Over the last couple of weeks I've had a lot of thoughts in my head. I've had a lot of things I wanted to say. I've had so many things that have made my hands squeeze into fists and words that have come close to being screamed but not one have I said, not one thing have I allowed my fists to unleash their fury. Instead I've sat on all these things, let them marinate and dissected them because that's what I do. I go over and over them within to figure out the root of the problem. 2017 went by in a blur. I did some things I guess. I had some laughs, sure. I shed some tears and I sat disillusioned by my own self but it wasn't a bad year. And as my fists left nail prints in my palms, I sat and thought about my year. My life just went on. Life always goes on even in fists that don't fly anywhere. I guess the biggest thing I felt was defeated. I've felt defeated but those are words I can't really share. These are feelings I don't know how to express unless I'm speaking to paper, an inanimate object that won't retort that I'm being silly. Look at my life and their right. I've got a pretty good damn life but it's hard fighting the same demons over and over again. It's frustrating to win and lose so often in this life of mine. I am fine until I'm not. I'm not until I am. There's no right answer and no wrong done. I just get lost standing completely still sometimes. I work too hard, worry too much, and sometimes annoy myself at all the breath I've let get away. I wish just as much as you to simply sit down. I wish just as much anyone that I didn't feel like this, all this wasn't on my shoulders. If I take a step to the right, what then happens to you? If I slide to the left, what will be the thing to unravel? And if I don't move at all, what does that say about me?
I pick at my nails. I don't bite them. I pick at them. I bit them for years when I was a kid. I don't think I really stopped until I hit my mid twenties. Something just clicked one day at how gross it was to stick my fingers in my mouth constantly. It was like when I stopped sucking my thumb. People told me all the time that it was nasty. They told me all about the germs that I was putting into my system, that I would get buck teeth, that it made me look dumb. I didn't give two birds what they said. All I knew was that it comforted me. It took my mind off whatever anxiety was ailing me at that time. And one day I just stopped. I just stopped sucking my thumb. One day I just stopped biting my nails. It wasn't anything that someone said to me or the looks of horror that people would throw at me. I just stopped. Something in my brain clicked and I tossed those habits away like they were nothing, like they hadn't helped me throughout the years. So why do I tear up my beautiful cuticles as my husband likes to say? It's the same reason my hands form into fists. It's the same reason I poke at my face. It's always been the same reason. I get aggravated, frustrated that I can't break out of my own shell. Behind all these angst filled words, there is a happy little girl inside of me but I hide her behind these torn up cuticles because I guess a part of me doesn't share that part of me with anyone. I become terrified at the thought that the concern I have for her won't be shown by anyone else. So I overcompensate and work too much and care too hard and get my feelings hurt way too often by things people don't even know that they are doing because I can't make myself take a stand. I get so frustrated that I can't just be who I know I am without so much weight on my shoulders. I thought that 2017 was going to be the year that I learned how to shake off all this extra weight, I did. I had high hopes that this was going to be the year that I would figure out the formula and just stop doing all these things that hurt me but it was just another year of excuses. It was just another year of me getting caught up in expectations that I stubbornly put on myself.
So, as I sit here on a the 5th day of January, the birthday of my long gone father, listening to Paul Simon after working most the day, knowing all the emotions that have been building for the last few weeks, I think about what I do want this coming year to be. There are some hard truths about myself that I acknowledge, mostly accept, and know that I can improve. I know there are bad habits like picking at my nails that I should just stop. At some point I have to realize how inconsequential parts of my life are, how much meaning I give to the things that really mean anything at all. It is in those meaningless things that cause my greatest anxieties. I should know better at this point in my life. Today I've thought about my father. He would have been 65. I would have called him at some point and I would have wished him a happy birthday. He would've told me a horrible, corny joke and made some morbid comment about getting closer to death because that was just him. He's gone now and all I could do was close my eyes this morning and hope he heard me whisper happy birthday as I got ready to go to work. I thought about him today and how he dreamed. I remember all his grand schemes he would plan to make his life better, him better. I remembered how frustrated he would be when life got in his way and I laughed to myself in that morbid way I do sometimes. I am my father's daughter. I continue to chase these dreams, my grand schemes, and life just seems to keep getting in my way.
I get why I've been so frustrated the last few weeks. It's not the bills or the job or the fact that my daughter can't seem to put a plate in the sink. It's not the hours I work or the fact that when I'm not working I feel exhausted. It's not the laundry basket that's been sitting there for two days without being folded and put away. Sure, these things are annoying. I wish I could snap my fingers and instantly have a clean house and a comfortable amount of money in my bank account. I wish I could say the things I needed to say when I needed to say them to the people I wish would hear them. I would love to just be able to relax without feeling guilty over it or feel like I have to do five extra things to earn that moment. I wish sometimes someone would just understand me but I've been on this planet long enough to get it. I'm too strong for my own good and too proud to show you anything else. Over the last few weeks I guess I've let the fact that I'm not altogether where I want to be bother me. I feel as if I've lost some of momentum, my drive. I feel disappointed in myself and that's a hard pill to swallow. People disappoint me all the time. I feel as if that is just a part of life, part of being a human. We put the expectations of ourselves on other people and they'll never live up to our hype. We set ourselves up for that kind of disappoint and maybe that's just a rotten way to look at the world. I don't know. What I do know is that I can do better than what I am doing right now but I feel stuck. I feel stuck and I can't quite figure out how to shake it off. So, I think about my father. I think about all the times he started, all the times he failed. I don't want to keep failing. So, maybe 2017 wasn't what I wanted it to be. I somehow lost my inertia somewhere along the way. I didn't necessarily fail but I can't say I'm as far along as I'd like to be. I've marinated long enough. It's time to start again. Just start again.
