I’ve decided not to fall this year Not to leap forward into the unknown with an open soul as I have always done.
There’s this anger inside I’ve been shushing this fire inside I’ve been banking.
And Fall has come with her chill breezes her crisp apple snap expecting that I will rake the words she’s brought with her into piles on the page and play as I have always done.
But I’ve been watching the way the woods catch fire . . . Every leaf on every tree burning bright until there’s nothing left and they flutter away like so much ash.
Yet the tree is not dead.
I don’t want to die or become someone or something else.
I just . . . don’t want to think anymore. Or plan or rest or try or ponder or wish. I’m tired of insecurity and this pervading sense of uncertainty. I’m tired of hoping despite disappointment tired of working through it as I have always done.
Of everything and everyone especially myself. Nothing helps. I’ve tried it all. Except letting go. Which I have maybe never done.
So, this time I’ll take the words in burning hands no tidy piles no time for play I’ll take the fire from the tree and let it fly through me instead of watering it down I’m going to feed it these feelings And watch them burn Until it all flutters away like so much ash . . .
When I was trying to decide where to go next with the Lipstick Letters, I was torn between Memory, Perception, and Intuition. I was heavily leaning toward Memory for a long time, but even though I drafted several Memory posts in my head, none of them made it to paper.
Then, a few weeks ago, I went on a weekend alone to rest and sort it out. It was in that long, deep, lovely silence it became clear that my intuition had something to say.
I fought it. I was so sure it was going to say stuff like, “Get off your @$$ and handle your messy life.” But no. When I finally caved in, late afternoon on my first, full day alone, all I heard was, “Girl, you’re tired. Have a good sleep and we’ll talk in the morning.”
I slept from around four that afternoon until seven thirty, got up, had a snack, brushed my teeth and slept from eight until the next morning. And when I woke up, I could hear myself. I could hear myself so clearly it was impossible to deny how much I had pushed my intuition aside to survive wave after wave of grief in the midst of new motherhood.
I listened. And I learned.
My intuition is kind. Instead of being salty about being shoved down and ignored repeatedly for literal years, it was gracious and proud of me for slogging through, giving my kids everything I had to give, and making it to a place where I was strong enough again to go back and start working through that series of terrible losses.
Driving home, I promised to keep listening and act accordingly as much as possible over the following month. And I did!
I reached out when I felt like reaching out. I rested when I felt like I needed rest. And on days when my grief came knocking, I let it in and sat with it awhile instead of pretending I didn’t know it was there. I set a new boundary with my kids to ensure I get at least a couple of hours to cook or clean or lay down or fold laundry without interference each day.
I let my mind wander back through some choices I’d made over the past several years (another task I’d been avoiding) only to find that so much of what I’ve said, done, not said, and not done, was me in survival-mode. A mode I kept trying to get out of only to have another tragedy toss me back in.
Each whisper I tended to, I felt a little more of the weight of mistakes, the weight of difficult choices, the weight of loss, the weight of guilt, the weight of pressure to do and be more fall away. And even then, my intuition did not tell me to get out there and start rebuilding a new life out of the rubble of the unfinished one I’d semi-started here . . .
It told me to keep writing and sharing, to go get a hair cut, and to remove the gross, old wallpaper in the hallway. So. Yeah. Here we are. : )
I’m trying hard to avoid making these letters about advice. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenties and thirties, it’s just how much I don’t know.) But I have to say, if you’ve been shushing that inner voice out of fear of what it’ll say, then like me, you might be mistaking your thoughts for your intuition.
My thoughts can be anxious, angry, self-deprecating, and flat out cruel. My intuition is always loving, always tender, always gracious, and not just toward me, but toward everyone else as well. So much so, that nowadays when I’m confused about which is which, that’s my go-to way of telling them apart.
Bottom line? I’m beginning to trust myself and my inner knowing again. And it feels really really good.
My heart is still in pajamas. My grief hasn’t finished her morning coffee. My soul is not washed. Yet, my intuition is saying, “Now.” So here I am with my lipstick on.
I hadn’t planned to start with Intuition. It’s such a bold red. If I could have chosen any shade, I would have picked a much more muted, quiet color. A color that better reflects how I feel about myself and my life right now.
I had these letters all mapped out. I spent a year putting each lipstick word/color in order and planning the themes so I could show in each post how I came to this tidy piece of wisdom: Pain and loss are always the ultimate cost of loving and they are always worth it. Love is where all the good stuff is–the joy, the community, the laughter, the growth, the forgiveness, the strength.
But I never wrote any of it. And I should have recognized my intuition in that writer’s block.
