honoring the fallen

What have I given,
Bold sailor on the sea,
In earth or heaven,
That you should die for me?

What can I give,
O soldier, leal and brave,
Long as I live,
To pay the life you gave?

What tithe or part
Can I return to thee,
O stricken heart,
That thou shouldst break for me?

The wind of Death
For you has slain life’s flowers,
It withereth
(God grant) all weeds in ours.

F.W. Bourdillon

 

I have not always understood the true purpose of Memorial Day.  That is not to say that I take for granted the purpose of this holiday; rather, I was one who wished people a “Happy Memorial Day” and thanked veterans for their service.  And that is not to say that I am not thankful; rather, I was missing the point – Memorial Day is for the fallen, those who we must remember, those whose memory we must keep alive, even though they are not.

And yet my mind still goes to the living – those soldiers who came home from war alive.  I’ve always heard that war changes you, and I do not take those words lightly.  I’ve met countless veterans over the years whose families say that the way they are now is not the way they’ve always been.  I’ve met veterans themselves who have said that the wars they fought changed them on the outside and the inside.

I wholly agree that Memorial Day is for the fallen, and do not wish to debate this.  But I would also submit to you that perhaps Memorial Day is also for the living who did not come back in one piece.  Perhaps they left an arm or a leg on foreign soil; or perhaps they left a happy and carefree person, and have come back unsure, scared, and feeling alone.  No matter the change, there is a piece of that person that was left on the battlefield.  There is a piece of that person missing, a piece of that person has died.

I will spend this day reflecting as I always have – honoring the fallen, thanking them silently for their sacrifice, and bearing a sadness I cannot describe that it is only one day a year we have set aside to do this.  I will reflect on poems as that one above, thankful for the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life so that I can sit here and write this.

And yet a part of me will also mourn those who are still living, those who have lost pieces of themselves – physical and mental pieces – to wars that they fought on my behalf.  I will silently thank those brave souls as well for doing what I could never do.  I will silently mourn the losses they have suffered.  Because Memorial Day is for the fallen, and yet the fallen are not all deceased.

The fallen is the veteran who can’t go to a fireworks show because the sound is too much for him to bear.  The fallen is the veteran who lost an arm because they encountered a roadside bomb.  The fallen is the veteran who shoots straight up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and tears, because the nightmares are just so real.  The fallen is the (more than) 22 veterans a day who end their lives because they no longer see hope in their situations.

I will remember all of our nation’s fallen, and continue to be grateful for the sacrifices they made.  I will reflect on the love these men and women had for their country – a love so great they were willing to die.  This holiday, for me, will always be about honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice; but this year, I will also remember those who have made various other sacrifices, lost parts of themselves, and have been completely and utterly changed by the wars they fought.

With a heavy, and grateful, heart.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Without Reason contest/giveaway!

I promised myself that if I didn’t find an agent by the end of the year, I was going to self-publish in 2016.  With that in mind, I am now hosting a contest/giveaway for my newest book, Without Reason!

The rules are fairly simple.  I have four options for the cover art for the book.  I want YOUR (yes, all of you!) help picking the one you like the best.  The one with the most votes wins.  AND, from all of the people who take the time to vote, I am picking one person to win a free signed copy.

A brief synopsis can be found below the pictures.  To vote, just put in the comments section your choice — cover one, cover two, cover three, or cover four.

Thanks for your help, writing community!

Cover 2Cover 1Cover 4Cover 3

Synopsis:

It came as no surprise to Simone Perrier that she fell madly in love with Jacob Wessner. The summer before college felt different, like something big was about to happen. Just hours before she was set to move across the country, she spotted him in a crowded bar. She wasn’t looking for love, but it certainly found her, and the next ten years of Simone’s life were nothing short of a roller coaster.

WITHOUT REASON details from Simone’s point of view the highest and lowest points of her decade-long love story with Jacob, providing unique insight into a relationship between two people who just can’t seem to get it right. Simone speaks to her own indecisiveness, trying to choose between her life with Jacob, the fatally flawed man who loved her more, and Ian Colston, the man who seemed to calm the chaos Jacob caused. In the end, Simone is left with a choice between the two, but she realizes even the simplest of answers can cause the greatest heartache.

better place

“I never knew things could be so bright.”

I turned to look at her.  She was standing at a spot in the Space Needle where the sun was brightly shining through.  She looked like an angel.  I forced myself to not think about the terrible, awful things I’d done to her.  She was beautiful, untouched.

Not even by me.

“You made everything bright again for me,” she said.  “You made my life a better place, Jake.  I can’t… it’s crazy, right?  Our relationship is so dysfunctional.  But… you made everything better.”

“I could say the same thing for you,” I told her.

“Yeah, well, you don’t say it often enough.”  I stood beside her as she looked out at Seattle.  It was an unusually sunny day in the city, but I wasn’t complaining.  It gave me a chance to take my girl out, see the sights.  We hadn’t had much time to ourselves.

I sighed.  That was my fault.

“Don’t do that.”  Her eyes never left the view.  Even without looking at me, she knew I was beating myself up.  “Don’t hate yourself because you have a job and you’re busy.”

“I heard that inflection,” I told her.  “You can get a job, Simone.  It’s not like—“

“It’s not like we’re moving back to New York in a month?”  She asked.  “What would be the point of taking a job when this is temporary?”

“We can stay out here,” I said.

She shook her head.  “I want to go home, Jake.  I miss my friends.  I miss my family.”  I saw her lips pout as she stared out at the view.  “I miss us.”

