When the Moving Dust Settles

When moving to a new state or city, country or provence, the hardest part comes after all the dust settles, and all the fun exploration putters to an end. When then, in the light of a still warm sun, you have to commence real life.

This summer, my young family and I moved to LA from Texas. We left a comfortable home, a thriving social circle, and a lower cost of living, and drove across the American Southwest in our freshly hail-dented Jeep. At no point on the four day journey did I think this transition would be easy, yet never once did I question if it would be right.

When we arrived in LA, the wave of relief that washed over me was almost as powerful as the ocean pulsing only a few miles West. We had survived, and that horrible prick of pain in leaving was felt a little bit less.

Summer passed as it always does when you have school age children: too fast, in a haze of sunlight and swimming, adventure-finding and dreaming. And every one of those days I wondered, will today be the day we break down, realize how hard it really is to leave everything behind for a hope in a future we can barely just taste? Today, will we long for the people we were before we sold off our home and waved goodbye to our family and friends?

But we didn’t. We were having too much fun to notice the pain. Were too busy exploring the city to sense how hard that pain still clung to our heels. Too in love with the hills and the palm trees, too soothed by the smell of the sea, to feel the pieces we’d left behind that were now missing.

And then summer ended.

Fast as the lightning we haven’t seen since May, the last time we were in a storm in Texas, the realness of this move shot through us. School started, and with it came the realization that we were not playing at living here, we were really doing it.

It hit my son hardest of all. This wasn’t his school, with his friends, and his teachers he recognized. This wasn’t his routine with all it’s comforts and predictability. This wasn’t Texas. This wasn’t home.

And it wasn’t easy. Because as his anger settled over him, my guilt ballooned. I was the reason we’d moved, and now here I was forcing him to accept it all over again, and this time he didn’t want to. And for a solid day, I genuinely, earnestly just wanted to run away. Because here pain was now grabbing my ankles, climbing my shins, and here I was with nothing to bat it away.

In these moments, the very best advice I can give is this: feel it all. Allow every itchy, ugly, vulnerable thought to crash over you. Let the violence of loss growl in the depths of your throat. And then get up, make a cup of tea, and find some way to face the rest of your day.

For these past two weeks we have had to do that. Through long hot walks and brutal conversations. Through weeping and yelling and silent treatment. Through feeling embarrassed. Through dumplings and cocktails and ice cream. Through journaling and role playing and gaming. It has not been easy, living in this moment alongside the pain, but, today, it finally started to feel better.

The reality is, we all have to face our fear that the choices we make are not the right ones. If we don’t face it, we leave ourselves vulnerable to doubt, and worry, and the nagging sensation that we are just one wrong move away from utter destruction. Moving states, cities, countries is never easy. Leaving family and friends always sucks. But staying where we are when we know we shouldn’t is worse than the pain of saying goodbye.

Acceptance is a stage of grief. On the other side is Life waiting for you. New adventure. Scary and fun and weird moments you couldn’t have had while wallowing in what was lost. Today, as I watched my son resign himself to walk into his new school without panicking, I knew he was close to that, and moments away from whatever wonderful thing awaited him.

The most important part of moving, is moving on. Not looking over your shoulder for the chance to run back. Not longing for the way it once was. But being thankful, and being willing, and then just simply being right here.

 

 

A Story About My Brother

Six years ago, my brother Isaac was an alcoholic just starting to get sober. He had almost died, almost let the drink do the job of killing him.

He’d almost given up on his life.

Today is his birthday and I am miles away in LA. When I called him on FaceTime this morning, he was working at the gym he owns with his wife. He was wearing a polo with the logo embroidered on it. He was ribbing me for putting my name on the gift my other brother gave him.

When you almost lose a person once, twice, more times than any of us like to remember, that person’s birthday is a little more special. It’s a celebration not just of the life born that day, but the life reclaimed away from destruction. It’s a reminder that this person didn’t just come into the world, he chose to fight to stay in the world.

Isaac won’t mind me telling you this: he was a shithead when he drank. It nearly destroyed not just his own life, but so many parts of all of ours. When he was drinking, for a long time, he stared down the barrel of a gun pointed on himself. Not a literal gun with bullets made of lead, but a bottle crafted into a weapon he could turn inward, and sometimes, turn out toward one of us.

