Without ever realizing it, without ever really trying, we lose bits and pieces of ourselves just by existing.

We lose a piece of ourselves when we give a friend good advice that they don’t heed. When you leave footprints in the sand, only to get washed away by the ocean, you’re leaving pieces of yourself. You lose a piece of yourself when you back down from an argument over something you so desperately believe in. You lose pieces of yourself when all you’ve ever done, is chip away at the parts that make you who you are — when you lessen yourself just to fit inside a tiny box that someone else handed you. When you pacify people, appease them, say yes when you want to say no, stay quiet when you want to scream, do something for someone else because you just want them to look at you like you matter.

You lose pieces of yourself trying to be everything for everyone.

If their love brought with it a series of punches to the gut, you’d stand still and take the hit without thinking twice. You would let them cut you open and spit you back out if it meant feeling whole, even just temporarily. You’ll give pieces of yourself away freely, giving anything you’ve got, if only it meant feeling loved, valued, appreciated… enough.

You’ll walk around with the burn of a thousand paper cuts dancing all over your skin, desperate to lock eyes with anyone who will stop you and tell you that they will cool off the fire. You’ll try to remember these moments — remember how sensitive to the touch your skin was, how it feels to be the one standing with a chisel in your left hand and a hammer in your right, chipping away the pieces of yourself and handing them off to ravenous vultures, desperate for something else to eat. And as hard as you’ll try to remember it all, you’ll still go home at night and be the proverbial punching bag if that’s what it takes to feel anything other than the sting of desperation and the need to just be seen.

As long as you have them for just a minute, you’ll hand them the knife and let them slice and dice right into you. They’ll ring you dry and even when you have barely anything left to give, you’ll somehow dig out all that makes you whole and good and full and pass it around like side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll give and you’ll give until there’s nothing left in you but a tired, tired soul.

You become desperate for a home. And so, you’ll build one out of the empty pieces that you cling onto — the pieces that they gave you, the hollow pieces that led you to believe that you were worth keeping. That you meant something to them and that’s why they threw a stone your way. You build and you build and you put together these pieces with the hope that you will fit. That you will all fit. You don’t stop to look and see that no one else can fit inside the tiny box you built in front of you. So you shrink yourself down and compromise yourself just to feel a little bit less isolated and alone. You will do anything to believe that you have a home.

You’ll go to war with yourself. You’ll fight with yourself to try to hold onto everything that makes up who you are. They don’t deserve more than you have to offer. You’ll repeat it in your head over and over again. But it’s cyclical – the way you go around in circles, so desperate to find some sort of stable ground. And so you start throwing whatever tiny pieces of yourself that you can chip away behind you, like a trail for them to follow. You won’t say it out loud, but you hope that they pick up the pieces and that they’ll come and find you. You keep sprinkling the pieces over your shoulder because you want them to find the piece that makes them realize they were wrong about you. You want them to remember all the times you showed up for them. You want them to remember all the times you saved them. You want them to acknowledge the gifts just because, the times you thought of them, the way you wanted them to have everything they never had a chance to experience when they were younger. You want them to notice you — the real you. You want them to pick up the pieces that tell them that you are selfless, that you are worthy, that you are kind, that you are capable of being loved.

You’ll try to hold yourself steady when you look behind you and see that all the pieces you laid out are gone, but they’re nowhere in sight. They’ve taken every last bit of you, but they never came looking for you. They never told you that they believed in you, or that they appreciated you. They never thanked you. They never gave you the kind of love that you were searching for, that you were desperate for, that you deserve.

They never used the pieces the way you needed them to. And so, you’re left empty. Broken. You gave away all that you had and they were somehow always hungry for more. And really, all you needed was for them to be on your side.

I’ve been trying to forgive myself for leaving pieces behind me, and earnestly believing that they’d be the pieces used to build the home I so desperately wanted.

