Nine Years

August 7, 2021 5 comments

It’s been nine years since my mom died. That number seems so impossible, somehow. Like it was yesterday and forever ago, like time doesn’t matter, because it all bends back in on itself. If you ask me what happened the day she died, I can tell you with perfect clarity. I wish I couldn’t, because some things you want to forget. But the powerful things—good and bad—often stay far beyond what is reasonable. Indelible memories.

But I can also tell you who was there for me in myriad ways. And who has been there since, when things aren’t pretty—and when I am a less-than-perfect version of myself. I can tell you whose voice gave me comfort, who made a point to make time for me, and who called—and who didn’t.

You never forget who didn’t. Add it to the tally of things burned into memory.

People sometimes worry that they’ll say the wrong thing. And to be honest, a lot of people did—from a stranger lecturing me about how to look after my dad to some hollow platitude about god and angels. Things like that made me want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (with apologies to Anne Lamott). But the thing is, the majority of the people who said and did nothing after she died, they slipped out of my life, drew backward without fanfare. And that’s for the best, really. Because if you only show up for the good things, then go.

Of course, in the intervening years, there are been other departures. And arrivals. And departures. I’ve lost count, but what matters is the feelings. And there are always a lot—infinite as a hurricane and sometimes tremendously inconvenient. They are what they are, always, as feeling are wont to do.

But I learned a lot about love from my mother. I’ve written about that before, but I’ll tell you some new things. Love fights—even when things seem impossible. Even when things are impossible. And I watched that fight for two years, unwavering—even though I don’t think anyone does battle against cancer or that it’s a matter of being strong. Cancer doesn’t care how strong you. You can’t train for it. You just deal with it.

Love never leaves you to question things. Never leaves you to wonder. Things said out loud are difficult, but the best things often are. And failing everything, love shows up—even when it’s hard. Especially then. Because that is when you need it the most, even in small ways, like a funny meme or a thinking of you message or simply presence. Some of the best times in my life haven’t been about a place or anything fancy. Just spending time with someone else, being in the same orbit, talking and laughing. That is a gift. And after all these years, it’s time I treasure most. Because it’s the memories that matter in the end, and the love found within those memories.

You can’t buy that anywhere. But you can appreciate it when you have, and I hope that you do. And take alllll the pictures, even if your hair is a mess. There are people who I wish I had pictures with but don’t. So, think on that. Think about the memories you want to make and go ahead a do that.

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Naomi Osaka Deserved Better From The French Open

Often, when I speak in public, my heart rate spikes. I forget how to breathe like a normal person. I can’t quite catch my breath, and I’m not entirely certain I won’t pass out. It’s fun, if fun was designed by a sadist. And the charming thing is, it doesn’t always happen. It’s not impossible to do X all the time, so it’s like SURPRISE! You’re a Mess. Or more of a mess. It’s really frustrating, and you often don’t see it from the outside. I am incredibly good at masking, hiding the panic. It’s not a coping mechanism. It’s the emotional equivalent of breaking your leg and then insisting you don’t cry in public. Why? Because we’re not supposed to talk about emotional health or well-being. It makes people uncomfortable.

So, when I watched the story with Naomi Osaka unfold at the French Open, I got angry. Not because I’m a tennis fan. I’m not. (I watch the Yankees. That’s it. I was raised in a sports family, and that’s really all I can tolerate, aside from horse shows. But I digress.) Osaka should not have had to withdraw from the French Open. The situation that led to her doing that is downright appalling, neglectful at best, and honestly actively harmful at worst—which is what I think it is.

Osaka, in an attempt to prioritize her mental health, wanted to opt out of talking to the press. That doesn’t sound unusual to me. We see celebrities do this all the time. “No comment” is nothing new. Unless you’re pulling a Sean Penn and assaulting a paparazzi, who gives an unfettered damn?