There was a time when Isaac’s next birthday wasn’t a certain thing. When we didn’t know if he was going to dig his way out of his pit and find his way back into the light. There was a time when the fog of addiction shrouded his future in a foul, dense mist. When, Isaac will tell you even now, he didn’t care to see the next morning or minute.

When he decided to get sober, everyday for him became an act of defiance — against himself, the alcohol, the feeling of oblivion it brought him. That daily battle transformed him. It transformed many of us to watch him, to walk with him while he did it, to everyday get further away from control, closer to freedom.

Four years ago this week, Isaac, my mom and I traveled to Hawaii for his wedding. He poked fun at my very real and fresh adoration for mai tai’s, but not once did I wonder if secretly he wanted one too. Because Isaac had found something else to live for.

Isaac had discovered he was here for a reason.

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We all are.

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Years ago, I moved my family to New York City. Isaac was newly sober, still carrying that six month medallion in his pocket, and he didn’t particularly want me to go. So, to make sure I thought about him all the way in Brooklyn, he wrote me a song.

He sat me down outside my uncle’s house after dark on the night before we left, strapped his guitar around his body, and started to play. Eventually, he would record that song and put it on an EP. I would carry it around on my phone and listen to it whenever I felt alone out there. When I got ready to move to LA, Isaac grumbled from his rocking chair, holding his new baby son on his lap, that I wasn’t getting a song for leaving this time, but he loved me anyway. He always would, no matter how far away I went.

Earlier this week, he texted me a recording he’d done of the song “Be Like That”. Acoustic and breathy, it was a promise, his way of being here for me while I take a giant leap.

Today, as I sit in my new living room in LA listening to my song and thinking about the brother I almost lost, I am thankful for the journey he took. All of it. No one should have to go through what he did, but no one is more thankful for his life than him. He lives with a purpose. He loves his sons and his wife with ferocity. He knows what it’s like to feel ugly and pointless and wasted, and he lives as an example that you can come out of it. You can be more than addiction.

Today, I am thankful he was born, but even more, I am thankful he chose to fight for his life.

Happy birthday little-big brother.

 

Post-its to Somewhere

My house is covered in post-its.

Not because I’m mapping out a new story or making notes on a revision, not for the purpose of tracking plot lines or marking pages in a well-worn manual.

In less than thirty-days, I am moving. Those post-its, colored pink and green and orange are a map to the belongings staying behind, going to family, friends, the donation pile, or, the pink ones, scrawled messy with the word Cali — those are going with me

In less than thirty-days, I am moving to California.

The first time I ran away from home I was nine-years-old, armed with a pink and purple Caboodles box and a few peanut butter sandwiches. I was running to Hollywood, seeking fortune and fame and a producer for my screenplay handwritten in a composition notebook. I walked down our gravel drive to a busy road and turned left— West, I thought. Traipsing ankle deep through bluebonnets, jelly sandals stuck with stickers, sunglasses slipping down my already pink, freckled nose, I imagined hitching a ride on a bus across the American Southwest. These were the dreams of a Full House fan with a Pollyanna heart.

I made it to the corner before my older brother caught me. He hauled me back up the drive, his grip tight around my scrawny arm, berating me the whole way, but nevertheless promising just this once that he wasn’t gonna tell Mom. He also informed me that I wasn’t walking toward California, but was actually headed Southeast, which he proved by flipping open his compass and flashing it at me in the late evening light.

I never promised not to run away again. I just promised I’d be better at it when I did.

In twenty-two days I will get in the car before daylight, snuggle my son against his pillow and secure the dogs in their seats. I’ll pull up the map on my phone, a modern compass complete with step-by-step vocal instruction, and my husband will put the car into drive. We’ll traipse across open desert and through National Forests. We’ll stay in hotels friendly to dogs with pools favorable to a kid who’s part fish. We will be grouchy and scared shitless and together.

When I was fourteen, I planned an escape. My family was living in Colorado and every Sunday I drove by an interstate bus stop on my way to church. I had it worked out. I was going to board a bus bound for California, or Vegas, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. I was older and had figured out which way was West, knew a few routes, could pass for eighteen and get jobs along the way. When I was fifteen we moved back to Texas and suddenly there were too many states in between, hurdles, and daydreams and the cute boy in the band.

