We were driving home tonight after a slow, slow day at work when I got a text from my mother. She said that she had read a few of my poems from my new poetry book, Pipe Dreams. She said that they were beautiful. I realized in that moment that I never really shared the things I have written with my mother. Is it out of fear? And fear of what? Fear of disappointing her that perhaps the talent she thinks I have, I don't have at all? Or is that she just plainly won't like what I write? I can't answer that either way but I know for a long time I held my words close and rarely let them see the light of day out of fear that people would just not like them. I'm a tough woman but the thought of being torn apart for something I truly love doing terrified me for a long time. I don't know if it was my father passing. I don't know if it was me finally finding my legs. I don't know if it was just being in a better place but the best choice I ever did was pick up my butterfly net and chase whatever this dream turns out to be. So, today when I was reading that simple text from my mother, the one that made me cry, the one that reminded me of how much I want her to be proud of me, I thought about her and her own journey.
My mother, this incredibly strong and beautiful woman, married my father when she was 18 years old. She married this man before she got the chance to figure out who she was, what she wanted. My mother, this vibrant and shy woman, married my father and became someone's wife. Then, she became our mother. For a long time, I thought of my mother as my mom. She was there to take care of us, to make dinner, to clean up our mess in more ways than one. She was there to tell us no, to tell us that we couldn't do anything. You didn't want to make my mother mad. This tiny, little Italian woman had a temper and she would yell and scare us right up to our rooms until the storm calmed... but just when you thought she was going to tear your head right off, she was calm. I remember when I was 16 years old and she had found out that I had started smoking. She picked me up from school that day. I got in the car and for a long time she didn't say anything to me. She drove. I sat in the front seat when all she said to me was, "Jesi I know you're smoking and I wish you wouldn't." There was no lecture or yelling or judging. It was a simple statement and that's all that was ever said about it. Of course, after that even as an adult I can't light up a cigarette around her. It was in her face, the disappointment, the concern, the love she had for me. Then there was this other mother that I remember. There was the mother that made us cookies when we got home from school, that bought us clothes just for fun when she could. There was the mother that tucked us into bed at night and kissed us on our foreheads, telling me to think of Strawberry Shortcake if I had a bad dream. There was the mother that let me wear a Wonder Woman costume for a couple of years in a row and didn't mind that I never wanted to take it off. There was the mother that kept every single one of my books that I made her and sincerely loved them even if they were the chicken scratch of a child.
And I remember I wasn't always the nicest adolescent. I wasn't always the most pleasant teenager to be around. Yeah, I understand that I'm just getting it all back through my kid, I get it I deserve it. I wasn't around all that much when I was a teenager to be honest though. I worked and went to school and hung out with my friends. I didn't have a lot of time for my family because, hey, they would always be there, right? So, I hid in my room and wrote my words and drew my pictures. I didn't notice that my mother was just down the stairs, loving me unconditionally regardless of the little shit I was being. I was a skeptical, sarcastic, stubborn girl. I was the daughter who was odd, strange, unusual. My mother recently told me that she had hoped that she would have at least one kid who was, for a lack of better words, a little weird and she got that child with me. I was the kid off in the corner drawing, making up dumb little songs, a little off kilter. I did my own thing and I did it my way and I wasn't going to listen to my mother's advise... so I didn't. I found my own path, my own way but I don't think I ever realized she was with me the entire time.
Maybe it's becoming an adult, having your own children, losing people in your life that makes you take stock in what you have right in front of you. I don't call my mother nearly enough. I don't see my mother nearly enough but I don't think I have ever appreciated her more than right now in my life. The text today made me cry not because it was sad, not because it made me miss my father but because it came from a place of genuine admiration for something that I truly love from a woman I truly respect. I gave up trying to live up to other people's standards a long time ago. I gave up that battle of trying to make everyone around me proud. I realized years ago that my standards were more important but I guess a small part of me will always want her to be proud. I've never really shared my words with her. There were parts of my life that I've never told her about. It's not because I don't think she doesn't want to know. I just think it's always been my way to figure the world out one detour at a time on my own. There are parts of my life that will always just be mine but it doesn't mean that she's not part of who I am. I learned strength from her and the will to go on no matter what. I learned a certain amount of poise and grace. I mimic the best parts of her because as much as I was my father's daughter, I was very much like her just the same. I will always be her unusual child regardless of how old I get. I am glad that she can now read my words. I wish I had shared them with her sooner but I know my life comes along in it's own time. I know that even if she never read them, there was always a piece of her within them. We may not turn out just like our parents or follow the same paths but we stand on the foundation that they give us, stable or rocky, and I got a good one.
