thoughts on death with an 11-year-old

I had barely gotten home from work when I hear a rapping on my front door. I open it to find my friend’s 11-year-old daughter, Audrey, standing before me, looking cross. I let her in and ask what she’s doing here, and she says, “I’m absconding,” which has been one of her favorite words for the past two weeks. She tells me she climbed out of her bedroom window to avoid the babysitter her dad has left her with. I ask her what was so offensive about this babysitter, and she tells me this woman talked to her like she was a kid, her lip curled up with disgust at the idea of it. She then tells me this babysitter wore clothes that looked like her mom’s clothes.

Audrey’s mother abandoned her when she was barely a toddler. After that, she only met her a handful of times due to her dad’s optimism that she had finally gotten clean. Audrey’s mother died of a drug overdose a few months ago, and her father has supported her through her grief amazingly, but that kind of complicated grief is impossible for anyone, especially a child, especially when this is the first time she has had a brush with death.

I bring her into my living room and I sit down but she paces like a caged animal, back and forth through my house. I call her dad to let him know I’ve got her for the evening, and then I ask her to tell me what’s in her brain when the words come to her. She takes her time, wordlessly pacing. She disappears on me. She is lost for the moment. This is something she has been doing with more frequency over the last year or so. It usually happens when she’s reading or drawing or writing in her sequin-covered journal. She disappears into herself or whatever world she is in the middle of building because she does not accept the one before her eyes. I have done this since I was her age and I worry that she will also continue doing it and also come close to the edge of not being able to be found. But for now, I let her disappear.

She finally returns to me and sits at my dining room table, eyes shining with the beginnings of tears that she is too stubborn to release. She looks at me and asks how long she will be sad for. She asks why she even has to be sad when she didn’t know her mother. She asks me how long she will be sad about everything, not just her mom. I sit across from her and tell her that it is entirely possible that a small part of her will be sad forever, but it won’t always be the biggest, loudest part of her. I try to explain to her that everyone has parts of them that are sad, but we get used to the noise so much so that most days, we can’t even hear it. It’s background noise. It’s the highway you’ve lived next to your whole life.

I tell her that it is sad that she didn’t know her mom and it is sad that now she will never have the opportunity to know her mom. I tell her that it’s even more sad that her mother never got to know her, because she’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Audrey already knows about my dad and how he never got to know me when I was her age, and she asks if I’m still sad about him, even though it’s been a year and a half since he died. I tell her the truth. I tell her that I was more sad six months after he died than I was right after he died. I tell her that I’m still sad sometimes, but mostly because he never really got to find out who I am and I never really got to find out who he was. I tell her how lucky I am to have one amazing parent, and how she shares in this luck because her dad is also a wonderful parent. She frowns because she did not want this answer. She wants her sadness to go away.

We go for a walk through our neighborhood and talk about how school is going. She tells me that she doesn’t really like hanging out with her friends anymore. I ask her why and she says, “We aren’t sad about the same things.” I tell her I feel that way about a lot of my friends, too, and I’m struck by the accuracy of language and emotion of this child, as I always am each time I have seen her over the past five years.

She tells me she has been learning sign language because one of the girls in another class is deaf and doesn’t have very many friends at recess or lunch because she has no one to talk to. She teaches me what she knows and I watch as her hands create the language she so keenly wants to share with the world. Her fingers move quickly and I am envious that she holds the entire alphabet in her hand. She is equally excited to teach grown-ups something they don’t know and to have a new friend who also knows what it’s like to not be understood by her peers.

After I got off the phone with Audrey’s dad to let him know his escapee was safe and that he could send the condescending sitter home, he texted me to see if I can get anything out of her about the fights she recently got in at school. I point blank ask her about them and she furrows her brow for awhile. Finally, she tells me that she is angry all of the time and doesn’t know what to do with it. I tell her about how I’ve been angry a lot of the time too due to the events of the past year and how I sometimes take it out on the wrong people because it doesn’t have a place to go. I tell her how I write about my anger and that sometimes helps, or I go for a walk, or I make up a stupid song to sing to my cats.

We explore this for a bit and I ask her if I can make a phone call to see if we can go on an adventure. She agrees. I call my friend Ken, who I cancelled plans with once the runaway showed up at my house and ask if we can drop by since he lives in the neighborhood, too. We arrive at his house and he already has all of the necessary supplies loaded in the back of his truck. Audrey sticks out her hand in introduction, and they are fast friends. She starts to teach him a little sign language as well, and he surprises both of us by being fluent. He tells us that his wife was a sign language instructor, then casts his eyes to the ground. All three of us intimately know what loss is.

We pile into Ken’s truck and he drives us to the Sunfresh grocery store parking lot and pulls out a box of empty glass containers and sets it down in front of a huge Ripple Glass recycling bin. I hand Audrey an empty pasta jar and take one for myself. I put my mouth near the opening and shout something that made me angry that week into the jar, slap my hand over it to contain the sentiment, then slam dunk it into the container. I hear it break against the other glass in there and already I feel better. Audrey gives it a try. The first attempt, her shout is barely at normal speaking volume and she essentially gently lays the jar into the bin, but by the end, she is shouting to the sky and shattering things with all her might. The three of us look like lunatics, shouting into glassware and recycling in the most ridiculous way possible. We empty the box and Audrey high-fives us both and runs around. She is a kid again, just like she is supposed to be. I watch her with wonder as she whoops and hollers in the parking lot, circling the bin and stomping around in some ritual unknown to anyone but herself.

The three of us go into the grocery store to grab some food and someone tells us what a beautiful family we are, and none of us have the energy to correct them. We grab our dinner and return to the scene of our environmental activism to pile back into Ken’s truck.

We return to my house to cook dinner together and eat at my dining room table, which is a rarity in my house. After dinner, Audrey almost disappears again but pulls herself back and asks what it’s like when a person dies. She knows that I often sit with the elderly in their last moments, and she knows that I sat with my boyfriend in his last moments this past December. She wants to know if it’s peaceful and easy. She wants every death to be fulfilling like Harold’s or Larry’s.

I pride myself on being honest with Audrey, and it’s something her dad has encouraged me to do, no matter the topic. I don’t talk to her like she’s a child, which is why she absconded to my house, after all. But I couldn’t bring myself to be fully honest about what has been plaguing me about death: that not all deaths are emotional affairs with everyone gathered around talking to the nearly deceased. Some go quietly after growing weaker and frailer for days or weeks. You don’t recognize their spirit at the end, and you don’t get to hear their life’s story. They don’t sum it all up with anecdotes and bits of wisdom and beauty to pass onto the next generation. They slowly fade out, they collapse in on themselves and fizzle into a great, blank nothingness. And that’s if they’re lucky and die of old age and aren’t ripped violently from this life, by accident or illness, all alone.

What I do share with her is the one thing that has given me hope. I tell her that everyone I’ve sat with at the end has the same something that I can’t name in their eyes that I manage to catch when they barely crack them open. I flip over the cross-stitch I’ve been working on and tell her that it looks almost like the backside of that. So many bright colors tangled together in an unruly mess and you can just almost make out a silhouette, but you’re on the wrong side, you don’t have the context you need. You can’t see the other side, but something in you knows it’s beautiful, even if only for its stillness, even if it’s not a place or a destination. You see this in their eyes, only for a split second and then it’s gone and they’re gone and you’re left on the side of the living having just stared death directly in its face.

Audrey asks if her mom saw the other side of the cross-stitch when she died as she inspects the one I’ve been pecking away at, one of wildflowers with uneven and missed stitches because this is my first attempt and I don’t know if I have the patience for this kind of delicate, precise work. I wish I had something more beautiful for Audrey to hold in her hands and look at. I tell her that her mom probably did see the other side of the cross-stitch at the end. Audrey asks me if we will see the same cross-stitch when we die, and I tell her that I don’t know but that I’d like to think everyone has a different cross-stitch based on how beautiful their life has been and how we can strive our whole lives to have the most colorful, complex, vibrant cross-stitches at the end.

Audrey finally gives into her tears and lays her head on my lap. She has always been hesitant to display any vulnerabilities, so I let her sob and simply stroke her hair without offering any meaningless platitudes. She puts her hand in the palm of mine and starts finger-spelling things against it. I don’t know what she is signing. Perhaps she’s hoping that this language that is new to her will hold the vocabulary she needs to grapple with the weight that is on her. She cries until she has nothing but empty shudders left and I get her to sync her breathing with mine to calm her back down. Ken has politely excused himself, recognizing that he did not need to be a part of her breakdown, and somehow magically produces hot chocolate by the time Audrey has settled. We wrap ourselves in blankets and sit on my porch, sipping our cocoa and watching the dusk settle around us. When it gets too cold, we go back inside and Audrey dozes off in my lap, having taken it out of herself. Ken carefully carries her up into my bed, where my cats surprise me and snuggle next to her.

Ken and I go back downstairs, where I immediately burst into tears that I didn’t know were coming. Ken silently holds me and doesn’t ask questions, for which I am thankful, because I can’t form words for why I’m crying and I wonder if people who only use sign language run into the same problem. I’m crying because I can’t imagine any person not wanting that incredible child and I don’t want to forgive Audrey’s mother for being an addict or for dying. I’m crying because Audrey reminds me too much of myself and it feels like I lied to her when I told her the sadness grows quieter when the truth is I don’t know if it does because it still roars around me and drowns out the other sounds, and I pray to anything that will listen that I was right and it will eventually become background noise. I’m crying because I miss all the people that have died and I’m crying because Ken lost his wife at such a young age and he’s the only one I can stand to be around for longer than a couple hours at a time. I’m crying because I don’t know if I said the right things to her about death and anger and friends not understanding. I’m crying because she is so creative and strong and I don’t want for her to feel that she has to disappear sometimes. I want for her to stay visible so that the ones who are sad about the same things she’s sad about can find her. I’m crying because I don’t know if what I see in the eyes of the dying is real or just what I’ve tricked myself into seeing to somehow make this all somewhat bearable.

