I Keep Driving In This Darkness, To Get You, To Get You Off My Mind

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I turned the volume up. I didn’t care about my outdated sound system or how hard my little green Corolla was shaking. Anything, anything, to drown out the noise. I quietly whispered it to myself over and over again. Don’t you dare crack. Don’t you dare cry. But even through deep breaths, heavy blinking, and constantly looking up in the hopes that the tears would just crawl their way back into my eyes where they should always stay, the floodgates opened and I was a goner.

I had an unintentional, good ol’ fashion breakdown on my way home from work the other day. Full on, no holding back, gasping desperately for air, ugly cry.

Trust me when I say: I am not a crier. I promise you I’m not. I’ve always been the girl with the box of tissues, pint of ice cream, gallon of wine, and shoulder to cry on. I have always been the one to catch the tears, and rarely the one who asks for someone else to catch my own. And maybe that’s where I’ve been wrong all along; maybe what I perceived as my strength is really my illness. I’ve always been the girl with the words. I’ve always been the one to show up with pretty words strung together trying so desperately to make sense of the broken hearts and souls of the world around me.

I have always been the person who knocks on your door and walks in uninvited and plants herself on your couch until you’re ready to let go. I’ve always been the one with arms wide open ready and willing to fight for you, to fight with you. I’ve always been good at showing up for other people.

Hannah Brencher talks a lot about Staying. She talks about how taxing it is to stay — to unpack your bags in the midst of all the calamity and make yourself at home. To stay right in the eye of the storm. Staying is hard. Staying is so damn hard. It takes courage and bravery and a whole lotta guts to take each brick that you so carefully and deliberately placed around your heart and take that wall apart.

Showing up for others is the easy part. It’s so much easier to climb in the middle of someone else’s storm and be their umbrella. I would much rather do that than sit in the crux of my own sadness and ask for the strength to stay for myself — to ask someone to be my umbrella. I promise you this: as long as the storm doesn’t knock down my own walls, I will stay. I would pitch a tent and weather the storm and let you unpack your load onto me. And I would pick those bricks up off the floor and pack them up in my own backpack. And I promise you that. I promise you that I am good at showing up and staying if it means I’m doing it for you.

I don’t know how to stay for myself. All I know is how to run and how to hide. But to show up and stay for myself is lost on me.

And therein lies the problem.

I am so good at hiding under the weight of movement. I always need to be on the go. Always moving. Always doing. I am always on a mission to prove myself to someone. To show that I can do this. That I can walk a tightrope and balance all of this weight with grace. That I can excel in everything I do. And that, in the face of my own storm, I can stand tall.

I’ve never been able to just sit still. To just sit right in the middle of that chaos and let myself be uncomfortable. I’m good at keeping busy and avoiding the tough stuff. And God forbid I get one spare moment and am looking at loneliness or heartbreak square in the face, I hop in my little green car, turn up the music, and take a long drive with no destination in mind. It’s so hard to just Stay.

I don’t ever allow myself a break. I don’t ever make myself just sit in my own sadness. I don’t ever Stay and listen and fight for myself.

I want to know what the point in all of this is. What’s the point in going, going, going. And why is it so damn hard to just Stay?

It’s so exhausting. The constant going, the driving, the running, the avoiding. The facade is wearing me thin. The hours dedicated to work, to school, to avoiding the pang in my heart that’s yelling at me to just slow down. To stop trying to be everything and do everything. If I’m being honest with you, I crave permission. I need permission to take a break, but if I could avoid signing that permission slip to just slow down forever, I would.

I wonder if you’re reading this and are anything like me. I wonder if you, too, fill your days with extra stuff just to avoid that incessant whisper begging you to just slow down. I wonder if rest and taking time for yourself drives you crazy. I wonder if you feel inadequate if you aren’t always in motion. I wonder if you need permission to, every now and then, get on the ground and let go of whatever is behind you begging for you to keep going. To be more, to do more. Yelling that you’re not enough. Sometimes, I so desperately want someone to take note of the tired eyes and acknowledge the sleepless nights. I want someone to look at me and tell me that I am enough. That I’m doing just fine. That the hours I lose myself in text books and papers, the sleepless nights, the bags under my eyes, and the perpetual pang of a broken heart will all be worth it soon. That the finish line is only 10 weeks away. That I am enough. That I’ve always been enough.