I woke up this morning and stared at my closet for a few minutes. It's always a battle trying to figure out what to wear. And believe you me I'm not one of those people that stresses about what to wear because I'm concerned about what people might think of me. Ask my kid. She rolls her eyes at just about everything I wear (probably because everything I wear contains a hole or two). My usual daily attire is my work shirt and a pair of jeans so when I have the day off sometimes I just get lost in these options that hang in front of me. My eyes fell on an old flannel. It was my father's, the only piece of clothing that I kept. I don't remember him ever wearing it. I have no actual sentimental memory of sitting with him while he was sporting it. It was just one of those things that when we were cleaning out his closet I gravitated towards. Over the last few days he's been on my mind a lot. Was it because Thanksgiving, our third Thanksgiving without him just came and went? Perhaps but he's never too far away from me if I'm being honest. I grabbed this blue flannel and out of habit smelled it, just to see if his scent was still there. I've worn it a few times over these last three years. There he was, faint now but I could still smell him if I closed my eyes. As I sit here and write these words, the one thing he always encouraged me to do, I wear his old shirt and I laugh at myself at how sentimental that old man has made me in his death. I finished getting dressed, kissed my naughty kitties goodbye, and head towards the coffee shop to write the next great big thing. The first song that comes on my Spotify mix? That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine by Simon and Garfunkel. I looked down at my radio and smiled as I felt my eyes water, knowing that for whatever reason he felt how much I have missed him and how sometimes on certain days his loss still sits heavy on my heart.
A friend and I got stuck in a conversation last night that sort of triggered this blog. She also lost her father and we could empathize with each other about how that loss feels. It gets easier and it doesn't at the same time. I am fine and then somebody will mention the Cubs and then my heart hurts a bit. I am fine and then its Thanksgiving and I remember all the dumb jokes he would tell and my heart hurts a bit more. I am fine and then I see a man who looks like him and my mind gets tossed in this confusion, knowing that's not him but wanting it to be him so badly. It gets easier to live my life every day, to live one day at a time. It gets easier to remind myself how lucky I was to have him as long as I did and to hold onto the memory of him calling me Red, of him falling asleep in the middle of our conversation. It gets easier but I still don't know how to rectify the fact that I can't just pick up the phone and call him. In the conversation the other night what became clear to me was that everything wonderful he ever was, everything wonderful her father ever was is carried on through us. So, I can wear this flannel and feel his blood run through these veins and look at my reflection and see him any time I want. I cannot physically hug him. I cannot punch him on the shoulder when he makes an inappropriate comment. I cannot sit in front of him and torture him with the things I would say on purpose just to make his blood boil ever again... but I will carry his memory with me. I will tell my grandchildren and, if I'm lucky enough, my great grandchildren about the flawed, beautiful man that was my father.
Sometimes it's easy to doubt the people we are. It's easy to look at our parents and say, "Well, it's all your fault that I'm messed up so bad." And perhaps for a time I said those exact words because in my youth I was incapable of taking responsibility of my own wrongs. Then life happens. Then you see your father laying in a hospital, struggling to hold onto any sort of life, and something beautiful happens in that moment. Were my struggles my parents fault? No. Most were on me and a few just were what they were. We have a choice when we become adults to become who we want to be, to behave the way want to behave, to bloom into something lovely or to fall into misery. When that song played this morning, this song that always makes me cry, I thought about those last moments that I saw him, knowing he wasn't really there anymore. In those moments, I forgave my father and my mother even though she was standing right there next to me. I forgave him for all the times he didn't know how to help me. I forgave him for all the times he pushed me too hard. I apologized for all the things I couldn't do for him, for me when he needed me the most. I apologized for not seeing in me what he always knew was there. And I thanked him for being the best father he knew how to be. It wasn't until he was gone that I started to understand him as a person. It wasn't until he was gone that I truly appreciated how much love he had for all of us. Every time I make a right decision now, I think of him. I ask myself would this make him proud? And then I laugh at myself because how happy would he have been if I had behaved this way when he was still here? I guess I understand finally what him and my mother were always trying to teach me. I don't think they ever really cared if we had amazing jobs or high class spouses or perfect children. I think all they ever wanted for any of us was to be happy whatever that happiness was. They just wanted us to be kind, be grateful, to show compassion to the world around us even when we didn't get it in return. So, I'll wear his flannel and I'll keep singing along to his music and I'll always be someone we can both be proud of. Because for 35 years that was the only lesson he ever really wanted us to learn.
Thanks, Dad. I finally heard you.
I have found sometimes the wisest things to do in this life is to keep your mouth shut and just observe what goes on around you. Say not a word and just watch human behavior. You would think at some point in our lives we would stop being surprised by a lot of it but every day I seem to find something to shake my head at. Am I just an old fuddy-duddy? Have I lost my sense of humor? But, no, because I get that most of this life is just ranch, not that big of a deal. It's more the way people treat one another that still makes my jaw drop. I've always had this weird battle between the difference between self preservation and self serving. Do I do this one thing that is going to help me out but screw someone else without them even knowing? Or do I do what is best for them and figure my stuff out on my own? Working in a restaurant where its just not about you, I face these kind of moral dilemmas all the time. And unfortunately in my life even if my intentions are in the right place, the person's next to me are not. At the end of the day however I can't control what someone else does. I can make the best choices to the best of my ability and cross my fingers that you will do the same. It's tough though, figuring out how to please everyone. Reality is you won't. There will always be someone who isn't quite happy with the results and sometimes you just got to chalk it up to a learning experience as a wise man once told me.
You would like to think that everyone has the best intentions for the people around them. And honestly I am more pleasantly surprised than not. I will admit though that there are days when I come home baffled by how I had been treated that day. I mean I've said this before. Waiting tables does not save the whales. It doesn't earn a great amount of respect from society in general which is bonkers. I would love to see those ladies in their power business suits and perfectly quaffed hair get up and handle ten tables at once but I digress... So many times I am deemed less than because my job is viewed as undesirable. Cool. I can't change someone's mind who isn't willing to be open to what I have to say so I can shake them off for the most part but am I not still human? It's that which bewilders me. Regardless of our jobs or color or sex or even blood type, we are still humans. The lights in my parking lot are out right now. When I get home at night, late at night, the parking lot is pitch black outside. My husband today went and put in a complaint with the leasing office. He said he was concerned since I had to walk through the dark parking lot to our front door. The lady brushed him off (as she usually does) and that was that. Wasn't there any humanity in her that felt an ounce of concern? And that perplexes me. You would think as one woman to another that she would have some urgency to addressing this problem but quite honestly I don't see a resolution any time soon. Good thing I wear running shoes to work, right? But I bet it would be a different story if she had to walk through that parking lot...