“We’re still the same people, Simone,” I said.  “We haven’t changed.  You’re still the girl I fell in love with one summer.  I’m still the—“

“The guy who put my heart back together and broke it all over again?”

“Are we having a fight?”  I asked.  “Is that what you want to do?  We can have a fight, but I’d prefer if we weren’t in public.”

“I’d prefer if I were back home, but alas, we can’t always get what we want.”

“You moved to Seattle with me, Simone,” I told her.  “I didn’t force you to come.  I told you that you could stay home and I’d be back.”

“We did the long distance thing already, Jake,” she said.  “We broke up twice.”

“Once,” I countered.

“So the day you slept with the TA for my history class was what, a break?”  She sighed.  “We aren’t Ross and Rachel.”

“I would hope not,” I said, remembering the episodes of Friends we watched together over the years.  “I don’t have the energy to chase you all the way to Paris.”

“She got off the plane,” Simone deadpanned.  “Granted, you haven’t had a movie night with me in forever, so you haven’t seen that episode recently.”

“Do you want to have it out here?”  I asked.  “I’m trying, Simone.  I’m really, really trying, and all you seem to want to do is argue.”

“I don’t want to argue, Jake,” she said sadly.  She finally turned to meet my eyes.  “I just… I wanted to tell you how much better things are with you, but this really is the most dysfunctional relationship I’ve ever been in, and yet it’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in.”  She leaned against me, resting her head on my chest.  I wrapped my arms around her, sheltering her as best I could – though as of late I hadn’t been doing a good job of that.  “You’re my one in ten million, and yet I can’t help but feel like you’re still looking for that.  Like I’m not enough, even though I moved out here, even though I put grad school on hold so we could be together out here.”

“I’m not,” I said firmly.  “I’m not looking for anything, Simone, outside of you.  Look, I’m sorry I keep fucking up.  I’m sorry I keep sleeping with anything in a dress.”  I chuckled bitterly.  “And I’m sorry I forced your hand to move out here, but I promise you, things are going to be different.  Things are going to be better when we move home.  You’re going to go to grad school and I’m going to be a hot detective and we’re going to rule the world together.”

She laughed.  “You sound awful sure of yourself.”

“Yeah, well…” I trailed off, searching for the right words.  “I can do anything with you.”

“Ditto,” she said.  “But… can you do me a favor and start telling me these things without me having to almost start an all-out brawl in public?”

I smiled at her.  “Why don’t you tell me?”

“No girl wants to tell her boyfriend that she wants to be appreciated,” she said.  “I just… I want you to think of you, Jake.  I want you to do what’s necessary so you can get ahead, but I want you to think of me, too.  Of us.”

I kissed her forehead, hugging her tight to me.  I remembered in the early days of our relationship when I was so scared of crushing her – how tiny she was, how fragile she looked.  But she was stronger now, full of sugar and spice and piss and vinegar.  I’d put her through hell, but she stuck by me in spite of it.  I shoved my hand in my pocket, felt the velvet box that I’d been holding for a year.  I was waiting for the right moment, wanted to do things right by her, make up for all the shit I put her through.  Now seemed as good a time as any…

“Oh!”  She squealed, releasing me.  I dropped the box, my hand flying out of my pocket.  “Can we get sushi and red vines and binge watch that new fairytale TV show?  Hadley says it’s super complex and you have to watch everything together.”

I smiled.  There would be a better moment, less public, when I could finally ask her to spend the rest of her life with me.  “Yeah, let’s get out of here.  Want to pick up sushi on the way home or have it delivered?”

She shrugged, looping her arm through mine.  “I don’t care.  Though the sushi place that delivers has those spring rolls you really like.  Hey, Hads said that Cinderella makes an appearance, too…”

I smiled as she chatted away about the new show and all the characters she was excited to see.  She was a simple girl – woman, really.  She’d grown so much since that first night on the beach, and I’d had the privilege of watching her grow.  She was beautiful then, but now… she was even more radiant, bright, full of life.

And it didn’t matter if it happened tonight or another eight years from now, I knew I would be spending forever with her.

prologue – fairytale tragedy

Crisp autumn leaves littered the ground as I made my way down the familiar driveway.

“I’m pulling in now.”

“See you soon?”

I hesitated, my breath catching in my throat when I heard the words.  “See you soon.”

I ended the call, placing my phone in the cupholder, where it’d been for the duration of my three hour drive.  I kept it on silent, much to the dismay of my colleagues, supervisor, and close friends.  I never heard it ring unless it was directly next to me, the incessant buzzing forcing me to take the call.

I lived a non-stop life, going a mile a minute.  I’d been like this for years, pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion, only to take a day or two off before going at it full speed again.  I drove the people in my life crazy, but I thrived off of the frenetic energy in my life.  I wasn’t happy unless I was throwing myself headfirst into something – a work project, a personal project…

A relationship.

My breath hitched again as the thought crossed my mind.  I focused on driving, though I only had a few more feet before I would be forced to park, get out of the car, and finally confront the one thing – the one person – I’d been avoiding for years.  I knew how long it’d been, how long I’d been dodging calls and ignoring the emails.

But I wasn’t about to admit that to myself.

The garage door was shut, just as he’d told me it would be in his most recent email.  I parked outside of it, looking around to see if he’d shown up yet.

And of course, he hadn’t.  He’d just finished telling me that he’d be a few minutes late, caught up with some last minute work business.  He was always true to his word – even if all he was doing was telling me he’d be a few minutes late.  It would be no more than five minutes, and I knew I would see him.

For the first time in a decade.