A little while later, Audrey’s dad shows up at my house. I know he’s angry at her for sneaking out of their house and walking by herself without telling anyone, but I ask him to save punishment for another day. I tell him all of the things we talked about and did and now it’s his turn to cry. Like any parent, he constantly worries that he’s doing it wrong and that he’s messing up his kid. He doesn’t know what to do with his own grief or how to help her carry the weight of her sadness. I tell him that I know nothing about parenting but can tell he’s doing amazingly just based on how expressive and open and deeply kind that kid is. Audrey promised me she would talk to him when it gets overwhelming, and we set up a kid-safe messaging app on her tablet so she could send me messages anytime she needed to talk to someone who is often sad about similar things as her. I assure him that I also made her pinky-promise never to sneak out again, and we take our pinky promises seriously around here. As her dad carries her sleep-wilted little body out of my house, she lifts her head and blows me a kiss and I blow one right back. We sign “I love you” with our hands and she falls back asleep, safe in the arms of the good parent she will always be lucky to have. I feel myself starting to disappear but Ken lightly touches my shoulder to keep me there with him since he, too, knows what it’s like to disappear and because we’re sad about the same things.

backside

 

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Life and Death of a Prankster

Ever since I wandered into Harold’s hospital room nearly two years ago, I’ve spent more time with people in their last moments than I ever thought I would. I started volunteering at a nursing home about a year ago, and I have since witnessed the deaths of a handful of my friends there. Each time is a very different experience, but they’re always surrounded by their fellow residents and favorite staff members, and if they’re lucky, a family member or two. They often make jokes or reassure the younger people that they’ll be okay. Very rarely do they seem scared. Sometimes, a few regrets will bubble up, but every one of them has seemed bone-tired and ready to rest.

We had a death today, Larry. He was in his mid-90s and had lived in Kansas City his entire life. His wife, Linda, who he met at the home and married nine years ago, passed away a little over a year ago, and he was just biding his time until he could join her. I met with my usual group and we all went into Larry’s room. He was hugging a picture of Linda to his chest and he smiled when he saw us all. Each one of us squeezed his hand and found a seat to chat with him. The first thing Marv said was, “How can we be sure you’re not faking it this time?” which caused the entire room to erupt in laughter. Larry was the resident practical jokester and had faked being dead more than once. He nearly gave multiple people heart attacks when they saw him haphazardly sprawled out on a community couch with chicken-and-stars soup dribbling down his chin with his eyes rolled back in his head. It may sound cruel to an outsider, but to know Larry was to accept his brand of humor entirely. He once threw a big, hairy fake spider at me and laughed so hard he needed his oxygen tank after I screamed and nearly ran into a wall. One time he asked for my help with a prank; we printed out a bunch of pictures of Charlie Chaplin and put them inside as many framed pictures as we could find. Larry responded to Marv by saying he was hoping to hold out until tomorrow so that he could die on April Fool’s Day as the ultimate prank.

charlie

This picture still haunts several forgotten picture frames in the nursing home.

Larry had spent his life trying to make everyone’s lives a little lighter. In his early twenties, he fell in love with a woman who had two small kids. He raised those boys as his own, even as their mother slowly let addiction take over her life. He stayed in their lives for ten years and tried to help her as much as he could. He paid for multiple trips to rehab, but she eventually took her own life. Larry fought with everything he had to get custody of the boys who had grown to call him Dad, but their biological father showed up after the funeral and won parental rights. He moved them across the country and forbade Larry from ever contacting them again. Larry kept track of them for several years, and he secretly contacted them as they were reaching the end of high school. They were desperate to get out of the living situation they were in, so Larry offered to pay for their college. The older one graduated high school and the younger one dropped out and got his GED, and they both moved back to Kansas City to be with the person they chose to be their real father. He had been saving for their college education since he’d met them, and he now has the privilege of being a grandpa to four and a great-grandpa to three. His sons now live on opposite coasts but they all remain incredibly close.

Larry had been a high school English teacher for most of his life. He loved working with teenagers because he believed they were the most open-minded age group that still felt they could save the world. Some of them did, or at least their corner of it. Larry felt teenagers, despite their resistance to authority, were the most receptive to new ideas and constantly offered new ways of looking at old literature. He taught the same books for years in a row but always had different conversations about them. He said that he learned as much from his students as they (hopefully) did from him. He had a habit of taking in strays and some of the students that had parents that just didn’t give a damn or parents who didn’t accept their children for who they were ended up living with Larry for awhile. He housed several gay teenagers in a time when it was nearly impossible to be gay in the Midwest. Kids who lived in abusive homes often sought him out as refuge. He would never admit it because he is far too humble, but Larry saved countless lives just by being a caring adult for a bunch of kids who didn’t have any of those in their lives.

Overall, he lived a happy, simple life. He taught during the day and went for walks with his dogs in the evenings. He loved to cook and often hosted dinner parties with elaborate meals. He dated here and there, but nothing really stuck. He was content growing old on his own, despite criticism and insistence that he had to find someone else to be truly happy. Larry felt whole on his own and was plenty social, even as, in his words, an old geezer. He retired and traveled around a bit. He visited his kids and grandkids a few times a year and went to corny tourist spots. As he got on in age and started having trouble doing things on his own, he moved into the nursing home.

One year later, Linda moved into the nursing home. One of the first conversations they had, Larry mentioned how much he loved brownies. The next time he saw her, Linda handed him a glass pan covered in foil. Larry unwrapped it and found paper E’s cut out of brown construction paper. Brown E’s. They were married within six months and played pranks on each other and their fellow residents for eight years. He liked to joke that instead of finding someone to grow old with, he had just found someone to be old with. He preferred recent pictures of her to pictures of her from her youth, even though she had been a model. He insisted he thought this version of her was more beautiful, and I believed him.

I first met Larry a couple of months after Linda passed away. While he was certainly sad, he expressed relief that she had died first, because he didn’t think she would be able to handle being alone. She died in her sleep, in his arms, and he was thankful she didn’t have to face even a second of it without him by her side. He said that when his time came, he was okay with being alone, or at least with friends. He’d spent most of his life with just friends, and he hoped to see Linda after he died, even though he had no idea where he would go or what form his self would take after death, if any at all.

Larry’s sons finally arrived, and it was time for the rest of us to give them their space. As we were saying goodbye, Larry grabbed me and asked if I would be writing about him. I told him I could if he wanted me to, but only if he wanted me to. Tears suddenly sprang to his eyes and he said, “As long as you make it beautiful. Because it was. The whole thing. Even the hard parts.”

I kissed his cheek and said my final goodbye. I joined the others in the common area. Some of them were praying, some were laughing with each other about memories of Larry, others were going about business as usual. Death is so common in this building that nobody has a problem talking about it. It’s just the next step for them. They all acknowledge how lucky they are to have made it this far, because not everyone gets that chance. It’s no secret that many of them will die relatively soon, so the attitude around it is far different than anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s almost refreshing and certainly reassuring to a twenty-something that has a paralyzing fear of death.

Larry passed away several hours later, flanked by the two boys that had grown into excellent men thanks to his guidance and love. Larry will be missed by the residents of this building, by every student he ever taught, by the family he chose that chose him back, and by the generations he has impacted. There’s no way for me to emphasize just how beautiful he was, but there’s also nothing I could do to detract from that.

Echoes of My Ghosts

A few weeks ago, a drunk driver robbed me of my future. The man I love went out for ice during his brother’s birthday party and never came back. For the first time in my adult life, I had a clear idea and goal of where my life was heading and who I was heading there with. Andrew understood me better in six months than people I’ve known my entire life; he was the first person in a long time to understand even a whisper of who I am. I was confident about our future, and that is perhaps my biggest regret–how much I believed in a future. I had so much more I wanted to say to him, an infinite amount more I wanted to learn about him and from him. I thought we had time.

I met Andrew at the most vulnerable time in my life–six months after my dad died and twenty seven days after I was brutally assaulted and raped by a stranger in a public restroom. Andrew and I had seen each other around and knew we had mutual friends, but neither of us had ever had the courage to approach the other. We officially met in a grocery store parking lot and shared a cart as we went shopping together. It was the most intimate thing. He cooked me dinner after grocery shopping, and I may have been in love with him the moment he showed up to my house with garlic bread for me to eat while he prepared our meal. After his dad died during our third date, we spent the night together sharing our darkest secrets and cracked each others ribs open to have a look at what was inside.

We helped each other out of the dark pits we had fallen into. Andrew carefully helped me tuck back inside the parts of me that had come undone and sprung outwards with frayed ends. He had this incredible way of not having to ask questions to pry things from me, but of gently extracting things from me that he needed to know to help me through it. He made me feel like my body belonged to me again. I went from feeling like a wild animal to feeling as though I would eventually be okay. He asked about my complicated grief and I assured him it was okay to feel relief from a parent’s death. We got matching knuckle tattoos and mimed gagging at each other the whole time because we knew how cliche and ridiculous it was to get a tattoo with someone you had known a matter of weeks. It was stupid, but when I looked at him, everything suddenly made sense to me–everything had been necessary to make him possible. With him, there were no limits to how excellent we could make life seem.