Sometimes doing the right thing is harder. You don't always get the benefit at the end of the day of that choice that you made. Sometimes that's fine because it all works out the way it is supposed to. But it sucks when you get duped by it, too. You go into these decisions thinking that you are doing what is best for everyone but at the end of it you realize it was really only best for one person... and that sucks to be blunt. So what do you do? Again you can't control the actions of the people around you even the ones you like. You have choices though. You can never do the right thing again for anyone just to make sure that you don't get the short end of the stick. You can always do the right thing, always being the one that ends up at the back of the line. Or you can choose to figure out a compromise that works for everyone (if possible) but drawing a line if that bottom line means you are the only one sacrificing. I remember when I first started working where I am years ago, a guy said to me that he wanted to be there the day I lost my shit. I gave him a look and asked him why? He laughed and said that I couldn't possibly be as nice as I am and one day somebody was going to push me too far and find out. Well, since that day, I am happy to say that I have found a happy balance of when to stand up for myself and when to shrug off the ranch. We learn which battles are important to fight and which ones are not. So, yeah, I spend a lot of my day just watching what goes on around me, choosing wisely at which moment I should start throwing fists. We are just human, flawed and beautiful humans. I just think we can do better. We can be better. We've already come a long way.
I was having a conversation the other day with a dear friend when it occurred to me that perhaps our priorities change like our taste buds. Every seven years our focus shifts. The things that once seemed like such a big deal no longer hold the same kind of power. Then later on or a day later (time meshes together these days) we started talking about how we're still piecing together our paths. I had a realization this week because I often reflect on the steps that have brought me to this seat and the steps I want to take to keep pushing me forward. I recalled a blog I wrote about this life is really in its mostly simple form just ranch. I started to analyze all these things that seemed to get me upset, that got me riled up, that made me clench my jaw and squeeze these aging hands into fists. And I started to laugh. Because why do these trivial things irritate me so? There's always a bigger picture but what I understood that the focus of my bigger picture changed hues. I realized that it wasn't that a million people ask me for ranch they don't need a day. It was the way these people went about asking for that ranch. I realized that the drive I once had to be the best *insert whatever here* had very little to do with anyone else. It has always been this game to prove that I was better than I was until recently. I wanted to look in that mirror and know that whatever I did whether it was waiting tables or writing a poem or drawing a picture or being someone's friend, wife, mother that I was the absolute best at it. It was these small trivial annoyances that I thought I had to fight to become not just everyone else's best but mine as well. The bigger picture cares very little about how many orders I mess up. My bigger picture could care less if that table leaves me fifteen or twenty percent or even a hundred percent because it's just money, not my true talent. It pays my bills and those paid bills take care of my family and, for them, I do my best because that's the kind of person I want to be. I don't go out of my way for my tables or for my readers even to get a better tip or reaction. I treat people how I would want to be treated even if I get treated like gum on the bottom of their shoe. Sometimes you have to let go of what you want to get back. I do everything because my actions dictate what kind of person I am, not how quickly I turn a table.
Working in this service industry that I do there are many things about myself I have learned. And there are many small stupid things that I allow myself to get wrapped up in. I've worked in a lot of different fields and most of them feel like we get stuck in this high school mentality. Maybe that's just life. Maybe that's how we learned to find a common ground with the people around us. We point out each other's weaknesses to cover our own up. We allow ourselves to get swept up in this rage because a complete stranger thought they could determine our worth. You know what? It's stupid. I know. That's not the most eloquent way to put it but it's just that. These dumb ideas that we wrap us like a blanket are just stupid because really our bigger picture has no place for them. There are dumb things at work I let myself fall into a rabbit hole too often. Someone's not getting ice. Someone's not bringing up cups. Someone's on their phone when there are dirty tables to clean. I've tried so much in my life to be everything because I thought if I was then people couldn't live without me. So, these little things became a swarm of bees that I could never quite shake. If the place was falling apart, then it was my fault and that's just stupid. That kind of mentality has been a part of my life for much too long. There are things about this life that are all on you. Those things you have to take responsibility for. For instance, my kid's upbringing. Yeah, that's on me. What kind of beginning I gave her is on me. So, when she's an adult and she doesn't have a firm landing field, that's on me for not putting those bricks down as sturdy as I should have. But a thing like a job that I work at with many others? It's foolish to give myself that much credit. And you know what? It doesn't matter. Not because I don't care about what I do but because after many years of my own self planted self doubt I get putting all my eggs in a basket that will wear itself out is silly.
I know this blog is sounding like I just don't care anymore. Reality is I care as much as I ever did, too much, but the difference is I understand that my taste buds have changed. Listen my goal in life has never been to be the best Server in the world. I've never wanted to be the most famous Author or Artist. I've only ever just wanted to be the best I can be. I understand as a grown adult that my best doesn't always mean that I am the greater than in a lot of equations. When I struggled with this concept that I was less then, that's when I would find myself getting stuck in these ditches that would only amplify my already shaky ego. I would start to believe that someone else's faults were because of something I did. I trained that guy so if he sucks that means I suck. Simply that is not the case. It's just stupid to put someone else's hangs up on you. You can only control your actions. I can't fight a battle I have no right to be a part of but I can offer you a hand to help you move past yours. I don't have to take a bullet for every wrong thing that happens in this life anymore. When I was talking to my very dear friend, we laughed about this shift in ourselves. There was a point where we know that we tried too hard. There was a point when we realized that a lot of that hard work would never go noticed while someone else's lack of work would be what is praised. It's a stupid part of life that somehow we all have to learn to live above. We may not like it but I can't control the choices someone else makes. We looked at each other and agreed that these little irritates that once drove us crazy were no longer allowed to make us feel so enraged. Our bigger picture looked out on a much prettier horizon and that's what we would remember when we have to put three buckets of ice in that machine. We do our best. We let go of all that other stupid. And in seven years, we'll look back at our time and laugh about all this. It's still just ranch.