I gave myself permission to let go the other night. I Stayed.

The going, going, going finally caught up to me. I cried. And I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. And it was freeing. It really was. For the first time in so long, I stayed. I stayed for myself. Instead of running for the door and driving around in circles, or sticking my head in a book, or diving right into work, or knocking on the door of a friend whose heart needs repairing, I let myself fall to my knees and I let myself Stay.

And somewhere through the tears and the gasps of air and the music that wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out the noise, I heard the voice inside of me whispering, I want you to know that you are doing every damn thing that you can. Stop being so hard on yourself. Some things work out, and others don’t. Hearts break every day. Life is overwhelming. Slow down and take it all in. You are not a brick wall. Please stop pretending you are. Stop building and building and building. You are glass. You stand tall, but underneath all the layers, you are fragile. Let yourself be fragile. Let yourself break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Stop worrying about being someone else’s umbrella all the time and pitch a tent right in front of your house and make a home out of your own storm.

You are enough. And it’s okay to acknowledge the voices of doubt and uncertainty screaming you aren’t. But don’t let that wound seep through your veins and make its way into your soul. Don’t let those thoughts set up camp inside your head. Don’t keep building that brick wall and driving yourself in circles and filling your planner with activities, and coffee dates, and picking up extra shifts at work just to avoid staying and showing up for yourself. Please give yourself permission to unpack your bags. Let yourself be vulnerable. 

Please show up. Please stay.

“I have never been strong enough to stay. People say that walking away is the hardest thing to do, but it isn’t. Staying, even when you know it will break your heart, is the hardest thing. Staying right where you are, waiting for your entire world to be ripped into pieces is much harder than walking away and starting a new one.” -The Love Whisperer

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘In The Blue’ by Kelly Clarkson.

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I’ll Keep You Locked In My Head, Until We Meet Again.

“Have a nice life,” I whispered, as I pulled away from a final hug goodbye, “good luck with everything in the future.”

An unsettling feeling rattled my bones when I was faced with my first real goodbye. It was the last time I would ever identify as a college student, and somehow I had gone through 22 years of my life without ever being taught how to gracefully leave something behind — without ever learning how to be okay with closing a chapter of my own book. At the time, it seemed ludicrous that we suffered through four years of exams, papers, lectures, presentations, community service hours, sleepless nights, all while accruing an enormous amount of debt in student loans, without ever being taught how to say goodbye to this pivotal part of our lives.

I often think back to that last full day on my beautiful alma mater’s campus and that very moment — standing on the basketball court near my freshman dorm surrounded by a sea of people filled to the brim with the same nostalgia that was bursting right out of me. I think back to those final goodbyes. To pushing myself to stutter those words, “have a nice life.” It all seemed too surreal. I spent that last day roaming campus with my roommates — four girls I had grown to love as sisters over the course of those four years. Together, we participated in our schools “senior sendoff” — our final farewell to four years of memories, of nights out, of heart aches, of parties in the Village, of Late Night dining, and of the quiet notion that no one could ever have what we had. No one could ever love as fiercely or laugh as hard or live as carefree as we did.

I was fully aware of the palpable pang of nostalgia in saying goodbye to friends I’d grown close with. Despite knowing we’d see each other again, we knew that that was where it ended. That this — whatever this was at that very moment, would never be the same. We knew we would never see each other in the same way again. But there was a deeper, and perhaps more bittersweet sting in saying goodbye to our acquaintances. Saying have a nice life was so final. The people we saw twice a week in class, did group projects with, had an occasional beer with, or awkwardly shared a bathroom stall at the bar with – the people who were equally as much a part of our college history as our roommates. There was something so profound in saying goodbye to acquaintances — in saying thanks for being a part of this journey with me, when I think back on these four years, I’ll think fondly of you. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people we meet and the lives that we touch.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about relationships and the various connections and links we have with people. I’ve been thinking about the way people weave themselves in and out of our lives. And how rarely we notice the subtle impact they have on us until they leave.

