This has been a crazy year. There were good, bad, and bananas things. To say that I’ve learned a lot is an understatement. Because, honestly, if I’m not learning – I’m doing life wrong. Because life is about trying. It’s about making mistakes. It’s about putting yourself out there, in whatever fashion that might be. Making art, for instance. Trying a new hobby. Saying I love you. Traveling somewhere all by yourself. Meeting people.
To me, that’s the important thing about life: living it. Being present. Finding, stealing, and savoring moments. There are three things I couldn’t live without: love, laughter, and coffee. Let’s face it: no one wants to be around a non-caffeinated me. It’s not pretty. But, to me, those are such vital things. Without love, I’d cease to exist. I am nothing without my idiotic, somewhat spastic, completely willful heart. A sense of humor, too, is a must; there have been things, over the years, that I would not have gotten through, if it weren’t for a sense of humor. I’m not going to list them. You don’t need to hear my scars. Suffice to say, finding humor in the dark parts will help pull you through.
But I feel like I need to say thank you, here (feel free to skip this, if you’re easily bored or pressed for time). To my family and friends, who love and put up with me (even when I’m crazy…which is a lot). To anyone who has ever read something I’ve written – and even liked it! To everyone whose life I’ve been lucky as hell to be a part of, who has touched my life in unexpected, but beautiful ways. To the mad ones, who light up life like stars in the blue-black night sky. To my people, my lost witches, my Gilmore twin, my partners in crime, my Wonder Twin, my darling gypsy witch, and my best friend. To the agents who have blogged, tweeted, and generally been awesome. To my fellow writers and editors who live in this ocean made of words.
It has been a year, darlings. There are moments I wouldn’t trade for the world. Although it has been an especially crazy few days, I’m grateful. I keep thinking about this time, last year, where I was and what I was doing. What was I feeling? Like I’d lost everything and nothing would be the same again. I was reeling in a soul-deep, earthquake way. Since then, I’ve seen, been, done, and loved a lot. I’ve been true to myself. I’ve tried new things. I’ve been open, honest, daring, and probably a wee bit bonkers. I’m proud of everything I’ve learned over the past year.
I hope that 2014 is filled with so much joy, laughter, magic, art, adventure, wonder, love, and honesty. May you face all your shadows bravely. May you always remember you’re not alone. May you kiss someone with reckless abandon, someone who adores and cherishes you. May you make good changes. May you walk right out of your comfort zone and discover new things about yourself. May you laugh until your face hurts. I wish, for you, unexpected blessings, strength, and resolve.
In 2014, be good (and true) to yourself. Believe. Allow yourself to hope and dream, then act on those things. Wish and want, and then do everything within your power to attain those desired things.
For all of you who are in my heart, whether or not I’ve said it lately – I love you. Carry that with you in the new year. Tonight, I’ll be raising a glass to you and making wishes of my own.
*Title pilfered from the incomparable Neil Gaiman.
I hate the term anniversary. Anniversaries are supposed to be happy – full of cake and dinners and fun. Anniversaries are a celebration. So, to call the one year milestone of my mother’s death an anniversary feels wrong. But I don’t know what else to call it. Occasion? No, it sounds like a category for a Hallmark card. Event? That sounds like someone that happens on Facebook. There really is no good, single word that I can conjure up. So, I’ll just say this: it’s been one year since my mom died.
One year. All at once, it feels like it just happened yesterday – and yet, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. Someone else’s lifetime. Someone else’s story. Except, it isn’t. It’s my life and my story, and I haven’t quite work out the plotlines, yet.
Here’s the truth, as I’ve found it. People tell you that it gets better. That time dulls things. That you hurt less or what have you. But that’s a lie. It’s a kind lie, mostly. But it’s still fake currency in the emotional world. It doesn’t really hurt less. I still miss her as if I’d just lost her. Again, there’s a strange word: lost. She’s not misplaced keys. I’m not going to stumble upon her on the way somewhere. She’s not lost. She’s gone. But gone feels wrong, too. Dismissive, I suppose. As if I’d just drank the last of the milk, and now it’s gone. But back on point: it doesn’t hurt less. It hurts differently. The best approximation is having an injury. You get surgery. Bones mend as time passes. Skin knits back together. There may, or may not, be a visible scar. By all accounts, you’re fine. And yet, when it rains or when the wind is slightly chilled, you can feel that old injury. It’s not gone. It’s not the same as it way. It’s just different.