I saw this picture the other day of a 16 year old girl sitting on top of a Corvette. The picture looked like it was taken back in the '50s. The caption read "My mom was way cooler than I ever was." It made me smile. Then, of course, it sent my mind wandering on how much cooler my own mother probably was back in the day. You go through the pictures of your parents when you're a kid. You hear your grandparents joke back and forth with each other about the good ole days, how they met, what they used to do but as a kid? As a kid you didn't really listen to them. All you can understand in that moment that the only job your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents if you were lucky enough to know them had was all about you. To you when you're young, that's all your tiny mind will let you accept about them. Then you get older. You grow up. Maybe you meet someone and you start your own family. Or you don't and you live a life with only yourself. You start to understand that your parents are actual people but they are the people you see in front of you... not that cool 16 year old sitting on a Corvette in a bikini. You still see your father as that big, strong man that protected you. You still just see your mother as the one that kissed your boo-boos away, that will always be there to help you how to figure out how to make it better. You are still sitting at that kitchen table waiting to lick the left over frosting out of the bowl. It's nice to let yourself be in those memories, to truly surround yourself with that comfort whatever your memory is. Those memories are our foundations, the strings that taught our hearts how to beat.
But then you go back to look at those photographs as adults with all your life experiences now compiled in your head. You remember the first boy you kissed, the first girl who held your hand. You remember the first car you bought, how proud you were to have those keys in your hands. You can remember the smell of your kids when they were babies, the first family pet you had to let go. You have all this life inside of you now and you go back to those pictures. You see how goofy your father looks in his aviator glasses, how skinny he was. You never realized how beautiful your mother was when she was younger, how much life stared back at you from that old, tattered photograph that you've probably looked at a million times. For some reason, when you get older, it is like you are seeing these photographs for the first time. You never realized that your parents looked at each other like that or that they had other loves before they found each other, that they maybe will have new loves, too. You forget that once upon a time your father was a small boy who just liked to laugh. It is easy to forget that your mother once had a much harder struggle navigating through her male time era, that her mother before that had it harder than her. We tend to believe that the only life our parents ever lived was the life that we were a part of but that couldn't have been further from the truth. I find it beautiful, simply beautiful.
We get so wrapped up in our own lives. We get so side tracked by the right now that we lose track that someday we'll be those people in the pictures, those old and tattered pictures. Our kids will tell their kids our stories but we'll just be stories at that point. Our kids will have their memories of us, of all the good times that we spent together and all the bad times we just needed to get away from the other. My daughter will pull out a picture of me and smile, thinking to herself this is my mom. She'll find an older picture of me as a young girl or in high school before she was a twinkle in my eye. The older she gets, the more she'll understand that I lived an entire life before she ever existed. She'll start to have an appreciation for that part of my life that she could not be a part of. And that's what I think when I see these old pictures of my parents. I start to wonder what were they really like before life started to creep up on them. Was my mother as nervous as I sometimes find myself? Did my father laugh more? What was their life like? Did they find joy? What sadness did they overcome? Were they successful? What secrets do they keep beyond these pictures? What a beautiful mystery. I'd like to think that the girl in the bikini on the Corvette got off that car after that picture was taken. I'd like to believe that she sat in that driver's seat and took off, letting the wind blow through her hair. I'd like to picture her driving off into the sunset and having the most glorious adventure. One day we'll be that girl in that picture.. The moments we live now we'll be what stares back at us years from now. How beautiful we will then realize we've always been.
I sat down the other day and spent an hour writing one of the most perfect blogs I think I have ever written. It was elegant, well spoken, conveyed exactly how I was feeling at that time... Then something horrible happened. Yes, my elbow hit the computer before I could back it up and... just like that... it was gone. Just gone. All those words that I so patiently waited to flow in just the right order were just gone. I sat staring at the computer for awhile, thinking maybe I could somehow grab those thoughts, those perfectly put together thoughts back together but I knew I would never truly be able to capture the essence of what I was originally trying to say. So, I accepted the fate of those forgotten words and moved on with my life. After all, perhaps something better for me to write was just around the corner. I did produce a poem after that fiasco that I have to say I am pretty proud of. Believe you me I am my own worst critic. After I write this blog, I will probably read it a million times, find a happy place with it but then want to change a million things after I publish it. It is the nature of this creative beast. Today that lost blog haunted me a bit. While I felt better after I wrote it, the fact that those words never got to fly still irked me a bit. When an incident happened this afternoon, that ghost of a blog started to reform in this head of mine and I remembered at least the gist of what I was so eloquently trying to convey. Now, it might not be as lovely as the first round but it will be just as honest and open as they always are.