Sometimes I get this feeling, this feeling that something is about to change. Change, this constant thing that happens all the time. You go through your days, expecting that it will go the same as the day before and then it doesn't. Something different happened. You got news that someone passed away. You got offered a new job. You quit your old one. Your kid starts high school. There are a million things that happen in our life that change everything. There are changes sometimes that change nothing. So you sit down with yourself, ask yourself where do you go from there? If I do this, how will it effect that? And if I change that, what happens to this? The ramifications are terrifying. The rewards are exhilarating. Both are necessary to the progression of your life. Of course, you can always remain where you are, continuously doing the same thing that you are doing. There is comfort in static. There is comfort in standing exactly where you are because there are no risks in not taking them. So what path do you choose? The tried and true? Or the unknown?
I used to be terrified of change. It would make my heart beat fast just thinking about it. When my daughter was little, I couldn't think of her as being anything but little because what happens when she becomes a young lady? What would my role in her life be then? And then as much as I wanted a partner in my life when she was younger, I was terrified of the changes I would have to make to myself. What then role would I have in her life if I wasn't everything? I know. That sounds like such a strange change to be scared of. Any single mother would love to have a complete family but in my mind my family was complete, just the two of us. I worked jobs I hated because I was scared to death of not being able to provide for my family, thinking that the only way I was going to be a good mother was by sacrificing my happiness. Raising my kid on my own was normal, was my thing. Working a job because I had to was my normal, was my thing. I became comfortable in the routines even the ones that made me miserable because I was terrified of what changing them would mean.
Then, this crazy thing happened where I didn't mind change any more. My kid got older despite me. I fell in love with a man despite myself. I quit my job and started putting my words out there without a safety net. I have no idea what is going to happen with any of the choices I make but I know the choices I make are my own. Isn't that part of life? This wonderful life? Any step I take could be a mistake but how would I know unless I take them? Somehow the thought of these words changing my life, my family's life is thrilling. The thought of my kid growing up and doing amazing things is exciting. The idea that my husband will find his passion and do something that he truly loves is inspiring. Funny thing happened when I realized that change is not bad. It is a result of time. Time can do so much. It can heal you. It can break you. It can inspire you. I realized that when my daughter got older, she still needed me. I realized that my role changed. I didn't disappear. I realized that when this man took on the roll of husband and father, he needed me just as much. I didn't disappear. I realized, too, that I still needed me though not in the same desperate, anxiety driven way. I didn't disappear.
Change didn't just happen around me. Change happened to me. Where there was once a scared little girl, somewhere along the lines I found courage. Where there was once a single mom completely unsure of how to put food on the table, somewhere along the way I found confidence. Where there was once a very cynical woman who thought love was for the birds, when he walked into my life I became completely open to his love. Tonight as I sit here, sitting in my little corner, I know that change is inevitable. It may not be tomorrow or next week or even within the year but I feel it in the air. We are always evolving and evolution is a lovely thing to embrace.
I got some news last night and my feelings are conflicting. We have these people in our lives that make a difference, both good and bad. We carry them with us through out our lives, good and bad. They are the reason maybe our lives went left instead of right. They could be the reason we decided to stay rather than go. You go through your life thinking that they will always somehow be a part of you, somehow you one day perhaps you will run into them around the next corner. Sometimes you carry them in fear. Other times in hope. This news made me feel so many different ways, relief and sadness just the same. I am intentionally being very vague out of respect though I know that I don't have to towards this person... but I will for the boy that I used to know, not the man he showed himself to be. He was the reason I sit in this chair today, the reason I met the man who helped me create that kid sitting over there, the reason I found my husband just as much as he was the reason I was shattered, torn apart, broken, shamed. He was the reason why I could have very well not be sitting here today.
This boy that I once knew as a girl was funny and kind. He was smart and had goals and wanted nothing more to grow up, get married, and have a couple of kids growing in the yard. We didn't always get along but for as much as we fought back then, we always stood up for the other. I remember sitting in his Corolla after school on the days I didn't have to work, smoking cigarettes in the Kerr parking lot, listening to Al Greene, making stupid jokes about the other and everyone else. He was sarcastic and we fit. I got him a job at Harris Teeter as a bag boy and yelled at him when he goofed off (which he constantly did). He said inappropriate things all the time and made us all laugh when what he was saying shouldn't have been funny. He was just a boy, trying to figure it out like the rest of us. Then, we went to college and the boy who was funny ran away. He became someone I didn't know anymore. And I know. We all change when we move onto a different path in our lives but his was dark and calculating. I became a target rather than a friend but I don't want to talk about that part of him today.