He moved away to run his dad’s studio in Nashville, and we fell apart only briefly before realizing we couldn’t do this without the other. We made plans for our future together, bigger, scarier plans than I have ever made. Over the last year, I have realized that I have worn out my welcome in Kansas City and need to move to the next place, but I was terrified, even though this city feels like it has gone from slowly trying to kill me to rapidly trying to meet that goal. Andrew made it feel easy to leave and start over in a place that didn’t hold ghosts at every corner.

And then he died. I held his hand and sang him our song and said goodbye before doctors ripped out his organs for strangers who I would never be able to look at without resenting, even though it wasn’t their fault. There are two strangers walking around right now with Andrew’s eyes in their sockets. They are viewing the world with hopeful eyes, they are able to see their parents, their children, their grandchildren, their loved ones properly for the first time in who knows how long. His heart is pumping blood through another person’s body; when they see the person they love, it is his heart that will flutter for them. He saved eight lives that night and improved the lives of at least a dozen others, but I would have given the rest of mine to bring him back.

Hours before he died, we were goofing around in an antique shop and I pointed at an absurdly large diamond ring and noted that it would be uncomfortable to wear. He joked that the ring he had picked out for me was in no danger of giving me carpal tunnel. I rolled my eyes and told him that if he gave me a ring anytime in the near future I wouldn’t say yes or no, but I would wear it for years until one morning I would drag him out of bed to the courthouse and get married that day. He laughed and told me that sounded about right. Two days after he died, Andrew’s brother and sister came to my house with a small velvet box. His sister told me he had picked it out the day after I spent Thanksgiving with his family and was planning on giving it to me in the first moments of 2020 with some lame pun about having a “perfect vision” of forever with me. I asked why he got it so early if he was just going to sit on it for over a year. His brother said he had asked the same thing and Andrew had told him it was to remind him what he was working towards and working for, and also, that you never knew when you would need to propose to your girl.

This is too big for me to handle. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, I don’t know how I’m supposed to heal. I’ve lost people before; I’ve lost people I had known for years and years longer than Andrew. Was it like this with them? Has my mind shielded me from those memories? I don’t know how I’m functioning. I laughed today. I made jokes. I solved problems. I got dressed. None of it felt real. Time feels slowed down, as though there’s a buffer for my brain to figure out the appropriate, normal reaction to keep people from looking too closely. I feel like I have separated from my body and I’m an outsider watching myself go into autopilot while the real me screams from above, unheard.

People don’t know how to move around me. Very few of my immediate friends have ever lost anyone this significant to them, or anyone at all. They want to check in on me, because everyone seems to think I’m on the verge of offing myself, but they don’t want to be too intrusive. They want to give me space, but not too much. They are trying to be themselves, but not too abrasively. Everyone keeps asking me what I need, as if I know that answer. My family doesn’t know what to do. I’ve already traumatized them with horrible news once this year, and now this. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Everyone has been excellent to me, and I am constantly amazed that despite my consistently terrible luck, the people who have stuck by my side are of a truly excellent caliber. People have offered me food to eat, babies to hold, animals to pet, shoulders to cry on. I am so supported and loved that I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t blame anyone, as I wouldn’t know how to act either, but it is an awful feeling to walk into a room and see and feel the pity in everyone’s eyes, because the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. Nothing erodes a friendship faster than pity.

I can feel everything Andrew helped me tuck back inside of myself unraveling. All the progress I’ve made is coming undone, and I don’t know how to stop it. I’ve woken up every day wishing I had been in the car with Andrew so I didn’t have to navigate this new, emptier life. I wish I had told him that gas station ice is unsanitary and that it’s cold enough that no one really needs ice. I wish I had kissed him goodbye for a few moments longer so that his car would have been narrowly missed. I wish that our last words to each other hadn’t been merely, “I love you,” but “I love you so much that your absence will make my usually loud and all-encompassing laugh turn into something hollow and foreign, so please return safely.”

Everything has changed so much in the last year. On the second day of 2018, my dad died and that’s just how the year started. I had a series of intense but unsuccessful flings that left me burnt out and assuming I wasn’t built for long term relationships. Halfway through the year, I lost ownership of my body and had to come to terms with what it meant to be a victim of rape. Then there was hope that burned so brightly that it hurt to look at. Now this. I can’t stop looking at every single person in my life and wondering when they’ll die. I know you can’t protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness, but right now it’s so goddamn tempting to distance myself from everything and everyone so when they inevitably die, I won’t have to do this again.   

I don’t know who this person is that is left over as 2019 begins. I never used to be an angry person, and I always prided myself on being able to shake things off. The past few weeks, I’ve let things get to me. My company very graciously and kindly helped pay for my travel to allow me to spend some time with my family in Chicago, because my area director and general manager felt helpless and wanted to do something. It was a lovely trip, and it was nice to get my mind off of things, but when I returned, one of my coworkers, who was fully aware of why I received a ticket to Chicago, made a distasteful and insensitive joke and left it on a post-it on the receipt for my train ticket on my desk, not once, but twice, and pulled other coworkers into it with her. I know it’s a pretty fucked up thing to do to me, but I also know that I have more important things to worry about right now. A few weeks ago, I would have let something like this roll off of me, but now I can’t look at any of them without wanting to either cry or punch them. I find myself wanting to cry or punch things a majority of my day. I don’t know how I can simultaneously feel everything so intensely and still be so numb.

I haven’t gone a day without crying since he died. I’ve never been much of a crier; I usually get one good shower cry out of the way, and grieve in other ways, like eating everything in sight or nothing at all. Every single song ever written reminds me of Andrew. We shared Spotify passwords, so every playlist I have has pieces of him in it as well. We must have made fifty playlists together, and I can’t stop listening to them, even though they make my chest feel like there’s a hot poker digging into it.

I feel as though I am surrounded by the echoes of ghosts of possibilities–lives that could have been if not for the rape, the accident, the death, the decision. They are non-corporeal and distant, but they still exist and they still haunt me. I find myself wanting to believe in traditional ghosts. I want to feel Andrew, his presence, his gaze, catch a whiff of him, have him knock books off my shelves, make my house have cold spots, rattle my cupboards. I want to be haunted by an actual person instead of just my own emptiness.

As much as I wish I had been in that car so that I didn’t have to deal with this, there continues to be something in me clinging to life. That’s how I know that I will eventually be okay. I know that I still have things left to do, things left to write, before I think about giving up. In a way, I hate knowing that I will be okay. I know that I will find the floor of this endless descent into grief and claw my way out, but that means the sharpness of these emotions will dull, as will the intensity of my emotions towards Andrew during our short time together. People love to tell you that the dead will stay in your heart, but it’s never in the same way. They get neatly stacked on a shelf and carefully and cautiously pulled out a few times a year. I know it will happen, that it’s inevitable, that it’s human nature, that it’s survival, but I would rather be collapsed and sobbing on my bathroom floor than acknowledge that my life will go on reasonably well without Andrew and that I will have a future. I will be happy again, despite my best efforts. I know that I will be okay, and that makes me cling to these last violent emotions before they fade away.

Something Happened to Me

Something happened to me, and it has taken me a long time to be open with anyone about the thing that happened to me. I spent months suffocating myself with this secret, out of a whole complex array of reasons and feelings and fears. Something happened to me, and I pretended for a while that it didn’t. I changed the narrative. I edited my life. I did what I have always done when faced with trauma and tucked it away into a joke, but this time I didn’t tell anyone and saved the joke for myself and waited for the day that never came where I would laugh about this.

It’s not that I thought I was better or stronger than other women and men who have had something happen to them. I thought my way of coping was just different than the way most other people cope. I thought I was able to rationalize things out myself and deal with it internally with no outward consequences. I discredited the people closest to me and thought they would treat me differently if they knew what happened. A couple of them walked on eggshells around me after I told them, some of them tried to walk ahead and bubble-wrap the entire world for me, just as I imagine a lot of people reading this will do the next time they run into me. They will be well-intentioned, but I will inevitably direct my misplaced anger at them. It won’t be their fault. They won’t know how to respond to such a heavy sentence being dropped on them after so many months of hearing my edited version. I imagine they will rethink everything they had said to me in the months after it happened, combing through their memories for “triggers.”

I respect people who utilize trigger warnings, and I understand that they are useful for some people. The world can be a desperately ugly place, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind warning people something that lies ahead may cause them to start to come undone from the inside out and cause their traumas to break through the surface of their skin, you can’t warn everyone of every trigger. Words on a screen or words spoken to me have nothing on what has already been done and what has already gone through my head. So when people asked how I fractured my collarbone and I presented my edited version of the incident and 75 percent of the friends I told responded with, “Oh man, well at least you weren’t raped!” I did not feel triggered. I felt bad for lying to my friends.

The monster that tried to break me had a heart attack and died just a couple weeks after the assault. I never even had to face him afterwards. No trial, no interaction, nothing. He just up and died. A part of me was relieved, but a larger part of me was filled with rage. It isn’t fair that he got to die and never think about what he did again, while I will spend every single day thinking about it. I got the life sentence he deserved. I’d had the usual daydreams of killing him myself, but my favorite fantasy was facing him in court and showing him that I was still strong and not broken in half. I wanted for him to see me stride into the courtroom and I wanted him to look in my eyes and see that he was the weak one in the room, not me. I don’t know if that would have happened; I don’t know if I would have been able to summon that kind of courage or trick my body into not shaking. But now I’ll never know.

There were so many times the truth almost came out. I wanted it to, but I couldn’t choke the words out. They sat in the middle of my chest, weighing down my lungs, which I could feel steadily deflating by the day. Some days in the right moment, they would bubble up into my throat and I was almost able to push them out, but they would get stuck and then settle back down into my chest, heavier than before. I live with two of my best friends, and I had every opportunity to reach out and tell them so I could cry in the open without hiding in my room, but I just couldn’t do it, and looking at them every day started to hurt.