Over the last few weeks, I've sort of been struggling with life for a lack of better words. Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong. It could always be better. I've struggled with this need to be needed, with how let down I feel when my efforts get slammed down, shooed away like a little annoying fly. When I have tried to help, I get scolded. When I attempt to turn the other cheek, I get blasted anyway. It bothers me, probably more than it should, but it bothers me a lot. When I was a little girl, my mother told me that every time she was sad I would walk towards her with my arms open to give her comfort. No, I don't really remember that but I can remember being super aware of the people around me. I got angry if you got angry. I was sad if you were sad. I was happy when you were happy. Every emotion that was presented around me, I felt it ten times over. That's the problem with being an empathetic person. You just feel way too much and you don't know how to turn it off sometimes. In the last few weeks, I've felt the tension in my life. Some days I can shake it off. Others I can't. I offer my help and it gets shut down because of misconceptions of my intentions. I feel like there is so much about me that is an open book. I feel like anyone at any time can go to my words, look at my pictures, just see the way my eyes move and know exactly how I feel about whatever is in presented to me. I've felt a little bit like Eeyore lately, feeling like any attempts I've made to make things better for the people around me have been for nothing. I just want us all to eat cake, man. Today I wish I could have voiced how aggravated I felt but I knew it was pointless. I want to be that person who helps. I want to take care of you and me and her and him and them. And I don't want to lose the desire to make the world a better place any way that I can but, I guess, over the last few weeks it's been getting harder to hold onto the little light of mine. It's been getting harder to make it shine.
And, of course, I'm being completely melodramatic. I am completely aware of myself at all times. Sometimes though I have to get all those over sized thoughts out of my head to really get to the core of why I am writing. You got to push the clutter out of the way to find the truth. I guess I realized today that if people question my intentions, they probably don't need to be a part of my life. I think I live pretty honestly. I think I do the right thing more often than I don't. I know that I care too much about things and people who probably don't deserve that much out of me but I don't mind. I want you to smile and laugh and sing and do silly dances for no reason. I want to help you be the best version of you that you can be. I want all of us to live this life together, all together with no exceptions. I have always gotten the fact that there will be people out there who can not fight for themselves and I have always been willing to fight for them. And sometimes I put myself in harms way because of it but I always stand back up. I offer my hand and, like today, it may get slapped away. It doesn't mean I regret my choice. I can sleep easy at night knowing that my intentions are good. And when my intentions are questioned? I suppose there is nothing I can do about that. I suppose I have to learn to accept that sometimes people just don't get it, don't get me. You know what? That's not on me. That's on them. That's on them when I know what kind of person I am. It's silly to let anything, anyone like that dictate what kind of person I am. But instead of vowing my revenge on them? Yes, instead of declaring war, I will continue to offer my hand because that's who I am. I will take the lessons of the last few weeks, find the meaning, and forget the rest just like a wise man once told me. Because somewhere in there, that better version of myself lies.
You would think that just working one job now that I would have time to sit down and work on my art more. Truth is I work just as much as I ever did but my focus has changed. I once thought that the only thing that made me a viable, productive person was the amount of hours I put in. I thought that if I racked up all these hours that it would measure how much I was worth. If I worked sixty hours a week, that meant that I was a useful member of society... but then I realized something so much more valuable. I realized that the status of my own worth was for me to determine. Let's face it. Waiting tables is not a job that is going to save or damn the world. What I do is provide a service, an entertainment of sorts for the masses that could just as easily get it from anywhere these days. The true value of my job? It's bringing a smile to those that I encounter. To get through a shift, sure, that has to be the one thing that I hold onto because some days I get one nasty table full of people after another. But, like any other job on this planet, you suck it up and you smile and eventually you will be sitting down with a nice cold beer enjoying the company of people you actually do want to be around. There was a point that I was scared to take days off. I thought it somehow made me look like I didn't care enough about the job, that people would look at me differently if I took some time just for myself or to be with my family. The expectations that I have for myself are utterly ridiculous because honestly there are many days I just cannot live up to what I expect me to be. My husband often tells me to give myself a break. I can't always be the answer to everyone problems. I should remember to eat more, to relax more, to sit the fudge down sometimes. He encourages me to step away, to get lost in my art, to explore all these beautiful and quirky parts of myself that he fell in love with more often. He's right. I should do all of those things. So that's what I've been trying to do though I still have some work to do.
I think as a mother I naturally want to kiss things and make all the boo-boos better around me. If you're having a rough day, I want to hold your hand and make you smile even though I should be doing a million other things to help my art career move forward. If there is tea to be made, I want to be the one to make that tea so you can go outside and take a break even though I haven't had one in hours. Over the last few months, I've realized that sometimes I can't always be the answer to someone's prayer. Not because I don't want to but I've got prayers that need to be answered, too. By stepping back and improving myself is not selfish or wrong as long as I am not doing at anyone else's expense. As a mother, I have learned to put others before me. It is a natural instinct for me to rub your neck if you pinched a nerve. I like helping others. I always have but sometimes that love for helping was at the expense of my own needs. My husband and I took a trip to Baltimore a week ago. It was the first time it had been just the two of us since our Honeymoon almost seven years ago. It was wonderful. I sat with this lovely man of mine and we talked for hours about our life. We talked about our dreams for us as a unit, for us as individuals. We made a map of all the places we wanted to go, of all the adventures we wanted to take, of all the demons we wanted to conquer. We talked about our kid and how strange it would be to become more of an observer in her life than such a vital part of it. We sat outside that haunted hotel with all the cars going by, with the constant honking in the background under the city stars, drunk on one too many cocktails and I took a picture of that moment in my mind. I placed it with all the other moments I will cherish because in that moment I had the realization that these moments are what really matter. These moments are the ones that measure my life, my worth. It's not about how many hours I work or how many loads of laundry I do. It's not about how many tables I can handle at one time or how many glasses I can carry on a tray without spilling them all. My worth is measured by the way he looks at me, the way you smile back at me, the love I live my life with.