Instead, I kept trying, kept seeking, kept shifting, and kept to myself. I started throwing out bags full of stuff we don’t want or need. I started cleaning out dark spaces inside and out. I started taking a knitting class with other women who say “fuck” a lot while they knit. I started making room for myself in my life again. And somewhere in the midst of it all–the things I was doing and not doing, I realized that maybe that tidy advice I thought was the end, is actually the beginning.
Now that I know the devastation of losing those I love, how do I knock down the walls that pain has led me to build between myself and others? How do I stay soft when hardening up dulls the hurt? How do I push through my fear and hold my hands out again knowing how it stings when they get slapped instead of held? It’s terrifying and anxiety producing to think about racing out into the world with my heart wide open and my soul on my sleeve. It’s one thing to have learned the lesson, it’s something else entirely to live it.
Yet I know that’s exactly what I have to do if I want more happiness, connection, fun, and satisfaction with my life and I do. I want those things so badly it aches. Maybe the Lipstick Letters are not meant to be about the what. Maybe they’re meant to be about the how.
With that trajectory in mind, I’ve thrown out the plans I had and maps I made. Actually doing this process instead of just thinking and writing about it scares me, but it’s also exciting and has me feeling the same thrill of inspiration I felt the first time I opened a box of fifteen lipsticks on Christmas morning back in 2020.
I’m missing something and my intuition is telling me it’s right on the other side of myself. So ready or not, here I go . . .
If you want to read previous Lipstick Letters, click here!
If you want to hear me read this one, click play below:
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.
I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning one year ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?
To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.
I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .
Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.
And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.
So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.
I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.
So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.
This happened six years ago today! And remains one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When the chips are well and truly down, that’s when you find out what you (and your dog) are capable of! Anyway, my mama was talking about this with my aunt the other day and asked if I’d written about it (which, of course, I had). So here it is, enjoy!
This past Sunday, I decided to go kayaking at Lucky Peak Reservoir and since no one wanted to go with me, my ever faithful Why?lee was conscripted into service as first mate. As always, I checked the weather on my phone several times prior to putting in and it was supposed to be 88 degrees with partial clouds, then a storm at 9pm. Others must have seen the same report I did, because there were lots of people still putting their (motor) boats in when I arrived. There were clouds, and it rained for a moment, but the sun was shining brightly and it looked to be a lovely afternoon.
Here is a photo taken right when we pulled up on a little beach about 200 yards or so from Turner Gulch:
But, as promising as things looked when I first arrived, the clouds behind me were darkening up fairly quickly and after only five minutes on the beach, I made the decision to pack up and paddle back before things got worse. I screwed the cap back on my coke, rolled up my chips and put them into the back hatch of my kayak. Then I turned to get my life-jacket (which I had been sitting on) and my dog (whom I had been sitting with). While my dog was still there, my life jacket had blown away. Not good.
I found it hung up in some sage brush and trekked after it only to turn around when I felt a strong gust of wind and see my kayak (which was half in the water, half out) blown completely out of the water and dropped onto the beach. Now, my little kayak is only about 10’6″ inches long but it still weighs in at a solid 45 lbs. Not good.
I took a moment to put the life jacket on and tighten the straps while thinking over my options. Obviously, the weather app on my phone LIED to me and the question became, do I make a break for the dock where I put in or do I try and wait it out? Had it been earlier in the day, had I not known it was going to be worse in another hour, and had I not really, really thought I could make it, I might have tried to wait it out. But as things stood, it seemed to me I had a good chance to make the boat ramps before things got out of hand, so I went for it.
I put in and paddled about ten yards off the shore before another gust of wind literally blew me all the way back to the beach. I gave it a moment, the wind died down and we struck out yet again. This time, I made it much further before another gust came through and spun the boat in a couple of 360’s all while continuing to push us back toward the shore we’d just left. I tried to stop the spinning using my paddle and the wind tried to rip it out of my hands. Water was coming in over the front of the boat, it started raining again, only this time the stinging your face kind of rain, and in the midst of that terrifying chaos I went into survival mode.
Everyone was trying to get off the water asap, yet another indicator to me that I was not the only one caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of gale-force winds. I no longer expected to be able to paddle all the way back to the dock, instead, my plan morphed into getting the attention of one of the motor boats passing me and hitch a ride for Why?lee and myself. I was confident that if we could just keep from tipping, and flag someone down, we’d be fine.