For the last 18 years of my life, I have carried him with me though I have rarely spoken his name. For the last 18 years, I have feared the next corner, always thinking that perhaps he might be there. For years I didn't trust new places, couldn't go near the old hang outs because I never knew if he would be there waiting for me. He never was though. The last time I saw him was in a Target about 17 years ago. I ran away. I ran away like I was always doing from him. I didn't remember for a long time the times he made me laugh. I couldn't see his goofy grin that he would make at me when we were playing around. I couldn't hear the conversations full of genuine care and love for the other after that night. All I could see were the clouds he became. Then I started writing Around The Bend and these little moments of him and me started to come back. I started to remember at one point he was my best friend. And though those words 'best friend' made it all hurt that much more, I remembered the way he used to make me smile.
So last night, I got conflicting news about him. This boy that I once knew as a girl and that man that I ran away from as a woman passed away. There are no more corners for me to be scared of. There are no more worries that one day I will come face to face with him. This villain of mine no longer exists. And I feel relieved because the last bit of fear that has sat heavy on my chest is now gone. And I feel sad because at one point in my life, before the darkness, he was a bright spot in my day. And I feel angry because I know I will never get to say my peace to him, will never hear an apology for what he did... but I know now I don't need those words. I wish his family well and send my condolences for what it matters. I don't know what he ever told them about what happened and it doesn't matter. I never went after him because of what he once was. I guess I had always hoped that he would find his way back. I think in a way he knew that regardless I was going to protect him in my own way. For what it's worth I hope he knows I forgave him. I forgave him for what he became, for what he did. For what it's worth I hope he found peace.
** I apologize for my vagueness of the person. Out of respect for him, I did not want to name names. However, this person is Ben in my book Around The Bend. Our story is in those words, now where they will always be.
I've been battling something inside myself for the last couple of days and I have yet to come to a conclusion about how I feel about any of it. I suppose it is a matter of respect, a thing that for a moment in my life thought was the most important thing in the world. It is, you know, in it's own way. We have to have respect for each other, for ourselves, for the things that surround us every day to truly appreciate them but it becomes so muddled sometimes. We all get so angry at each other when we feel like we aren't being respected enough or in the right way. So what do we do to each other? We puff our chests up. We say mean things. We put each other down. These are things that make us feel better when we feel like no one respects us. I don't know why it has to be like that. It becomes nasty power trips and passive aggressive bullshit really. There's no sense to it. Plainly there's no need for it.
I was driving home with my husband last night. We were talking about work, where we are at in our lives, what changes we want to make. He told me that I worked too hard in my life and that I was a better person than him. I laughed and told him that was tomfoolery. I am just me. I explained to him why I worked so hard, why I can't walk out of a shift before I know that everything is clean, stocked, and ready to go. I explained to him why I don't go to bed sometimes before I do the dishes or the laundry. I explained to him that if I had to be honest it had nothing to do with anyone else. It was simply respect for myself. I can't leave something undone or left out or dirty because at the end of the day I answer to myself. I've gone to bed at night not feeling so great about the decisions I've made that day and it's not a great feeling, not when I know I could have done better.
So many times it's that lack of self respect that makes us lash out at other people. I've worked for a lot of different people in my life. I've worked for some really great, honest, outstanding people who would roll up their sleeves and work right beside me. These great people who would ask about your family, where you came from, who would bring you a cup of coffee because they simply wanted to make your day better. I respected, completely respected these people. They didn't have to play any childish game to win me over. They didn't have to belittle me to get me to listen to them. They didn't have to bribe me to follow the direction they were going. All they had to do was be an honest human being with feelings and compassion, steady and true, firm and understanding at the same time. And I've worked with the opposite as well. I've worked with people who were mean and ugly and judgmental. I've worked with people who could care less you were human being, if you had kids or if were even breathing. All they wanted you to do was what they said and it didn't matter their reasoning. It was simply because they said so. They didn't inspire me to work harder, to do better, to try more. They drained me of my positive energy and sometimes made me feel real down about myself. They didn't respect me just as much as I didn't respect them. For the wonderful people I worked for out there? I would have gone twenty extra miles. And for those rotten eggs? I would stay right where I was, do my job and leave the rest at the door.
