Saturday Thoughts

Most of last year, I thought I was watching myself figuratively die and be reborn as someone new. Turns out, I was actually just writing the end of one of the most beautiful and beloved chapters of my life so far. It was excruciating to go through, but I am relieved to find myself still me now that I’ve turned that last page.

I thought it was being surrounded by all that is deeply familiar that was such a relief out West, but now that I’m back, I see it was actually being surrounded by all that are deeply familiar with me that felt so good.

I go back there for courage and find it every time, but when I get back, I open my hands and it’s all slipped away. Is it even courage? I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually comfort . . .

What if? What if? What if? I’m always asking myself–losing battle after battle in my mind. But it’s not a war, it’s life, and there’s nothing to lose but people you don’t have either way.

Sitting with my best friend over wine and pasta filled every crack in my heart.

The stars are brighter here than anywhere I went this summer and the air is sweeter, too.

We’re home now and as the weather cools and the leaves begin to change, my mind is slowly shifting focus away from the water and toward the words.

As my soul commands each fall, I have purchased fresh pens and a few, empty notebooks so that whatever comes up through the dark and chilly seasons will have a place to go and a way to get there.

The Underworld

It might have been the incessant rain or the murder of crows gathering in the dead oak outside my window. It might have been the dying flowers in their pretty vase or even the candles—flickering their last at the ends of their wicks. Whatever it was, I found myself at the gate. Unlike Heaven, there’s no keeper. This gate is unlocked and you can come whenever you please, though it pleases no one to come here.

I tuck my heart close, lest I lose it, and set my shield down; having been here before, I know there will be no protecting myself from what I find. Next, I tuck my shoes and soul beneath it’s weight, comforted that they’ll have some shelter from the elements while I’m away. Whatever else you do, never bring your soul here—this is no place for the divine.

When all is as it should be, I step through and begin my descent. Down, down over eons of rot that squelch between my toes. Down, down through hallways of bones and teeth where I somehow know which belong to those I’ve loved. Down, down where moonlight can’t go. Down, down where the rain is full of salt and never stops. Down, down until the path levels out and turns to the broken dreams of the living. Only then do I know I have arrived in the Underworld.

It isn’t Hell, if such a place exists. Hell is for souls and there are no souls here. Just the end. The end of whoever it was you were in the middle of loving. The end of yourself as you were when they lived. The end of all you knew and all you didn’t. The end–where all that holds physical form loses it to water and worms.

Now that I’m here, I crinkle my brow the same way I do when I’ve just entered a room and already forgotten why. After all, I already gathered up the remains of my loves and left them here months ago. I stand at the exact place I stopped then and try to remember to no avail. Finally turning with a shrug to retrace my steps to the gate which leads right back to my life as I left it . . . it’s only then I realize my mistake.

I left the wrong way last time–returning to life as I left it—surrounded by empty spaces where love used to be. I let go of their bodies but held on tight to the emptiness they left behind. Turning back toward the dark unknown, I shudder. I want to go back to the gate: back to my shoes and my soul and my shield, back to familiar, if empty, spaces.

But I don’t.

I know I came for this—the sixth stage of grief. The one that comes after you find your way through your worst nightmares to acceptance. It took me a while. Acceptance cost me and I had to gather up fresh courage for this:

There’s new love, new adventure, new wisdom that await on the other side of all you go through when you grieve. More than enough to fill the empty spaces to overflowing. But if you want it, you can’t go back the way you know.

To reach the sixth stage is to set down your shield. It’s all heart. It’s running barefoot through the Underworld, soaked in the tears of everyone ever, in a darkness too deep for moonlight. It’s feeling the sickening squelch of eons of rot between your toes and pushing forward, knowing that if you keep going, you’ll love again and get hurt again . . . and again and again until your teeth and bones join the others here.

And it’s worth it.

Every time.

It’s worth it.

So I run. Heart wide open through all I’ve loved and lost before. I run barefoot through darkness as deep black as a crow’s feather with nothing but hope to guide me forward. Until I’m falling down, down into a deep, slow river. Cool, fresh water rinses the tears of everyone ever from my hair and washes the rot of eons from my feet. I close my eyes and float on my back, not warm or cold, not happy or sad, and not marking the moment moonlight creeps in–slowly turning blackest black into gray and gray into silver, until the sun rises–shifting silver into the pale gold of a new day.

Bucket List with a Twist

I’m tired of feeling sad. I’m also tired of waiting for the next boot to drop. If you’ve been reading awhile or know me personally, you know the past four years have been some of the hardest of my life. But what I’m noticing now is that a lot good things are happening to and around me and instead of feeling happy or excited I just feel afraid of what’s going to happen next to take it all away. To be fair, when a lot of extremely terrible things happen, these feelings make sense. But when nothing terrible is happening, these feelings become a choice.