I pulled my bottom lip into my mouth, worrying it until it started bleeding.  I tasted the tangy copper in my mouth, knew that if I kept it up my lips would be chapped.  I hadn’t packed lip gloss for this weekend, didn’t even know if I’d be around the whole weekend to really need lip gloss.  Nevertheless, I quit chewing, pursing my lips instead.

I could do this.

I opened my car door and stepped out into the cool autumn air.  More leaves rustled as the wind picked up, chilling me to the core.  I tried to ignore it, that nervous feeling in my chest.  My heart was beating rapidly, my breaths were becoming shorter…

I was panicking.

Of all the things I could do, losing my composure was not one of them.  I tried desperately to get my breaths under control, to calm myself down.  I tried to think of something – anything – else, but it was no use.  Our two minute conversation was already replaying in my mind, and thoughts of what would happen over the course of the next few hours – or weekend, I had chosen to take a few days off – clouded my mind.

I slammed my car door shut and made my way up the walk, pausing only to grab the key from underneath the ficus plant that sat outside the front door.  He told me it would be there and, true to his word, there it was.  I would eventually learn to stop doubting him.

But then again, my reservations were not without basis.  I had history to back me up.

Feelings of nostalgia hit me like a ton of feathers as I walked inside.  No, they weren’t bricks.  These memories were not rough, not hard, not cold.  They were soft, pleasant to the touch, but weighed me down nonetheless.  They sat on top of my heart, crushing me, reminding me of a time in my life that, in hindsight, was certainly not better, but simpler.

The feathers tickled my nose, reminding me of the smell of brownies wafting through the house.  They curled around me, like the red blanket that was still draped across the back of the couch.  They surrounded me, floating through the air like the snow that fell the last time I was here.

I moved to the kitchen, taking a trip down memory lane – allowing myself one weakness, finally, after ten years of pushing weakness as far away as possible.  I felt it all coming back to me at once, those feathers pelting me.  They didn’t hurt though – a pleasant surprise.  I anticipated the bricks, anticipated having the wind knocked out of me.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

          And there’s where you danced with him in the kitchen, the voice in my head reminded me.  I saw us glide across the floor, felt his hand at the small of my back, leading me, showing me the way.

          There’s where you had a flour fight.  I smiled at the words, remembering the flour from the cookies I was trying to bake ending up everywhere but in the bowl.  I remembered my hair being coated, my face white as a sheet from the flour, but my cheeks bright and red from laughing so hard.

I moved through the kitchen to the stairs, walking up them until I got to the next floor.  There’s where he told you he loved you, the voice said.  I remembered him sitting with me in the middle of the floor outside of the bathroom, fresh from a shower but nonetheless determined to tell me how he felt – a first for him, he claimed.  That was something I actually believed, even a decade and a dozen lies later.

          There’s where his parents slept.  My chest tightened as I felt that familiar tug.  His mother loved me like one of her own.  I hadn’t been around when she died, showing up only for her funeral before hightailing it back home.  I couldn’t risk seeing him, being alone with him.  I allowed my bitterness toward him taint the relationship I had with his mom.

I wiped away a stray tear as I continued my trek, knowing where I was going but nonetheless feeling the butterflies all over again as my feet carried me forward.

          And that’s where you told him you loved him, the voice reminded me.  It was nearly a month after he’d uttered the words, so many days afterward when I’d finally confronted my feelings for him.  I’d been scared, afraid of what saying those words out loud would mean.  I didn’t want to get hurt, didn’t want to have my heart broken.

And in the end, that’s exactly what happened.

I stared at the perfectly-made bed in the center of his room.  The walls were the same color blue they’d been the last time I was here.  The comforter was still black, the floor still white carpet, save for the stain I spied by his night stand, where I spilled my red nail polish the day of prom.

There were so many memories, but they didn’t hurt, didn’t make me feel like I was going to die from the pain.  It hurt to breathe.  I felt myself gasping for air as I turned and made my way back down the stairs, my trip down memory lane finished for the time being.  There would be a new set of memories that I knew I would have to deal with when he arrived.

          Here is where you said good-bye.  I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, taking a seat in front of the door to the study – his father’s study, the same study where I found out the truth about everything.  I remembered my words to him clear as day as I sat there, taking in my surroundings.  On the wall opposite the stairs, near the kitchen, was a growth chart.  His height throughout the years.  I studied the pink crayon mark more than five feet up the wall, where his mother measured me on my first visit.

I studied the place where our feet stood ten years before, where he told me the truth about everything, and I ran away from him, telling him I never wanted to see him again.

And then bright and early one morning, I received an email from him.  In a moment of weakness, I responded, extending an olive branch.  We made peace via email.  And now, he wanted to make peace with me face to face.

I hoped.

I shivered involuntarily, pulling my coat tighter as I stood.  I stared out the window, trying to keep warm by folding my arms around me.  Like that’ll do you any good, the voice inside my head said.  It sounded like another version of me – a me who was older, more aware of her surroundings, someone who would certainly never have come here.

“I shouldn’t have come,” I said quietly.

“I’m glad you did.”

I whirled around, taken aback by how different, and yet how familiar the voice was.

He studied me intently, looking me up and down.  I did the same, my eyes scanning down the body I once knew like the back of my hand.  I called him my map once, covered with freckles, places I longed to discover.  He loved me so completely, and I shared his passion.

And now… we were strangers.  It amazed me how quickly it’d happened.

Once upon a time we were strangers, people who didn’t understand one another.  Time went on, though, and we fell into a pattern.  I learned his habits.  He learned my quirks.  We studied each other, fell harder for each other and allowed ourselves to get caught up in it all.  We went from strangers to lovers – people who at one point did not know one another suddenly knew each other completely, inside and out.  He was my fortune teller and my fortune.  He was the sun, and I was drawn to him, caught in his warmth.  I was his captive audience of one.