Respect can be such a powerful thing, such a game changing move. I work as a server as we all know (because I only refer to it every other blog). It's not a job that gets a lot of respect from the people you take care of and sometimes not even from the people you work with. It's hard work, hard back breaking work. I don't get to sit down and eat very often. I'm lucky if I get a smoke break some days. And the way people treat us is pretty shameful sometimes. We get whistled at. We get yelled at. We are told inappropriate comments often. My favorite is probably a cup being shaken at me when I'm helping someone else from another table. I see your cup, sir. We always see your cup. I was working at a coffee shop some years back and I was making someone else's drink when a man came in. I couldn't get to him right away but I told him that I would be right with him. Any respectful person would have waited patiently but this one obviously thought he was more important than everyone else ever. He whistled at me. Listen, I'm a kind, tolerant person but I do not tolerate that by any means. Because I have respect for myself, I did not allow him to treat me that way. I calmly told him that I was not a dog and if he wanted my attention, words would do just fine. He coward as I thought he would because he was called out for his stupid behavior. So it's not just in the restaurant industry people walk in and mistreat the people that work there. We forget that we are all people with feelings and baggage and problems. We forget that the young lady bringing you a beer deserves just as much respect as the woman flying your plane. Sure, the jobs differ but they are jobs just the same, they are people just the same.
I have always lived my sane life by one rule and one rule alone. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. I ask myself quite often (probably more than I should) how would that make me feel? If I leave this dirty cup here for the next person, would I enjoy cleaning up that person's mess? If I walk away from that Coke machine that needs ice and make someone else do it, would I appreciate having to carry two 25 lb buckets up to the front? No, I wouldn't. I try not to talk out of turn but I know I fail at it sometimes. I try to be patient and tolerant and compassionate but I know I struggle with it sometimes. And, yeah, I get frustrated when I walk into something that should have been done already because I wouldn't have left it like that for them. I wish I could better teach my daughter this but right now her struggle is being a teenager. You treat people with respect because it's the right thing to do. You treat people with respect because it would be how you would want to be treated. It's not about power or putting people down or being better than someone else. It is simply about putting yourself in someone else's shoes for a second, understanding they deserve the same kind of respect you want for yourself. And for the people that you run into that can't get that simple concept? You simply turn the other cheek and keep moving forward. It will be you who you have to answer to at the end of the day, respectfully.
I was working on some poems from 2004/2005 for my next book of poetry. The poem that a I posted today, A Beautiful Realization, is part of that collection. No worries, guys. Hubby and I are still going strong but that one was about my daughter's biological father, a pretty accurate description of the journey that I took with him but it's not him that my mind is really talking about tonight. It's the fact that all of us have someone like that in our past (or maybe right now). It has been a joy going through these all journals that I've kept even if some of them bring up some pretty hurtful memories that I must walk through. It's all right though. These journals, these poems are like my own personal history book. If I forget some fact of my life, I always have a reference to go back to. This journal in particular was focused a year or two after my actual divorce from the biological father, my struggle of learning how to raise a kid on my own, and just the general struggle of figuring out the hell I was after the dust settled.
So I think back to this man that I landed next to and realize he was the last bad boy that I ever entertained. And why did I find him so appealing? He was nothing like me. He had very little to offer me in the grand scheme of things. He was handsome and could be kind and handsome and... OK, I think you get it. We meet people in our lives that teach us certain things, that make us understand what we don't want, that gives us clarity on things we actually do want. This man never wanted to marry me really. I never wanted much to do with him but something happened in that moment of our lives that stuck us together. Was our sole purpose the creation of that beautiful kid watching Gossip Girl over there? And as much as I would like to say yes that was his only purpose in my life, I know that it wasn't. I haven't spoke to him in 4 years. To be honest, I don't have much to say to him but I can reflect. I met him at a time in my life when danger was exactly what I wanted. I didn't want to be normal. I didn't want to feel anything real. I just wanted to get lost and never find my way out. He was good at that. He was good at ignoring the world for what it was, for having that good time and not caring what anyone thought. It was about being in the moment at 3 am in the morning, high as a kite, and happy as a clam because we had no real responsibilities... until, of course, I knocked myself up ;)
But you know what? He was a flame in my life that was never going to last. Was our failure all of his fault? No, it wasn't. I will admit my part in our doom but we were doomed from the start. I was just a kid and he was candy I just couldn't say no to back then. And we all have these boys or girls from our past that are gone but still leave an impression on us. He was the first man I ever had a relationship with and the last little boy I ever tolerated. I look at my husband now, so kind and steady and true. I am so grateful that I realized that I deserved someone like him. I do truly believe that we get stuck with these people that are no good for us because we don't see the value in ourselves. We don't think that we're good enough for real love, for actual kindness, for someone to truly accept us. It is frightening to be so vulnerable with someone so completely and much easier to be happy with someone you can hide from. The person you are hiding from will never really know you, anyway, right? So when they walk out that door, who cares? So when they treat you dirty, what did you really lose? You lost someone who as never going to make you happy anyway. You won't realize that until much later on, I get it. It took me years to understand the damage the biological father had done to me. I didn't really see it until I met my husband. I didn't realize it until I was putting the bad baggage the other gave me on my husband. You can correct it though. You can learn to understand that these bad boys/girls that we entertain ourselves with are merely lessons on how we should be loved and we should be loved in a way that is going to enrich our lives.