Well, the folks who run the French Open apparently do. Instead of taking Osaka’s statement regarding her own mental health and acting with compassion, they threatened to fine and expel her. Now, I understand that there are rules, but if that is the rule? It’s wrong, and it needs to change. Because growth is important, and how we care for and about people matters. When someone is upfront about their needs, they should not be penalized for it.

What I find particularly galling is that speaking to the press genuinely isn’t part of playing the game of tennis. It’s strange that we’d foist that kind of rigid expectation onto people, without any kind of escape hatch. Yes, she’s brilliant. Yes, she’s a professional. But she’s also a person. And people are complex. The idea that she has an obligation be part of a press event, which is not a low-stress thing, is absolute horseshit. Fresh, steaming pile of nope. Insisting that she perform outside of her actual job (you know, tennis) or face negative consequences is absolutely egregious.

It’s not unreasonable to prioritize one’s own well-being. There’s no amount of money or fame that can insulate someone from being human. I saw a heap of online backlash from rather heartless people, griping about her wanting to be coddled and she should just do her job. And I really can’t wrap my head around the gross demand that someone should prioritize anything over their own well-being. Especially when that person was clear about their needs and still had every intention of doing their actual job. (Which, btw, having a difficult moment and needing to step away from something is entirely valid.)

Osaka’s most recent statement is here. And I hope that you’ll read it, if you haven’t already. Then I hope that you’ll consider both the sexism and the racism at work here. Remember how poorly the French Open treated Serena Williams when she needed to wear a catsuit for medical reasons? Imagine looking at someone who nearly died giving birth, because patient care for Black women is absolute crap, and thinking, “No. She cannot do her job that way!” Like, are you kidding me? It’s not enough to be outraged, though. It’s not enough to say this is unfair, because it’s more than unfair. It’s actively damaging and harmful. The way we talk about mental health needs to change. We’re all messy humans. Sometimes, the mess you cannot see needs to be respected, tended to. If someone has a more tangible disease, we don’t shame them. This should be no different.

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In which I’m rambling again…

April 9, 2021 Leave a comment

I spend a lot of time being kind. This is not an act, not a trick. I know the world is a harsh place—and this will sound cheesy—but if I can counteract even a little of that, it matters. This is not to say I’m perfect (perish the suggestion). This is not to say I don’t have moments that make me want to drank gin straight out of the cat dish (to paraphrase Anne Lamott). This is not to say I don’t get mad or act badly (I am a person, not a robot).

People have often mistaken this kindness for weakness. Some have even taken advantage of it. Sometimes, I let them—because the heart is a complicated critter. But feeling things deeply is not a detriment. It’s not a bad thing. You aren’t less of anything because you feel deeply and fully and messily.

The simple truth is this: there’s no wrong way to be how you are or who you are. People will often suggest otherwise. You should be quieter or louder. Don’t read so much. Don’t laugh that loudly. And my personal favorite: don’t be so emotional. As if emotions have an off switch, a shut-off valve, a possible way of exorcism. They do not. No matter how you might want them to just disappear, they don’t. All you can do is delay their eruption for a while. But they do always surface or resurface eventually. You can’t outrun yourself, and despite that, we’ve all tried it. (Pro-tip: only someone actively trying to mash down their own feelings will shame you for yours. That’s their baggage, not yours. Put it down. Light it on fire. Move on.)

I read a really bad take the other day about identities and there being a right way to be X or Y. And it was complete, restrictive garbage for so many reasons. You can come and sit next to me and look at the same tree, its pale pink flowers and all the bees buzzing around it—and you may see something completely different. I see something pretty, something hopeful. But maybe that same tree recalls a memory from years ago. Maybe the scent reminds you of a certain person. Maybe a song comes on in the distance, and you think about someone you’d forgotten for a decade.

There’s absolutely no right or wrong way to be who you are, and don’t let anyone ever dare to attempt to define that for you. That’s a world of nope, and it is a means to keep people small and quiet. You don’t owe the world your silence. You don’t anyone your smallness. You owe it to yourself to stay true to you, and that’s the beginning and the end of it.