I was his everything – literally, everything.  I didn’t understand until much, much later just what everything encompassed; but when I did, I flipped the switch.  My sun became my night, a darkness I could not escape fast enough.  He went from being my safe haven to being my worst nightmare.

And just like that, the two people who knew one another inside and out became two people who knew nothing of each other.

I lived that life for ten years, pretending he didn’t exist, pretending that I didn’t care.  I took care of only me, looked out for only me.  And in a moment of weakness, the ten years of care I took with myself were ruined completely.

I realized all of this as I studied him, and a thought came unbidden into my mind that I could not erase, could not walk away from.  Yet it was true – the truest thought I’d had in a decade, and brought on by him.  The irony was not lost on me.  The liar became the beacon of truth.  My darkness became my light.

I could not outrun him.  I could not live a life where he did not exist.  The years I spent running from him were useless.  He would always find me, and I him.  There was not a place in the world that existed where we could be without one another.

My carefully laid plans were ruined, and it was all because of him.  But I couldn’t fault him that.  It was to be expected.  He’d ruined my plans once, long ago.  He had an aura about him that demanded attention, and I knew this would be no different.

I thought back to the first time I saw him, the first time I talked to him, and smiled.  It would go without saying that the boy who came into my life with a crash and the loudest of noises would re-enter it in the same fashion.

“Hi.”

thank you

I’ve had these words swimming around my head for a few days.  But as with all of my thoughts, I couldn’t organize them.  I needed to make sure that what I was thinking was, well, what I was thinking.

People give me grief for still living at home.  I live with my grandparents, and my uncle Artie, and a little puppy named Ira who makes me crazier and yet more understanding with each passing day.

They all have that effect on me, though.  My grandma reminds me daily that I need to make sure I’m not eating or drinking anything that will make me sick – like chocolate and wine and certain coffee, for instance.  My grandpa gives me trouble for having too many tattoos and piercings.  Artie asks a lot of questions.  At the end of the day, I catch myself wondering what my life would be like if they weren’t in it.  I tell myself if I can just get completely out of debt and settled into a real career I can move out and that’ll be the end of it.  Ira and I can move into a little one bedroom apartment and live out our days with chocolate and wine and my favorite coffee and each other.

But I know it won’t be that easy.

See, last week I had a reaction to said coffee – I can only assume it was that, as it was the most recent thing introduced that would have caused such a reaction.  It really isn’t of any consequence what caused the reaction, just that it was caused.  I had a headache, I was paralyzed from the pain.  I was swollen and my eyes couldn’t open.  I was in pain.

I needed an EpiPen.  Those of you that know me know that I have several tattoos.  I can handle pain.  I don’t mind it.  But if you know anything about EpiPens, you know that there is an instant shock when the needle pierces your skin.  I can’t handle that surprise shock.  I don’t like knowing it’s coming and shooting myself with it.  I hate the noise the most, I think.

My grandfather, ever the understanding, caring man that he is, stepped up to the task.  When I couldn’t give myself the medicine, he did it for me.  He ran through the process with me to make sure he knew what needed to be done, and he did it – no questions asked.

But you see, not only was I having a reaction to my coffee or chocolate or wine or whatever it was – once my grandpa administered the EpiPen, I was instantly lightheaded.  To be honest, I knew that part was coming, but I’m never really ready for it.  I hate when it shows up because I’m helpless.  I have to lay down and wait for it to pass.

Only this day, it wasn’t passing.  Soon I grew short of breath, and my headache returned full force.  I was certain I needed to go to the emergency room.  I asked my grandma to take me, told her that I needed to go because I couldn’t breathe.

“Come here,” she said to me.  I made my way over to the couch, collapsing onto it when I reached her.  And my grandma took one of my hands in hers, placed her other hand on my head, and sat there with me.  “Let’s give it a second.  Calm down.  I’m here.  Let’s just give it a little bit.”

She sat with her hand on my head for 30 minutes.  Finally, the feeling passed.  I was still “woozy,” so to speak, but I could breathe again.  My headache dulled.  No, I wasn’t instantly better because of my grandma’s touch, but it was a vast improvement.  Later that evening, as I sat on the couch and watched a movie with my grandparents and Artie, a new thought came to my mind.

Where would I be without them?

October was a particularly hard month for my family.  Breast Cancer Awareness ads filled our TV screen.  People proclaimed from the rooftops that they’d beaten cancer, or that they were going to win their fight.  I watched my grandmother chew her lip in anxiety as mothers announced that they got to keep their daughters.  I heard the hitch in my grandpa’s breath as fathers beamed proudly as they looked upon their daughters, victorious in their fight.

I wanted to write about it, to share their pain.  But it’s not mine to share.  My pain is separate from theirs.  And as the days passed, I felt less inclined to shed light on their stories, if only to spare them the additional hurt that may have arisen from seeing my words.

But that afternoon, as my grandma sat with her hand on my forehead, I wondered how many times she did that for mama, as my mom’s fight drew to an end.  I wondered how many times my grandpa tried to find something on TV for mom to watch, to distract her from her pain.  I wondered how many times Artie circled the S’s in his word search book, showing them to his sister.  I knew that though they were all pained in one way or another over the loss of mom, they were also pressing forward.  They had no choice.  As my grandma recently told me, “I promised her I’d look after you.”  My grandfather echoed her sentiments, albeit in his own way – with a smile, and a nod, and a pat on the back.