My husband and I have been together for almost 8 years now, married for a little over 4. I don't know if I would have appreciated his as much as I do without all the toads I met along the way. When we are young and full of spirit, we should go out there and try out different matches for us. We should date those toads that aren't supposed to be our princes/princesses because without them, we won't truly see the beauty of something real. I don't regret a single man that came into my life. They all taught me something more about myself. I understood that sometimes you can't save people from their own devices. I learned that ultimately my worth never truly lied in anyone else other than me. My daughter is a product of love, maybe not an everlasting love between the two people who created her but a love just the same. The Bad Boys/Girls that sit on our roster are reminders of all the things we once were and we are the wonderful outcome of what we become.
I sat there today and thought about people, their behavior and how they deal with different things in their lives. It is fascinating to me the different ways people deal with joy, with loss, with gain and failure. While some seem like they take no time in getting over something compared to someone else who seems like they take forever. It is fascinating to me how people who go through some kind of tragedy either rise above it and others fall because of it. What in human makes on more something than the other? Is it a strength that we just inherit from our surroundings? From our parents? Why do some grow thick skin and others fall apart? There is beauty in both, a wonderful hope that lies between the lines. And which way is right? Neither and both at the same time. All I know is my way of dealing with the tragedies my life has encountered and that's all I can judge, that's all anyone should judge is their own.
I know that when I get hurt, I shut down. I know that when I become disappointed, I get angry. I know when my heart breaks, I pretend like it's not in a million pieces. And I know that when I am happy, I want to share it with the world. When I was 18 and torn apart, I didn't behave the way people thought I should have. When I was 20 and pregnant and stuck in a marriage with a man who didn't care, I didn't behave the way people thought I should have. When that man walked out of my kids life, I did not behave the way people thought I should have. And when I lost my father, I never stopped in my footsteps. In all of these things, my way of dealing was to keep pushing forward. I would catch my breath later. I would find time to heal between the shifts at work or the kid's school schedule or after I washed the dishes. The way I have always dealt is to put on a great face and never let anyone see that I was vulnerable in any way. It was instilled in me due to so many hard times that I was the only one who could heal my pain so I did... eventually in my own way. But who was to say my way of dealing (by not dealing) was wrong? I sit here tonight and I am fine because eventually time eased the pain, forgave my loss.
And out of that hardship came brilliance. Out of that horrible college night, I was set on the path to have my kid. Out of that horrible marriage, came a wonderful realization of what I was worth. And out of my father's loss came an understanding of what love truly meant. I was talking to a friend yesterday who just got out of a relationship. It wasn't healthy but it made her happy for a moment... until it didn't. Now she's better, working very hard on making herself better. She tells me that part of her motivation is this gentleman. Is it negative motivation? In my opinion, absolutely not. If the outcome of your retribution (for lack of a better word) is something positive, then what's the problem? She is a kind, wonderful, beautiful lady and she always has been even if he had never come into her life. Sometimes though it takes walking a very difficult path to realize we were a garden all along.
We all deal with our life, our hard, wonderful lives differently. We shouldn't tell someone that somebody else's way is better than the other. I went back to work two days after my father died because I couldn't deal with sitting in my house, lost in his memories. It wasn't a healthy choice for me but I can't say my way of shoving myself back into real life is what is best for everyone. Who am I to tell you what is best for your broken heart? Here is the one thing that heals all of us: Time. Time eases the loss, the pain and reminds of the joy after awhile. I can now think of high school in a positive way. I can remember those people I used to call friends even the one who tore me apart with a smile now. I can remember moments of her father that weren't all bad now. I can remember my father with a smile and not cry every time anymore. Time has healed the parts of me, toughened the scars that they left. Moments happen but moments pass. When they do, you get up again. You get up again.
I had this revelation the other night when I realized I had finally figured exactly who I was. All the doubt that I used to carry around with me, all the anxiety that used to strangle me so tightly are no longer personality traits that determine much of anything anymore. I watch people around me struggling with their doubts, their anxieties. I want to tell them that it will all be all right. You figure it out as you go. Sometimes the best direction is no direction at all. Failure is not as scary as it seems. The right kind of failure always points to something brighter. These words I would have never been able to understand ten years ago, maybe not even five years ago. I would look at someone trying to tell me this flowery bull jive and roll my eyes, probably whispering curse words under my breath because what do they know? And I would've have been completely OK to react that way. When I was around 23, I worked at an office. I had a couple of really awesome girlfriends that worked with me. I was working as a Receptionist, the lowest person on the totem poll for sure. They were a few years older than me. They would say stuff like this to me. They would tell me that one day I would have a different understanding about life, that it wasn't always about the good times. They told me I wouldn't always be consumed with so much anger, so much sadness. They told me that I would figure it out and find my own peace. At the time? At the time, I doubted every single word that came out of their mouths. I knew better. Don't we always know better?