We don’t meet people on accident. I am a firm believer in that. I think people come into our lives exactly when we need them to. Like the boy who broke my heart and taught me to stop placing all my happiness on one person. My neighbor who played the role of the grandfather I never had, who taught me to be relentless in the pursuit of my goals, and taught me to laugh in the face of all pain. Even down to his last breath, he was always laughing. A college professor who taught me empathy and understanding when she was in her final days of battling terminal cancer, but still managed to write me a glowing recommendation letter for graduate school just days before she passed. The woman in front of me at the grocery store with tired eyes and two kids that taught me patience and wonder as I watched her let her toddler individually place each item on the belt.

I’ve been thinking about endings. And goodbyes. And letting go. And how people come into our lives at different parts of our story — how they come in and stay for a scene, a chapter, or the majority of our book. I’ve been ruminating over the short-lived relationships and how we establish all of these invisible connections with people, just to see them go. It doesn’t seem fair. If given any wish in the world, I’d wish for the ability to wrap my arms around every single person I care about, around every single life that’s touched me, and keep them right here with me. But as far as selfishness goes, I don’t even come close. One of life’s biggest, suckiest, truths, is that we are never given a timeline. People come and go all the time — some relationships are short lived, some last far longer than they should, some stay for a good portion of our lives, while others cruise in and out faster than we could have anticipated. Some people come in into our lives for what feels like a moment, but we are forever changed by their presence, no matter how fleeting.

I believe our lives are inextricably bound by the people we meet.

If life lately has taught me anything, it’s that people will never stay long enough. And I’m not sure we will ever know why. It’s times like these I desperately wish life was as simple as a geometry text book where the answers were conveniently located in the back. Why do people come into our lives and leave before we are ready to let them go? All I know is that goodbyes are inevitable. And we can’t control how people leave or when — whether it be a death, a breakup, a misunderstanding, a move, or the slow and steady transition from one life to the next. But the inkling of solace that I’ve found is that we get to choose what pieces we cling to. I choose to remember with warmth in my heart the boy who told me to never stop writing. I choose to remember the 8th grade Algebra teacher who stayed with me after school every single day for extra help, and knew without ever saying, that I needed less extra help more than I needed someone to just be there. I choose to remember the stranger in front of me at the Dunkin Donuts drive thru who paid for my Monday morning coffee and turned my entire day around. I choose to remember my first kiss who showed up at my doorstep, years later, on my 19th birthday and left me a rose and a card just as a reminder. I choose to remember my closest friend in middle school who cried with me and helped me sort out the mess that was my life back then. I choose to remember the friendships I’ve made over the course of my lifetime, the people I’ve worked with, the acquaintances who’ve been passerby’s in my life. And I choose to remember all of these people, despite having to say goodbye.

Instead of mourning the losses, and in spite of the heartache that inevitably comes from death, and breakups, and goodbyes, and endings that come far too soon, I want you to remember this – you are forever changed by the connections you make. Regardless of length of stay in each other’s lives, we are all bound by the stories we tell, the lessons we learn, and the moments we share. Your life is a tapestry stitched together by the people you meet along this winding journey; you are who you are because of the people who’ve woven themselves into your life’s work of art. And I think that’s pretty incredible.

“You ever look at a picture of yourself, and see a stranger in the background? It makes you wonder how many strangers have pictures of you. How many moments of other peoples lives have we been in? Were we a part of someone’s life when their dream came true? Or were we there when their dreams died. Did we keep trying to get in? As if we were somehow destined to be there or did the shot take us by surprise. Just think, you could be a big part of someone else’s life, and not even know it.” -One Tree Hill

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Who Knew‘ by Pink