I didn’t have the opportunity to write anything for Breast Cancer Awareness, and I refuse to take part in the “30 Days of Thankful” on Facebook.  Instead, I’m combining the two.  I am writing about my family – dysfunctional as we may be, and not always in agreement.  I am writing not about my grandparents’ pain, but their fight.  I’m writing about their selflessness.  I’m using this as my “I am Thankful” statement – for not only Thanksgiving, but every single day of the year.

I am thankful that my grandmother keeps an eye on me.  I am thankful that she reminds me to probably not eat that, and maybe don’t drink that – because she knows how I react to certain things.  I will likely not be able to eat and drink various foods and drinks for the rest of my life.  I’m sad to say that my grandma will not be around to warn me ahead of time for the rest of my life, though.  I am coming to grips with it, and trying to take more time to listen to her instead of reacting to her.  I’m trying to take more time to hug her, to sing her silly songs in the car, to go on three hour shopping trips for two pairs of pants.  Yes, MomMom, those really are a size six!

I’m trying to take time to listen to my grandpa, even though we certainly don’t agree on everything.  I’m listening when I can, and debating with him when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m watching the news with him, talking to him about work (when I can), and telling him new stories that I hear about the Marine Corps.  For me, he has always embodied the words “Semper Fidelis.”  He is always faithful, always true.  He has been there for me every step of the way through this crazy game of life, and I will never forget him holding me close the night mama left, telling me that eventually things would be okay.  Guess what, Honey?  You were right!  I’m sure you’re not surprised.

I’m also taking as much time as I can to spend with Artie – buying him word search books so he can show me when he’s circled all the S’s, playing him old country songs, and having dance parties in the car to Taylor Swift.  He is always going to be my big brother, even if he is my uncle.  No matter where I go in life, I know he will be in the back of my mind always, making sure he’s okay, making sure he’s taken care of.  I promise to get you a “’ccino” again soon, bub!

There will come a day when my grandmother’s voice will not carry through the house, asking me if she can borrow a pair of my jeans or a blouse she likes.  One day, she won’t be there to encourage me to go talk to the cute guy at the farmers’ market.  There will come a day when my grandpa won’t be around to tell me I have too many tattoos.  I will have to inject my own EpiPen one day, without him there to hold my hand and ask if he has all the steps down right.  There will also come a day when Artie won’t be around to go run errands with me, to giggle as I come up with crazy dance moves while I’m driving.  These thoughts terrify me, but I refuse to stew on them.  I can’t worry about what’s coming.  I can only focus on now.

And now, I’m going to go spend a little more time in this crazy house with my favorite people in the entire world.  I’m so thankful for them.  I’m thankful for their guidance, their constant presence, their voices that fill my heart until it’s almost full.  I’m thankful for their example, for their love.  And I’m thankful that no matter where I go in life, they will always have my back.

I love you all so, so much.  Thank you for loving me back.

I will be okay.

I don’t like to talk about relationships.

No, really.  I don’t.  I hate talking about them because I don’t know what I’m doing.  I overanalyze situations.  I overthink things.  I don’t necessarily make myself sick over it, but it gets to the point where I feel completely helpless.  Am I saying too much?  Should I text him first?  How soon is too soon to tell the family?

This, my friends, is what keeps me up at night.  I know, I know… total first world problem.

But I’m actually finally getting “back out there,” whatever that’s supposed to mean, and to be quite honest, dating is scary.  I spent most of high school dating my way through the starting lineup (joking – I mostly dated the bad boys in school).  After high school, I got engaged.  When that ended, I found myself in a new relationship – one that, for all intents and purposes, lasted roughly eight years.  In the moments when I wasn’t with that person, I was dating other people.  Most notably, I was engaged again in 2013.  When that ended, I went back to the safe place, the security of the eight year relationship.  I’ve never been “alone.”

Though I can’t say what I’ve been for the last almost year is alone.  After realizing that the eight year relationship was most definitely not going anywhere (he had a girlfriend, come to find out after he’d kissed me and told me this time was going to be different) I decided to strike out on my own.  Since then, I’ve been surrounded by the people I love the most.  I’ve been discovering myself, immersing myself in my writing, in music, and in Jesus.  I’ve found myself, really – what I like, what I dislike, what I believe, what my convictions are.  I’ve been throwing myself back into my passions and having fun with my friends and not giving a second thought to the fact that there hasn’t been a romantic interest in my life.  I haven’t been alone, I suppose; I’ve just been single.

And happily so, I might add.  I didn’t really start to “get back out there” until a few months ago.  I went on a date with a guy that I talked to previously, but it never went anywhere because of aforementioned eight year relationship guy.  He was nice, though a bit too young for my taste.  I don’t mind dating guys who are younger – don’t get me wrong – but I do have an issue when it’s evident that they’re too young.  I know plenty of 24 year old men who are more mature than 30 year old men.  It just depends on the person.

So, after a string of bad dates, ranging from the guy who was too young for me to the guy who just wanted to have a fling because I seemed “like a good time,” I retreated again.  I wasn’t yet ready.  I couldn’t bear the heartache of being told that I was nothing more than a good time.  I needed more time – time to build myself up, time to keep on writing, time to keep on discovering myself.  I wasn’t in a rush.

And I’m still not in a rush.  Don’t get me wrong – a husband and babies are all in the plan.  I may make jokes about the fact that I need a baby as much as Pamela Anderson needs another boob job, but I really do want to have kids one day (so much so that I looked at the sperm bank online, but that’s another story for another day).  I just know that it’ll all happen in God’s time.  I can’t rush what He wants, and He doesn’t want to rush me, either.  It’s a delicate balance between Him and me.  I’ll know when the time is right.