And, honestly, so I am. That is okay. That is what it is. But it has also been hard for me to accept at times. I am not broken, but there are things that hurt now, things that didn’t hurt last year, things that I couldn’t fathom last year. And that, I suppose, is what catches the light, sunlight glancing off a mirror. For the past week, without invitation, I’ve been playing the last week of my mother’s life over and over in my head. Where was I today? What happened that day? I remember feeling a mix of emotions, of seeing and not seeing how everything was happening, of believe and not believing – the emotional paradox of those watching something unspeakable occur. For me, there was no magical thinking. There was no bargaining. There was no avoiding the truth. I stood in front of the train, knowing it would hit me.
And it did. And I’m still here. And yes, it still hurts. Sometimes, that hurt is an odd thing. It makes me stupid. It makes me raw, unexpectedly. Things come out of nowhere, bits of anger that I don’t quite understand, even though I acknowledge them. I see it all happening. I know when I’m left of my own middle. Even still, I know that the world doesn’t set and end on my sadness. It shouldn’t. It can’t.
But that also doesn’t mean I’m invincible. I’m a big believer in calling out my own weakness, and so I will tell you this: right now, I am sad. I am okay with that sadness. I have made peace with its inevitable, indeterminable existence. Sometimes, it wears my smile, half-cocked. Sometimes, it throws me in a corner. Sometimes, it leaves me bewildered. But you know what? It also does not own me. It may sneak up on me, pick the lock, and sit on the couch – but it does not own this house. It isn’t me.
Honestly, when I first sat down to write this point, I didn’t know what I’d say. Then I had too much to say. Part of me wanted to talk about my mother – who she was, what I miss, and all the little details that fill up the space of a relationship. But today is not a day meant to mark who my mother was. It’s a day to recognize her absence.
It’s been a year. Not an easy one. At times, an insane one. I have been on all ends of every spectrum. I’ve grown. I’ve laughed. I’ve loved. I’ve been broken and breaking. I’ve seen and done and followed my heart. Maybe in ways that I couldn’t before. Maybe with the perfect abandon everyone always talks about. I’m not afraid of being a fool. I’m not afraid of trying. Because I know that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. I know that it’s a gamble. I know that it’s an uncertainty that we try not to acknowledge. I’m acknowledging everything. The good. The bad. The crazy. The wild and wonky.
The past year has taught me a lot. I know what I’m capable of. I know what scares me. I know that what I’m scared of is never enough to stop me. I know what I want, without question. I’ve found things in the absence. I’ve found beauty in the shadows, and I’ve dug memories out of the silence.
If you’re me from a year ago – if you world feels like it’s been wrecked by an earthquake and Godzilla – know this: it’ll be okay. It won’t be the same. But you’ll find your way through it. Not around it. There is no shortcut. There’s no passing go. There’s just straight through the mountain. It will not get better. It will not magically be a not sad thing. It will just be different.
And that’s okay.
This morning, I woke up to frost and little birds that did not seem to care. The world looked like a pale Narnia; the snow from the weekend had melted, but as my breath formed a cloud in the air, I felt the cold right down to my smile.
The various animals were fed, coffee was had, and things began. That’s how life goes: the alarm rings like a starting bell, and we amble off into the world. Some days are better than others, but all hold their magic. Frost, even though it has covered what’s left of the garden, is still beautiful. Tiny little ice crystals that danced over the green, frozen like a memory, melting slowly.
That, in a way, is life. A series of crystalline moments, beautiful even when it’s unpleasant. So many people look at frost and merely see winter. (I know I’ve done it.) But there’s a gleam and a sparkle there, a bit of transient, ephemeral diamonds.
It’s no secret that I hate winter. I hate it, unless I’m curled up by a fire with a nice glass of wine and nowhere I need to be. But even winter has its moments, full of sweaters and snowballs. I love the absolute stillness that happens after a big snowstorm, when you step outside and there’s no sound, and nothing but a white world. (And me, looking for a lamppost and Mr. Tumnis.)
My dog, as crazy as he is, thinks snow is magic. He runs out, feet akimbo, happily pouncing around. To him, there is nothing better than snow. Nothing better than the completely awesome fluffy stuff. (No, not marshmallow fluff.)
It is, like all things, a matter of perspective. So much of life is just that, boiling down to the way we examine a choice, a situation, a moment, a kiss, a reason, an excuse, a friendship – and so on, ad nauseaum.