So I sit here tonight and write this blog about all that doubt that we carry around while we're trying to figure it all out. There was a time when I was filled with so much anxiety about my life that I was put on some medication. I'm not ashamed of it. I was never ashamed of it. I don't think it made me weak in any form. Sometimes you need that kind of help. These pills kept me steady. They very clearly didn't solve the doubt that I clung to, ease the pain that hurt, or stop the fear of the worst. I was afraid of everything. Was I a good mother? Was I a horrible friend? Were my parents proud? Was my power going to be cut off? Constant fear of letting someone down because over the years that's what it felt like I was doing. I was so filled with doubt that I didn't see how healthy my daughter was. I couldn't see the kindness my friends truly had for me. I was completely incapable of believing I could possibly make any one proud. Truth be told, however, the power did cut off a couple times. That one came true but I always got it right back on, no worries. I let this doubt get the best of me when it had no right to be anywhere near me. So, no, I couldn't believe the words those kind girls were telling me because I wouldn't let myself hear them.
Doubt, this funny little word that holds an insane amount of power, can keep us away from so much goodness. I've had plenty of people in my life doubt my ability just as much as I have had people who knew that I would be all right. I stopped taking those pills about three years ago. I haven't had a craving for them or need for them. I haven't felt like I have lost anything because I don't take them anymore. I quit the job that I hated and started working a job that I enjoyed, started working on my writing. I found people again who made me smile, who inspired confidence. I had two pills left in my bottle with one more refill. I woke up one morning and looked in that bottle at those tiny little pills. I wasn't angry or sad or anxious. I simply felt in control in that moment. I looked in the mirror and asked myself a very serious question, "Do I need this anymore?" My response was no. I was an adult with responsibilities, a woman with baggage, and a girl who didn't need this crutch anymore. I never took a pill after that day, never thought about taking those pills after that day. I allowed doubt to sit in the driver seat for far too many years. It was time I stepped out of the back seat.
Life is challenging. There are so many things out there that will make us feel like we are not good enough, that we are not strong enough, that we aren't pretty enough but really who is judging? Shouldn't the only people out there who have a say in what your enough is is you? It seems silly to me that I spent so many years trying to live up to someone else's expectations. Mine were just fine.
My dear friend is at her sister's wedding this weekend. She had asked me to find her a poem about love which unfortunately I could not find because of a lack of time, maybe. Really I think it is because I have always had a skewed image of love until I met my husband. I looked for a poem for her, I did. The ones I found, however, were all a little bit jaded even the sweet ones. Is it because I didn't know love before my husband? Or was I just blind to see the love these men I once knew truly had for me? And I think it's a little bit of both. My daughter is 15, just starting out in this world. We've had the talk and all that jazz but she has yet to have a real relationship. Between you and me, I hope I got another year or two before I have to deal with an actual boyfriend. It's not because I don't want her to experience that. It's really because I'm terrified for her first heartbreak. I remember mine so clearly.
I was never with a lot of guys in high school. I had two serious boyfriends, both very different from the other. The first one was my best friend and it was a natural progression for us to move to that next step but it was clear in the end we should've always just been friends. And there was Bubby (code name of course). He was nothing like and exactly the same. We were stubborn and firecrackers and two forces that were never going to see eye to eye. And if we had lived that dream of getting married after high school, there would be no way we would have stayed that way. Those loves, those amazing loves taught me so much but they also made me realize that love was a finicky lady.
And then I hit my twenties. I was horribly hurt and broken and thought men were disgusting. I was going through some stuff all because of a boy I thought loved me but he never did. So it made me skeptical of every man out there. I put the damage he had done on them and held strong that eventually they would all just leave me bruised or walk away or take what they wanted regardless of me. I married a man who didn't even really like me. I was an easy ride and we both knew that there was nothing everlasting about us. But out of that man, I got the greatest love of all and that is my daughter. Sometimes the most beautiful things in your life come out of the darkest loves.