You have to forgive yourself. This is not a suggestion; this is not a solid piece of advice. This is a demand. Forgive yourself for cutting yourself open and letting yourself bleed dry. Forgive yourself for feeling desperate for attention — it was never that you were desperate for attention; you just wanted to be wanted and loved and important. Forgive yourself for believing that every time you fixed yourself up just to be what they needed you to be, that it would be different. Forgive yourself for believing that you could possibly be everything for everyone. Forgive yourself for believing that breaking off pieces of yourself and giving them away freely would somehow make you be enough for them. You are enough just the way you areForgive yourself for jumping into meaningless relationships and conversations just because you need something to fill the holes left from your lifetime of attempts at leaving a trail behind, hoping that they will come pick up the pieces and somehow your story will change.

Your story can change. Your story will change. It changes now. It changes now because you decide it does; it changes now because instead of throwing those pieces of yourself over your shoulder, with fingers crossed, hoping they’ll pick them up and run towards you, you’ll keep them for yourself. You decide it changes now because this is not how it ends. This cannot be how the story ends.

Step one in forgiving yourself is this: pick up those pieces. Turn around and collect the pieces of yourself that you’ve chiseled away and stitch them back together.  There will be scars. There will be a few cracks, but you don’t need to be empty. You don’t need to give yourself away, and be rung dry, with the quiet desperation of a life you never had.

You have a home. I need you to believe that. You have a home even if the house that built you never was warm and inviting. You have a home even if the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with pushes you out. You have a home even if you’re sitting in an empty apartment, working your ass off just to get by. You have a home. It’s within you; it’s up to you to build it up with the pieces of yourself that you collect.

Stop giving yourself so freely to the people who would be the first to throw in a match after you’ve danced in gasoline. Stop giving yourself so openly and so lovingly to the people who speak to you like your presence is a disservice to them — like you owe them something for simply existing. Stop letting people hold your hand only when they feel like it. Stop taking yourself apart and rearranging all that you are just to fit in with someone else’s belief of what a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, a friend, an employee, should be. Stop picking up the phone for people who don’t answer when you need them. Stop showing up when you’re told to never come back. Stop prioritizing the people who only see you as an option — who only talk to you or make plans with you just because they have no one else. Stop trading in what reality is and swapping it with a more romanticized memory. Stop walking on glass and asking why it hurts. And more important than anything, stop giving away pieces of yourself and expecting to be anything less than empty at the end of the day.

Your story changes here, and it changes now; turn around and go pick up the pieces.

This Is How You Leave

The silence was palpable, only interrupted by the muffled sound of a quiet sniffle and tears that wouldn’t stop coming. Embarrassed, I whispered, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this. Maybe you should go. I’m sorry.” 

We were sitting side by side in my dimly lit childhood bedroom. He walked in after I fought with my mom about something that seems insignificant now. He’d been over so many times before that, yet somehow, that time seemed different. It was the first time he had ever seen me cry; it was the first time he had ever seen me as anything other than the person he knew.

I sat in a ball on my bed, head between my lap, doing everything I could to avoid his eyes. But even in the darkness, green eyes still found me.

“Why are you always sorry,” he said, not bothering to listen to my desperate plea for him to leave. “Don’t ever say sorry unless you did something wrong. You say it all the time, but I’ve never heard you say it without feeling guilty for something that isn’t your fault.”

He didn’t know it then, but that conversation changed me.

I needed to stop wearing my apologies like a shiny piece of jewelry around my neck, and giving them out so freely to the people standing in front of me holding a loaded gun.

Years later, I am still working on that.

There are things I need you to know tonight:

Please don’t apologize to the people who pour gasoline on you and expect you to dance in the fire. You do not owe anyone an apology for the things that you didn’t ask for. You don’t need to say sorry to people who spit out hateful words and say you’re to blame for them. Please don’t justify the way someone else hurts you. Don’t make excuses for the lies they told you and for the way they took the light right out of your eyes.

You have the right to say when enough is enough. You have the right to know your own boundaries and to respect yourself enough to walk away from a conversation, a situation, or a relationship that only hurts.