I wish I had realized this earlier in my life. I wish I had figured out that being the best to everyone wasn't as necessarily as important as being the best version of me to myself. I would have accepted that I am not invincible so much easier. I would have learned the lessons my tears were trying to teach me much quicker. I would have enjoyed more moments in my life because I wouldn't have worried so much about what the people around me thought of me so much. I would have accepted the fact that not everyone has to like me and then I would have let them go without the guilt. I've had some extra time since I quit the other job, true. I've been a lot happier since I left that negativity behind me, too. Sometimes though I realize that the expectations I put on myself I often transfer to everything around me as well. I see now that it makes it tough not so much for me but for everyone around me. If I can't always be what I want to be, it is unfair to assume that everyone around me can either. Since I've left that other place, I have taken time to spend with my husband. I've taken time to spend with my daughter though she's a teenager and clearly Mom is not first on her priority list and that's OK, too. She knows I'm right here. I've spent time with friends and seen my family. For the first time in a long time, I've taken some time for me, too. I bought myself a desk and some new shoes. I've allowed myself to relax, to breathe, to give myself a break. I did not realize how important it was to just let myself be until now. I believed that making myself necessary meant that I made myself worth more. The reality of that mentality is that I just consistently burnt myself out for someone else's benefit, leaving me pretty empty at the end of the day. So when I would sit down to write or to draw or to create something that anger would vomit all over the paper, this anger that I would never admit that I felt. That's never who I wanted to be. I expect better out of myself because at the end of the day I want you to smile when you read my words, to love when you look at a picture I drew. But really if I am being honest? I want to smile when I read these words and I want to love when I look at something these hands create. In everything that I do, I want to be proud of the final outcome. In these last few months, I have taken the time to get back to myself, the way I have always been but sadly been sidetracked by circumstances I could not control. I had a table last night. The gentleman was being unnecessarily rude to me about drink specials. I realized the tone of this table and I knew I had a choice to make. I could either feed into his negative energy, allowing him to determine what I was worth. Or I could just let him be, answer his questions, provide good service with a smile on my face and let these feelings that he was trying to cause me go. I walked to the back and I started to laugh, telling my coworker about the interaction. I decided to laugh, realizing whatever tip he left me didn't matter because I was not going to allow him to tell me how much I was worth whether he left me nothing or twenty dollars. I could tell you what he left me (actually pretty good) but it doesn't matter. What matters is that I finally understand that I am the measuring cup of my own worth. Some days I'm not going to live up to the level I would like and other days I will surpass even my own expectations. As long as I try and keep on trying to be the best I can be, isn't that what matters? It's been nice living my life again. It's been lovely smelling the roses. It's been wonderful to get back to my basics, to not feel the weight so heavy on my shoulders, to allow sun to shine on every part of me.
When you're younger, you think about what it would be like to walk back into your high school twenty years later, right? You imagine that you will be one of the most successful people in the room. You believe that the life you have lived since the day you graduated will have been this amazing adventure full of travel and women/men and grandeur. You convince your youthful self that the sky is the limit. You can't wait until all those people that once doubted get a load of you now, right? I often think of the movie Gross Point Blank when I think of going to my reunion. I think I would actually enjoy telling people that I am a professional assassin though it would be the furtherest from the truth. I feel guilty when I accidentally step on an ant. The other day I got the invite to my twenty year old reunion. I knew it was coming, I suppose. After all, it was twenty years ago that I took my last steps from that high school that is now long demolished. My class graduated with 74 graduates. We all knew each other's names, birthdays, secrets. There was little to hide when you only had a few to gossip about. I have to admit I had some mixed feelings when I saw that notification. At what point does it matter what these people that you spent so little of your life with stop mattering? And why do we want to prove so much that we're better than the other years later? I admit. I struggle right now whether or not I'm going to attend. On one hand, I've kept little contact with them. I have few friends that I check in with now and then. On the other hand I am curious, just purely curious on how my fellow classmates turned out. There is no fear of seeing them again. Maybe it's just confirmation that we turned out all right.
The last reunion I went to ten years ago I decided to go raging drunk. At the time I thought it would be hilarious to be wasted talking to all these people that I once knew. Now looking back at it? Looking back at it I was terrified. My life did not turn out the way I thought it would. I was supposed to walk back into my ten year reunion a published author with novels and novels on my resume. I was supposed to walk in there, proving that I was as bright as I was when I was voted Friendliest of my Senior Class. The reality of my life? I was a single mother who was struggling. I was a young woman who was incredibly angry, incredibly insecure, most certainly lost. I didn't want to tell them I was working at a coffee shop or that I was divorced or that I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't face the questions about what happened in college with our classmate sober. I had heard rumors of my whereabouts over the years. All of them made me laugh. What would I say to that? I chose to go along with it because it was easier to hide behind these absurdities than to truly admit how broken I was when I stepped through those doors. There was still this need to be something more than what I was to them even though I knew when I walked back out that door it would be another ten years before we saw each other again. And I guess in a way a small part of me hoped that there would be some closure. There would be some closure from those years that, in those moments, seemed so important. What I saw when I looked at the people across from me wasn't ten years later. What I saw was us ten years ago, bickering over these inconsequential events in our lives but in those moments, didn't they mean everything?
So how do I feel going into this twenty year reunion? It's been ten years since I've seen some of them. It's been twenty years since I've seen others. How does my life stack up now? I ran into a classmate yesterday actually. I was waiting for my daughter and there this girl was. It made me laugh. I thought what a small world. With our reunion looming, what a strange time to run into her? We started talking about high school. What humored me was that she barely remembered any of it. What I found curious is how slightly envious I was of that. I often over analyze everything about my life. This is no exception. I remember every face, every laugh, every joy, every wrong doing, every stupid fight that I ever experienced in those four silly years of my life. I catalog them in my mind, pull them out when certain feelings are required for my writing, my art. I believe that everything we go through is important even the little stuff that doesn't always matter. I laughed to myself after we left that she probably didn't even remember my name. I thought that was OK. So is it OK if I walk into that room and nobody remembers my name? I think I would prefer that. Not because I am ashamed of who I was back then but because I am so much prouder of who I am today. We were kids twenty years ago who knew nothing of who we were, what was out there, what we wanted to become. In the last twenty years, we've experienced life. We've felt all the pain, the joy, the grief, the hurt that life brings. That experience has either made who we were better or erased who we were at all. I realize that ten years ago the reason I needed to use alcohol as that crutch was because I had lost every part of who I was. Some of that loss I blamed on them so it didn't matter if the white lies I told hurt anyone. It didn't matter if any hurtful words came out of my life left a sting because I was still reeling from a pain I didn't know how to heal. I realize ten years later I don't have anything to hide. Am I where I want to be? No, not professionally at least, but I am where I want to be personally. Isn't that what matters?
