Category Archives: what I know now

She was talking about life, and ending it.

cliff-girl-jeans

That was the night I stopped believing words were enough for people.

There were actions, things you did when life went wrong. You sat in your bedroom and cried in your little black dress before the funeral. You spread band-aids on scraped ankles. You held your sister’s hand when she got stung by a bee and spent all Saturday soothing it with an icy can of Sprite.

But you couldn’t talk people out of pain. You couldn’t say the right thing, at the right time, and shake off all that hurt.

If you asked me about it, whether the earth shook beneath me the night everything changed, I’ll tell you no. No, not at all.

In fact, it took almost two years to figure out what to do with all the fear in my bones.

There was a girl. There was a ringing phone. There was the backlit blink of 12:30 in the morning. And on the other side of the phone, there was me.

She was standing at the top of her very own metaphorical cliff that night, hope bleeding out of her, falling to the depths of the darkness beneath her. She was begging someone to illuminate those caverns below. She was talking about life, and ending it.

I said what I could. What I had figured out thus far. And let me tell you, it ain’t much when you’re barely 20 years old and just a few steps back from that cliff yourself, learning to walk away from depression so real it whittles you away for months.

As bad as it got, as tough as it was for me to climb, I never once wanted my life to end. And so when she called, drunk and tired and depressed and lonely and walking back from some bar, I couldn’t find the best words. Mine fell flat. They weren’t what she wanted to hear.

So she shook me off, said she was done with this life, said she was thinking maybe she ought to just end it, and said nevermind, and hung up on me.

In the hour that followed, after I called a friend and begged her to drive the 45 minutes to this girl, or for God’s sake call her and say anything better than I did, I couldn’t sleep.

Suicide, that nasty little word, became real.

Now, five years later, I believe there was something different there, a tiny drop of light she saw, a name on her iPhone contacts list, a girl in a bed with stars wallpapered to her ceiling.

She could have gone home, found a knife, a gun, a bottle of her anxiety medication. She could have been another girl to not wake up on Saturday morning. But she did. She would. Wake up, I mean.

A few of my favorite people in the world right now are struggling hard with these obstacles they cannot overcome. These uncontrollable facts about life. These waiting games they’re playing, until the sun rises on their own little ending. And sometimes, when I talk to them, I catch myself thinking of her, all those years ago. And I wonder if words will ever feel like enough to the recipient.

And then I remember – sometimes, it’s not what you say, but that you say anything at all.

Sometimes, it’s not how you answer the phone, but that you answer it at all. At three a.m. and midnight and seven a.m. When you’re stuck in rush hour traffic or cooking dinner or winding down to go to bed.

The moments you pause and let someone else find the ocean of possibilities just beyond the cliff? Those are the ones that fill you up and keep you whole.

You know yours and I know mine.

Jake Owen and I emptied the dishwasher last night.

kitchen-teapot

Yes, that is how I spend Friday nights at 25 – emptying my dishwasher and dancing to the beat of a song called Beachin’.

That’s how I measure my happiness – whether or not my Friday nights are spent dancing in the kitchen. Maybe it’s something in my bones, maybe it’s the way people used to dance around the fire while their food cooked, but something about my kitchen and a good feeling makes me want to dance and sing and laugh until the corners of my eyes hurt from squinting.

We all have that measurement. The one that, no matter what else is going on around us or in our heads, tells us everything we need to know about our own happiness. For you, maybe it’s whether or not you walk out of Target with a cart full of cleaning supplies and trash bags or a cart full of crop tops and cutoff jeans. Or maybe it’s whether or not you made it out for that weekly run at the hiking trails. Or the number of showers per day you averaged last week.

You know yours and I know mine, and it’s dancing barefoot in the kitchen, getting lost in the music.

I avoided my kitchen for years. Food was my enemy. Because all I wanted was to shrink small and away, back into some corner of the Earth, dancing in the kitchen just didn’t give me joy back then.

Yesterday, though, I walked around feeling the way you do after a boy kisses you goodnight for the first time, in the glow of the buzzing lights outside his house, with the clock itching to strike eleven.

Alive, they call it.

For months, I wrung myself dry with too much work and anxiety and stress. In the last few weeks, I have felt myself budding with more energy and hope and love and patience.

So Friday morning, the culmination of all that cleansing, the walking away from too many things that pulled me down, rose to the surface of me. It bubbled up and out.

And I started thinking about how if you had asked me, six months ago, whether all this was gonna be okay, I would’ve told you no, probably not, not for years. I felt stuck, drowned, waterlogged.

And now, taking life, like a toy, into my hands and twisting it back into position, I feel like breathing, and swimming, and floating.

That’s when my best friend’s text comes in.

“I feel like it’s a ‘you’ thing,” she writes.

She’s known me 12 years, so finding a ‘you’ thing in her days isn’t hard; I find ‘you’ things all the time.

In fact, on Thursday I found myself picturing her mother as I read a chapter in a book about a woman praying in the kitchen. Because when I crack open the front door to my best friend’s house, I always find her mother in the kitchen, and the cross on the wall, and she’s asking, “What can I pray about for you?”

To answer her mother would be to open the floodgates. I cannot answer straightforward questions, because they turn into marks about the life I am heading toward, and whether it’s right, and whether it will be whole and good and satisfying and feel true enough that I won’t wake up in years shaking in my sleep from anxiety that I did this thing all wrong.

So often, I shrug in response. But the text I cannot brush off, because it comes at the exact time I need it to.

“Tell me something good,” it reads.

Truthfully, it’s much longer, a screenshot from some strange girl’s Facebook status about how she and her friend have started each day by sending each other a good sentiment, no complaints.