I did tell one person fairly soon after. The first person I told, aside from the police and the very kind medical staff who conducted my examination and rape kit, all of whom did their best to keep me from feeling like my body was a crime scene, was the first person I dated after it happened, which occurred far sooner than I thought it would. I met him barely a month after, and we got very close very fast. I was with him when his dad died during our third date, and I met his entire family when I drove him to the hospital to be with them. We spent hours baring our souls to each other and he told me what I already knew but needed to hear from someone else: “What happened to you was not sex. I can’t presume to know how you feel about it, but that’s what helped my sister through it. It was a violent attack, not sex.” He did things like hug me tightly and kiss me softly on the top of my head in bathrooms so that’s what memory I would think of instead. He made me feel like my body was mine again, and he kissed every inch of the skin that hadn’t stopped crawling in weeks. We helped each other out of the deep pits we had fallen into, and we fell for each other the way you fall for someone you think is going to save you.

One man alone cannot repair what another man broke. This was an important step towards healing, but I still had, and certainly still have, a long way to go. I considered not telling any more of my friends, and definitely not my family, but then my mental health started to fail me. My rapist became the thing I saw in the corner of the room during the sleep paralysis I’d suddenly become prone to, but it wasn’t just him as I remembered him–it was his bloated, disfigured corpse leering at me from the edge of my bed. As I got less and less sleep, these images seeped into my waking life and flitted into the corner of my eye during the rare times I allowed my body to unclench for just a moment. I tried sleeping pills and melatonin, but using those made it impossible for me to wake myself up during the worst nightmares I’ve ever had, which in turn rendered the sleep I managed to get ineffective. I started forgetting about meals. I went out and got recklessly drunk and dared something to happen. I saw his face in every male stranger who looked at me. I took long walks in triple digit heat until it felt like I was going to collapse; I took the same routes I took the previous winter in single digit temperatures during the month I knew my dad was about to die, which is the same route I take whenever I’m feeling unsure or uneasy. I often think about the faint grooves my anxieties have worn into the sidewalks of Kansas City. I vomited for no reason all the time and I was on the verge of passing out every day. Keeping it inside of me was killing me.

I’m a humorous person. This is not inflated self-confidence, this is just a fact and sometimes it’s my greatest flaw. Lots of very strange, sometimes very dark things have happened to me. I’m an open book about most of this because I present it in a way that eases the tension for the listener through a blend of humor, self-deprecation, and charm. I tell the stories so often in such a light-hearted way that they eventually become funny to me, too. It took me so long to tell this story because I couldn’t find the punchline. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t find the point in the story where I could turn it on its head and make someone laugh. I couldn’t figure out how to ease the tension. So I’m sorry for the tension that I’ve caused you, but I needed to tell an honest story.

A man on a great deal of drugs followed me into a public bathroom in the middle of the day and beat me until my bones cracked and raped me until my soul did. Until recently, I left out the last seven words of that sentence when telling friends why my arm was in a sling for two weeks and why I didn’t wear a bathing suit or shorts for a month while the bruises faded. Most people didn’t even get any bit of that sentence as an explanation but instead got a cheery, “Oh, you know me! Just another accident!” Calling it an accident made me nauseous. Implying that this was just another one of those things that happens to Bad Luck Taylor made my scalp sweat.

It comes out it strange ways. I was dancing with the man I care for in the deepest part of myself, the same man who was the first to make my body feel like it belonged to me again. We were dancing in my living room to funk music, and he touched my waist in a way that is perfectly normal for a man you’re happily dancing with to do, but the next thing I knew, I had him up against the wall with my forearm across his throat. He apologized and I apologized and we stopped dancing.

I redid my bedroom a couple weeks after it happened. I figured if I was going to spend hours not sleeping there, I might as well make it as nice as possible. It’s all neutral colors and relaxation-inducing decor now. I bought a goddamn plant. A jasmine plant. I’ve never made a specific trip to buy a plant in my life, but I needed to feel like I was doing things to take care of myself, and I read that jasmine helps you sleep. It doesn’t. I hung curtains on my windows, which I’ve also never done. I love being woken up by natural light, and my room had plenty of that, but instead of becoming afraid of the dark, I found myself afraid of the light, so I shut it out. I went to Ikea, because that felt like what a normal person would do. You go to Ikea and spend too much money on things to make a room feel like it belongs to you, because nothing feels like it belongs to you anymore. Every artifact that you own feels alien all of a sudden and you wonder how you found attachment to it in the first place. You fight the urge to set everything you own on fire and move to the middle of nowhere and take up a craft that involves working with your hands because you no longer know what to do with them.

I looked at pictures of myself as a kid and cried. I looked at pictures of my family, who knew no aspect of the attack, and cried. I looked at pictures of myself from a few weeks prior and cried because she looked so different to me and I wanted to protect her from what was coming. I wanted to go back in time and tell her not to go out to lunch that day. She should have stayed home and paid too much for sub-par Postmates delivery. She should have drank less water so she didn’t have to pee until she got home. She should have worn more complicated pants or strapped a weapon to her thigh. She should have paid attention to why women always went to the bathroom in groups, even in the middle of the day. She should have worked out for years and stayed strong enough to fight off a man on drugs. She should have been quicker to scream before the wind got kicked out of her. She should have told her friends the truth about what happened and trusted them to help carry her.

People love to tell rape victims how strong they are, how brave they are. I am not brave and strong just because I wake up in the morning and try and live my life. I am not right because he was wrong. I can’t stand when well-intentioned listeners tell people who have been raped that they are not victims, but survivors. Being called a survivor makes it feel like I’m on some uplifting and inspirational journey to self-discovery. I was the victim of a crime, a victim who happened to survive. To take away the victim aspect is to diminish the severity and far-reaching consequences of the crime. I understand the importance of assuring these women and myself that we’re going to be okay, but sometimes instead of being a beacon of strength and survival, I just want someone willing to watch me thrash and flail, because that is a truth that needs telling and witnessing just as much as my strength. A small population of people love to tell rape victims how lucky we are that we weren’t killed, that it wasn’t worse. This is not how we should measure luck.

I wasn’t planning on sharing this publicly for a long time. I didn’t feel ready to answer questions or go into work knowing people around me knew, not out of shame, but out of a fear of facing it all head on and being seen differently. I’m still afraid of being reduced to “the girl that was raped in the bathroom.” I was going to wait to share this, and there’s a possibility that I never would have. But then a dear friend’s girlfriend tried to end her life and it was only after her attempt that anyone found out she had been raped six months prior. As soon as her boyfriend told me, I asked her if I could visit her in the hospital. We shared our stories with each other and cried and laid in the hospital bed next to each other. She told me she wished she had known she wasn’t alone, but also that she hated that there were so many more people like her. I told her how much telling one of my best friends who had also been raped helped me sort through what I was feeling and how much comfort I found in knowing I could say some really fucked up things about what happened without judgment. We talked for hours and at the end of my visit, she told me she would never have guessed I had been raped, and in that moment I knew she felt the same way that I did: it’s hard to believe the horrors that have happened inside our bodies have not translated into a physical mark that identifies us immediately. How is it possible that our heads are not shrouded in physical manifestations of nightmares? How can we possibly look normal after something so life altering happened? How can we still be the same people who are able to make jokes and laugh when we are carrying around a dead, rotten piece of ourselves? This is why I am sharing my story. I know there are friends who will read this who have had the unimaginable happen to them who have not told many people, if anyone, and I want them to know they are not alone. It terrifies me to put all of this out into the world, but what terrified me more was how easily I could have been the one in the hospital on suicide watch if I had chosen to attempt to deal with what was going on in my head by myself for much longer than I did.

I started telling people very slowly. I told a friend who had very recently been through an equally horrifying assault, and they became my lifeline and source of strength. From there, I told two more people, and then another here and there. I planned a trip home specifically to tell my mom, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but the night after I told her, I slept harder and longer than I had in years. I’m convinced she possesses some kind of mom-magic that soothes even the deepest of wounds. I began to see the power in telling people, and the more I talked about my pain, the more real it felt. We don’t exist without other people, and my pain needed a witness–someone to look at my wound and acknowledge that it hurts.

I sincerely thought this would be the thing that broke me. It still might. I don’t know. There are a lot of times where it feels as though I’ve slipped outside of my own life and into some faded replica tucked behind the real thing and I’m a long distance away from what happened and my own self. Other times, it feels like my entire body is an open wound that I keep covering with tissue paper because that’s all I can do to try and protect myself but I still feel every goddamn thing, and even the people I love who lay down a comforting hand on my shoulder fall straight onto exposed nerves. I know that this will eventually calcify and become a part of me; it will be in my bedrock, in my bones. I will grow over and around it and I will accept it as mine, because some days the tragedies in my life are the only things I know about myself for certain.

This has been, objectively, the worst year of my life. I lost a parent with whom I had a complicated relationship, which sent me reeling into unexplored territories of grief. I had a series of brief but intense relationships that nearly all ended explosively and I learned the extent to which my heart could break. I had some off the wall health scares that turned out to be nothing. I was raped. I keep waiting for the day that I’m unable to get out of bed, but it has not come. One of my greatest fears as a child was that I would one day grow up and turn into one of those adults who seemed numb to everything and incapable of feeling as much as they once could, but as more and more has stacked on top of me, I find myself able to feel more than ever. I am feeling more intensely and deeply than I ever have due to my experiences, good and bad. I am currently at my most sensitive, my most empathetic, and my most open to creating something out of this vulnerable tenderness. The whole narrative of my life has changed multiple times this year, both voluntarily and by force, which has left an uneasy storm rolling inside of me, but with that tumult comes a sense of urgency to become who I want to be.

