Tag Archives: college

Carry him in your pocket.

Dear Eilis,

Last night, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my best friend’s car, parked halfway inside my driveway, I wrestled with the idea of losing a father.

I don’t know how we ended up at that table, hammering hope into regret, but I think I know where it began.

At the tail end of 2003, when funerals were for the movies. When, six months before, a motorcycle accident was the closest some of us had come to saying goodbye. Back then I learned to hate the number 13.

So when, that same year, I spent the 13th of December learning that the world did, in fact, keep rotating on its axis while sixty or seventy preteen girls sniffled and sobbed on either side of me, I started toying with that idea of losing a father. A fourth father, perhaps, if I counted them right.

The Father I read about in books.

The man who named me. Who held me when I was just the length of his forearm. Who worried I’d never be bigger, grow stronger, if my mother didn’t write down every ounce of food I ate.

The man who held me and my sister to his chest on Sunday mornings as people filed out of wooden doors on either side of us, stumbling down red velvet stairs, whispering to Please Be Good For Your Parents This Week, OK?

And then this man. The one who taught me lessons every afternoon. Who looked after me long before he had a daughter of his own. Long before he never got the chance to hold her in his arms or look her in the eyes or dance at her wedding to Butterfly Kisses after Midnight Prayers to Father Nos. 1 & 3.

I have a feeling your father took the pieces of 1, 2, 3 & 4 and threaded them together. Piece by piece. Heartstring by heartstring.

And as you jump from one lily pad to the next, fumbling for your balance, I know it seems near impossible to land correctly without his hand stretched out to steady you. I know how it feels when you’ve never felt too good at this whole Life thing, this whole Change thing, this whole New thing, and he has always had your back. The perfect words when you fall on the floor.

And then, in a flash, he slides the cushion out from under your feet and whisks away to someplace else. Someplace that’s Gone far away.

I know it. So badly. Know the tears that last for hours as everyone says how wonderful he was, how it is such a shame to see him go so soon.

But I want you to know this: I believe in angels.

I see his eyes and his smile in the photos of his daughter sitting in a card from his mother, a woman who hung through pregnancy and grief all at the same time, just two weeks of We’re In This Together before his car smashed itself into the road and left her alone, holding out for the baby he left her to love.

He was my Father No. 4 for six years, the one I spent the most time with. The only one who never did the leaving. No, no, that was my job. Until, one day, it wasn’t. Until, one day, he didn’t show up for practice, to steady my balance on the wooden beam, to catch my flailing limbs when I smacked onto the ground.

Your dad is up there, hands on his knees, watching you from the sidelines of life. He’s in your smile and your eyes and the way that you carry yourself from this lily pad to the next. He is right here, right inside you, right where you can always keep him close.

And he’s not going anywhere. He’s left you with his words and his heart and his love. For you to take and spin into something wonderful, something he would have loved, with this next chapter in your book.

Carry him in your pocket. Unfold his words like roads on a map. Trace the outline of your smile and see his love in the corners of your eyes.

It is there. No matter where you position yourself on this Earth. He’s there.


Note: Eilis lost her father two years ago. She’s graduating high school, jumping into college life, and needs your words. Want to write to her? You’ve got until June 5.

Things have changed since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

This life is a book I can’t put down.

But half my readers would rather skip the part that says, “God is good,” and head straight for “The Downfall.”

In fact, they’d probably shake my by my shoulders and say there simply isn’t enough controversy in these pages to warrant any sales. To warrant a life worth living.

And I would spin them around, nudge them toward Self Help & Addiction and Jodi Picoult’s moral dilemmas and tell them they’ve come to the wrong spot in the bookstore, baby.

Because we itch our stocking and the backs of our necks when someone starts throwing words like Newness and Next Chapter around like they are good. Like progress is a problem.

The only problem is I can’t please you all.

My life isn’t a bookstore. It’s just one book in the Coming of Age section.

I am just a girl learning how to sign up for a health care plan and stock her own pantry and live in an apartment alone for the first time since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

And must I remind you that was twenty-two years ago? That the books we loved then are not the same as now?

It’s true that we get giddy about new chapters, but we all have different expectations for them.

She wants me to stay rooted in the Somewhere Safe she knows well, would rather I stretch to a 600-pager. I am ready to wrap this chapter up and Epilogue that sucker.

Start a new book that begins, “And then she learned how to live alone…”

Because I will. And it will not be your story. Or your mother’s. Or your best friend’s. Or your hairdressers. It will be mine. Just for me.

Maybe that sounds selfish. Us writers, we scribble stories stuck inside our heads. We are gray-seers and world-dwellers. We are so ready to scramble into the back of someone else’s car and land out butts in Charleston, South Carolina because something told us we should Begin Again.

I’m not asking you to pick me up in the middle of Chapter 22 and fall in love.