Years ago, on those days when I avoided the kitchen, and country music, and calories, I wouldn’t have been able to find a good thing in my days. I was looking in all the wrong places.

But now, I know I can answer her. And so I say, “I’m no longer waiting to live the life I want. I’m not, like, waiting for it to start. I’m happy with my apartment and my job, my friends are all growing up doing big, exciting things, my sister is living closer so I can see her if I want to, I’m planning to invest more in friendships that I think got crazy because I was just burned out about life. So it all feels really positive. Even though bad things have happened and will always happen.”

It’s that last part that gets me, because even as I told her, it wasn’t until I said it that I knew it was true. And yet, I’m ready. I hope you find that you are too.

Tell me, tell me something good.

Anxiety is just the boy who never called you back.

floral-phonecase

Tonight, I feel like I can breathe again.

Years, it’s taken. Years have gone by with my blood racing through my veins, heart pumping fast, stomach muscles clenching.

Anxiety will do that to you. It suffocates all the good in the days – the warm slice of pizza, the smell of hot pavement in the rain, the cool breeze hitting your toes on a hot May afternoon – until all you can feel are the deadlines, the extra calories, the next item on your to-do list, the email you forgot to send.

It wrecks you. It strangles you. It demolishes the joy, and you resent things. People. Stories. Phone calls. Anything that keeps you from tackling your next task, pushing that anxiety down for a split second. Relaxing in the warm sun on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t happen. There is no time to relax. There is no time to feel the cool breeze on your toes.

There are only the minutes ticking away, the ones you’re wasting sitting here, and the ones you could have spent building a better life.

That’s what it comes down to, then. A better life could have been built if only you never settled for a second long enough to eat your dinner at the kitchen table, and lay beneath the covers a beat longer, and let the hot water soothe your neck in the shower. You could have saved more money, gotten a raise, purchased a house. In all the time it took you to read a chapter of your book, every week for months, you could have done so much more. Are you ashamed?

That’s what it feels like. That’s how I felt. For years.

Today, I stepped out of my shower, toweled off, and thought about my calm heart. I rubbed my toes into the bath rug, feeling the soft fabric on my feet, and breathed deeply. Because it’s taken me a month to wring all that negativity out of me, but it’s gone.

I hope you know that we cannot be everything to everyone at all times. We are human, fallible creatures, emotional beings with needs to love and care for others. There may never be time again in my day to tense up at all the bad things, the mistakes, the could-haves, the would-haves, the should-haves. There will be tomorrow, and you should get excited for it, because tomorrow is ripe with energy + possibility. Tomorrow is the day you start letting go. Tomorrow is the beginning of an unchained rhythm in your tightly woven mind. It is the unraveling of irrational thoughts. It is the start of something good, something that makes you want to rub your toes into the carpet just because it feels good.

Tomorrow, you will relearn all the simple pleasures your day surrounds you with, because they are waiting for you, and anxiety won’t ever care about you like that.

Anxiety is just the boy who never called you back. Until, of course, he needed you at three in the morning. It’s just that nobody tells you this: you don’t have to answer your phone. Let it ring.

All The Good Things In Life

large-fruitbowl

My weekend was drenched with the sound of feet on carpeted stairs. Footsteps pounding up and down the stairwell, an army of semi-strangers lugging couch cushions and dish detergent and kitchen knives. We tore open cardboard boxes and shuffled around the small apartment, putting everything in its place.

It was the perfect Saturday. When your limbs are tired and your heart is full, when you exchange stories with strangers you hope to someday call friends, it is a good day.

Because love is noisy, it’s messy, it’s scratched and frayed.

It is knocking on the front door to your sister’s new apartment and hearing the “we’re not here – you can’t come in” and fit of giggles on the other side before the door cranks open.

It’s unwrapping a handmade bowl from Italy, delicately encased in dishtowels and folded into a box for safe transport.

It’s settling in to hook up an X-box, though you’ve never played X-box before.

It’s discovering a whiteboard with a man’s scribbled love notes, kept intact after months while he’s away training for the military.

It is handing sandwiches to new friends across the table you only just leafed together, the one your sister’s boyfriend’s grandmother insisted your sister take.

It’s making sure you have enough fruit salad and potato chips, enough banana peppers and onions on your turkey sub. Like, love is making sure you have enough food in your stomach at all times – day or night.

It is brothers and cousins and sisters and parents and two families coming together for an afternoon, enjoying the company of each other, settling into the rhythm of unpacking.

I had forgotten what that felt like – to be loud in an apartment, rustling around and settling in. When I first moved to Maryland, I lived alone, miles and miles from anyone I knew. And one night, in July, I called my aunt – she wanted to know how I was doing – and sitting in the dark, because that’s what I do when I’m sad, afraid to succumb to the tough reality of my night – I told her how good it was, how hard it was, how lonely it was.

She told me it would get better. I prayed for months, a year, that she was right, never doing much to change that. Took me a year to realize I was wrong – you have to do something to change it. I met a boy, with a big Italian-Irish family and gaggles of cousins and babies and kids, running and screaming and soccer games and school plays and all the good things in life.

So now, finally, I find myself waist deep in someone else’s family. It’s not every weekend I get to hug my mother or nudge my father’s arm teasingly. Instead, I fill the gaps with loud Italians and Irish yelling in hospital waiting rooms, leaning in for kisses on cheeks, telling me to eat more food, crack open a can of soda, lay my coat on the stairs, sit and stay and have some cake.

It’s time to celebrate a life well lived. It’s time to celebrate all the good things in life.