Portraits of the Forgotten

For the past couple months, I’ve been spending a large portion of my free time in a nursing home. I wandered in on a whim one day and asked if they needed any volunteers. The kind receptionist told me that they didn’t need any particular help, but that visitors are always welcome. She told me there were some residents who got very few, if any, visitors, and they would love someone to talk to. She introduced me to a few of them, and we began to play cards. They all teased me and told me to get friends my own age up until I beat them at Canasta and they realized I belonged among them. I returned every day that week and floated around the common area. The residents introduced me to each other, and even though I didn’t have time to continue visiting every day, I go there a few times a week. I have come to know and love a great many of the residents, and I’d like to introduce a few of them:

 

Marvin

He likes being called Marvin the Martian and does a mean impression of the cartoon character. Marv is really fascinated by social media and the internet. One of his favorite things to do is look through my Facebook and Instagram pages. He seems to think my career path should lead me to being a professional cat photographer, and he also finds my posts supremely hilarious, even if I curse too much. He asked me to look up some of his old war buddies on the internet to see what they were up to. Through some sleuthing, we were able to find some news articles about a couple of them. We also found a lot of obituaries, and Marv seemed at peace with this. He had me print out all the photos we found from the articles and obituaries so he could hang them in his room. He recently asked me to write an obituary for him so he could ensure it was done right. This felt slightly morbid at first, but after thinking about it, I don’t know why more old folks don’t do this.


Pauline

Pauline is the most wild woman I’ve ever met in my life. She is an extreme diva who used to be a very successful singer. She says she never married, but she took several long-term lovers throughout her life. She is currently trying to get in bed with one of the hot, young caretakers in the home, and I’m convinced she might actually be successful in this endeavor. Pauline doesn’t think women are assertive enough when it comes to their love lives, which makes it hard “for the rest of us” to get what our bodies need. She claims she made love every day for eleven years straight, and the streak was only broken because her lover died. She says things like, “Honey, if you’re not sleeping with a musician, you’re missing out on some magical hands” and “I once stole a man’s car, drove it three states away, and hitchhiked home because he told me I should settle down and have kids like a good woman.” Every time I see her, Pauline suggests “getting all gussied up and leading on some men down in Westport, because we may be strong, independent women, but husslin’ the fellas just feels right.”

 

Gary

The first time I met Gary, he told me that he’s something of a psychic and he could tell I was searching for something in the souls of old folks. I liked him immediately. He’s from a small town in Iowa but moved down here when his wife was accepted into a Master’s program. His wife passed a few years ago, and his kids all live too far away to visit regularly. He has always been enamored with the healing power of gemstones and essential oils. He believes in a balance between science and mysticism. Gary told me it’s thick-headed to put your faith in one thing and the only way to grow is to be open to many ideas. That said, here are Gary’s thoughts on parents who are anti-vaccinations: “Don’t come crying to me when your kid has polio with a side of measles. Essence of lavender isn’t going to do shit when your kid’s dead.”

 

Cynthia

Cynthia never wants to do anything but be read to. I don’t know anything about her, and she doesn’t know anything about me besides the scope of my pronunciation skills. Every time she sees me, she puts a book in my hands, sits across from me, closes her eyes, and animatedly nods her head like we’re in a church in Atlanta.

 

Gram

Gram feels like a made-up, mystical creature sent to Earth to take care of anyone who has ever been sad. Nobody will tell me her real name, and she is not a biological grandmother. Gram never had kids, but she was always a staple of her neighborhood as the grandmotherly figure, even when she was in her twenties. Gram has a cookie recipe for every situation, gives perfectly soft, warm hugs, and covered me with a hand-knitted blanket and told me sweet stories when the guy I was seeing broke up with me in the middle of the nursing home. She’s more mobile than most of the other residents and can be seen checking in on all of her people at all hours of the day. She has felt prepared for old age all her life, and she finds the fear of aging in young people bewildering, as these have been some of the best years of her life. She is a caricature of a sweet grandmother, but she is also one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met.

 

Carl

Carl has not spoken a word since he was dropped off at the nursing home by his son, who has not called or visited since. Nobody seems to know anything about Carl, and the nursing home staff asked me to spend extra time with him, as they are extremely worried that he’s depressed. The first few weeks, we sat in silence and played Checkers. There’s something deeply sad about Carl, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know his full story, but we’ve come a long way in the past couple months. After all the silence, Carl started to write down questions during our games of Checkers that he wanted me to answer; he asked me all sorts of questions about myself. The first sound I heard come out of Carl was beautiful, raucous laughter when I told him that I might be cursed. I provided examples of all the absurd things that have happened to me, and he laughed so hard his teeth almost fell out. The first few days of questioning were fairly surface level, but they eventually got more personal. Carl asked about my dad dying and wanted to know how I was coping. He wanted to know the good and bad things about my father. He asked about my relationships and my fears and how severely I miss my family all the time. I have babbled on to Carl more in the past two months than I have to any of my friends in a long time. I’m used to being the one people I hardly know open up to, and here I am pouring out my soul to a mute octogenarian who somehow knows exactly what to ask to get me talking. Recently, I’ve started asking him questions back. Sometimes he’ll write answers, sometimes he’ll ignore me and ask me another question. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about himself, and I don’t want to push him. According to the staff, he has been less grumpy and less resistant lately, so maybe I’ll know more about him someday. For now, the only real goal is to beat him at Checkers, because the man remains undefeated and it’s going to his head.

 

We tend to forget or overlook the elderly, and I am just as guilty of it as anyone. It’s easy to simplify their character or just assume they’re adorable, helpless, shriveled up people on their way out. Until the last year or so, I never thought about how frustrating it must be to be viewed like that after an entire lifetime of being a multi-faceted, complicated, opinionated, whole person. Even here, I’ve reduced them to mere paragraphs, but this is just the start. I’d like to eventually write whole pieces on each of them, as well as many of the other residents. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m using these old folks as props for some sort of self-realization writing project. I’ve asked everyone’s permission to write about them, and I’ve changed a few of the names for those who wanted to stay anonymous. (Pauline’s name remains true and she hopes I write a titillating full-length erotic novel about her.) All of this has been inspired by Harold, and this is one of the ways that I’m hoping to continue to Be Kind Forever. 

I just don’t want anyone to disappear while they’re still alive.

harold

Elegy for an Enigma

My father passed away on Tuesday, and I went home for his memorial luncheon over the weekend. The past few days have been among the strangest in my very strange life, and I feel like I’m just floating around from one difficult emotion to another. I had a hard time deciding if I should even write about this or not, as it is deeply personal and I don’t care for public displays of vulnerability. Then I realized that I frantically googled how I should be feeling in hopes of finding someone who had gone through what I am going through, and there’s a chance that someone might read this and at least feel validated that there are other people out there feeling the same things.

Tom and I always had a complicated, tumultuous relationship. For the sake of my family’s privacy, I’m not going to go into details about why he was a bad father, but the short story is that he was an alcoholic who took no interest in the lives of his children from a certain point until we all moved out. We lived in the same house until I graduated, but he never really existed in the same space as me. It was like growing up with a very drunk stranger who yelled a lot.

We may have more in common than I’m willing to admit.

I fully intended to never speak to him again once I moved away for college, but I was only able to ignore his calls for a couple of months, until I found out my paternal grandfather had passed away. I’ve been blessed and cursed with a deep sense of empathy and an immutable need to provide whatever comfort I can to people, even when it’s not in my best interest. My dad’s father, his personal hero, had died, and I couldn’t imagine the pain he was going through, especially since he was living alone for the first time in over thirty years. I called him, and he asked me to come home, so I did. I told myself it was for the funeral, but I was there for Tom.

Over the next couple of days, I had the first actual conversations I’d ever had with my father. Grief had somewhat humanized him for me, and I examined him from a different angle. If I set aside the fact that he was supposed to be my dad, I was able to see that he wasn’t a terrible person. I recognized that alcoholism is a disease, even if he actively chose not to seek treatment. Even though I’m grateful it happened, he probably never should have been a dad–he was just a sad, overgrown child himself. After the funeral, I started answering his phone calls. I still kept him at a distance, but I gave him enough to make him feel like he was somewhat participating in my life. When I went home to see my mom, I would usually drop by to see him. He knew I didn’t have a room or a bed at my mom’s new place, and he always told me I could stay with him, but I never did. For as long as he lived in that house, he kept all three of his children’s rooms perfectly in tact, as though he expected his family to finally come home one day.

We talked a couple times a month almost every month. I got to know my father in bits and pieces. We talked more like old drinking buddies than a father and daughter, and there was lots of story exchanging and inappropriate jokes. Towards the last few years of his life, Tom wasn’t all there, it seemed. He started to tell fantastical stories of crazy, impossible things he’d allegedly done recently and in the past. Tom had always exaggerated his tales, but now there was talk of mafia money and gun fights and Jamaican wives. This muddled my view of my dad; I was no longer able to tell what was real about him and what was either in his head or an elaborate and poorly executed lie. There were a few times he called me thinking I was my mom, and he did not have very kind things to say to her. Sometimes he would call and just shout about nonsense. Once, and only once, he called and asked in a very small voice where everyone was, where his family had gone. He had forgotten we all left. Friends and family alike told me to stop answering the calls and questioned why I would put myself through that when he had contributed nothing to my life. It was tempting to stop. Eventually, I learned to just set the phone down and let him ramble to the air when he wasn’t lucid. Part of me was afraid that he would kill himself if the last of his three children stopped answering his calls. The larger part of me knew I wasn’t as strong as my brothers and I would feel guilty in the end if I cut him off. So I continued answering until the very end, even though he had reverted to being a near stranger through his bizarre behavior.