I met my husband 8 years ago. We debate all the time on how long we've been together but it doesn't really matter in the end. I was in my late twenties, raising this kid, working some jobs and trying to make ends meet. I knew him. He knew me. I thought he looked like a dick. He thought I looked like a bitch. Then one day, I landed next to him. He smiled and made me laugh and filled my sanitizer bottle. He had tattoos just like me and it was obviously destiny that he was the man to make me believe in love once again. I feel like he's been in my life the entire time. I remember him not being a part of this family obviously but he fit so naturally that it seems like it has always been the three of us. I remember early on the relationship I put a lot of stuff on him that he didn't deserve. I assumed that he would hurt me. I assumed that he would walk out that door. I assumed all he wanted out of me was a good time. He was none of those things. He was a man, a kind man, who thought I was cute. He was a man, a kind man who truly wanted to know me, to fall in love me, and eventually spend the rest of his life with me. He is the first man to accept every part of me, flaws and all. He is the first man I have never been scared of. I know that sounds strange but there is a beauty that I don't know if he'll ever understand of me feeling unconditionally safe.
Love comes in all forms. Sometimes it's fast and hard and over before you know it. Sometimes it's slow and steady and has always been there. My daughter is at the beginning of her journey while I have gratefully settled into my happily ever after. I hope that when she starts to experience love that it is kind to her. I hope when her heart first breaks she understands that it can always be put back together. Love will mend. It's not always nice. It's not always easy. My husband and I have a wonderful marriage and a great friendship but it takes work. We don't always see eye to eye. We're not always on the same page but at the end of the day we have respect for the other. Love can bring out the worst in us and inspire the best of us just the same. I can write a poem now about love without the jaded jabs I so often found in my older stuff. I can write a poem about love now because I finally understand what love is, what love does, what love means.
Over the last few days, I've heard my husband talk to his bar guests about his resolutions for the new year. He wants to do something kind for someone every day. Whether it be for someone he knows or a complete stranger makes no difference to him. He's been holding strong to this. And on the other side of this, he wants to call people out on their bad habits just the same. My daughter asked him if the calling people out would just be cancelling out the good deeds. And is it? I don't have an opinion either way and that's not what I want to write about but I do think there is something valid about calling people out when they treat others disrespectfully even if it is tough to do. But tonight I want to talk about this idea of kindness, about passing it along. Really aren't we all here to help each other out? As much as I would like to think I am an island and I can do everything all by myself, the truth of the matter is I will never be able to do a lot of things all by myself.
I raised my kid by myself for the first 7 years of her life but when I look back, I realize that I had a few helping hands along the way that I don't know if I ever thanked properly and acknowledged in a way that was fitting. There were days I needed help picking her up or dropping off from daycare or school. There were nights where I had to step out and take care of a few things. And there were just days when I needed a break. I wouldn't have been able to step away like I did without the help of paternal grandmother or my parents or friends. It was their kindness that allowed me to raise this kid with a sane head on my shoulders. Sure, I was the one supporting her but it was these wonderful people who were supporting me. I feel like most of my life has always been on this path to become something amazing. I thought that it was to be the best mother in the world. So, I did that (relatively speaking of course). And then once I conquered that, I was going to be the best wife in the world and obviously check *insert smirk here* but I wouldn't have ever been able to accomplish anything without kindness from the people who love me.
I was talking to an old friend the other night. He was asking how my writing career was going. I told him honestly that I didn't know quite what I was doing but I had this website, limited of course. He asked me how much it would cost to make it something more. So I gave him a number. He said done without asking for anything in return, without me probing him for the money, without expecting anything in return other than me to keep pushing forward. I haven't sat down with this kind gentleman in years. We don't send each other Christmas cards or gifts on our birthdays. We randomly talk to each other on Facebook. That's the extent of our interaction but there is still a kinship between us. Of course, I told him no initially but I knew him well enough that he wasn't going to take that answer so I gave in. It was the only thing to do. Today he dropped by the money and I am still in awe with all of this. When I opened the envelope, I found a letter. It said simply, "Because I believe in you." I put that note in my book so now every time I open it to take someone's order, it will be the first thing I see. It will remind me that this man's kindness is one of many reasons to keep chasing this dream. He didn't have to support this endeavor but he did. He didn't have to write me that note but he did. He didn't have to do anything but he did.
I want to be more like that in my life. I want to help you because I can, not because there is anything in it for me. I want to help that old lady put her groceries away and feel good that her life was a little bit easier in that moment. I want to teach my kid that kindness is contagious and encourage her to spread the word. I know that it is the beginning of the year and we're all full of good intentions but I hope that this is the year that they become more than wishful thinking. I want to sit here in this chair next year and write about how many kind, wonderful people flooded my life. I want us to be kind to each other for no other reason but to be kind. I hope that my website flourishes and my words are spread all over the world but it will be because of the kindness of all of you reading these words. I hope someone writes every single person out there a note simply saying, "Because I believe in you." Sometimes it just takes one kind word. Sometimes it just takes one simple belief.