At the end of the day, I’ve never had time for tepid feelings. It’s either a lightning bolt or it isn’t. And when it is? Christ, it’s unmistakably necessary and important, even when it feels like I might throw up or need to flee. The trick there is, obviously, not to run. Because we’ve all sat in that moment of deer-in-headlights oh no, I can’t. But what if you can? What if you do?

The important things in life fall into two categories: things that feel like home and things that scare you in a certain way. The truth is, not all fear is bad. And yes, we do often mistake butterflies for alarm bells, and that’s troublesome. But the particular fear that means you give a damn and don’t want to screw it up – but oh god, what if you do? That worry is almost certainly a kick in the right direction. It’s almost never a mistake to go after that. And I’m not necessarily talking about relationships—but stars and secrets, yes, pursue the ones that spark and unsettle you in the good-fear way.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that feelings are hard—but they’re important. They’re almost always complicated or messy. I don’t think there’s a neat, tidy feeling. (Maybe contentment?) There’s always a chance something will go wrong. That’s life. But it’s not all of life. And while so much of this world is dark and full of terrors, so much of it is always kindness and starlight and maybes. Don’t be quiet. Don’t be small. Don’t be less.

Be soft. Love madly. Choose with feeling. Pursue with gusto. Throw everything wide open and see what happens next. Because somewhere between this moment and the next, there lies the magick. And that’s all we’re really after in the end.

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a year of forgetting magick

March 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Have you ever noticed the way hope sometimes feels like adrenaline? How it charges through your body, until you can barely stand still? Hope feels like magick, and it’s been a year of forgetting magick, putting it aside, shoving it down, leaving it to sit in the darkness.

It’s hard to have hope, when you’re busy surviving—trying to survive, as best you can, with all the mess. And the quiet. And the utter absence of things. Places, both familiar and unfamiliar, suddenly inaccessible. Losing people, grieving them, grieving so many things. It’s been terrible and hard, in ways there aren’t always words for.

This time, last year, things were wildly different, on the verge of becoming hard. This time, last year, I had a heap of plans—plans I desperately wanted and was looking forward to. Things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, people I wanted to see.

In the intervening days, I’ve done a lot of thinking, a lot of considering. I’ve looked back on where I’ve been, relationships I’ve had, what ended and when and maybe if it should’ve ended sooner. Who I love and who I haven’t. Who I might’ve loved, but pushed away. Who left, who stayed.

Who stayed. It’s a funny thing, that. The saddest thing, sometimes, is leaving someone, being left. Closing a door. It never gets easier, even when it’s the right thing, the good thing. Looking back, there’s always a strange kind of pang, like a bit of electricity flaring up. A reminder, a warning.

I’m thinking about someone who repeatedly walked out of my life, waltzing back in when it was convenient. I’m thinking about someone who only wanted to stay on his own terms. I’m thinking of someone who told me I was dramatic whenever I had feelings that were inconvenient. It’s strange to look back and realize how much it mattered and how much it shouldn’t have. It’s hard to fully exorcise old ghosts, because you can’t salt the earth and burn the bones. All you have to do is close your eyes, and there they are. All you have to do is hear a song, and everything comes flooding back. All somebody has to do is say a similar phrase, and the whole world narrows.

How much of what we are is made out of ghosts? Today, I wondered this. Because even when it isn’t, something can so easily become an echo of the past. A question mark. A thing that howls. And baggage is sometimes a lot like grief: you think you’re beyond it, and then it renders you breathless. And I am not immune to this. I wish I were.

But the fact remains that I don’t need big gestures. But small things? Steady things? They calm me. They soothe. It’s sounds so odd to say that consistency is magick, like hope, but it’s true. There are not a large number of people who make me feel perfectly at ease, who don’t shy away from my mess, from the giant text messages, the desire for vulnerability, the particular way I need to be needed. Being messy comes easy. Showing that mess is not. So, if I do? It means a certain degree of trust. It means I’ll let you hold me while I cry. It means a certain level of safety that’s hard to come by.