Amidst the insanity of life (and it can be freakin’ crazy), we often fail to really see it, failing to exist in the singular moment, too often rushing through. I’ll never forget when I went to Italy to visit family. Basically, the entire country takes the month of August off. As an American, and a partially type A personality, I cannot imagine doing nothing for a whole month. But it was a matter of perspective. To them, to my relatives, it was the same as having the weekends off.
Right now, here is what I know. I know that we talk too much about appreciating things. I’ve done it, too. I remember reading A Story to Live By when I was in high school. A friend sent me a link to the article. And I wanted to be the somewhat eccentric person who wears perfume to the grocery store and doesn’t save anything for a special occasion.
Sometimes, we all need a reminder that this minute is what we have. This love. This chance. This choice. This [whatever]. Sounds crazy, right? Wrong. Forget what you’ve been told since birth and stop trying to plan EVERY second of your life. Balls to that, I say. Plans are good. Plans are necessary. But plans should be flexible. Life isn’t set in stone, carved with irreversible intent. It’s one notch, one step at a time.
Live it. Love it. Be as wise as you are crazy.
*lyric from Shake It Out by Florence + the Machine, which is playing on a loop.
Growing up, Halloween was a sacred occasion. Every year, I’d decide what I was going to be about six months in advance. Then I’d change my mind fifty times, only to go with the original costume.
My costumes were always awesome. How do I know this? My mom made them, sometimes from scratch, but always with love. I was a lucky kid.
So, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I went through old photos of Halloweens past. It wasn’t just a look at old costumes; it was always a walk through the past. I saw pictures of people I hadn’t thought about it ages. I remembered silly things I’d forgotten. (Not, mind you, the Halloween that wasn’t. Who could forget that?)
Let’s start at the beginning, when I born (sorry, David Copperfield). My nurse dressed me up as Tinkerbell. I think I look like a ballerina, but I was only a couple of weeks old. If my finger had glowed, I would’ve been ET.
Next up, we have me ACTUALLY in a Tinkerbell costume. I also should point out that I wore this outfit, randomly, around the house. I was sad when it broke.
(This is me as a cat. It took my mom FOREVER to paint my face. Or it felt like forever. I was an impatient kid. Also, notice the posing. I was a ham.)
(A Punk Witch! I distinctly remember this Halloween. The glasses made everything look funny, and I didn’t understand why my mom wouldn’t let me carry my cat in the basket. As part of my costume. Because that wouldn’t have been heavy. Noooo.)
(Batgirl!!!! My mom handstitched that costume, utility belt and all. This was the costume I wore to the Halloween in which No One Trick-or-Treated.)
Obviously, this isn’t every Halloween. I’m missing the time I was a movie star (old school, with a fur coat that I borrowed from my grandpa. Where did he get it? I don’t know), my Geisha girl outfit, and the time I was a 1950s housewife. There were pearls.
I love the idea of being someone else for a day. I love the drama of it all. Hell, I even love all the glitter, even though it is still EVERYWHERE six months later, like sparkly beach sand. I don’t know if I have an absolute favorite costume. For different reasons, I love them all.
Of course, I also love the candy. *wink*
It appears that I have done something unthinkable. Oh, it started off innocent enough. A passing curiosity. Or so I thought. Then, it developed into a habit. A three-day-a-week habit.
I’ve started running.
I know this is shocking, because my philosophy has always been, “I run – if something or someone is chasing me.” For one thing, I have asthma that flares up when I run. For another, RUNNING SUCKS.
But after a month of doing this, I can do several things I couldn’t do before. One, run a mile straight through. I’ve never done that before my entire life. In high school gym class, I was ALWAYS the kid with the dr’s note, excusing her from the mile. I’ve written more gym reports than anyone else I’ve ever met. (Dude, that might’ve been the best punishment ever. You freakin’ sent me to the library for the ENTIRE period. That’s like sending Augustus to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Minus the accidental chocolate swim. Moving on…)
Anything but running. I horseback rode as a kid. I played soccer for a very short time. (I was a kickass goalie, despite the bloody noses and that time I threw up on the field. I told you I was sick, Dad. *shakes fist*) I was on the school swim team for a while in middle school. But running? PSHAW. I bit my thumb at you, you beef – you acorn! You queen of filth! Of garbage! Of putrescence! (Shakespeare, meet The Princess Bride. You’re welcome. Also, it took me three tries to spell putrescence.)