The number 62 has been running through my head all day. 62, this what would appear to be a random number, has been in everything I have seen and done today. I was at work yesterday, working another 12 hour shift, when I went outside to smoke a cigarette and sit down for a second. I checked my phone like I always do, not thinking much of it. I saw an email from my mother and read it because I thought she needed something. She didn't need anything. She wrote her children a beautiful email about our father because today is his birthday. He would have been 62 years old today if he had survived his cancer. He would have been waiting by the phone, patiently waiting for us to call him, one by one. It would've been a contest between us kids to see who could wish him a happy birthday first. The winner would have been a toss up between my sister and I, my brothers soon to follow. I would have offered to take him to dinner or grab some coffee after work. We would have met and he would have been smiling at my digs at Republicans because that was what we did when we were together. He would have laughed and I would have taken for granted the time with him because I didn't realize how much I loved spending time with him until I couldn't any longer. I was sitting outside last night on the back dock of the restaurant by myself, reading my mother's sweet email about how my father found peace and all I could do was cry. All I wanted in that moment was for him to be sitting in that chair next to me but he didn't.
This is what i did feel though. I felt his presence in that moment like I always do these days when I start to miss him. I felt his hand on my shoulder like I do these days when I feel alone. He would have put his hand on my shoulder and never said a word because that's the way he was. He never knew quite what to say other than to put his hand on my shoulder. I was the kid that kept to myself, that was hell bent on solving my own problems but every time I said, "Dad, I need help," he was always there no matter what. He was there even if he knew it would upset my mother. I sit here tonight and write these words and I know that I wasn't the best at being that for him when he needed me the most. Last night I felt him tell me that he was all right and that he was right there with me. We were driving home after my shift was done. I was tearing up a little but I had this memory that made me laugh. I was little. I don't know how little but I remember living in Indiana and I was wearing pigtails. I had made my bed for the first time and remembered how incredibly proud I felt at my accomplishment. I remember running downstairs and tugging on my father's shirt to show him what I had done. And then I fell into another memory about the same age. I remember I had fallen asleep on the couch except I hadn't fallen asleep on the couch. I was faking it. I remember my father, my big and strong father, picking me up off that couch and carrying me to bed. I remember my head on his shoulder and the way it felt to be carried like that, protected and safe. Then I remembered the way I looked back on my siblings, smiling while closing my eyes, so proud of my accomplishment of tricking my father into carrying me up the stairs.
So, tonight I sit here and write, thinking about the email my mother sent and remembering the man who was my father and I don't want to be sappy. I don't want to sit here and write about how hard it is or how sad I am or how empty it feels to know that my father is no longer in this realm anymore. I want to celebrate the 61 years that he did live, that he thrived, that he loved. He was a kind man with a million faults and a giant heart. He had big dreams but his biggest one came true. He had four children, four great children who all grew up to be independent, kind, loving, and sometimes a bit of mess. He had a loving, beautiful wife who although had their problems, still loved him after was all said and done. My mother, this rock of a woman even if she doesn't realize it, will always be our beacon of strength. I don't think any of us would have been able to make it through his funeral without him. In the 61 years that my father lived and breathed, he was loved by so many of us. When my parents were young, the started a house for abused mothers. At the time, I was very young so I didn't understand why we were always at that creepy house which was in fact haunted. I just thought it was their job and that's what they did. I didn't understand until years later what it's true purpose was. My father was genuine and honest and flawed. There are bits of him in each one of us. My sister got his drama with my mother's caretaker qualities. My older brother got our father's big dreams with my mother's ability to get them done. My little brother got our father's kind heart with my mother's love of food. And me? Well, I inherited my mother's stubbornness with my father's sensitive soul. We are our parents' children and our parents loved us.
If I could tell my father anything tonight, if in some way he is listening, I would tell him thank you for always being a great father. I would tell him that though we had our differences and I didn't always follow the path he had hoped I would, I never strayed from what he ultimately wanted for me. I would tell him that I miss the way he would correct my grammar (even when I wasn't wrong at all). I would tell him that the Cubs almost made it this year and I would have loved to have seen his face through all those games. I would tell him that I will secretly cheer on the Bears in his honor. I would tell him that Hilary was going to be the next president just to get under his skin. I would tell him that I miss him and wish I could have told him all the things I wasn't able to when he was sitting right next to me. And then, after all that sentimental stuff, I would tell him for the mere purpose of irritating him, "Thanks Obama." And he would have laughed just like I remember, just like I will always remember him.