But none of that stopped me from talking again to another man – a man who has faced his fair share of demons.  He’s been in worse shape than me, has walked in a valley that I do not believe he’d wish on his worst enemy.  My heart hurts for him even now, as I type this.  He’s the kind of guy I could certainly see myself with.  He’s been on my heart for the last year, since the last time we spoke and I told him, plainly, that if he wasn’t looking for what I was looking for, we needed to part ways.

Which brings us to about a week and a half ago.  I was driving to Charlotte to visit my best friend, and was stuck in traffic.  I know most of you are wondering what I possibly could have been thinking, getting on the road on a weekend when the east coast was under threat of a hurricane, but my actions cannot be explained.  I needed to see my best friend, and I wasn’t above making the drive to go see her.  Some people understand me better than others – and she’s one of them.

But nevertheless, there I was, in traffic, stopped, sitting and looking around at the other drivers wondering what they were all thinking (spoiler alert: we were all bored out of our skulls wondering when we could drive again) when my phone chimed.  I never EVER have the sound on my phone, but decided to have it on for the drive down so that I would know if my grandma tried to contact me.  It wasn’t my grandma sending me a text, but this beautiful, troubled soul I described above.  He was driving down to Hagerstown for something (I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell) and said the drive down made him think of me.

He and I had something of an odd relationship.  Most of our time was spent in small, quiet diners or sitting in either of our cars at the top of the mountain.  Our time together was never rushed.  We would talk, or we’d sit in silence and take in our surroundings.  We’d have dinner, or we’d have coffee and discuss what was going on in our lives (if we were so inclined).  We’d plan it days in advance, or he would randomly text me to tell me he was driving down to come see me.  There was nothing constant about it, save for how easy it was to be with him.  He didn’t push me, and I didn’t push him.  We moved at our own pace, in our own time.

But he didn’t want a commitment (isn’t that how it always goes?) and just wanted to push the sexual boundaries on our relationship.  I couldn’t do it, though.  I couldn’t fathom putting myself in a position like that again, after spending the better part of eight years of my life with someone who just wanted sex from me as well.  I cared deeply for this man, but I cared about myself more.  I issued the ultimatum, and he decided that no relationship with me at all was better than a committed relationship.

I don’t begrudge him that.  Like I said, he had plenty of demons he was facing at the time.  I cared deeply for him – and still do – and I couldn’t bear to put any pressures on him that he didn’t need.  My ultimatum was not issued in the hopes that he would just choose me, but rather so he would understand that I couldn’t give him what he wanted.  I already knew he couldn’t give me what I wanted.  When we ended, I was something of a wreck.  I was fine on the outside, doing my work and spending time with my family and taking care of myself, but on the inside I was a mess.  In hindsight, I think my concern for him was what caused my inner chaos.  I was worried if he’d be okay, if he needed me, how he was doing, what he was doing…

But one day I realized I couldn’t keep doing that to myself.  I needed to worry about myself.  I needed to move on.  I needed to let him fix what needed to be fixed and either come back to me, or make someone else happy.  It wasn’t my place to take care of him.  It was my place to take care of me.

All of this information flashed in my mind when I saw the text from him.  I panicked, of course, and wondered if I should even respond.  But I’m a bleeding heart.  I don’t like to ignore people.  Even when my coworkers text me and I can’t relate to what they’re saying, I try to tell them something to let them know that I’ve read their text messages.  I get Facebook messages from people who want to make small talk and I respond, even though our conversations are brief.  I responded to him, told him I was driving to Charlotte and that I hoped he was well.

And that was that… or so I thought.

It was less than a week later that I was sitting with my phone in my hands, wondering if the decision I was about to make was the right one.  I had no pen and paper, so I made a pro/con list in my head.  I weighed the odds – whether he’d even want to talk to me at all, what the impact would be on me if I talked to him, if I could handle him walking away again if this went south – and sent the text.

It was something simple – “Hey there.  How are you?  Sorry we couldn’t talk last week.”  He responded in seconds, telling me that he was doing well, was working a lot, looking at a promotion, and he understood I couldn’t talk.  I was driving (more or less) and my safety was more important than talking to him.  He asked how I was doing.  I told him I was well, enjoying my position, loving every minute of my job even though it presented its own set of unique challenges.  I told him I was happy.  He asked if I was seeing anyone.  I told him I wasn’t.  I asked if he was seeing anyone, and he said he wasn’t.

Okay, so we made it over that hurdle.

I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted the conversation to go in, wasn’t sure I could stomach another rejection at the hands of this man.  Instead, I let him lead.  He would say something about going out, and I would tell him I wasn’t looking for the casual thing he was looking for when we last spoke.  He said he wasn’t just looking for something casual, and that he’d missed me.  Before I could even respond to that message, he told me that he’d finally taken the time to think about his emotions, and he’d missed me so much.  He wanted to see me.  He wanted to spend time with me and see if there was anything between us.

My heart… jumped to my throat.

I won’t go over all the gory details of our conversations since then.  We emailed a lot because he said that’s easier for him when he’s at work.  We exchanged a few more text messages, and then… silence.  The silence came out of nowhere (for me) but I think I started noticing it when I was trying to hammer down plans for us.  I didn’t push – knowing too well that pushing this man will not get me anywhere, and also knowing that this man doesn’t need someone nagging him – but I did ask, once, when he wanted to get together.  He responded an hour later, saying this week would work.  I told him to let me know, and left it at that.

And then I didn’t hear from him for two days.