When you’ve been too much, that safety is hard to come by. And when you do, it’s hard to imagine it won’t leave, disappear, vanish. Because it has before. But then, something changes, or someone changes—and there’s hope. A gleaming star in the distance, the notion that things can get better—and they are. That adventure and plans are back on the horizon. What would you wish for? What would you plan for? That’s what I’m thinking about right now. It’s almost safe again, and what then? I’m thinking about what matters and who, and how I want to spend my time. I’ve got a list, an actual list. It’s got places and names. And I know that nothing is a guarantee, but I don’t need that.

I need what’s steady, what soothes my soul, what sees me and doesn’t flinch. The whole mess of honesty that hits like a shock in the best way—hope, hitting like a lightning bolt. It’s been too long and there’s been too much dark.

You have a choice (with apologies to Amanda Gorman): find the light or be it. And me, right here? I’m a lighthouse. Without an agenda, without an ulterior motive. I’m ready for magick, the uncompromising wonder that you can’t predict, can’t plan for—but you know it when you find it. It’s time to remember that life won’t always be so narrow. Soon, before you can blink, there will be more to the world that this steady grief, this darkness. You won’t be ready. None of us will. But the best things in life are the unexpected ones, the wonders you could’ve never planned for.

Meet you there.

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entangled like the night sky

November 9, 2020 Leave a comment

My dog Cash does a silly thing when he thinks there’s danger. Immediately, he springs into action, tail up, his Warning Bark on full blast. And he’ll come to get me to make sure I know there’s Trouble and then run back to its source to show me. It’s really smart and very Lassie, even if 9 times out of 10, the danger is not really a threat.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about danger, lately, about the desire to keep people safe. It is, more than anything else, an act of love. A selfless thing. Given the world we’re living in right now, it’s a lot harder than usual to do that. I’m someone who always protects what and who she loves, even if sometimes that means stepping in between someone and themselves. Sometimes, it means reaching out a hand, and sometimes, slapping someone upside the head. I never come at a conversation without the other person’s best interest at heart. I’m not quiet and I’m not shy, when it matters. I’ll walk into chaos without a second thought.

But it’s been pointed out to me recently I’m less accepting of the same in return. In fact, I’ll quickly change the subject or deflect. And that is, in fact, a defense mechanism. Because leaning on someone means they can let you down. Expecting someone to be there means they might not be. And years ago, in another lifetime, I had a conversation with someone who was close to me, who said the exact words to me that I needed to hear. Perfectly and preciously, as if he’d read the tea leaves of my soul. But in the end, those words were just that: words. Lies, perhaps, if you’re feeling less charitable. So, while I am still exactly me, other people be damned, there’s a part of me who—like Cash—will always startle at danger, real or imagined. Because I didn’t see that coming.

And, when it comes down to it, I know exactly how I love. I think those in my life know it too. But how do I need to be loved? Without walls, for starters. Without hesitation or pretense, the kind of steadiness that doesn’t feel like a held breath or anything close to a question mark. Enjambment, not ellipses. Polish and perfection are unimportant, and I love things that aren’t too neat or too easy, because I am neither. The deep stuff, the real stuff—the chaotic laughter and best mischief. The real conversations about fears and hopes, entangled like the night sky with innumerable stars, beautiful in all its darkness and light. The ease of bare feet and curiosity and quiet understanding, even when there’s disagreement. Not an expectation of neatness, but the mess that comes with an open mind and door and heart. A place without secrets or shame, made soft with warmth and all the things we need to be exactly who we are. Not kept small or quiet, surrounded by the particular appreciation that is both words and actions, that makes the bad days easier to bear simply by virtue of a tangible truth. Good love, honest love, earth-shattering love is just this: both safety net and freefall, both root and sky, both a wild thing and a soul-deep feeling of peace.