To the question, am I going? I don't honestly know yet. If I don't go, it's not because I am ashamed of where I landed. It's not because I am terrified to stand in front of my peers. It will not because there are certain people I don't want to see. The relevance of high school in my life has long since passed. I mean that with no malice. It's just I am a grown woman in my late thirties with a teenage daughter, a husband who loves me, friends who I adore. My life is on a wonderful trajectory towards exactly where I want it to be. If I don't go, it won't be because I have anything to hide. In the same breath I also don't have anything that I need to show off. The proof of the goodness in my life, in the success of my life is in the child I have raised, the man who smiles back at me, in these creations that I make. And if I go? It's not to prove I am anything more than what I am. We get to a certain age in our lives and we realize that we have no desire to be that eighteen year old again. The romantic part of being that shiny penny has long gone because the loveliness of our lives becomes brighter. If I go, it won't be because I need closure from people who left my life years ago. I will go to see some old friends who I lost touch with. I will go to have some laughs about all those times we were dumb with nothing to lose. I will sit with these old familiars and bathe in our glory days... and then I will move on like we all must. I will come back to my teenage daughter, sit with my sweet husband, and curl up with these words. Perhaps I did not invent Post-Its. That's OK. What I did invent is the person I became today. She's been worth every step. And most importantly? That girl that I used to be is proud of how we turned out. When I walk into that twenty year reunion, it's her who will be waiting for me with open arms.
Sometimes I hear the underlying tones of a conversation and other times I miss the point completely. I was in a heated battle the other day with my teenage daughter about what I post on Facebook, what I blog about on this site, what I send people in private conversations with my own friends. What I heard her saying was that she was mad because I may have or may not have portrayed her in a positive light. What I realize she was saying a few days after the matter is that she was more concerned of how I was portraying myself. I remember when was small and I would be having coffee with a friend while she was with me how she would correct me if I told a story slightly askew. I remember how annoying I would find it to have this five year old child correct me over some small detail that I would embellish for the sake of good story telling that really didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. To me, making a story bigger than what it was made it funny, more entertaining. As a writer, that's what I do. I tell stories. Some are simple. Some are grand. Some are just silly. And my stories are inspired by my life. It's how I know to relate to people. You write what you know. You write what you feel and so many of those feelings are inspired by our every days. My teenage daughter would hate this blog for the mere reason that I mentioned her but very rarely does she read something unless I point it out to her. That's OK because there are some things in this life even as someone's mother that are my own. I don't necessarily need to share every ounce of me with her because I am a woman, my own person just as much as I am someone's mother, someone's wife, someone's friend. It took me years to understand that these passions that I have solely for myself are just as important as the hopes and dreams I have for the people I love. When I was deep in the trenches of this argument with my child about the words that fell out of these fingers and asked her why it mattered? Her response took me by surprise and I didn't get it initially. It was the same reason why when she was small that she had to correct me. What she sees me as despite the fact that she's a teenager is what she has always seen me as. I have been the one force in her life that never walked away, the one she could count on to be true and right. So when I post something or say something that makes me sound silly or not as intelligent as she knows I am, she cares what people think of me even if she won't admit that. As teenagers, we were selfish and the only thing that we could only ever see was ourselves even if what we were feeling was about what was going around us. I would like to say that I'm good at slipping on her shoes but I don't fit those shoes anymore so I forget what it's like to be a teenage girl with so many emotions, with so many hang ups, with so many things in this life to be unsure of. And what she can't see yet is that beyond being her mother, I am my own person, too. What she can't quite grasp is the concept of not being concerned what other people think. When the day turns to nigh, I have to answer to myself.
We get so wrapped up with appearances, about what we should be for this person and who we have to be for that person. It is exhausting to bend so many ways for people that don't always matter. I can honestly say that when I was younger I cared very little about how the world viewed me. Before college, before tragedy, before life what people saw didn't change the decisions I made, didn't sway the way I behaved. I roared as loudly as I wanted and I didn't care all that much if I hurt your ears. Then life happened, tragedy struck and I was covered in someone else's shame. All I saw when you looked at me was that person did to me and I couldn't bear those looks. I couldn't stand what you saw. I didn't want the world to see me as broken as I felt but I convinced myself that's all I would ever be. But over time the shame fell off slowly and my shattered knees grew stronger. I found ways to hide the residue of that dirt, the mud still in the fingernails I couldn't quite get out. I covered myself in tattoos and changed what the world was seeing. People would see the tattoos and only see these pictures that I drew on myself and judge me on this first impression of a hellion, ignoring who I actually was. I hid behind these tattoos for years, finding it easier to fight that stereotype than to actually heal the demons inside. I had a child young and it was easier to be judged on being a single mother than who I actually was. The truth is I didn't have any idea who that was. We hide ourselves under all these superficial things because it is easier to defend this skull tattoo then to defend who I am. Too many years who I was had determined by circumstances. Too many of those circumstances put me in a box that I couldn't escape. And being trapped like that? It made me far too concerned with how that box was viewed. So, one day, I grew up. It's that simple. I grew up. I found my feet. I looked in the mirror and there I was. It felt great. It felt wonderful to not feel like the ground would crumble if I misstep. It felt freeing to not be afraid to be confident in so many parts of myself that I had been terrified of before. It no longer mattered what the world thought of me, what the people thought of me because I finally accepted that even the less desirable parts of me were just as beautiful. If I told a joke that wasn't funny, it didn't mean that I couldn't make people laugh. If I did something that didn't make you smile, it didn't mean that I was a horrible person. If I told a story that was bigger than it's reality, it didn't mean the lesson was any less important.
