Next Sunday, I’ll be waking up next to my husband. We’ll rise out of bed before the sun, shimmy into shorts, toss on tees and slip on flip flops. We’ll haul our belongings over our shoulders, roll carry on suitcases across a quiet parking lot, and shuffle into the backseat of my mother’s car. We’ll get on a plane and slide into our row and fall asleep on each other’s shoulders.
I think about that moment. How friends and family and neighbors say, “You’re flying out the morning after your wedding at what time?” How they worry we’ll be tired. How they wonder why we wouldn’t want to fly later, in the afternoon, when the world starts to stir.
There’s a quote from When Harry Met Sally that goes a little something like this: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
That’s how I feel. I’m marrying my best friend. The person who makes me laugh every day. Who holds me when I’ve had a bad day. Who wipes away my tears and kisses my forehead. He’s the first person I want to see in the morning and the last person at night. He calms me, challenges me, and energizes me.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t sleep much. I have never been a sleeper.
In the last few weeks, I have stopped myself midway through filing and recycling papers in my office at midnight. Putting gifts into bags and twisting up tissue paper. Considering the hard water stains on my faucets, and how long it might take to wipe all the surfaces in the bathroom.
I know there isn’t much different about marriage when you’ve been living with the man already in a house you bought months ago. But it feels fresh. It feels new. It feels like a chance to stop and say, “Let me make sure I always listen to you and ask you questions and check in. Let me fold the laundry this time. Let me wash your car.”
It feels like a good reason to scrub every surface of my house, to sweep the floors, to beat the rugs against my wrought iron railings.
We don’t need cobwebs. We don’t need dust. We don’t need dirt. We need clarity—about our hopes, our dreams, our goals, our love, our daily wants and needs. We need to declutter externally before we can feel free and fresh inside.
So my floors are swept. My counters are clean. My heart is open.
Exposed bulbs strung from wood beamed ceilings, mason jars with Christmas lights tucked inside, the bird’s eye view of a city below illuminated house by tiny house on a Friday night. It reminds me that no matter the miles, we’re all fragile human beings, bumbling around trying to connect and shine bright in each others’ hearts.
A tomboy at heart, my childhood summers were spent running through the hills and valleys of my neighborhood, reaching for lightning bugs. They were always too far out of my grasp. But the energy, the sprinting, the hope that I might be quick enough? I loved it.
Now, when I pull up to my parent’s house at night, if I’m coming to visit for the weekend, it’s the shine of the front living room lamps, my dad sitting on the striped gold and red sofa. It’s the glow of a TV coming through the front windows, the ball game playing softly through the glass panes. That is a house lived in. That is love in a glass jar.
The night before I signed up for Match.com, I sat atop my pub height kitchen table in men’s sweatpants and sobbed. Sorry that I couldn’t adjust to life in a new city. Sorry that my guilty pleasure was watching movies where Girl Meets Boy and they fall in love, and out of love, and back in again.
I was embarrassed on that cherry wood table. Love felt magical then, like a lightning bug to be chased at eight thirty, the sun finally shutting its eyes for the evening. It felt like this possibility, if I grabbed my mason jar quick enough and stood just the right distance away and caught it.
So, with the promise of love so deep it hurts, and makes you grow, and become brave, I joined Match.
Last night, in my future brother-in-law’s garage, at midnight, the moon aglow behind us, J and I talked to his brother’s friend about love. “I told J, ‘Not everyone loves like us, you know? This is something special’,” I told her in that garage.
She told us about her boyfriend, a man who’s traveling to exotic beaches and sending her photos each morning, “Good morning, Jamie” etched in sand. She said not everyone does that.
We know it’s true. We talked about people who stop and see the world, who know what they have and hold tight, who appreciate the small moments. We talked about the feeling you get when you know you’ve got something good, when you want to spend the rest of your life by their side. And the glow, the light inside, the spills over and out of you, so that others see it too – that love is a spectrum and we are far, far on the generous side.
“I can see it on your faces,” she told us. “And in the pictures you post online.”
There is a glow, that all of us should be so lucky to have, that sits inside of us when we see an old, beloved friend, or a favorite cousin, or a baby brother. It’s the light that guides us home, the light that keeps us going, that tells us to try again, that pushes us toward our infallible dreams, that propels us through tough times.
Next summer, I’ll be lucky enough to stand in front of a man who loves me more than I could ever hope, who sees the good and bad and all the in-between moments, and see that same light shining back.