A few months ago, I made the decision to stop and promptly failed a lot of times. My most recent effort, was writing out a bucket list of things that would make me feel good to do. But when I was finished and read it over, I didn’t feel good, I just felt tired and anxious. Thankfully, sometimes the first, second, twelfth, or even twentieth failure leads us into the next possibility. And the possibility born out of that, most recent, failure is . . . well, it’s working.

Instead of a list of things to do, I made a list of things I want to feel. I edited it until every word hit right and when I was finished, I had a feeling I was onto something.


My Bucket List with a Twist:

Silly
Awestruck
Proud
Satisfied
Helpful
Beautiful
Determined
Connected
Strong
Known
Loved
Intrepid
Happy
Rested
Content
Butterflies
Successful
The Good Kind of Tired
Optimistic
Fun

So much of life we have no control over. Things happen to us and feelings rise up that have to be felt. But just about every day there’s some point when we get to choose. We can say yes or no to being around certain people, we can say yes or no to doing that thing, eating that food, how much sleep we’re going to get, or what to do that day, and we know before we do it how it’s likely to make us feel. This bucket list is about those moments and consciously choosing people and things that make me feel good.

Right after I got my list written, I made a trip to one of the most important places (because it holds some of the most important people) in my life. And for the first time in a long time, I let myself completely enjoy and give over to each moment without a thought to the future, without getting hung up in the past, and without anxiety over whether or not I’d be accepted/acceptable, or how it could all go wrong. Instead, I focused on each opportunity to feel good, then took it, and savored it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the initial results are in and . . .

. . . yeah, I’m definitely on to something. : )

So, I’m going to keep heading down this path awhile and see what shakes out. Sometimes, I’ll do a full post, sometimes just pictures tagged with words from my list and #bucketlistwithatwist. If you want to make your own list and join me, I would love that! If not, that’s cool too. This one is really just about me shifting myself back toward the relentless optimist I’ve been most of my life. : )

This is SoCo.

Short for Southern Comfort because my identical cousin in Tennessee shipped him out to me 11 years ago and since then, he’s been a little part of my Southern home I get to keep with me wherever I go. He is the sweetest, most snuggly pony and has a heart that needs closeness.

When Tris (my horse of 18 years) passed away, I pulled back fast from any kind of connection—human, horse, or otherwise. And now, four years later, the love is still right where I left it, but I’ve got some big work to do on rebuilding our trust and partnership.

We’ve gone on a few, short rides but mostly, I’m focused in the round pen, on the lunge-line, and on taking naps together—communication and being a warm, happy, reliable presence in his life.

Picking up the pieces after painful losses can be almost as heartbreaking as the losses themselves. I’m still working through my guilt at how I all but deserted this precious pony when he’d just lost Tristan, too. And he’s clearly working through a fear of putting faith in me and being left in the cold again. It hurts but I can’t go back and change it. I can only start where we are now and go forward showing him I’ve grown, I’ve learned, and I’m back for good this time.

These naps and snuggles are some of my favorite moments and fill me with hope for where we’re heading. No matter what kind of relationship it is, love isn’t enough to sustain it, but love can sometimes hold you together while you work out the rest.

Moments in Motherhood: Art? Or a Mess?

So this happened today:

No, not the marker on her face. That happened yesterday. The hearts happened today.

My initial reaction was to be upset. There was paint on the floor, the wall, her . . . It was a mess! I took a breath, looked at her, and said, “Babe, we put a lot of paper in your desk for painting.” It was a toss-away line–something I said, hoping I sounded neutral, to buy myself time to think about what to do. Have her help me wash it off and explain that we don’t paint on the walls? Give her extra cleaning chores as discipline? Take her paints away for awhile? . . .

We’d never made a specific rule about not painting on your walls, although by the look on her face when I entered the room, she was expecting a negative reaction. When I mentioned all that paper we’d bought for her in a calm and normal voice, her relief was evident. She went from tense to relieved to excited in the span of a second. Jumping up from her desk she went to the wall and said, “I really love my hearts mom!”

I replied, “They’re beautiful, baby, but we should get them washed off before they dry.”

“NO! Pleeeeeeaaaaaaaasee? They’re beautiful and I want to keep them!” she didn’t say it with attitude, just genuinely begging to keep her work. She’s always liked to have her room her own way. I’ll hang something up and she’ll move it or put it in her toy box and replace it with something else. And she’s always loved any form of art, but especially art that involves lots of bright colors.