But I never gave up, even when I forgot what I’d wanted.

Now I’m not nine, I’m not fifteen, and I’m not running at all.

I am chasing.

I’m a woman in hot pursuit of the illusive yet very real thing.

My caboodles box is a red and white POD and all my most useful belongings are post-it marked Cali. My bus is a black Jeep Patriot. My companions are a little boy with big dreams, two dogs with wagging tails, and a husband who’s happy to drive.

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Change is not a Four Letter Word

Change is not a Four Letter Word, though sometimes it is used like one. It is a black widow spider armed with venom and a stinger to deaden those limbs that need to be severed. Those habits that need to be abandoned. Change can come as a shock, like a blow to the stomach or a slap to the cheek. She is almost never expected and almost always accompanied, darkly and with a mustache, by the mysterious stranger Unknown.

Eight weeks ago on Monday, Change slammed into my body and broke my kneecap.

Okay, I fell on my kneecap and broke my kneecap. But now, in the hindsight gained from a lot of time laying on my ass in the downstairs guest bedroom, I recognize that it was Change that broke my body not the floor I fell against.

Change had decided to visit me whether I invited her in for whisky or not.

In the weeks — the now almost two months — since Change set up residence in my house, I have hobbled through upheaval, wheeled around uncertainty, and cried in the face of loss. I have watched the things I thought I needed die while others broke ground, sprang to life like a sprout of new grass, budding like the trees outside my house.

I watched the end of one season and the beginning of another.

I let go of a valued friendship. Change carved out my heart and showed me it in a harsh light, and when I’d seen enough, she threw it on the pyre to burn. Change forced me to let someone walk away because right then I couldn’t chase them, and maybe Change had known that the time of running after instead of ahead of, was ending. In that moment, Change was Goodbye, an unfamiliar feeling to a girl who thought she didn’t really believe in endings.

I put a house that I love up for sale. Change reminded me of all the beauty, all my passion, as I painted the walls, watched the staircase be refinished, the flower beds planted, and the deck be stained back like new. Change told me this was the end, too, and I’d done all I could do. It took my claim away for someone new.

I began to walk again. To bend and straighten. To press up on tip toes and balance without wobbling. To feel less shaky, less like a victim, more like a hero. I felt my shoulders ease back and start to tighten with the certainty that I could and would and damn everything that would say otherwise.

Change gave that to me.

Change gave me hope.

No, Change is not a four letter word. It’s not ugly unless you ignore it, carrying around that dead limb and pretending that you don’t see it, that it’s still alive and capable of giving you what you need. Because once bitten, you will never again find the strength you once had. Never again will you walk that way and not stumble. Because…

Change is always violent.

Always a death and a resurrection.

Like the holiday coming up, like winter and spring, like goodbye and hello. Change always means It is Finished, It can begin. It always fights with you, bruising your ego, squashing your pride. It steamrolls what you expected and doesn’t have a band aid for your wounds.

But in the midst of all that meanness, Change promises there is more. And better. Dreams you have yet to see clearly, days you have yet to live fully. If only you will let Change do her work and let go.

Today I walked around a forty-nine acre garden. It hurt the now mostly mended but still weak leg Change has been trying to make new. It tingled inside me that this was the first day of the rest, and the pain was good, a sign something new was coming.

A sign I was almost ready to run.

A Broken Bone Does Heal

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Two weeks ago, I broke my left kneecap. Right after it happened, I refused to acknowledge the pain, the promise of a longer recovery than an afternoon propped up in bed reading, because how could I be confined so completely, restricted so unkindly? I had life to live and plans that week and everyday my household, my husband, my son, my friends, my family needed me.

But I’d done it. It was broken and nothing would change that.

Anger lit me up inside. I stewed over my sudden and complete inability to function as I had grown used to functioning. And the frustrating thing was, I didn’t even know who to blame, but I wanted to blame something, someone. I wanted to blame myself for not wiping my feet on the doormat before I stepped on wet tile with wet shoes. I wanted to blame the circumstance for presenting itself. I wanted to blame the chaos going on in my life for distracting me enough to misstep.

