a lesson

“If you fall in love because someone makes you laugh, what happens when you no longer find them funny? If you fall in love because someone is beautiful, what happens when that beauty fades? If you fall in love because someone can provide for you, what happens when they lose wealth? Real love defies all reasons. When you truly love someone, you do not look for reasons, you see beyond reasons.”

A dear, dear friend shared this quote with me, and as I sit here looking at rejection number 5734809 (exaggerating, but I digress…) I am struck by how truthful it is. It has also encouraged me, allowed me to understand my own motivation behind writing, behind why I do what I do.

Jake and Simone started as a therapy of sorts for me. I was (at the time) engaged, but I was hopelessly in love with a man I’d loved for seven years at that point. I was trying to write out what I was feeling, why I was feeling the way I was feeling. I was lost, and writing out their (my) story allowed me to find my way, find myself.

When my engagement ended, I stopped writing about them. When my then-eight year relationship with a man I swore I would always love ended, I started writing about them again. I was fueled by equal parts caffeine and heartache, trying to get him out of my system. I had music to keep me company, as well as my trusty pup Ira. Together with Ellie Goulding, Matthew Ryan, and countless other artists I wrote the story of Jake and Simone. I finished it late one night just as the nights were getting warmer. I had the fan on and a song I cannot even remember now blaring in the background. I wrapped up their story in the nicest, neatest way I could.

And then I sent my first query letter. I got my first rejection a week later. Since then, I’ve sent out more queries than I can count. And, like I said earlier, I’ve gotten a lot of rejections.

I asked myself today why I did it. Why I put their story out there. Why I put my heart and soul into a piece of fiction that will, it seems, never see the light of day.

And I came back to that quote.

The greatest love stories are those that don’t shatter the earth. The other person sneaks up on you. They make you realize that love is possible by showing you. I had that love story, and I ended it because the other person was, simply, not good for me. Jake and Simone were different – the Jake I wrote was very different from my real-life version of him. I am, by my own admission, no Simone.

But this is a story that needed to be told. I needed someone out there to understand that love, even when it’s messy and makes no sense, is possible. Love isn’t about just looks or just humor – it’s about every little thing tied in together. It’s about arguing over the direction of the toilet paper and moving cross-country just to be in the same time zone as the person you love.

Maybe I’ll never get an agent. But at the end of the day, I can still say I wrote a story that needed to be told – a story that nagged me to be written. A story about love in all of its dysfunction and chaos.

And maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn.

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Dear Mama

Dear Mama,

This is not my first Mother’s Day without you.  As of tomorrow, I will have faced this day nine times.  I have not faced it alone, though, and today you reminded me of just that.

I met a young girl today who lost her mama when she was young.  I listened as she relayed her tale, and found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said – that she felt a little lost sometimes, that life without a mom had been difficult initially – and I heard the person she was talking to tell her that her mom would be very proud of her.

And I was struck by how accurate it was – this little girl who never had the chance to know her mom was still making her proud.  She was still living her life.

And I realized that up until recently, I hadn’t been doing that.

And I’m so, so sorry.

You told me not to let your death, your absence turn me into a zombie.  You wished so hard that my heart wouldn’t harden; and yet, after you left, I did just that.  I let what happened to you – and, by extension, to me – define me.  I became “the girl whose mom died.”  I wore that scar like a coat, and I didn’t let people in.  I didn’t let them get to know me.  And, by extension, I didn’t let them get to know you.

I heard a quote once that said “your mother lives inside your laughter.”  I haven’t done too much laughing over the years, and I haven’t let people see the wonderful imprint you made on my life.  I haven’t shown them you, and I haven’t shown them how much you taught me about surviving.

Losing you was, quite literally, like losing a part of myself.  Even now, after coming to this realization just a few short months ago that I had to stop shutting the world out and walking around with my scars on display, I still feel like a part of me is missing.  You were my backbone, you were my right hand.  And now, I have neither of those.

But you certainly left me in capable hands.

MomMom has been the greatest blessing in this entire mess, and I know it’s your doing.  I know you are not the one who made this happen.  I know God is the reason MomMom and I are closer.  But your leaving, your absence, has brought us closer.  And it’s made me realize that you are still here.

You’re the nudge from MomMom when she asks if I’m going to wear that (and these days, that can refer to anything from yoga pants in the middle of summer to shiny red lipstick that she dislikes); you’re the laughter I hear when MomMom is humored by something she reads or sees on TV or hears from Honey; you’re the hug – that warm embrace I miss so, so much – that I get when I’ve had a rough day or just need some encouragement.  You were as much a part of me as MomMom was of you.  And I know that even in your absence, you are still here.

I decided recently, as I said, that I wasn’t going to let your death define me anymore.  Sure, some may still see me as “the girl whose mom died.”  Some may look at me with pity and wonder how I’m putting one foot in front of the other.  Others may not say a word, but still, I feel their pitiful glances and see their pursed lips, keeping them from saying something aloud.

The difference now, though, is that I’m not going to do that to myself anymore.  Yes, I lost you, and yes, your death has had more of an impact on me than I can fully articulate to anyone.  I didn’t lose you in a split second, didn’t watch you walk out the door and never see you again.  I saw you battle a disease that tried to take you from the beginning, and I saw you fight it with grace, and beauty – like a girl, as that song that I love to sing for you says.

Your death has shaped me more than I’ve let on.  It is because of your death that I was able to tell that young girl today that she doesn’t have to get over losing her mom.  It’s because of your death that I started writing again, that I’ve pursued this dream after so long.

And more so, it is because of your life that I can do those things.  You taught me so much in our time together – even if it was something as simple as not wearing white after Labor Day (as an aside, I have not done this… I think you’d be proud).  You taught me to love, and to be compassionate.  You taught me to be brave, and you taught me to chase my dreams.  You taught me to fight, even if all the odds are stacked against me.

You taught me to live.

I can’t express how thankful I am for the nineteen years I got to spend with you, and how thankful I am that you’ve left me with a grandmother who is as much you as she is me.  You are everywhere, and nowhere at all; and as bittersweet as that thought is, I still smile because of it.  I smile because it is breathtakingly true.

I have to get going now, mama.  But I just had to tell you this.  I had to tell you the good news, and I had to tell you that I’m not alone – at least, not in the way I thought I was.  There are other girls out there who had to let their mamas go too early, and even though I do not know all of them, I still feel like I’ve found a tribe – a group of girls who understand loss, but more importantly understand how crucial it is to let this trial shape them, but not define them.

You are, and always will be my best friend.  My story will always start and end with you – because you are the reason I’m even on this earth.  I’m going to leave you with this quote – my favorite, and one that truly describes us, and even you and MomMom, in a nutshell.

As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”

Say hi to MomMom’s mama, and make sure all the diamonds are in order.  And please, please, don’t worry about me.  I’m in capable hands.

All my love,

Ashley