When she was three and Carl had to go back to work after the boys were born, she painted the bathtub in all blacks and browns. And when she was four and Orion was on his last day, she drew him pictures of them together to thank him for being such a good dog. Now that she’s in school, she comes home almost every day with a new, colorful picture that says “I love you Mom” on it.

Out of nowhere, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery came into my mind and I thought of “Drawing Number One” and “Drawing Number Two” (if you haven’t read it, please do, it’s beautiful.) . . .

And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I decided to let her keep it.

Of course I want my girl to grow up respectful. I also want her to grow up with seeds of joy in her heart that she knows how to tend. I want her to know how to make her own moments of sweet, happy freedom and you can really only get that feeling from things like roller skating in the kitchen, having a mud-fight, jumping in puddles, or painting on the walls. And it only works if you don’t have to feel mountains of guilt afterward.

I did have her help me clean the paint off the floor and explain that if she wants to do more painting, we’ll wash off the hearts first and put any new artwork in the same spot. She agreed and then, so happily and so proudly, told me more about her hearts and how much she loves her room and paint and the color pink . . . and somehow, those hearts don’t look like a mess at all to me now.


An Armful–The Contents of the Closet

Written December 29th . . .

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” -Edgar Allan Poe

If you’re wondering where we’re going, no words of my own could say it more accurately and succinctly than Edgar Allan Poe already did. Grief is strange and we do strange things when we’re in it’s grip. For instance, right now I’m sitting on the floor in front of the closet (not inside because I discovered mouse poop once I started pulling things out so a thorough bleaching is going to be necessary before I do any sitting in there) and I’m holding a literal armful of horse hair.

Let me write that again. I am holding a LITERAL ARMFUL of HORSE HAIR.

But before I get in to that, let me lay out a few of the things I did to prepare for this moment. Again, it all seems a little insane when type it out, but all I can tell you is that I promised myself I would listen to my intuition as I went through this process. This is what I felt like I needed to do and for the first time in years, instead of doubting or questioning, I just did it.

  1. I brought coffee and water-coffee is soothing for me, especially in the morning and water for hydration because I figured I’d be doing a lot of crying (I was not wrong.)
  2. I put on my husband’s shirt–it feels strangely like armor. He couldn’t come with me for this, I needed to do it alone, but his shirt is a comfort.
  3. I brought a clean notebook and pen to jot thoughts for more in-depth writing later.
  4. And finally, I brought a pair of shoes, not to wear, just to remind me that if it gets to be too much, I can and should get up and walk away for a bit.

There are so many reasons I’ve put this off and I’d planned to come down here this morning and start small, approach the half-asleep beast of my grief nice and easy . . . but instead, I opened the door and looked at all this horse hair and there he was in my mind, thrashing out his last moments, eyes rolling, and obviously in great pain. It’s my worst memory. I have avoided it so consistently and successfully since it happened because I knew just how awful it would be to go back in my mind.

I loved him so much. I’ll never be able to write how much I loved him. And all of our life together he gave me absolutely everything a horse can give.

Yet the one thing I wanted to give him so badly in the end–a quick and painless death, I couldn’t. And it guts me still.

Instead, I watched and spoke soothingly in his ear the same way I did when a train passed too close or that pack of four rottweilers ran up on us, or when bicyclists went by “Easy, easy boy, easy.” and I didn’t cry because I didn’t want my sobbing to be the last he heard of my voice. When he was gone, I stayed with him until his body started to feel cool under my cheek. And then, I apparently cut off almost all of his tail hair like a complete lunatic.

It was the same with the tufts of Why?lee’s undercoat I kept, which are also now in my lap. I can’t think of a single, normal reason to have kept all this, but I remember the horrible feeling as I watched him breathe his last three breaths. I counted them while they euthanized him. Three breaths and he was gone.

Sitting here now, with all of it in my hands, I first thought, Why did I do this? What was my plan? But I know I had no plan. There was no thought to the future at all, just an overwhelming desperation to keep them with me: any way I could.

And one thing that has become clear this morning, is that keeping this hair has done nothing at all to make me feel closer to my lost loves. It’s all become an ugly weight in the center of my home–representative only of the guilt, pain, and fear I felt in their last moments.

Written January 13th . . .