I found out in the late afternoon that my father had died. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as he’d been in the hospital for nearly a month, but that’s still a shocking text message to receive at four in the afternoon on a Tuesday, or anytime, really. I got ahold of my younger brother and my mom, but my older brother was at work and didn’t answer. My roommates and I had planned a party for that night over a month prior, and I didn’t want to be the reason to cancel, so we went forth. I didn’t tell anyone. My dad died and I had a party. It was nice being surrounded by a bunch of people I loved, even if they didn’t know what was going through my head. There was a moment where I was sitting in a chair watching everyone have a good time and thinking, My dad’s dead and my older brother doesn’t even know but I’m throwing a fucking party. He eventually called me back about halfway through the party.

I went to work the next day. It was an important day at work and it would have ruined a lot of things if I missed it, and it was nice to have a sense of normalcy and structure. I posted about the death on facebook. People were kind, everyone offered condolences. In between doing work stuff, I frantically googled things hoping for some guidance on how I was supposed to be feeling, because I didn’t even have words for some of what I was feeling, and the rest of what I was feeling was nothing. My search history now has things like estranged father death, which didn’t feel quite right, so it was soon replaced by alcoholic father death, effect of death on children of alcoholics, dad who was not a dad death grief. I wanted for there to be a GriefMD website so I could catalogue my feelings and put them in the right boxes.

I was so sure about the various scenarios of how I would feel when Tom died. My dad often talked about how he was going to die soon, so in my head, he has been dying for nearly ten years. I thought I was going to be angry, or I thought I wouldn’t care. I was positive I would not be sad. I had everything planned out. Maybe five years ago, I found this great retro black dress in an antique store and when I bought it, I thought to myself, I’m going to wear this to my father’s funeral. It morbidly hung in the back of my closet until last week when I tried it on and it didn’t fit. When I was a kid, my dad had matching necklaces made for my family. A few years ago, I nearly threw it out, but I told myself it would be nice to have around to wear with the dress eventually, so I tucked it away in my closet. When the time came, the dress didn’t fit and the necklace was accidentally left in Kansas City. I cried a little at the memorial. I cried a little on my drive back to Kansas City. I was confused and sad. Absolutely nothing went as planned.

I went to the memorial luncheon on Saturday. It was small, just family, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. The first time I felt guilt over my father’s death was when I walked into that room and saw my aunts, who had been with him throughout his stay at the hospital and at his time of death. These women had just lost their brother and were the ones who organized all of the arrangements. They were nothing but kind to me, but I thought about how they must see me as a cold, unfeeling, terrible daughter who couldn’t even stand in the same room as her dying father, but instead emailed a letter full of half-truths about how much he meant to me as a last minute panic-driven effort to comfort him from afar. I wondered why I was so comfortably able to sit with a stranger in his final hours last year (Harold), but the thought of seeing my father on his deathbed made me rush out of my house in the dead of night into single digit temperatures just to catch my breath.

The second time I felt guilty was when I realized Tom’s death had given me relief. I was relieved that he was no longer in pain, but I was also relieved that I didn’t have to guess what kind of phone call was popping up on my screen. I was relieved that telling a new person I’ve met who asks about my dad that he’s dead is a lot easier than trying to explain our relationship. I was relieved I don’t have to tell him he’s not walking me down the aisle if I ever decide to get married. I was relieved that the end of his life allowed me to consolidate everything that had happened between us, and that in death, his transgressions can be forgotten, but not forgiven, and replaced with however I choose to remember him.

After the memorial, my aunt gave me a key to Tom’s apartment. My brother and I went there and rifled through his things. I went there hoping to find something, anything, that would give me some clue about the enigmatic man I’d spent my life trying to figure out. I wanted there to be some evidence that he had paid attention to us when we were kids, that he knew anything about us. I wanted to sit in his armchair and smoke a Marlboro 100 and pretend to be him so I could figure him out. I found a lot of pictures, including one of my ex-boyfriend, who had been brave enough to meet Tom and who subsequently became my dad’s favorite person in the world, and I discovered some of his silly clothes that had become his uniform in my mind. I took home a ratty old sweater, a pile of pictures, the wooden bowl we used to eat his special garlic-parmesan popcorn out of, and, on a whim, his 2016 pocket calendar.

teen tom

Teen Tom looking hella fly

When I got back to Kansas City, I flipped through his calendar and found that it was fairly sparse, save for several notations. He’d jotted down some financial things, visits he’d had from various people and dogs, and his sisters’ birthdays. On August 29, 2016, Tom’s entry read, “Gene Wilder 83 RIP.” No other celebrity deaths are noted, but apparently Mr. Wilder’s death had a profound effect on Tom. The most consistent thing in that book was my name with a star by it. I flipped through several times trying to find meaning or a pattern, and it dawned on me that each time my name appeared was a day we’d spoken on the phone. I wept openly over my father’s death for the first time, because I realized even though some of them were incredibly difficult for me to get through, those phone calls were significant enough for my father to mark the day. Suddenly, Gene Wilder and I were on the same playing field.

I still don’t have closure, and I don’t know if I ever will. Too much happened, there are too many questions he’ll never be able to answer. I’m stuck mourning not only the loss of a person, but the loss of a role. Tom was never able to fill his role as my dad. Even though the logical, adult part of my brain knew he would never sober up and suddenly become Super Dad, who did things like get lunch with me and tell me he’s proud of me, the little girl in me always held a sliver of hope that he would, or, at the very least, tell me that he’s sorry for missing out on knowing me as a kid.

My intention in writing this is to let anyone out there who doesn’t have a great relationship with a parent know that no matter how you feel about them during their life or their death, there’s not a right thing to feel. Googling it won’t help you, no matter how many different ways you phrase your query. Also, no one is obligated to have a relationship with a crappy parent. If not talking to someone is what’s best for your emotional and mental health, then by all means, choose that, because it’s a valid option.

I know that I’m in for a pretty crazy rollercoaster of emotions over the next couple weeks, but for now, my way of coping is remembering the good traits my father possessed, some of which I was lucky enough to inherit, such as the ability to defuse a situation with a bit of humor, an unexpected charm, and a strong chin that’s able to stay up even in trying times.

Eulogy for a Stranger

Yesterday I had a wildly unexpected experience, and I’m still sorting through all the feelings. I sat with a stranger as he died, and he ended up meaning a lot to me. He told me his story and I felt the need to write him a very unorthodox eulogy.

I stopped by the hospital after work to visit a friend who was recovering from a minor surgery. I brought her a Cosmo magazine and a pair of scissors so we could go through and cut out every ridiculous piece of advice they had for women and add it to a very bizarre scrapbook we had started together. As we were mocking society, she mentioned there was an old man in the room next to her who was dying and hadn’t had a visitor since he arrived. Something gripped the center of my chest that still hasn’t let go. Once we finished with the magazine, I left my friend to rest and went to talk to a nurse outside. I asked about the old man and she told me that he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. She told me that I could visit him for a little bit if I wanted.

I entered the room and the man’s eyes latched onto me right away. His lip was quivering and he looked so small and so frightened. I introduced myself and asked if it would be all right if I sat with him. He gestured to the chair and nodded and wiped a couple of tears away.

He apologized and told me that he wasn’t so great at talking, since he just picked that habit back up yesterday. After his wife died, he essentially stopped speaking, aside from the spare word here and there. The more we spoke, the better he got, and soon he was speaking fluidly and unburdening himself with all the thoughts he had no one to share with before he passed.

His name was Harold and he was 96 years old. He had been married to his wife, Maggie, since he was 21, and she died nine years ago. They had no living children and all of their siblings had already passed away of various illnesses, accidents, and old age. He kept to himself in the nursing home and preferred reading in his room to going to the forced social gatherings the home tried to arrange. It wasn’t that he didn’t like people; in fact, all his life he had loved people and life so intensely that he was now tired. He felt he had spent every ounce of energy he had in him on loving everything. Now, he still loved everything, but he had no room left in his heart to show it.

Harold met Maggie when he was 21 and she was 18. He saw her walking around town all the time and always wondered where she was going. Every day for two months, Harold sat on the same bench and watched her walk by until one day she stopped walking and sat down beside him and asked how many times she would have to walk by before he asked her on a date. They were married three months later.

Every morning since he married Maggie up until the day that she died, Harold would doodle her a little silly something with a goofy note and leave it on his pillow when he left their bed for her to find. Even when they fought, there would still be a note. He always assumed she tossed them out after a certain amount of time, but after she died, he went through her closet and found them, all 24,197 of them in several boxes. He realized that 24,197 days with the love of his life had not been nearly enough, but he would have been able to float for the rest of his life if he’d only spent one day with her. His wife’s death broke his heart into more pieces than he thought his heart was even made of.

He described Maggie as brutally hilarious, a talented writer, fiercely intelligent, and a champion of civil rights. He described her beauty as magnetic, and it only increased the more you got to know her. He said she was at her most beautiful the day she died, because that was the day he knew the most about her. They had one child, Charlie, but he died when he was three and they agreed not to have another. It would have been too much. They still put stones on his grave every year, a practice that Harold continued after Maggie passed away.

Maggie was a school teacher and Harold was a carpenter. He rolled his eyes whenever people made the connection between him being a carpenter and Jewish and alluded to Jesus. Harold rolled his eyes at a lot of things, as he felt it was the best facial expression in existence, other than a smile that you weren’t expecting to take over your face. Despite a lifetime of rolling his eyes, and contrary to his mother’s insistence, his eyes did not, in fact, roll right out of his head at any point in time.