I want my child to understand that when we put so much importance on what others think of us it can be detrimental. It can be toxic to allow so much of who you are be determined by the opinions of people that don't matter. I know that sounds sort of nasty but there is no malice intended there. It took me a long time to figure out whose opinions of me mattered and whose didn't. The people who love you truly and honestly, deeply and unconditionally. I'm not saying she should go out there and be a shitty person to everyone else. I am saying that she should always be true to whoever she turns out to be. What I have realized over the years is that at the core of me who I am is full of kindness and compassion. What I realize about myself is that sometimes I am a pushover and don't always make the stand I need to for myself but those parts of me are just as lovely. What I continue to learn is how to be the loving, compassionate person I am while still being able to stand my ground. I don't mind what people think of me. I may get grumpy sometimes. I may exaggerate a story just for kicks. I may not always make rational decisions. I often let my imagination runaway. Sometimes I do silly things that may make me look not as intelligent as I am and that's OK. I love the fact my daughter cares that much about how the world views me. I know if you asked her right now she would tell me that's not what she thinks at all and it's cool. I'm not saying definitely that's what she thinks but that is my perception. I hope she understands one day that I never intentionally tried to make her look bad or make myself any less relevant in this world. What I have tried to do is walk this path with as much integrity as I could. I will not be everyone's cup of tea. Not everyone is going to find my writing charming or my smile engaging. Some will find me offensive while others will insist that I should push the envelope further. I may come off as nonchalant or some may think I take this life too seriously. What I know today as a grown woman that regardless of what people think of me the only thing that matters is what I think. She will have her own revelations. One day she will understand why I sighed, why I laughed it off, why I turned the other cheek when I've been slapped down. She will understand that being able to look in the mirror proud of what stares back at you is ten thousand more times fulfilling than anything else. My life has humbled me and that modesty is something that I am very proud of. What I look in the mirror, I have to answer to myself. Was I kind enough today? Was I brave enough today? Did I do what was best for my family? Did I do what was best for me? What can I do better? What did I do right? It's always the last question that I struggle with. It's not the people around us who judge so harshly. No, it's that person who looks back at you. So, no, it doesn't matter if the world thinks I'm a little too tattooed, a little too silly or serious. It doesn't matter if they think I am living my life the right way. It only matters if I believe I am living my life right. At the end of the day, I just want to make the people around me smile. I just want to make myself proud of the love I am strong enough to live my life with.
When I think back at my life, I hope I am proud of more things than I am ashamed. I often think about the choices I made. Some I know were right. Some I don't. And some the choice was picking between two already rotten apples. I know that everything worked out for the best, for my best. All those bad decisions I made taught me more about myself than anything else could. I realize now in my late thirties I have the luxury of taking from all these experiences and finding the lesson in all of them to make better ones right now in my life. I don't always get it right. A lot of times I fail but because I am older I know that these failures are not my defeat. In twenty years I will look back at this time in my life. I will shake my head at how many hours I wasted working. I will be sad that I didn't spend enough time with my kid or my husband. I will feel regret that I didn't build the friendships that I should have. Time is hindsight, introspective, sometimes harsh. Often we don't realize the damage we do until it is already done. I sit down and write these words as a reminder to myself of all these things I need to work on. I need to do better. This morning I woke up. Sent the husband off to work. The kid off to her friend's. I laid in bed with my two cats and laughed to myself. I attempted to make coffee dates with a couple of friends who were busy. I laid there and realized how many people in this world care for me but how distant I keep myself. When I think back at my life, I realize that I've always kept myself distant from people. I love you and I will love you with everything I got but I also keep parts of me close to the chest. I don't always realize how much of a corner I live until I reach out and sometimes I'm left dangling. And that's all right. My inability to truly be a social butterfly lies solely within me because of a past I fought through. It seems like a flimsy excuse really. Somebody hurt me so everyone in my life pays for that sin from that day forward. I would like to say that's not true but some pieces of that statement will always be true. In this time in my life I clearly understand that there are pieces of me that will not change regardless of how much yoga I do.
I come across old works of mine often. I start to read them. I feel all that anger, that loneliness, that shame. I can close my eyes and remember which coffee shop I was sitting at, what shirt I was wearing. I can recall the noises that were happening around me. The emotion of whatever I was feeling in that moment rushes over me like a wave. All I can do is let it ride out. In these tiny tidal waves, for a moment that girl is sitting so clearly in front of me. I want so badly to have a conversation with her, to warn her about the retreat I know she's about to take but if she listened I don't know who would be sitting at this coffee shop right now. I don't know if I would know how lovely loneliness can be. I don't know if I would truly comprehend how beautiful compassion feels. These tiny tidal waves are just reminders of all the kindness I have learned. I was working yesterday and my coworker was weeded. I could have let him fail. I didn't. We were sitting around the table at the end of the shift, three of us dog tired because we had worked twelve hours yesterday on our feet. We sat there with our ice cold beers. I realized that as isolated as I may feel at times, these people sat beside me still. I didn't let him fail because I cared that he succeeded. I cared that at the end of the night we all felt like champions. It's just ranch, I know, but sometimes that ranch can make us smile, too. By living so much of my early life on my own, I have learned to appreciate the moments when I don't have to be. I sat there last night among these beautiful people, laughing at the drunk people that rolled off that party bus. I found some sort of solace that even if I was just a witness to it I was part of it. I enjoy time by myself. I don't have any qualms with taking an hour or two to be alone with my journal or this computer. I love closing my eyes and listening to music or drawing whatever pretty thing comes to my head. I need those moments so I can sit with you later on. I need to re-energize myself because sometimes I find people utterly exhausting. When I look back at my life, I want to be honored to have been a part of this world. I want the ones I leave behind to remember how much I love them. I want these words to echo long after I'm gone. I want everyone to know that even if I felt like I was far away, my arms were always there to catch you when you fell. When I look back at my life today, I understand I still have so much to learn but what I can be proud of is how much I already have. I may not always make the right choices. I will continue to flounder and fail but I know now that in these failures, the better I become.