I wanted to heal fast. Sure, the Doctor said it should take four weeks, but I wanted to take two. I wanted to bend my knee. I wanted to speed this up. I’d had enough rest. I didn’t want to watch TV or sit and stare out the window with tears in my eyes. Those romantic images from movies where the girl languishes in a wheelchair in the garden, embroidered afghan over her legs, convalescing with a cup of tea: not my idea of a well-spent afternoon.

I didn’t want to be confined to the downstairs guest room of my house, or the back porch in a wheelchair. To be swollen and bruised, in pain with nothing to do but feel it. I wanted to get up and walk. To clean the kitchen and make myself a snack. To run errands. To walk the dogs. Basic things I usually never even paid attention to, I longed for the freedom to do them. For the right to grumble about them.

It has been days of scrabbling on the tips of fingers up the side of a deep dark hole of feelings. Thoughts my normal speed allows me to ignore. Questions I prefer not to seek an answer to.

But this confinement did have an expiration date. Four weeks. And the fact that I was still spiraling, not coping great, stuck inside me like a thorn. I have friends that exist on the razor edge of chronic pain. They live with disabilities well beyond my comprehension, they triumph and create, all with a daily battle that has no end in sight. What right did I have to complain? How dare I? This is not the way a brave girl responds. This feels like crumbling. Tipping over a ledge I didn’t realize had gotten so close.

If honesty is still a virtue, here is another nugget:

Being forced into a narrow boundary casts everything outside that boundary into a harsh and brutal light.

In the end, these were the things that survived the bright light.

My husband is a glorious knight of raven headed kindness. My son is a true and solid friend, with the ability to cope and comfort well beyond his seven-years.

Writing and reading create a life-raft.

The people that truly love you emerge in the midst of crisis.

Grace is a gift we are given, but it is also one we must extend even when we are thoroughly pissed off.

Don’t be afraid to go dark for a while. That may be the only way to chart your course.

Two weeks down. Hump-day for the broken-boned. Today I feel better, but not mended. I feel more hopeful, but not sure what that actually means. Not sure, at all, what the other side of this will feel like.

Sure, only, that it can’t belike it was before.

Hashtag 2017

The woods outside my house is shrouded in fog. It’s New Year’s Day and I feel just as foggy as the woods. Not because I stayed up into the wee hours, partying, clinking glasses, making promises to myself for the next year. I didn’t. I went to bed before midnight after tucking my son in his, kissing my husband, listening to the bang-crack of fireworks from near and far, faint and loud all around.

I woke up this morning and without even seeing the mist on the trees I felt the fog settle in. Cloaking. Touching my edges and sending me into myself.

New Year’s Days are made for wondering what will be ahead. They are hopeful, melancholy, whimsical creatures. They are wishes and they are wanting.

But they cannot tell you the future. They cannot promise the dream come true. That power exists in every day after.

If you had told me last year at this time how the future year would shape up, how much change would come, how much I would see, do, accomplish and uncover, I do not know if I would have believed you. I don’t know if you could have made me believe even if you gave me a glimpse.

As I lay in the dark last night, I tried to remember last New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t for a while. I confused it with two years before. I was certain it wasn’t that one three years prior. I had to go back and look on my phone, scroll through a year of pictures so much more brilliant than I was expecting. A year far fuller than seemed possible.

When I reached the videos I took of my son that night, he was little, he was Star Wars obsessed. He, too, has changed so much this year. We made churros and talked about the Force. We had no idea who we would be just one year later.

I scrolled to the picture I posted the next morning. My one statement for what I hoped my year would hold.

Hashtag 2016:

2016

2016 had eclipsed the end of 2015. I had done the thing I purposed in my heart to do:

Be curious and have adventures.

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This year, foggy and hidden away as it has begun, I purpose to do the same. To put down on paper the hope of tomorrow. To promise myself I will live fully and bravely, be bold, but kind. I will win some battles and I will take some giant, frightening leaps.

And next New Year’s Day I will not remember what I did that final night of that other year because I will be full of hundreds of nights and many more dreams come true.

Hashtag 2017.

2017

The Christmas Spirit

This year I didn’t want to Christmas. I didn’t want stockings and trees hung with tinsel, twinkle lights, fragile glass ornaments. I didn’t want to pull out the dusty boxes from the shed, look for spiders and sneeze. I didn’t want to feel jolly, merry or bright.