Harold had an unbridled love for life and found joy in everything. He told me that he was sometimes astounded by the depths of his emotions. He didn’t think he was capable of feeling anything small, and at times, he thought he felt too much. He began to cry as he told me that everything in the world is beautiful, even the sad things. The sad parts are necessary to make the wonderful parts so wonderful. He assured me that even though there will be days ahead where I will doubt it, an overwhelming majority of people are good at heart and will surprise me with just how incredible they can be.

I asked Harold what the most important thing he learned in his almost century of being a part of the world. He smiled at me and told me that kindness, no matter what, is the most important aspect of being a human and it is the highest form of wisdom; kindness can revolutionize the world if we let it. He told me there are people who are afraid of being kind and fear it will be seen as a weakness. He asked that I be extra kind to those people and show them the strength I have through it.

Harold rested for a while, and I scribbled all the things he’d been telling me in my notebook because I needed for his voice to live on. There was no one left to remember Harold, and the thought of him disappearing made me want to cry. I had only just met this man, but he had become my family.

Harold woke back up and laughed when he saw me writing. He told me I was just like Maggie, always scratching things down. I told him that I wanted to know and remember everything, because I wanted him to be remembered. He took my hand and told me he didn’t need to be remembered, because he had done everything he set out to do in his life. He said he had made the part of the world he had been given as good and bright as he possibly could, and that was more important than being remembered. He wouldn’t even give me his last name, because he was “simply Harold.” I asked if I could write about him when I got home and he smiled and said yes, but only because he could hear Maggie harping on him for dashing a young writer’s hopes if he said no. He also told me to stop telling people I’m not a writer.

He told me he had been scared of death before I had come into his room. Although he had been alone since Maggie died, he never thought being alone would bother him so much when his time came. He didn’t know what awaited him on the other side, if there was another side, but he was glad he had someone on this side presently. He joked that I should start a business of spending time with dying old geezers so they could ramble on to someone until they croaked. I told him he’d be receiving my bill later and he told me that it would literally be over his cold, dead body, but there might be a distant cousin that I could forward it to. He asked me if his joking about death made me uncomfortable, and I laughed and told him I was the right person to have wandered into his room if we were getting on the subject of inappropriate jokes.

Harold made me promise not to change too much as I got older. He encouraged me to grow, of course, and be open to new things and experiences and ways of thinking. He told me that he saw too many people change into something they never should have become as they got older because they became jaded. He admitted that there were times he didn’t understand some of the seemingly crazy things young people were doing, but he always strived to remind himself that old folks said the same thing about him when he was young. He urged me to never stop seeing the humor in the world and the wonderful absurdity in common things and practices. He made me pinky promise that I would make terrible jokes on my deathbed many decades from now.

Harold was rapidly becoming less lucid and thought I was Maggie a few times. I didn’t let go of his hand, and called for a nurse. She told me it was getting close and upped his pain medication so he could be more comfortable. She stayed just outside the door in case Harold needed anything. In a moment of lucidity, he gripped my hand and asked for a piece of paper and a pen. With some of his last bits of strength, he wrote his 27,198th note with a doodle and told me it was mine to keep. He didn’t speak again and passed a little while later.

He went more peacefully than I’d imagined. I’ve been around dead bodies before, but never through the transition. It was incredible how different the air felt immediately after Harold passed. To go from being in the company of another person to being alone without anyone moving is both a little unsettling and a testament to how energizing Harold’s presence was. A few people came through and ran tests and verified that he had passed. I kissed his forehead and we parted ways. I was told that Harold arranged his burial next to his wife and child prior to his death, and I will be attending.

This morning, I went to the cemetery where Maggie and Charlie are buried and put stones on their graves for Harold. I ended up finding out his last name, but he will forever live on as “simply Harold.”

Rest in peace, my friend. I’m glad I could be there with you.

harold

 

Running Through the Orchard

I grew up with the wild notion that my body belongs to me and that it would always belong to only me, but as I got older I found that the female body is a spectacle that too many others feel entitled to. You cannot be female and exist in public without being told there are certain rules about your body that you have to follow or be blamed. Certain clothes or hairstyles or tattoo placements mean you forfeit the right to your body, it seems.

When I was a little girl, I would run rampant through my yard with my older brother and neighbor kids. We all ran around in nothing but shorts and tennis shoes, the sun kissing our stomachs and the dirt smearing our backs as we tumbled down hills and clambered into tree houses. We were all members of a primal tribe whose language consisted of giggling fits and obscure rules to made-up games. I distinctly remember running through the tiny apple orchard in the yard of my childhood home, arms outstretched, face to the sky, as my waist-long dirty blonde hair flew behind me like streamers. My feet pounded the ground and my lungs expanded to their fullest capacity and I felt the wind on my bare skin and smelled the apples and my body was mine and mine alone. I was wearing my red shorts and my light-up sneakers, because that was my favorite outfit to be a wild animal in. I reached the end of the orchard and I nearly ran into a neighborhood boy standing in my way, legs wide, arms folded across his bare chest. If you stood the two of us side by side that day, the only difference between our bodies would have been my long hair. We were the same, and I had felt the same up until that very moment when he told me that girls had to wear shirts because he didn’t want to see my boobs, a statement he would retract years later. I was made aware of my body for the first time and shamed for something that wasn’t even there. I never left my room without a shirt on ever again.

When I was in second grade, my long hair was something I was proud of. I loved to let it fall in front of my face and create a secret hiding space where I could build whole worlds in my head without anyone being able to see me. Sometimes I pretended I was a weeping willow tree and my hair made up the elegant branches that draped across the trunk of my body. I loved that my girl friends all played with my hair during reading time, and I loved using a crimper to make my hair have the texture of accordion paper. There was a certain boy in my class who loved to pull my hair. Perhaps he liked me—isn’t that the age old tale they tell little girls when little boys inflict harm upon them? He would pull my hair all the time, but always out of view of the teacher and other girls. I told my teacher once, and only once, and she told me to avoid him, as though it was my responsibility to keep him away from me. I tried staying out of his path. My girl friends would sit in a circle around me to protect me, because even at that age, we knew we had to stand up for one another when no one else would. Finally, I went home and told my mom that I wanted to cut my hair. I disguised it as a fashion choice, as I didn’t want to worry her or inflict her wrath upon this boy even though he deserved it, and we picked out pictures of what I wanted and went to Great Clips to have it done.

Middle school came around and the same boy started pulling my hair again. I got it cut even shorter. I removed pieces of myself; I attempted to make myself smaller to avoid the reaching hands of male classmates. But it turns out, you can only remove so many pieces of your femininity before that very act turns on you. I did not know how to wear short hair as a pre-teen, and people became confused about “what” I was. My own father, likely half a case of beer in, decided he was going to start referring to me as his son, and he did, every chance he got, in front of whoever would listen. When I meekly asked him to stop, he slurred, “Maybe I will once you grow your tits in.” I knew right then that there was a certain type of man in the world that I would never become involved with, and that is a promise to myself that I have kept for nearly two decades and will for the rest of my life. I began to grow my hair out immediately. I began to work on using humor to crush the stupid boys who made me want to be smaller, and I didn’t have another actual conversation with my father until I moved out of that house. There would still be boys to come that made me feel like I was supposed to make myself smaller, but the next time I cut my hair or changed anything about my body, it would be for me.

There are times when I feel completely at home in my body—it feels as though the person I am is fully inhabiting my physical body. On those days, my personality fills everything from the top of my head to the tips of my toes with no room to spare. Other days, always through the influence of outside forces, my body does not feel the right size for me. When the man on the street tells me how much he likes tall women as he licks his lips, my body is much too large, and my personhood shrivels into some corner of my torso. When any unwelcome comment is made, I feel betrayed by my own body. Maybe if I didn’t walk the way I do, or carry myself in such a manner, my body could be my own and no one else would feel entitled to it.

On nights out with my friends, we sometimes decide to go dancing. We put a little extra time into our looks that evening, we get ready together, we take a lot of pictures, we make jokes about how stereotypically female we are being, and then we get mad at ourselves for judging women who do this all the time because it makes them feel good. There is laughter and a level of comfort with our bodies that we know will go away as soon as we leave the apartment. We change outfits in front of each other, we test crazy hair styles and lipsticks in front of each other. There is no focus on our bodies and we are inhabiting them fully. We leave and go to a bar or a club and there are immediately eyes on us. We all know that we look good, but we also know that we could have thrown on anything and there would still be eyes on us and we all feel the tension in the air coming from a certain type of men who are somehow in every place and we feel them feeling the need to take something from us, anything, just to remind us that they can.

When one of the ill-intentioned men approaches one of us, any of us, we all know to form the same circle that every woman has been forming around her sisters since elementary school. We move like a pack of fiercely protective wolves and don’t let the outsider get to his prey. If he doesn’t stop, I am usually elected to act weird enough to frighten him off or use my well-practiced humor as a weapon to humiliate him away from us. When none of this works one night and a man attempts to take something more damaging than just a dance or our dignity from one of my friends and then me, some kind men take him outside of the bar and presumably take care of him in a way that I wish I could have seen, in a way I wish my now-betrayingly-small body was large enough to do myself. My friend and I go into the bathroom and hold each other’s hands with our eyes closed and try not to cry. We are both imagining ourselves back in our childhoods, running through yards, face to the sky, with nothing else to worry about where our bodies are solely our own; we are recalling a world that will no longer ever exist for us, but I swear, there are times when I almost catch the scent of apples because it feels so close. We all call it a night and go home with our keys splayed between our fingers like mock-Wolverines with promises to text each other when we make it home safely, even though home is two minutes away.