I’m just asking that someone, somewhere, have faith that I know what I’m writing today and tomorrow but in ten years? No, no no. That is for ten years from now to worry about.

We envision endings and Life Happens and a couple people read on to find out if that picture stays the same, if we learn how to not burn our grilled cheese or overflow the toilet. If we stock clogging the vacuum and if we always look like a mess when it rains all day.

But we cannot please the world. And if we could, what kind of life would that be? 

The Heartbreak Healer. The Boyfriend Bully. The Future Finder.

I want to shake her shoulders and tell her to stop pining for the boy who has his fingers running through another girl’s hair.

Stop standing on his front walkway, waiting for him to hand his heart to her. Stop slow dancing to the sound of his heartbeat against her head on our living room couch.

“You want to be with someone who thinks you are the greatest thing ever,” I tell her.

Her cheeks blush and her eyes glaze over.

“I know you don’t want to hear that,” I continue. “But it’s true.”

I watch her hold a stopwatch while he runs laps around her. She’s hoping he comes back tomorrow. Every day, I think, she wakes up sure this is The Day.

I want to tell her to fall in love with a boy who loved her first. Who loved her more. Who loved her best.

I’ll leave out the part that boys like that are hard to find.

I want to tell her to stop taking her anger out on the bottles of Lucky Duck lining the windowsill above the sink. Stop stacking them atop the kitchen cabinets like trophies for the girl who never finds First Place in His Heart anymore.

But those words stay silent. Those secrets stay sealed.

I’m trained to stand in the hallway and wait for sobs. To listen for the cracks in her voice when she says his name. To push the conversation forward when she doesn’t have the strength.

I am the heartbreak healer. The boyfriend bully. The future finder.

I am supposed 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.

I can’t. I can’t find it.

This is me, the girl who doesn’t have a Pinterest board for that Big Day, the girl who gave some boy her heart and broke it twice, the girl who still isn’t sure if she’ll ever hum a slow ballad barefoot on a dance floor, telling her to hang on.

But not for him. Not for the boy running laps without stopping to see her. Not the boy with his fingers in another girl’s hair.

Not him, my darling. There are billions of other hims to choose from. I have a feeling, someday, you’ll find the right one.

Twenty one is just another barrier standing between her and the rest of the world.

Someone was looking out for me when they threw the hypochondriac four rooms down from the girl for whom “personal pharmacy” was a serious understatement.

the hangover hospital

via weheartit.com

It’s no wonder I want to take the Red Cross emblem from outside the Emergicare Center next to Hardee’s and tack it above her bedroom door.

I wish I could say there’s some other image I picture when I think of her, something sweet and welcoming like a smile or a handshake, but no.

No, it’s the hospital, the rescues, the always-here-when-you-need-me-and-even-if-you-think-you-don’t moments that stick with me for four years and threaten to pull me back to reality if ever my feet lift too far off the ground.

She found us on Facebook. And no, I did not change my name to Girl With An Endless Sea of Problems. She walked right into that door, my friend.

Walked right into our open oak bedroom door, too. Inserted herself into our lives, demanding those four years of us in just four seconds.

I have never, well not since kindergarten, met someone with such boldness when it comes to making friends. Few of us are daring enough to plunge into icy water and break back through the surface, refreshed and almost comfortable already, even though we know it’s going to be OK.

Brooke did that. And I needed that sort of reckless confidence lying around. I needed someone to waltz into my life, promising to stick by me when the going got rough.

And oh, how rough it got. How many times she had to talk me down from cliffs when I was sure I was dying. Sure death was lurking just around the next corner, ready to grab me with its greedy little hands and pull a bed sheet over my head.

The only time I’ve ended up in the ER since my freshman year, she was fortunate enough to escape the phone call that came when I woke up disoriented and wondering how, when someone takes you in an ambulance, you get back home.

Do you walk? Do you crawl? Do you sit down on the cold concrete outside the waiting room drop-out pull-through overhang of that empty, brand-spanking-new parking lot and pray someone channels your inner being to find you?

No. You call your roommate and when she asks where you are, when she asks where the hospital is, you tell her the truth: All you remember is seeing a Sheetz somewhere out the back window of a moving vehicle. And then nothing. Nothing except that absolute terror when you come to and realize someone is wheeling you in on a gurney. Like you really are on the brink of dying.

I am so glad I never put her through that, so thankful because I know she will travel – has traveled – leaps and bounds to help me when I’ve fallen.

I know all about those people, the ones for whom a phone call or a text message is not enough. Oh no, she has to trudge across campus in the middle of a hot afternoon when she has no time, really, to stop what she’s doing. She has to find the girl in the middle of a breakdown, any breakdown, and calm her down.

She is the youngest, if we’re going by birth dates. Turned the big 21 yesterday.

But something tells me that 21 is just another number, just another barrier standing between her and the rest of the world. And she’s conquered it already, moved on to something more urgent.