I used to be the girl who was “in your face,” always pestering and hounding and trying to find out what a guy thought of me.  Thankfully, as I got older, I managed to rid myself of that habit.  When I didn’t hear from him for an hour that night, I didn’t push him.  I let him answer on his own.  When our conversation ended that night, I decided to let him talk to me the next day, because I didn’t want him to think I needed to talk to him every single day.  I was okay on the days he didn’t talk to me, but my heart soared on days when I saw that he’d sent me a text message.  I wasn’t quite putty in his hands, but the man who’d stolen my heart was stealing it away again… or so I thought.

I’m now at day three with radio silence from him.  But unlike the last time this happened, I’m not pushing him to talk to me.  I’m not hounding him and blowing up his phone with text messages or his work email account with emails.  I’m not begging him to spend time with me.  Over the last year, I took some time for introspection.  I didn’t want to be that girl – the desperate one who would go out with a guy at any time, no matter what else was going on.  I didn’t want to be the annoying girl whose name was tossed around like a joke.  I hated being that girl.

So… I stopped being that girl.  This silence from him is enough for me to close the book again, but the last week and a half of having him back in my life has also given me a glimpse into the kind of man I want, too.  When he said we could see each other, he wanted us to meet half way.  He wanted to “hang out” and “see what we could get into.”  He wanted casual, even if he wasn’t saying it.  Which was another reason why I didn’t pursue him further, and allowed him to talk to me when he wanted.  I wasn’t readily available for him, either, not wanting to encourage something that was not going to happen.  If I’m going to expect more from the guys I date, I need to expect more from myself as well.

But along with expecting more from myself, I also expect more for myself.  I don’t want to “meet halfway” and “hang out.”  I want to be picked up at my door, and maybe have my car door opened for me (flowers are always optional, if only because I’m allergic to them).  I want someone who can’t wait to talk to me, even if it can only be a five minute conversation where he tells me that he’s going into work and he’ll see me on the other side of it.  I want a godly man, one who can be both my partner and my leader – which, trust me, is not something that came easy to me.  I was always the rebellious one, promising myself that my wedding vows would say “love, honor, and cherish” instead of “love, honor, and obey.”  But as I got older, I saw the value in that type of relationship, and I know that having that godly partner and guide is, truly, my heart’s desire.

But perhaps most important of all the things that I want – all the things that I deserve, really – is someone who will wait for me.  I can be honest and say that I’ve given my heart and pieces of myself away to men who didn’t deserve it.  I’ve had my heart broken so many times I lost count.  I’ve been used, and I’ve allowed myself to be used, albeit blindly in some instances.  By saying this, I am not saying I demand someone who has been wholly sexually pure, but that I deserve someone who sees the value in waiting, even if he hasn’t done it previously.  That’s the reason why I got myself another purity ring – to remind myself that though I’d made mistakes, I could stop now, and take the purity vow and wait.  I can do that because God promised that He would forgive, and I have sought His forgiveness – and continue to seek both His forgiveness and His grace daily.  I seek His guidance, too, and I think that is why I’ve been able to come the realization of all the things I deserve and want so desperately.

Maybe I won’t hear from this tired soul again.  Maybe he’ll drift away – as I assume he has already done, and do not begrudge him that – and that will be the end of our story.  Maybe he’ll get it together in the future, and will be ready for all the things I want.  I won’t be unhappy either way, because I know that whatever happens with him is what’s supposed to happen.

But I also know I won’t be pursuing him.  I won’t badger him, and I won’t put my heart out on my sleeve for him.  I’ll be cordial if I hear from him, and will probably delete his number one day down the line if or when my current phone becomes obsolete (let’s face it, with all this advanced technology, it’s a possibility!) but I won’t be “that girl.”

At this point, I think honestly I’m going to retreat again.  I know my heart well, and while it isn’t broken like the first time he walked away from me, it does hurt a little.  I lose a little hope each time a new match doesn’t work out – even if it’s something as simple as a bad date with a guy who’s a little too young for me.  I need to refocus, center myself, and go back to the drawing board.  Maybe I’ll go on another date in six months, or maybe I’ll still be single.  The thing I’ve learned from all of this is that no matter what happens, IT WILL BE OKAY.

I will be okay.  I will move forward, even if I am moving forward without a significant other.  I will be happy, because my happiness is not dependent on a man.  I will be whole, because I refuse to give parts of myself to another person again outside of the bonds of marriage.

I will be me, because that’s all I can be.  And I WILL BE OKAY.

remembering

There’s a scene in the final season of How I Met Your Mother that, in recent months, has held a little more meaning for me.  Forgive me this moment of weakness, but I need to get this out.

The mother looks to Ted and says something along the lines of: “What kind of mother isn’t there for her daughter’s wedding day?”  Ted cries because, as we all came to find out, the mother died – hence the nine year story of how Ted met her.

But that line – those tears that were shed by both the mother and Ted in that tender moment – it’s been playing on repeat in my mind.  Not because of how I’ll feel without my mom at my wedding (whenever that may be) but because I wonder how she felt.

My mom left me a journal – just a few pages filled with her thoughts during the last two months of her life.  I’ve read every bit of it, hoping to find some secret message she may have left for me.  There are no secret messages, no whispers from beyond the grave; but throughout her writings she repeats the same thing: that she loved me, that she wished she could have stayed, and that she was so, so sorry for leaving.

My acceptance of my mother’s death did not come quickly.  I spent the first six and a half years hating everyone and everything.  I hated the doctors for not catching her cancer in time.  I hated myself for not spending enough time with her.  I hated God for taking her from me.

But as the hate started to fade, and as my sad memories were replaced with happier ones – like the year she made coleslaw with just carrots – I found myself considering more what she went through during that time.