I didn’t want to be distracted by the Spirit, the blessing, the idea of Christmas. Not right now. Not this year.

For a while, I’ve been the girl wearing a Ba Hum Bug sweater and drinking in the kitchen while everyone is gathered in the den singing Tra La La! It’s a fist fight with the Holidays — it’s gotten worse every year, like a degenerative illness.

Sometimes I blame consumerism. The mad grab for gifts. The long list of people I wish I could buy for. The feeling of TOO MUCH and NOT ENOUGH. The stress of saying no, or not no and wishing you had. The way your adrenaline spikes with the rip-tear of the paper and then crashes when its all over and there’s just no more. The way you feel when you realize gifts don’t always mean what you want them to. The let down. The fact that you don’t need anything at all, yet so many will never have enough. The way that makes gifts look ugly even wrapped in sparkling crimson and green.

Sometimes I’m selfish. I blame the disruption of my routine. Maybe if Christmas could just politely come and go and not disrupt everything around it, screw up bed times, mess with weekends, alter workdays. Maybe then it wouldn’t bother me so much. If there were no parties and no extra work. If Christmas could be like Columbus Day, then maybe I’d tolerate it better.

Sometimes I blame family. Mine. My husband’s. Other people’s. The First Family. The Royal Family. Mary, Joseph, Jesus in a manger. All those people doing Christmas their way and me still trying to figure out what my way is. All the schedules that have to line up. All the emotions that fill rooms already too small and warm. I blame the missing family, the ones we wish were around but aren’t, can’t be, and so there’s a strange cold place where they used to sit, laugh, cry. All the adjusting we do. All the expectations that will never be met.

I blame the election. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter. The news cycle. I blame everyone’s Christmas Tree pictures on Instagram. It’s Starbucks and Target’s fault. It’s Taylor Swift’s fault for creating Christmas goals I will never be long legged enough to achieve. I blame Christmas movies with John William’s soundtracks when my life just sounds like video games and Michael Jackson on an endless loop.

But it’s not really any of those things, and I know that.

It’s me. It’s because I’m afraid of it spoiling. Getting tainted. Painted in colors and shades that make it look ugly. Somewhere along the way everything became a target for anger. Somehow everything can fall apart if we let it. How can we feel Christmasy with the world the way that it is? What is even the point?

I decided I wouldn’t put up a tree. We are traveling for some of December. We aren’t doing a lot of gifts. We aren’t even doing Santa with my son this year. He quietly told me last week, You know mom, I don’t need that anymore.

Ba Hum Bug. Pour me some Scotch.

On the way home from my mom’s house today, my son asked me if we were putting the stockings up. Stockings, that’s our thing. We go to Target a couple days before Christmas Eve and my husband and I separate, buying ludicrous, silly, tasty, thoughtful things to stuff our stockings full with. We’ve done it since we first got married. We added our son to the tradition when he came along.

Stockings. A memory worth clinging to. Blip. That’s the sound of my heart growing Grinch-style.

When my son and I opened the dusty, wasp infested shed this afternoon and started rummaging around in the cobwebs for the box with our stockings, he scooted right up to me, big blue eyes shiny even in the dim light. I want to put up the tree. Just a whisper.

Blip. My heart grew again.

And even though I had convinced myself it didn’t matter to me, that I didn’t need the tree this year, I said okay. I pulled out the box and we hauled it inside. We sneezed and laughed,  blaring Christmas music over his Pokeball mini-speaker. A section of the lights wouldn’t light. I couldn’t get the topper to top. It was all a little messy and uneven — like life, like everything else that I love— but then he started pulling out ornaments, telling me where they came from, what they meant to him. Reminding me where we got this one, when we made that one. He said I love this one, and this one and this one.

Blipblipblip. My heart was too big.

It mattered to him. The Tree. The moment and memories. They were something to him. And the scary truth I didn’t want to face: they were something to me, too. Something that could be cracked and chipped, loose luster, but somehow not beauty. Something of value that I wanted to love and appreciate especially because it might not be perfect.

Christmas isn’t perfect, but neither are we. Neither is the world.

That’s a reason to fight for it.

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