You do not need to give yourself to the people who don’t love and respect you fully. Please don’t let the incessant voice of guilt pressure you into staying because it’s the right thing to do. Only you know what’s right for you. You don’t need to put up with someone who chisels away at all the good pieces of you just so they can stand with their chest pushed out and their head held high to feel good about themselves. You are not the punching bag to someone else’s bruised ego. 

It’s okay to expect the best from people. It’s okay to keep coming back because you expect a change. It’s okay to have hope that all the wishes you scribbled into your Winnie The Pooh diary as a kid will come true and that you will have the kind of support you always needed. But if it doesn’t change, if those pages in your diary stay just as wishes, please don’t walk back into the ring and expect not to get hit. Please don’t go back and make up excuses for what they said or what they did or why it’s okay for them to hurt you. Please don’t try to make sense of someone else’s chaos. Sometimes crazy is just crazy.

You have the right to stand your ground. As a matter of fact, please stand your ground. Please stand your ground when no one else is on your side. When no one else hears you. You have the right to pack up your boxes and leave. You have the right to say when a relationship is no longer serving you. You have the right to stop someone from destroying you, and you have the right to walk away from anyone — no matter who they are: friend, significant other, family member. You have the right to guard your own heart. So please guard it.

Love is not conditional. Let’s scream that one from the roof top: love, no matter what kind, is never conditional. It’s not a tit for tat kind of thing. Love is not a laundry list of the things they’ve done for you, or given you, or provided you with, with a list attached of what you owe them in return. Love doesn’t have to be earned. Love isn’t approval. Love is consistent; it doesn’t grow because you got straight A’s, it doesn’t cease to exist because you accidentally left your dresser drawer cracked open, it doesn’t magically reappear when you bring home an academic award, and it doesn’t go away when you knock over a houseplant. Love is not conditional; please know that.

You need to stop believing all the lies that you’ve been fed. You need to stop putting the people who speak to you with nothing but fire on their breaths onto a pedestal. You need to stop thinking you are the sum of all the negative things anyone has ever said about you. You are so, so much more than that.

I’ll be honest; maybe I need to keep these words today. Maybe I needed to type them out to see them for myself. Maybe I needed a harsh reality check — a sucker punch straight to the gut.

At some point or another, we’ve all been fed lies. We’ve accepted lies. We’ve told ourselves lies. And we’ve believed them. You are not good enough, you are the one to blame for all the shit you’ve been handed, you don’t deserve good things, you are not a good person. 

These tiny little sentences are toxic; they climb into our head, unknowingly, and make a home there if we let them. They take up room. They take up space. They grow with every rock thrown at you. They live in your bloodstream. They scream at you square in the face until you believe them. They make you feel like less of a person. They make you feel like you are the one to blame.

Do not feed the lies. Do not feed the liars.

It’s going to hurt. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that. When you finally throw your hands in the air and tell the world around you that you are not sorry for the person that you are, it’s going to sting. It’ll knock the wind right out of you. You’ll feel desperate to turn back on your word. You’ll try your best to cushion the blow. You’ll apologize, you’ll try again, you’ll push to be the person that they want you to be. You’ll make excuses for the way they throw knives at your heart.

But when you finally get to a point where you are done fueling the fire and fertilizing the lies, I imagine it will feel a little bit like freedom. I’m hoping it will feel a little bit like freedom.

I wonder if I say it enough times, if I type it out enough times, will I really start to believe it. Will I start to resolve the guilt I feel and the self-blame I keep beating myself up with? Will I be able to come to terms with the fact that not all relationships are meant to be saved? Will I be able to resolve the one relationship I’ve spent nearly my whole life trying to mend?

Let me tell you this: I tried. I tried my damndest to be good enough. I tried so incredibly hard to be the person that everyone needed me to be. I showed up when I was needed. I got the grades. I did everything I was ever asked. I want you to know that I am not giving up as easily as it sounds, I am not walking away from something without having poured my entire being into making it come to life. I tried to look passed the lies spit out at me. I tried to look passed the years of being made to feel inadequate. I tried to stay hopeful. And believe me, I still am. I tried to say the right things; I tried to not let anger and resentment speak for me. I tried to forgive. I tried to believe that people change. I tried to recreate myself over and over again. But none of that is okay. None of it is okay.