However, after three boats passed us by as I frantically waved my arms and paddle in the air while screaming “HELP!” my confidence in my plan began to slip. The wind wasn’t letting up, my kayak had three inches of water in the bottom just from waves breaking over the front and we were as far away from the shore we left as we were from the shore we needed. A wonderful calm came over me, I stopped feeling tired, cold and scared and resumed paddling for our lives.
I felt like a paper doll in a paper boat trying to paddle in a storm drain. I could feel my incredible, amazing, wonderful Why?lee (who was sitting between my knees, facing forward into the wind and completely unable to lay down due to lack of space) shifting his weight to prevent us from tipping. Every time a gust hit, he would lower his head over the bow of the kayak and brace himself. I am confident that had I had Orion with me instead of Why?lee, we would have been in the water, boat and paddle gone, swimming for our lives.
When I was nearly halfway there, I saw a boat coming back in my direction from the boat ramps and thought it was coming for me, but as he got closer, he wasn’t slowing down so I screamed “HELP!” and waved my arms. He cut the boat engine, lifted the hood of his poncho and looked around. When he saw me, I yelled, “Can you help me?” And he yelled back that he was going out to get the rest of his family, but promised he would come for us after he picked them up.
This was both wonderful and awful news, but it gave me hope and as he pulled away, I went right back to paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out, paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably closer to seven or eight minutes, I heard something behind me, and when I turned to look, the boat was back, now with three men and two women on board. One of the guys smiled at me and said, “Ready for a break?”
Sweeter words were never spoken.
They hauled me into their boat, which had pretty tall sides and no easy way in from the water, then they looked at Why?lee and said, “Um, we can just tow him and the boat the rest of the way.” I could appreciate their fear, Why?lee looks like a wolf and they didn’t know him, but no, no we can’t do that I thought, my dog is with me, he didn’t have a life jacket and I was no longer in the boat to hold him tight with my knees and make sure he didn’t fall out.
All of this ran through my mind in a matter of seconds as I grabbed one of the rope handles on the lip of the boat and leaned down, gripping his harness with only my right hand and hauling him into the boat by myself. Looking back, adrenaline is a powerful thing because I cannot imagine how I lifted all 85 or so pounds (more than half my own body weight) of dog roughly four feet with one arm while leaning over the side of a boat. But there you have it.
So Why?lee and I sat on the floor while our rescuers held the kayak on the side and we motored the rest of the way to the dock. I hopped out, they helped me haul Why?lee out and then set my kayak on the dock. I ran it up to the end, right where the pavement begins and just headed for my truck before remembering my keys were still in the kayak. When I turned to go get them, Why?lee just sat down and looked at me with his ears laid back and an “OH HELL NO” expression on his face. I laughed, a little hysterically, and drug him back to get the keys. I am fairly certain it will take an act of God to get him in a kayak ever again.
Here is a photo I snapped just before we got in the truck:
After taking a minute to chill out, I pulled down to the boat ramp and before I could even get out, my rescuers were loading up the kayak for me. Yet another blessing, as my arms were still trembling and generally useless. Once I had it tied down I started to head home but quickly pulled over, shaky and just not focused enough to feel safe driving. I got out, grabbed my coke and chips out of the boat, got back in and took this photo of the water we’d just been on (Note: Why?lee would not look at me for the photo, even though I offered him a honey BBQ Frito): Then I saw I had a text. It was from my dad and said, “Get home now. It’s too scary out.”
I text him back, “You have no idea . . .”
Why?lee wasn’t speaking to or looking at me all the way home. We were both in a bit of shock, I think. But once we were home safe, I made him a very special dinner which included an entire can of tuna fish. He earned it and I’m not above bribing my dog for his forgiveness. : )
I also included each one of my rescuers in my prayers because no one has to stop. No one has to do anything, but some people do and because they did, I never had to find out if I was strong enough to make that last hundred yards on my own.
The storm raged all night with gusting winds, lightning and thunder. And after my hot shower, I went to bed glad I had decided to go for it and wasn’t still huddled on the beach with Why?lee praying for the storm to pass.
When I woke up the next day, I was covered in bruises and felt like I’d drank a fifth of vodka by myself and been hit by a Mack truck. But I was also safe in my warm bed next to my also safe Why?lee bear, listening to my coffee make itself, and feeling pretty good about being alive.
So I suppose Lucky Peak Reservoir can still be considered lucky, indeed. : )
There’s so much of the past three years I want to write and I plan to write it all but where to begin?
