All The Things She Would Have Been

cissy

Each time I cross a monumental threshold, I think of them. Of her, mostly. Of the way she stood in my parent’s hall bathroom, the vent fan blasting.

It was the last stop before the garage and the car door. The last stop before whatever destination came next­—a dance recital or a Friday night dinner or a Christmas mass.

She’d stand there, brush brush brushing my sister’s hair, freeing the knots. Kels hated it, yelling and protesting the whole time, but I know now that was love—pressing onward when you knew someone needed you, even if they couldn’t see it clearly themselves.

She would have been 75 today—one of those years you think about spending on the front porch, iced tea in hand, granddaughter by your side.

She would have been a fiery 75-year-old, freckles dotting her face and her arms and her legs.

Her white hair still in thick tufts along the nape of her neck, not falling to the floor, defenseless against the chemotherapy.

Her shoes on and her purse in her lap the moment any one of her grandchildren, anywhere, had something big happening—she was a front row resident, a lifetime cheerleader. She loved us good and hard—tough but deeply, deeply caring.

She would have cried when you told her you were getting married next year—to a boy who loves you just as much as she did, full and unapologetically.

She would have sat proudly in the front row, hands in her lap, tears at the corners of her eyes. She would have loved your father-in-law. His stories. His character. His beliefs about the world and his children and his own grandchildren.

She would have been beautiful that day.

You don’t think about all the days you’ll lose with her until they crop up—one by one. Graduations, first jobs, engagements, marriage, houses, children—her great grandchildren.

You don’t think about telling stories of this woman to all the people you’ll someday know and love—people who don’t even know what a bead of hope she was in this crazy messy world.

You remember her white hair, her romance novels, her chocolate desserts. You remember all the freckles, the ribbons she threaded into barrettes for you. You remember the week they told you you couldn’t come to the hospital, you had to go to school, but that the waiting would be over soon. The waiting, it would be over soon.

You remember the funeral, and you wish she could see you in your own dress.

She’ll be there. We’re lucky like that. We know she’ll be there.

When we lose people, there are some we know, without a doubt, will always scoot up front for the best seat in the house, to see us smile, start our own family, get ready to brush our own daughter’s hair.

Here or not, she’ll be there. She never wanted to miss a big moment. Couldn’t possibly stop now.

Progress is a Joyful Thing

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Her Instagram feed is dotted with squares of ice cream. Every six or eight or ten posts, you see it. Vanilla in a cup with rainbow sprinkles. Twist on a cake cone. Chocolate in a cup with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

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With her, I always read the caption. Because it’s never about the ice cream. It’s about the person she’s with, the day they were having, their struggles and trials and tribulations, their hopes and dreams and wipeouts. It’s about all the little moments between the last time they laid eyes on each other, as friends, and swapped stories over this gloriously sweet dairy dessert.

I told J the other week, after one such post, that all I really want is to go on ice cream dates with people. Just line up the friends I haven’t seen in months, and the ones whose names occasionally pop up on my phone’s lock screen, and stick a recurrence on my Outlook calendar for dessert with someone I haven’t shared a booth with in a while.

We forget to stop and see people in our lives. We see the clothes they wear and the work they produce. We see the food they cook and the car they drive. We see the shows they watch and the articles they post online. But we don’t see them – all the pieces that make them human, that make them want to run a marathon or master two-tier cakes or finish a middle grade novel.

We overlook the time it took to whip, whip, whip the cream and spread it coolly over the top of the ice cream layer, nudging leftovers and half-empty milk cartons out of the way to sit it inside the fridge and settle for a bit.

That unpaid bill sitting on their counter? We overlook that too. We don’t bother acknowledging that in the time it took to get from Point A to Point B, they had to make a pit stop at the auto mechanic, and sat on the side of the road in tears for an hour before the tow company came.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my life, and how I operate differently, and how I want to see the nuances stuck in every action, every thought, every spoken word. I want to know those people in my life deeply, in a way that will make my heart hurt the day God takes them away. Because honestly, I believe that’s the only way to live. And if it means ice cream on Wednesday nights, swapping stories and laughing deep in our guts, then that’s the kind of friendship and life I want to show up for.

Because I’m the girl who believes friendship starts and ends with real, meaningful conversations over chocolate chips and whipped cream.

The girl who laces up her shoes to go for a run, even if it’s barely a mile, because at least she went at all. The girl who pushes just a bit farther the next day.

The girl who looks high and low for friends who believe in connection the way she does, whose definition of success has nothing to do with 401(k) statements or six-figure salaries.

Friends to fill her up, to cheer on her progress, to share their baby steps, too. To revel in the joy of a job well done, a day conquered, a week mastered, a year of ups and downs, but mostly, mostly good people to share it with.

I’ll get there. We’ll get there. Progress is a joyful thing.

Catch the Light

I have always loved the magic of lights.

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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.

She was talking about life, and ending it.

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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.