Andrea Gibson once wrote something beautiful about how they want to love: “Before I die, I want to be somebody’s favorite hiding place, the place they can put everything they know they need to survive, every secret, every solitude, every nervous prayer, and be absolutely certain I will keep it safe.  I will keep it safe.” And I think that’s really beautiful—to be loved that way.

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Reasons to Survive November

November 2, 2020 Leave a comment

(after Tony Hoagland)

November like a hurricane—
as if a storm made of anguish
had spoken itself into existence,
uprooting without mercy,
flinging roots, whenever your heart lays.

The world is fogged over, distant—
but my brother calls
on Sundays,
and I still want to meet
my best friend’s son,
hear his laugh for the first time.

—or maybe I’ll go to New York,
or cross an ocean, learn new faces
in a busy street, or show up
on your doorstep—
don’t worry if everything’s a mess—
so am I.

I know that sometimes, you think
you deserve to be alone,
hemmed in

by imperfections and old agonies,
heart like a locked door, mouth
full of old ghosts.

But anyone who tells you that
you aren’t worthy? They are the monster
that you think you are
on your worst day, and you deserve
to be here, and so do I,
sometimes, even if it’s just for spite—
survival doesn’t judge,

and maybe it’s enough
that somebody needs you,
that love keeps leaving offerings
at your door, over and over,
until unexpected candles
are burning—

and its light enough to see tomorrow,
bending your heart toward
what matters,
and I will be here like a hurricane,
purposed with kindness,
a storm made of unexpected
hope, uprooting
all the darkness,
until it’s overtaken
by the light.

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Instructions on Love

October 12, 2020 Leave a comment

A month or so ago, on Twitter, I wrote a thread about a few lines from Neil Gaiman that get me through the darker moments—that remind me to be brave when I need, that remind me of how much what’s in your heart matters. Often times, I look to bits of Neil’s writing (I call him Neil, because we’re totally BFFs…or that’s just, you know, his name) for reminding, for solace, for hope. More than any other writer, my heart immediately goes, “Neil will know,” and I open a book or an anthology and find the answer. Like magick.

Good writing is just that: magick. It’s all spellwork, really. But that’s a point for another day. The past few days, when everything has felt exceptionally chaotic, I’ve been pondering my upcoming birthday. When I was a kid, my mom always made a huge deal about birthdays, ruining me for all reasonable expectations. Then along came Sixteen Candles (a problematic movie, but one I have a soft spot for) and introduced me to Jake Ryan and the unreasonable desire to have a cute boy arrive with cake. And well, no one is Jake Ryan.

But the thing is: I don’t need anyone to be Jake Ryan. And I’ve been thinking on this, what I’d really like for my birthday is for you to do something for me. Normally, I’d ask you to go on an adventure or take a crazy risk. But not this year, at least not in the way you might think.

If you love someone, tell them. Tell them exactly why, even if you’re scared. Tell them they make your life better or make you laugh more than anyone else. Put it out there in clear words, even if you stumble or are scared—it doesn’t matter if it’s romantic love or not. The truth is, my darlings, love is always worth risking everything for, upending the world for, being brave for.

And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, because the world is hard and hurt is never in short supply. We’re all carrying around scars from things we don’t often talk about, from people whose names we no longer say aloud. And while I have never regretted loving anyone, I have sometimes regretted not being more honest about it. Because even if things are insane and up in the air, who doesn’t need more love, especially right now? Real love, genuine and not conditional, meets you where you are. It doesn’t not require neatness or perfection. It doesn’t expect you to be anything, but who you are.

So, if you do one thing for me, speak up. Embrace what you love and who, no matter the odds or insanity. You can spend a whole lifetime being safe and neat, but that’s driving with the parking brake on. Being safe and contained won’t answer your text at 2am or at 2 in the afternoon, when you’re freaking out or excited. Being safe won’t make you laugh when you don’t even think you can. And I know, I know, this life is full of such and such madness, but surrounding yourself with those who make this mad world better is everything.