And I guess this is how you leave. You leave when you try so hard that you start to lose pieces of yourself. You leave when it hurts more than it helps. You leave when the pain weighs more than the guilt. You leave when they keep telling you those lies. You leave when the love is no longer conditional; you leave when you come to terms with the fact that maybe it never was. You leave when the very people you thought were protecting you are the ones destroying you.

You leave because staying hurts more than leaving.

Maybe you’ll be back. Maybe things will change. But this time, you don’t apologize. You don’t say sorry. Because this time, you know it’s not your fault.

And so you pack your bags, turn around, and leave.

Let’s Not Bother With Small Talk

Please, let’s not bother with small talk. Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

Let’s not bother with words that just don’t matter and questions spit out with the force of thunder and the speed of an Aston Martin, only used to fill the silence that barely even touched the space between us.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. They can talk about the weather and how remnants of Winter still linger in the April air — how frost-tipped grass is still what we wake up to. The rest of the world can go and ask us, “What’s up,” but I hope they don’t laugh when I answer, “the sky,” because that’s what I really mean. And when they ask me, “how are you,” I hope they don’t expect me to submit myself to the most common lie told, encapsulated within the words, “I’m fine.”

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

So, if weather’s what you want to talk about, I want to hear about all the ways you change with the seasons. I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re alone at three AM in the middle of the Winter, when all of the chaos of the holiday season has simmered down, and you’re left with nothing but an empty apartment and an emptier Christmas tree and nothing, but the sound of your own thoughts. If you want to talk about the sky, tell me about all the things you see for yourself when you look up. Tell me about the hopes you have and the crippling fears and the obstacles you see in front of you. Tell me about all the ways you plan on changing the world, and I will let you in on all the ways I want my small hands to move mountains.

And if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that, if you’re able to find it in you to tell me how you stayed up all night every Thanksgiving eve, standing on a stool, helping your mom prepare for the family meal the next day, I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom keeps in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

And if how are you is the question you are dying to answer, tell me about the heartache. Tell me about how they broke your heart and what you’ve done to try and heal it since that door slammed, closing the chapter of your life without a tidy ending. Do you still wear the same cologne that she picked out, with the hope that she’ll somehow get a waft of it in the air and remember that your arms were once her home and that she’ll find the star that leads her back to you? Do you sink into your bed at night after busying up your schedule just to forget how her eyes were the only ones that knew you? Do you let the weight of heartache and cans of beer pull you down until you can’t remember how final that slamming door sounded? And if you let me in and tell me how many pieces your heart broke into, I’ll show you all the shards of glass I’ve been carrying around since the day he and I let our love die. I’ll tell you about all the months I spent looking into his green eyes and begging them to know me. I’ll tell you about all the time I spent searching those pools of green, desperate for them to make me feel seen like they did all the time before. I’ll talk about all the jagged pieces, the epic love stories that were born from my finger tips, and the nights I spent playing the songs that were the soundtrack to our love, with the hopes that he’d hear them all through the radio airwaves. And that he’d come back to me. And if you really listen, I’ll tell you about the way his face sunk in my rear view mirror while his arm waved goodbye, and he whispered, “keep in touch, okay?” for the last time on that cold March night.

Tell me about your friends. Tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Tell me about your parents. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your mom say she is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. And if you do, I’ll decorate a picture of what it was like being the first born child to immigrant parents, and how my childhood was more about darkness than there was light, but how I never let that define me. Tell me about how you got by, how you survived, and I’ll tell you the same.

I want to know about the wars you fought and all the armor around your heart. I want to know the bruises that you wear on your soul and all the beatings you took that made such a permanent mark. I want to know about why you jump two feet in the air at the sound of a slamming door. I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night, frantic, unable to sleep, because you were too busy coming up with a plan to save this universe that’s drowning under the weight of vanity.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. What are your greatest regrets? What are your biggest accomplishments?

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s can ever give you that.

So please, let’s not bother with small talk.