I am tired of writing about this. I am tired of relaying horror stories as humorous, witty quips on facebook. I make them funny because if I didn’t, I would never leave my house. I am tired of my own body being weaponized against me, and I’m tired of wondering if there’s something about me that draws this attention. I’m tired of strange men saying, “What’s your name, sweetheart? Give me your name,” as if they actually give a damn about my name, or as though they will call me by my name next time they see me and ask me how my day is going. I love the days when my body feels like it belongs to me, and I resent the days that my body makes life dangerous for me. I am proud and ultimately very lucky that the men I have chosen to share my body with in the past make sure I know my body still belongs to me, because there is no sexier word in the English language than “yes.” I am heartbroken that this has not been the case for all the women in my life, and terrified because it is not a guarantee for my future.

If I have children and I am faced with the horrors of trying to raise a daughter in this environment, I only hope that she can wear her red shorts and light up tennis shoes and nothing else while she runs free through the orchard for as long as she wants. I never want for my friends’ daughters to remove any piece of themselves in an attempt to be smaller. I want them to be the sole possessors of their bodies and scream and spit and bite and thrash if anyone tries to take that away. I want to tell them the story of me cutting my hair as a misguided defense mechanism, and I want them to be embarrassed for me and to be unable to imagine that world as a possibility. I want them to never know men like my father or the men in bars or the neighborhood boy, and I want them to know that when a boy taunts you or hits you, it doesn’t mean he likes you—it means you should avoid him and call him out and wholly dismiss him. I want every girl to inhabit her body fully and be large and loud and visible and safe her entire life.

Why I Won’t Grin and Bear It

If you are a woman, odds are pretty good that you have been told by a stranger, likely male, some variation of the phrase “smile more” while you were minding your own business in a public setting. I’ve always hated those situations, but I had never really given much thought about why, and I have a variety of reasons, but it boils down to the work I put into loving my own smile. I’m generally an overly happy and enthusiastic human being. I have the opposite of resting bitch face; my face is nearly always on the verge of puppy-esque excitement and even when just walking down the street I constantly look slightly amused. I’m no stranger to smiling.

I spent a large portion of my life being embarrassed of my smile. My teeth aren’t very straight, despite a long stint with braces and other crazy metal contraptions that were installed in my mouth that had cranks and levers and twisting mechanisms (which makes it sound like my orthodontist put a Bop-It in there). As a result, I developed a strange smile that makes me look terrifyingly similar to Stan Laurel. Growing up is awkward enough for both genders, but looking like a British comedian when you smile certainly doesn’t help the cause. I eventually strayed from strictly closed-lipped smiles, but my default bemused look is still the Laurel, which I have come to endlessly love because of its absurdity.

stan

This is my actual caller ID photo in my mom’s phone.

I consider myself lucky when it comes to self-esteem and confidence. Like every human who has ever gone through puberty, of course I had days where I hated my body and my face and every part of myself, but I never believed my appearance was the sum total of my self. It did wonders that my mom never put pressure on me to wear makeup or do my hair perfectly or dress to fit whatever look was trendy, as many of my friends’ mothers inflicted upon their daughters. An undue emphasis was never put on my looks, but that didn’t completely neutralize the worry. Even as a confident grown adult woman, I still have days where I feel pretty and days where I think I look more similar to a sandworm from David Lynch’s version of Dune than a woman, which is fine and mostly normal. I was lucky to be raised with confidence and taught to not prioritize my appearance, but that damn smile tripped me up time and time again.

Women are always supposed to be smiling, it seems. In advertisements, women are always either smiling or looking seductive, sometimes both. For being stereotyped as crazy and emotional, woman sure don’t have a lot of options for facial expressions. Their teeth are always perfectly straight and blindingly white with lips that are full and voluptuous, but not too full and voluptuous because then they don’t look “white” enough, which is its own brand of fucked up. Simple tasks like eating an exclusively kale and flavorless salad are supposed to fill women with a joy that insists upon a dazzling smile.

I struggled hard with my smile. I fought against my natural instinct to let that smile engulf my entire face into almost a caricature of a grin. I could have been consumed with joy but my lips would stay tightly pursed and it would look as though I was suffering some great internal pain. I can’t pinpoint exactly when things started changing for me, but I found my smile evolving into something else entirely. There were definitely growing pains; I suffered through an attempt at the elusive crooked smile. For that, I blame reading too many books, even though it was usually the quirky bad-boy character who had a crooked smile, but anything was worth a shot. For a while, I tried to maintain the closed-lipped smile but made it seem larger and more genuine by lifting my cheeks to a comical height until my eyes were squinting and barely visible. My face soon grew tired from that one.

I think it was somewhere from late high school to early college that I stopped caring. This is when I started hanging around supremely hilarious people and I noticed that even after I had finally stopped laughing, my smile remained without me even thinking about it. It was freeing to not constantly think about my face and what it was doing.

I put in so much effort to get to a place where my smile just happens rather than thinking about every muscle needed to make it look just so. My smile is who I am and a reflection of all the joy I am capable of if I just stop over-thinking. I earned my smile. The people I choose to surround myself with are people I want to give that smile to.

So when a strange man on the street treats my smile as something he deserves, as though I am merely here for decoration, as if there was not a struggle behind it, I get angry. I get so angry that I use a warped version of that smile as a weapon and turn it into something akin to a snarl. Years of bad smiles in an attempt to have a good one have left me with an arsenal of hideous faces to hurl at strangers who demand that I look a certain way for their own satisfaction.

I know there are bigger things to worry about. I would much rather have a stranger tell me to smile than accost me in some other way, but I can’t sacrifice that one part of me. Yes, there are times when I do automatically smile back at whoever demands it because smiling is a reflex for me. There are times when it’s clear the person is having a good day and wants me to feel as great as they do, even if they’re going about it the wrong way. If you want me to smile, give me something to smile about—nothing even needs to be said. If a stranger wordlessly smiles at me, I fire a real smile right back at them without even thinking. But to assume and demand that a smile from me is a right edges on very uncomfortable, borderline dangerous behavior that I want no part of.

It’s a small thing, but it’s a thing I won’t stop fighting, with or without a smile.

A Letter from 16-year-old Me

Every few years since I was ten or twelve, I’ve written a letter to myself in ten years, and I recently found the one I wrote when I was sixteen. It’s perfectly dramatic, angsty, and optimistic, and has very inconsistent pronoun usage. I sound like I’m trying to imitate royalty with all the we/us flip flopping. I think sixteen year old me would be pretty damn pleased with the life of 26 year old me, even if I’m terrible at the guitar, still don’t know what I want to do with my life, and have way more tattoos than I originally planned on.

 

To Me in Ten Years (age 26),

As I write this, we’re currently 16 years old. I’ve heard there’s something sweet about being 16, or maybe that’s just the party part of it. Anyway.

It’s hard for me to picture being 26. If I’m being honest, it’s hard for me to picture myself in the future at all. And I don’t mean that in a super emo suicidal way. I just mean it’s hard to imagine myself different from exactly how I am now.

Here’s a list of things I hope we are at age 26:

Still a feminist. I just discovered that stuff and a couple of the dudes nag me about it, and I just threaten to throw my burning bra at them. But reading about feminism and stuff has made me a lot more confident and I hope that’s a big part of our life at 26. If not, you should probably re-evaluate.

Not married/pregnant/a mom. This seems pretty self-explanatory (because gross, etc), but I really hope we didn’t fall into that trap. Married might be okay, I guess. It just seems like an old fashioned practice and not really worth it. I don’t think I know any happy married people. I’d rather be in love with someone and know it’s real without having to sign a legally binding document. Because screw that.

On the other hand, I hope gay people can get married. If they want to. Everyone deserves an equal shot at misery.

I’ve been thinking about tattoos a lot. I hope we have at least a couple tattoos but only stuff that can be easily hidden, just in case.

I hope we still talk to our brothers all the time and that we all know we’re there for each other no matter what.

I hope we don’t have to experience death for a few more decades at least. I hope our family and friends are all safe and healthy for a long time.

I hope we live somewhere really cool in our own apartment with cats. Preferably not Missouri (which seems obvious, as I said “somewhere really cool”), but close enough to visit home every now and then. Or we’re wealthy enough to fly home when we want to.

I hope we figure out what we want to do with our life. Right now, I have no clue. I’m thinking about psychology, but I don’t know. It’d be really cool to be a mortician, but I’ve heard that’s a hard field to break into. Being a writer would be cool too, but that doesn’t really seem possible. I’d have to be a good writer first. So I hope you have some idea because I sure don’t.

I hope we learn how to play guitar and mandolin really well.

I hope we have a Democrat for President next time around. I guess we’ll know that in two years, but I hope we don’t have another Bush situation because that guy sucks.

My teachers won’t stop talking about college, so I hope we did that and had a good experience. I hope we got into a decent school and felt like we could be ourself more than I feel here in Wentzville. It’s not that I completely hate it here or that I’m an unhappy person. In fact, I think there’s something wrong with my brain because I’m so damn happy all the time. Anyway.

I hope wherever we are in 10 years, we are surrounded with people with open minds who are true to themselves because it’s what they want, not what everyone else says they should want. I hope they are the kind of friends who inspire us to be better and more kind. I hope that they’re such great, amazing people that sometimes you question why they hang out with you but then they smack you and remind you that you’re one of them too. I hope I find people I’m proud to be existing in history with.

I hope you’re having a good day in 2017. That sounds like such a futuristic year. Maybe we’re part android by now. Anyway, I hope you write a letter to us in 10 years every few years, because that’s my current plan and it’s something more people should do.

Love (a narcissitic way to end a letter to myself),

Me/You