I may be an overzealous CareBear, but you cannot convince me that love doesn’t matter—and I don’t say that because I don’t know what it’s like to be hurt right down to the marrow. Or because I don’t know what it’s like to grieve the living and the dead. Or because I live in a fantasy world full of storybook endings. No, I say that because on bad days, it’s love and hope and kindness that get me through. It’s friends checking in. It’s loved ones listening when the day is hard. It’s showing up in a million ways, no matter how small a gesture.

And remember, at the end of the day, when everything is a mess and you’re feeling on edge—someone loves you, whether they’ve said it out loud or not. Hell, maybe it’s me. But if it’s me, chances are I will find ways to show that love long before I ever say it. Because that’s what love is, at the end of the day: gestures and actions we try—somewhat awkwardly—to mash into words. To heap into a shape that conveys how utterly brilliant you are, how valued, and how precious. Not because you are perfect, but because you are you.

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A Note on Certainty

September 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Lately, for obvious and not so obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about certainty. That feeling of deep knowing in your bones, with all the trimmings of cliché. I’ve had moments and situations in life where I’ve just known things, without a solid reason why. Call it intuitions or feelings—doesn’t matter. It’s nebulous. And that witchy little spider sense is never wrong.

But I’m not talking about that kind of certainty. When I was cleaning over the weekend, I found a note that my mother had written me, thanking me for making her birthday wonderful. As I might’ve mentioned in the past, she wasn’t fond of her birthday, so that was a Major Win. It was two years before she died, and I’d made a strawberry shortcake (my best friend and I did, actually) for the first time. It was almost a disaster cake, but it turned out spectacularly, even if we did have to staple a pastry bag to pipe on the writing.

…right, where was I? Ah, the note. I didn’t remember that note was stuck in a pile of papers I was sorting through, so it caught me off guard. It made me tear up, because…man, I miss her. She was never stingy with her affections, and she would tell you in no uncertain terms how she felt, for good or bad (remind you of anything?). And my whole life, I had that kind of certainty in an uncertain world (although, much less uncertain than the current insanity we find ourselves in).

Finding that note made me think about how much I cherish that. It made me realize how much I thrive on knowing that I matter, that something I did matter, that someone cares a certain amount—just because they do. I’m not particularly difficult or demanding person. But words do matter to me, because certainty matters to me.

I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve felt horribly uncertain. Even when I, to the best of my ability, tried to wrangle things into a better place. I’m completely upended by doubt sometimes, because my brain can be a jerk—and, frankly, people have been unkind. And there’s something particularly unsettling when a handful of people you’ve cared for deem you too much or only like you in halves or just…don’t fundamentally understand you. The world is full of people who only show up when it’s convenient. I’m not that kind of people.

Sometimes, I apply a filter to things that come out of my mouth, and sometimes, I do not. If it’s within my power to show kindness, I do. I make time for those I love without question or hesitation, even if I’ve just been crying over a note I found. Even if I’m having A Day. I talk too much and I say all the things, because what if that’s enough to turn a day around? What if what I’m saying matters?

I often joke that I love writing poetry, but if all I ever did was love people fiercely, it would be enough. And the trick is…it’s not really a joke. I mean that. I spent a lot of years trying to rein in how I care, to make it smaller and more malleable, easier to manage. I was never less me, but perhaps a little quieter than I otherwise would’ve been. And I’m actually still pretty mad about that, but that’s neither here nor there.

So, today, I’m still thinking about the gift my mother gave me—and how, even now, she somehow reminds me to stay true. There’s nothing wrong with making people feel appreciated and seen. In fact, it’s everything—even the smallest heap of words or thoughtful gesture can mean the world. After all, I still have that note, tucked away.