I started remembering things, like how at peace she was when the doctor told her, simply, that she would be lucky if she lived another two months (just to spite him, I think, she lived another three and a half months).  I remembered the day she said she was leaving us on April 15, because she was bound and determined to screw up tax day at the accounting firm where we worked (true to her word, she flashed us a beautiful smile and took her last breath on this earth at 8 PM on April 15, 2007).  I remembered the day she curled up next to me and said she’d always be with me, even if I couldn’t see her (and even now, as I sit here writing this, I can feel her fingernails run through my hair, comforting me and telling me she’s here, she’s always been here).

But that line from the show… the first time I heard it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Some mothers choose not to be there for their daughters’ weddings.  Distance and time and any number of other things harden their hearts.  Pride gets in the way.  They don’t go.  They miss out.  I pity both the mothers and the daughters – and, if you happen to be either one of them, I implore you to reach out, say something.  Make sure they know you’re there.  I do not know your story, and would never presume to do so, but please consider it.  I would give anything to see mama in front of me again, to sing in the car with her as we drive down to Herndon, Virginia, or Washington, DC, or Virginia Beach.  The bond between a mother and daughter is a precious and fragile one, and I know that things happen.  But girls, don’t shut out your mama.  She’s doing her best, even if her best isn’t something you may agree with.

In recent months, though, I’ve just wondered how my mom dealt with it – with the fact that she wouldn’t be here for my wedding.  I wonder how she reasoned with herself – if she reasoned with herself.  I wonder if she knew, even then, that I would be okay, even if it did take a year or two or ten.  I wonder if she struggled with it.  I hope she didn’t.  I recall the struggles she had with the cancer alone, and worrying herself with silly things like that wouldn’t have been worth it.  I suppose it’s too late at this point; but if there’s a parallel universe where my mom is alive and well and reading this while she sips on an umbrella drink in her lounge chair overlooking the Pacific Ocean (I do not believe so, but I suppose anything is possible), I just hope she knows that I won’t suffer when that day comes.  I hope she knows that though my life has been full, in spite of her absence, and that day will be sad without her, but it will be happy because even if she can’t be there in body, she’ll be there in spirit.

I’ve tried not to focus on Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year, if only because last year I went all out for it.  I’ve tried not to write about her, if only because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the writing process, it’s that you pour your heart and soul into it.  You take everything and put it into this one thing – a book, a blog post, a magazine article – and you put it out there for all the world to see.  And at the end of it all, you’re an empty shell.  But you’re still fulfilled – or maybe it’s just me, because in my case, I am able to empty myself of my hurt and my tears and my memories and show it to the world.  One thing I have tried to do is share more of my mom with the world.

Including all of my favorite stories of her.  And, I suppose, that’s how I’ll close this out.  I realize the point of this was to talk about that specific episode of a TV show that’s been off the air for quite some time now, but still… I couldn’t imagine letting this month go by without sharing something about mama.  I wouldn’t be doing her justice.

Most (if not all) of you know that my mother and father (and my father and I) did not have the greatest relationship.  I never pried, if only because I was witness to many of their arguments, and my father and I have had our fair share of disagreements as well.  Well, the weekend of my 17th birthday, he decided to come down.  He knew we were planning a trip to DC and wanted to tag along.

My parents took me to McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner.  It was fabulous.  I ate so many oysters on the half shell I was bursting at the seams.  I laughed with my mom when she did her funny accents, and made an attempt with my father when he asked questions.  When they brought the dessert tray around, I picked the crème brûlée.  My mom asked if they could put a candle in it for my birthday.

The staff brought it out with a candle in it, and I was so excited to try it.  I blew out my candles, picked up my spoon, and… delicately dug in.  I was so scared of breaking the crust.  I didn’t want to mess it up!  Looking back, it was a pretty sad move on my part.  Everyone knows you just dig in to crème brûlée when you get it.  You tear it apart.  I didn’t want to do that, though, and instead took small spoonfuls.

And my mother was not having any of it.  I knew my father’s presence had taken its toll on her for the day.  I knew she was stressed, not in the mood to be nice (though was she ever Miss Manners that weekend) and just wanted the night to be over with.  She reprimanded me (gently) twice: “Dig in, Ashley!”  She said, followed by: “Ashley, you can tear it apart!  That’s why it’s there!”  And then, finally, she grabbed my bowl from me and smashed the spoon into the dessert.  She broke the crust, and then, for good measure, she did it again.  I watched, mouth agape, as my mom showed that crème brûlée who was boss.

Finally finished with it, she slid the bowl back over to me.  “See?”  She said.  “That’s how you eat it.”  She winked at me, let me get back to my dessert, and no one at the table said a word until it was time to leave.

It took me a few years to be able to remember that story with clarity, but looking back now, I wonder how I ever forgot it.  My mom was a nice person – perhaps too nice sometimes – and yet in that moment, she let that defenseless dessert have it.  The memory makes me laugh even now.  I may not talk about her all the time anymore, and may watch myself with the cheesy posts this time of year, but this is one I had to get out.

My mom won’t be there for my wedding, but she’ll remain in my veins, as she’s always been.  She won’t be there when I have kids, but I’ll see her in their eyes.  I won’t have her around for a lot of my life events, but I’ll have her memories.  I’ll have the angry crème brûlée story at the ready whenever someone wants to talk about dessert.  I’ll have the crazy person/cell phone cord outside of her door story when someone wants to talk about being scared out of their minds.

She’s always with me – in my veins and in my laughter and in my tears – and I think that is the most important lesson I could have ever hoped to learn in this crazy, wild ride.

I miss you, mama.  Don’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.