And the only thing that makes me happier than that is seeing that same moment for all of the people I care most about, for their shining light, for the lightning bug they so desperately want to catch, whatever it is – a book they’ve been writing, a job they’re searching for, a place to call home, a person to come home to.
Whatever it is, tonight & every night, I hope they that light.
“Stop waiting for the boy with his fingers in another girl’s hair.”
I wanted to shake her shoulders and say that.
Stop standing on his front walkway, waiting for him to hand his heart to you. Stop daydreaming to the sound of his heartbeat against your head on your living room couch.
“You want to be with someone who thinks you are the greatest person ever,” I told her.
All she had for me was flushed cheeks & clouded eyes.
“I know you don’t want to hear that,” I continued. “But it’s true.”
For almost two years, I watched her hold a stopwatch while he ran laps around her. She’d sit up late with a craft beer in her hand and his number on her speed dial and wait for tomorrow, when he wasn’t spending the night in another girl’s bed.
Every day, for months, she woke up thinking it was The Day.
I wanted her to fall in love with a boy who loved her first, who loved her more, who loved her best. I wanted her to put the heart in herself the way she did her kids, her work, her craft.
I didn’t tell her that boys, boys who love her good, don’t come around only when they’re sick and tired of the girl of the week. They stay. They sit. They listen. They twirl your hair & ask to take you out some nights.
I wanted to.
I wanted to tell her.
I wanted to tell her to stop.
I wanted to tell her to stop taking her anger out on the bottles of Lucky Duck lining the windowsill above our kitchen sink. Stop stacking them atop our kitchen cabinets like trophies. For her, they were trophies, because she could finish them, she could own them she could sit down with a corkscrew and a remote control and drink until Tuesday afternoon felt like Saturday night.
But she never found herself in first place. Not for his heart.
I kept silent. I shouldn’t have, but I did.
Instead, I trained myself to set up camp in the hallway with my textbook and wait for sobs. I’d listen for the cracks in her voice when she said his name. I’d push the conversation forward when she didn’t have strength.
I tried, without stepping over the mess of lies she constructed about their relationship, to heal her heartbreak. To bully her idea of boyfriend into the ground because he never said the words, never so much as thought it true. To find her a future where Friday nights didn’t need fruity wines or tequila shots or drunk booty calls.
Dear girl, don’t you ever let your happiness depend on alcohol & loneliness & waiting for him to suddenly want you more.
I wanted to help. I wanted to carve out a path for her, complete with a white dress and a country ballad and a tall boy with brown hair and a big heart beating just for her.
She got it. She got it & I didn’t find him for her.
I want to sing it. I want you to know it. I want you to dance to the idea that there is some boy somewhere who wants to call you his, treat you right. And he wants to be as fallible & forgivable as you. He wants that, but first, he’ll give you his heart.
Back then, I wasn’t sure.
I’m the girl who doesn’t have a Pinterest board for that Big Day, the girl who broke her heart down the center a couple times over the years, the girl who grew up unsure if she’d ever hum a slow ballad barefoot on a dance floor, telling her to hang on.
I’m telling you, girl. Hang on. Just not for him.
Just not for the boy with his fingers in another girl’s hair. I have a feeling someday you’ll find the right one. She did.
“Stop holding memories and postcards and thank-you notes and text messages and start holding hands, running across the street before the orange DON’T WALK signal. Start boiling water for hot cocoa and sitting on a familiar sofa with familiar faces and cups with dancing tuxedo penguins warming my palms.”
“We all need someone to challenge us. In the cold, dark December days, we need light. In the hot, bright August afternoons, we need air. In the crisp, cool March mornings, we need sunlight. In the fierce September sunsets, we need warmth.”
“But that doesn’t happen. I am learning that doesn’t happen. When people care & bring you into their lives, you can’t skip around the dusty parts, the cracks and fault lines. You get it all. He got it all.”
“But they loved me once. We once swapped stories in my kitchen with the light dimmed over the table. We once dished ice cream into bowls or screamed at football games or danced on the bay window in my family room. We knew each other then. And so they get a Christmas card.”
“If we were brave souls, things would be different. We’d tell our loved ones that we really freaking love them, that the world gets loud and they keep the chaos from engulfing us whole. We’d tell them that daily. We’d whisper it and yell it and twirl around in the pasta aisle at Wegmans and say, “Yes, let’s make spaghetti and meatballs. Let’s make garlic bread with fresh garlic. Let’s grate our own cheese. Let’s stop worrying about the pounds on the scale and the weight on our hips and just be. Just freaking be.”