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Even If You Are a Wolf

August 25, 2020 1 comment

I used to think
every bruise would stay a bruise,
the way fingerprints trip
across a soul, how the sharp smell
of fire was a reminder
of all the things
and it was me, holding the matches,
burning the tinder,
it was me, counting out
all the details, adding up
every risk, like feelings
are arithmetic,
a problem easily solved,
easily dismantled,
with an outcome
you can point to.

When you learn shatter
enough times, you come to love
the mess of it, the practiced way
you can look into the future
and know—
this will all break eventually,
this will all turn to smoke,
this love will turn to grief

there’s comfort in knowing
the end is coming, fast
and full of knives,
a kind of suicide
without any witnesses.

But not here,
not this time,
even if you are a wolf,
even if you are afraid
of your own teeth—
we know the same wildness,
and I fear nothing,
and I have made peace
with every possible ghost,
the lurking monster
you think you see in the mirror—
but what if you’re wrong,
and what if I’m not?
I say, bring it,
I say, you don’t scare me,
I say, come here.

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And That Is How I Learned to Love

August 7, 2020 5 comments

My mother was a person who did the impossible, pretty much her whole life, despite circumstances that would’ve cowed a lesser person. I am impossible, but she overcame the impossible, and I think about her strength a lot.

She came from nothing, and despite being insecure, she had a solid sense of herself. Sometimes, my mom would tell me stories of growing up, and say something completely batshit without even blinking. And it was like, “Uh, mom, what do you MEAN you played in a funeral home basement?”

Despite being a strong person (sometimes, infuriatingly so), she was also kind. To basically anyone who showed up at our door. She’d shop for food and toss in things for my oldest, first ever friend. She’s stock up on snacks and chicken nuggets. There was almost always coffee and Entenmann’s something or other.

Usually, I talk about something cool she did. Like the time she made a hoop skirt out of wire hangers (for real and not in a in a Joan Crawford way) and sewed it into a very uncooperative pink dress—by hand. Who does that? My mother, who wanted her daughter to enjoy herself at a themed party. She did not, however, permit me to join the swimsuit competition at that birthday party, because, and I quote, “What the hell? Absolutely not.” I was eight.

One of the things I inherited from my mother is a sense of pride, sometimes to my detriment. I cannot stand to be made to feel less or not valued. It hurts, but I will cover that hurt with anger, and eventually, walk away from whatever—or whoever—made me feel that way. I do not stay where I am not wholly wanted, ever. I’d rather eat glass.

I have learned, perhaps, to temper that side of myself. But not always. Sometimes, it creeps in and makes me rash. I try not to let it, but the worst thing in the world for me is to feel unappreciated and unseen. And that is the quickest way to lose me. But life is too short to settle, to stay somewhere uncelebrated for who you are. Not less, not easier to deal with, not quieter or louder or someone else’s definition of who you should be.

And that is how I learned to love, too: entirely, without pretense, without trying to fit into a mold or shove someone else into one. My mother used to say, “I know you love me, but do you like me?” And that question used to break my heart every time, perhaps more so in retrospect. Because a lot of her life, she dealt with people not liking her for who she was. For me, I like you before I love you, and that’s how it works.

I learned, then, to pay attention to people. To figure out how they work, what their clockwork is, to learn their quiet and the places that ache—the ones, perhaps, never spoken about out loud. I, too, was the weird kid who liked to read. I, too, was a small nerd, proudly carrying around some geek thing or another. I wasn’t supposed to like Batman or the Ninja Turtles, but I did.

This ends with a deeper lesson: you are not here to fill a role, fit a prescribed definition of what/who you should be. Life isn’t about shoulds, and it’s not about pleasing other people to your own detriment. It is not about settling. That truth is etched in bones, and I have my mother to thank for it.

I wish some of you could’ve met her, known her. She would’ve tried to feed you, whether or not you wanted it. I think you would’ve liked her stories, but in their absence, you will simply have to make due with mine.

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