As often as I can, I get up very early and spend time just letting myself remember, letting myself cry, writing my thoughts, etc, and I’ve come to a few conclusions over the past two weeks:

  1. The initial pain was possibly even worse than I imagined it would be, but even that first day, after I pulled myself up off the floor and had a long, hot shower, the relief I felt at having finally opened that closet and acknowledged its contents was undeniable and immense.
  2. I can now say with confidence that I do not want to keep these mementos of their deaths–neither the armful of hair/fur nor the plaster paw print of Why?lee’s I got just after he passed. But I can’t throw them in the garbage either. They need to be laid to rest properly, I’m just not sure what that means yet.
  3. I frequently feel crazy as I move through these intense thoughts, memories, and feelings. Yet, every time I allow myself to do what I feel like I need to do, the relief is instant. My body and my heart know just what they need, it’s my mind that resists and denies.
  4. The longer I hold on to what was, the longer I go without opening my heart to what is and there’s so much here before me to fall in love with.

Written this afternoon . . .

SoCo and I took all the fur and hair and the plaster paw print to the woods this afternoon. It was very cold and snowy and I like to think that maybe a bunny or a bird will find the dog fur and tail hair useful for a cozy nest. I thought it would be incredibly hard to let it go and walk away but when we found just the right spot, I didn’t hesitate. Turns out, before I rode into the woods today, I’d already let it go and walked away–the power these things have held for the past, nearly four years is just . . . gone.

And now, well, I don’t know what now, but I’m ready to find out. : )

Farewell, Kismet–A Tribute to my Dying Laptop

When you first came to me, I had such lofty goals and I was so excited to begin. How quickly all my poorly laid plans went awry! But you’ve stuck with me as I stumbled through so many failures and into several successes figuring out more about myself and this writing thing. How many late nights and early mornings have we spent tackling a new idea, capturing a fleeting feeling, or wandering through my words until we’re good and lost or sometimes found?

Over the past seven years, my misty droplet dreams have coalesced into something of substance. Together, we’ve taken the wisdom that Abigail and I slogged through wrong turns on dark and unhappy trails to earn, and used it to light our way onto a path that feels right and good.

But you’ve grown tired, Kismet, and I can see that you’re ready to rest now. I just couldn’t let you go without expressing my gratitude. Without you, I would never have written my way into my purpose and greatest dreams for my life. Thank you, old friend, you will be missed, but your service is not in vain. I will carry forward from where we are leaving off–the acknowledgement and acceptance of my mostly lovely fate, to the work of actually living it.

Farewell, Kismet.

At the Top of These Stairs

I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.

Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .

But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.

Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Only Mostly Dead

IMG_0453This morning after the babies were fed and the horses and the dogs, I went outside to water my Mother’s Day plants from last year. It is no secret that I am the worst with plants. You’d think with how much I love my children and animals, I would be able to figure out how to to nurture a plant, but I’ve proven time and again over the years that I simply can’t. In fact, this is one of the first two plants that have remained in my care for a full year and survived. I use the term “survived” somewhat loosely here in the sense that mostly they both died. But as we all know from watching The Princess Bride, there’s a big difference between “all dead” and “mostly dead.”

In any case, they are still trying and so I am still trying and as I poured water over them this morning, it crossed my mind that these plants remind me of, well, me right now.

When they were given to me, they were absolutely lush. One was brimming over with beautiful, purple petunias and the other had the most beautiful hot pink and bright yellow flowers flowing over the sides. I remember when we first moved here, I felt just like that. Sad to have left my family and friends and a fantastic job in Idaho, but also full of hope for the future and joy at finally starting a life with my family in our own home.

But over the past two and some years, we lost our beautiful friend Tammy, I lost my dog of fifteen years–Why?lee and then my horse of seventeen years–Tristan.  Then I had a miscarriage, and almost immediately after, found myself pregnant with surprise twins.  And now we are losing Kerry–a man I love so much, who has had an immense influence on who I am and someone I can’t imagine the west without.

For any of you who have been in the ocean on a rough day, it’s like when a wave rips your feet out from under you, rolls you up like a burrito and smashes your face in the sand. I can hardly catch my breath before the next wave hits and I’m exhausted and I’m sad.

Yet, here I am trying, much like these plants. And what occurred to me this morning that inspired me to write, is that with just a bit of water and sun, a bit of care on stormy days, these plants will continue to hang on until I can get the formula right for them to thrive. I’ve been doing the same, just along with a bit of sun and water, I’ve been soaking up the love and care (and daiquiris) of a good man, my precious children, the humor and love of my friends, the unending support of my family, quiet cups of coffee when I can, our horses, dogs, and cat, the incredible generosity and kindness of our neighbors, and the stunningly beautiful land we call home.