“It’s like the world is singing a song and the printer ran out of ink and so you are the only kid in the chorus risers who didn’t get a copy of the lyrics. And for what feels like a reason all separate and unrelated to how tall you stand, shoulders back, hands by your side, smile in your pocket.”
“I’d like to think that time is a thing to be won, a thing to be held, a thing to be saved. But it’s not. It’s a thing to be lost, under the sofa cushions and beneath the bed and behind the clothes dryer. It’s a thing to be wasted, sleeping into the afternoon and staying with people who don’t care about us, and standing stuck in ruts because it’s scarier to jump.”
“It wasn’t until months later, when autumn peaked its head out from under the covers of our grief, that we learned the truth: The leaves turned deep shades of red, just like the fire of her hair and her fight. We belly-laughed hard into the cold winter, trying not to find meaning in the way those leaves fell one by one to the ground, shedding like her white radiated hair just before she died.”
“Keep your joy in your pocket and your boy in your heart. Keep your heart in your hands and your hands on your hips and your hips ready to bump someone out of your life if they start trash talking the people you love.”
“But we grow up, and we become question marks at the end of someone else’s thickly scripted sentences. We become the commas that beg the Knowers and Truth Speakers to keep going, just trust us, just a little farther into the possibility that what I am is good and right and more than okay.”
“You’ll learn to apologize in diner booths and desolate parking lots. You’ll learn to look him in the eyes and say you are so very sorry. That being scared made you do terrible things. You’ll learn that hearts break because people die in car accidents, or move away, or leave for college, or graduate college, or stop answering your calls, and not all of those will be romantic losses. Not every crack will be a lost love story.”
“And so I can only hope they find happiness in moments instead of years, in hours and minutes instead of months, in the kindness of strangers who hold doors and wave you to make that left turn when you can’t quite see whether it’s safe. The crossed-off to-do list. The clean house. The freshly laundered sheets. The shoveled sidewalk.”
“Change was the tornado that flattened Joplin, Missouri and the earthquakes that leveled Japan and the hurricanes that washed away Louisiana and the planes that penetrated the Twin Towers and cancer that eroded my grandmother’s lungs. Change was the acceptance letter, but it was also the stuffed backseat and my best friends crying hard in my parents’ driveway at 7 a.m. It was the sinking feeling in my stomach.”
“Because, for a while, we were removed from the heartache that soon overtook us. We had already seen + felt too much, but we were trying so hard to be balloons overlooking the pain of the world for as long as we could float on.”
“Someday he’s going to hug the cotton of your sweatpants like the skimpiest summer sundress Target ever clearanced. He’s going to steady himself in the way you dance, barefeet on the kitchen floor, to the sound of corn being popped on the stove.”
“There is a triumph in being so acutely aware of the pain in this world, even when we squint at it from waiting room television screens, but pressing forward with the promise of fixing, cleaning, restoring + rewriting the future, the life, that waits for us the next time we take a step back.”
“When we’re 16 or 24, life feels like it’s spinning onward faster than we have time to process it. We read a book in two days and learn the way cancer feels like a ball and chain around our ankle. We wait for a school bus to load up with kids at the corner and watch a young girl bounding down the street, her mom running behind her with her backpack in tow, and we remember why love is the thing with wings.”
“That’s the thing I love most about their family: the busyness of working one or two jobs, full-time and then some, raking together money to buy cars and pay tuition and bills, to provide for the people they love so fiercely, all the while finding time for this monthly meeting of food and laughter.”
“What they don’t tell you about eating disorders is that when they happen, it feels like the worst kind of tug-of-war win. Your friends and family and health care providers stand at one end of the rope, pulling it taut toward them while you wrestle with what little energy you have to stay firmly planted far far away.”
“We are in a relationship with the things we say and do and imprint on the hearts of others—strangers and friends alike. And it is beautiful. And it is terrifying. And it has nothing to do with this new thing called “social media” and everything to do with being a human being who lives and breathes and walks outside and looks at someone else and speaks to someone else and tries to find the right words for someone else.”
“I had gone to the gym and slow-jogged a pathetic sixteen minutes and eighteen seconds before giving up. I had worn mid-shin socks with mesh shorts like some sort of preteen girl version of a lax bro and I was pretty much the least likely person to get asked on a date at that community clubhouse.”