It started with losing Tammy–a person who helped me become the woman I am, who always saw the best in me and let me know it. She was much too young, it was so unexpected, and before I could catch my breath, I was faced with the decision to put down my dog, Why?lee. Why?lee was seventeen at the time and we’d spent fifteen of those years together. It was brutal, but at his age, I knew it was coming. Three months later, my horse Tristan had to be put down suddenly. He was twenty eight and we’d spent eighteen of those years together. Despite his age, I was unprepared and completely wrecked.
Two months after that, I had a miscarriage, and in another two months I was pregnant with twins, our cars broke down at the same time, my pregnancy was a nightmare of violent illness every single day for seven months. I got so dehydrated from vomiting, I had to go to the ER for an IV.
Then we lost Kerry–one of the best humans I’ll ever meet. I wasn’t actually related to him, but he was soul-family to me and he will always be one of my highest role models. And then we lost Brent, a good man and a good friend, for devastating and unfathomable reasons I still can’t wrap my heart around.
The past three years I’ve felt like I’m always just one half-step away from a complete breakdown. It’s too much. Too much loss, too much sadness, too much worry. I am unimaginably grateful for my friends and my family, my amazing neighbors who just keep showing up even though I struggle to reciprocate, for this beautiful place where I get to watch my three, precious babies experience so much joy and wonder. Because it’s been some of the hardest living I’ve ever had to do.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I was not, in fact, a half step away from a complete breakdown. I fell right over that edge and did have a breakdown. A breakdown doesn’t necessarily mean a complete inability to function. For me it looked like a lot of cancelled plans, a lot of not responding, not sleeping, not brushing my teeth, not taking enough showers. I stopped trying to process my grief. I stopped making plans and trying to connect. I stopped reading. I stopped riding. I stopped everything. I’d forget my thyroid medication, forget to eat, forget to respond to texts. My whole life became one minute to the next, one foot in front of the other, one absolutely necessary task at a time.
And now I’m here, having drifted so far only to come right back to the same realization that I had in the midst of my cancer treatment–this is my life and time presses on whether I’m truly living it or not. I have lost so many but there are so many who are still here. I am still here. And for what? . . . if all I do with my time is shuffle one minute to the next? I need to write out this dark chapter so I can finally close it.
So I’m straightening my shoulders and picking up the reins (and my pen ; ), even though I haven’t quite decided where I’m going yet. I know I’m ready to leave here. I’ve turned a corner and whatever comes next, I’m meeting it head on . . . in clean clothes . . . with my teeth brushed . . . and my lipstick on.
when instead of the one baby you thought you were having, you find out you’re having two?
I can’t answer for you or anyone else, I’m sure the range of emotions is wide and deep on this one, but I can answer for myself because this is exactly what happened to my husband and I at our ultrasound appointment this past Thursday.
My first thought was that it explained a lot. Like why I’ve been showing so much more than I did with my first and why I’ve been so much sicker this time around. Then I sort of floated in some strange space where nothing matters until we got to the car. That’s when the tears started. I hadn’t planned on having three children. We were going to stop at two. One for each hand has always been what I thought I could handle best. How can I hold two newborns, feed two newborns, and still keep up with my sweet, wild Sunshine who will be about three when they arrive?
*A quick note for anyone who’s thinking I’m unhappy about twins; that simply isn’t true. These babies are mine and I already love them fiercely. This is not a story about wishing children away. This is a story about changing expectations, shifting realities, and how life has a funny way of keeping us on our toes.*
While still sobbing and imagining a terrible six months where I never left my house and my poor toddler was stuck inside being miserable with me, I went to Google on my phone and typed “twin baby gear” in the search field.
Now, this might shock you as much as it shocked me, but apparently people have been having twins/multiples for literally thousands of years and ummmm, they’ve actually already come up with some pretty great ways to cope with the additional workload. ; )
I mopped up my eyes, blew my nose into a napkin from the glove box, and started telling Carl about everything I was finding. Turns out, this is going to be really hard, but people do it all the time and we’re going to be just fine. Not to mention, the minute we broke the news to our families, offers of help in all forms and fashions came pouring in which has done wonders for a good portion of my anxiety.
That was a few days ago and the news has continued to sink in slowly but steadily. I can already feel them move and watching them move together on the ultrasound screen was absolutely surreal. I’m going to be a mother to three beautiful children and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. Part of which, means taking care of myself.
Like right now for instance, while the love of my life takes our sweet Sunshine to run errands at Lowe’s and the Co-op. The minute the door closed behind them, I flipped on my new diffuser, cut the elastic waistband out of my pajama pants, and mixed up and applied my clay mask. There’s going to be lots of time to plan, and worry, and read, and worry, for now I think I’ll go have a bath. : )