All of these things have kept me fed while I grieve and start piecing together someone new out of what’s left of my life from before and all the beautiful pieces that have been falling into place along the way. I am not one to talk much when I’m in the middle of things. I prefer to write my way through the the good, bad, and ugly, but if you’re reading this, odds are high that you’ve been counted among my blessings these past few years and I thank you for your presence in my life.

And if you yourself are feeling mostly dead like my plants, or like you’re a burrito being rolled up by a rough sea, just one mouthful of sand away from more than you can take;

hang in there.

One breath at a time, one foot in front of the other, eyes peeled and heart open for the water and sun we need to keep going, before we know it, we’ll be on our way to thriving again.
IMG_0465

 

Awkward Girl: My Favorite Untold Story

Hello friends.  I’ve been feeling anxious, exhausted, and generally overwhelmed by life lately and I know I’m not the only one.  So I’m setting down my worries for a moment to tell you all an Awkward Girl story I have never told before.

It was 2014, Awkward Girl had a pretty great job working for a hospital as a lead over the departments specializing in financial care for patients who couldn’t afford their bills.  It was work she was passionate about, but she had a few frustrations with the way things were going.

One night, she was looking up contact information for a particular county’s Director of Indigent Services only to find that the person who had been in that role a decade or so had recently retired and the position was OPEN.

Awkward Girl wrestled with this information for the rest of the evening.  She was only a lead and had never even held the title of supervisor so it seemed unlikely that anyone would consider her qualified to be a director of anything, much less the largest indigent services department in the state.  That said, she read the list of qualifications over and over again and there were only a couple things she wasn’t already familiar with, nothing she felt she couldn’t learn.

The next morning she mentioned it casually to her mom who immediately said, “You have to apply.  If you don’t get it, who cares, but if you DO get it . . . just think about that.”  Her cousin, already a director in the company she was working for, said much the same, “DO IT.” Her uncle, her husband, her dad, everyone was in agreement.  So Awkward Girl straightened her shoulders and got to work on her application.

She was stunned when she got the call to schedule an interview.  Stunned and suddenly terrified.  Whatever bold thoughts had lead her to click submit deserted her entirely and she felt very much like a small dog who thought she wanted to run with the big dogs but should have probably stayed on the porch.  She had no idea how to act or what to say in a director level interview and, most importantly to this tale, she had no idea what to wear.

With less than a week to prepare, she and her mother went out the next day to shop for something that said, “No, really, I know what my application says, but I can do this!”  The previous director had always worn suits so that’s where they started.

Two jackets, twenty button downs, and one pencil skirt later, they found “The One.”  It was light, it was summery, it was almost comfortable and they found an amazing, twist-front, white shirt with a crisp collar that made Awkward Girl feel like her awkward melted away as she tucked it in.

A few days later it was show time.  Awkward Girl had been practicing, rereading statutes, and generally driving herself crazy, but when she woke up that morning she was calm.  Her husband took her shirt and pants to iron them (yes, Awkward Girl’s husband does the ironing . . . she’s not just awkward, she’s also slightly lacking in most domestic skills!) and when he came back, there had been a terrible mistake.

The suit slacks were cotton, the shirt was not and where her once beautiful, crisp, white shirtsleeves had been, were two, brown, perfectly flat, melted together disasters.  There was no salvaging “The One,” so she put on the “The Other One” a blue button down she’d also grabbed hoping she’d need it one day soon . . .

But looking in the mirror, her confidence was shot.  The blue just didn’t have the same affect.  So . . . she went back to the white shirt . . . stared at it a moment . . . really, it was just the sleeves that were ruined . . . would they even show with her jacket on?

She carefully, gently, and with great precision, ripped the sleeves off, put the shirt back on, pulled her jacket on over it, and with a deep breath went to the mirror.  Perfection!  Well . . . at least it looked that way.

Instead of practicing interview questions on the way to her interview that day, she practiced what she would say if anyone offered to take her jacket, or if it was hot and someone recommended she remove it, which thankfully no one did.

She was all business on the outside (I mean, look at those eyes, they practically scream, “HIRE ME!  ALSO, I DID NOT RIP THE SLEEVES OFF OF MY FANCY SHIRT!”:
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But underneath, she looked more “Hey ya’ll, pick me! I’m real good at directing things!”
larry-cable-guy-main(Photo: Steve Snowden/Getty Images)

Two interviews later, Awkward Girl was offered and accepted that position!  Which turned into the best job she’d ever had.  The moral of the story?  You don’t need every single qualification in a job posting (Heck, you don’t necessarily even need a whole shirt!)! If you’re willing to work hard and learn, you should always throw your hat in the ring.

Until next time, embrace your awkward, my friends!  : )