So, now I can run a mile straight through. On Tuesday, I cut 30 seconds off of my time. I run three days a week, doing two miles total. That might not seem like a big deal, but every time I get off the treadmill, I feel like a rock star. A golden god, if you will. Of course, I also feel like passing out on the floor, but manage to avoid it.
Here’s the crux: I also, due to a series of events, have scar tissue on my lungs. I was a very, very early baby. I really should have a lot more problems than I do. My avoidance of running wasn’t solely born of supreme laziness, but of Holy Shit – I Cannot Breathe.
But the truth is limits don’t matter. Not really. You never know what you can do, until you try it. Until you do it. Otherwise, it’s all just guesswork. Conjecture. And, probably, a large amount of What-ifs and Fear. (Those motherfrakkers. Gods, I miss Battlestar Galactica. And by that, I mean remember the towel scene with Jamie Bamber? *sigh*)
Sure, I have to convince myself to get on the treadmill each time. But I do it. There was a time I thought I couldn’t – just like there was a time when I couldn’t carry a tune. (That’s a story for another time, and it involves Newsies! And now I’ll be singing music from that movie ALL DAY. Damn it.)
The truth is that I don’t believe in can’t. It’s just another fancy way of saying ‘won’t’ and letting fear eat you from the inside out. It’s being too scared to try, which is paralyzing and soul-sucking. How often do we say what-if and if only I…
If only you what? Go. Do. Try. LEARN. Be brave. Be bold. Do you want to write a novel? Do it. Carve out the time. Do you want to learn to paint? Try it. You only have something to gain. Want to go rock climbing? Find a gym that offers it.
I think that, especially as we get older, we’re afraid of looking silly or stupid. We’re afraid of not being good at something. We’re afraid to be fools. But isn’t that part of life? Doing something completely daunting, and seeing what happens? Being a fool is a learning experience. God knows, I’ve been more foolish than not. Surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Are you?
One of my favorite quotes is something that Ted Hughes wrote in a letter to his son, Nicholas.
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
Follow your heart. Invest it people and pursuits. It isn’t something that’s meant to be hidden away. Your heart, your courage, your will – those are your greatest assets. And don’t worry – you can thank me later.
Right now, I’m 28 years old. I make exquisite pasta with vodka sauce. I have a BA and MA in English Literature. I write. I can sew on a button or stitch up a broken seam.
Ten years ago, my cooking skills were limited. I was in my first semester of college. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or how I could get out of taking math classes. Anything that needed stitching went straight to my mother.
Ten years ago, I still had bangs. I laughed too loudly. I streaked my hair purple. I didn’t not know who Michelle Cliff or Neil Gaiman were. Ten years ago, I was 18. I was sitting in history class. US I, with a professor who was nothing short of awesome, even though history isn’t my favorite subject. He owned horses and was a little rough around the edges. He wore suspenders and a beard that rivaled that of my 7th grade science teacher. Both resembled Grisly Adams.
There was this guy, Jason, who I’d gone to high school with. He walked in late, and he said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” He’d heard it on the radio on his way to school. The strange part was that we didn’t react to it. At that point, no one knew anything other than what he’d said. We didn’t know that it wasn’t a small plane. We didn’t know that it wasn’t an accident. We had class. Toward the end of it, the professor switched on the tv. A second plane had hit the tower. From that moment, I don’t remember much. Bits and pieces.
I got out of class and frantically called my mother. That’s what you do. You call your mom. Or your dad. Your brother or sister. Your boyfriend or girlfriend. When the world is coming down, you reach out to the people you love the most.
When my mom picked up the phone, she was crying hysterically. I could feel my heart in my throat. I kept asking, “Where’s Dad?” He sometimes had business in NYC. It took her a good five minutes to tell me that he wasn’t in the City that day. He was supposed to have been, but by some twist of fate, he was safe and sound.
I asked her why she was crying. Then, I remembered my Godfather worked in that building. She couldn’t get a hold of anyone. She didn’t know if he was alright. She hung up to call someone else. I called a girl who was my best friend at the time. Or I thought she was. (For the record, she wasn’t.)
She’d seen the news, too. She couldn’t believe it either. We hung up, quickly, but I remember finding it strange that everyone’s reaction was identical. She was several states away, but our campuses were rendered the same: everywhere, there was silence. People were huddled around every available tv. CNN was on. You could hear a heartbeat in that silence. No one knew what to do. No one knew what was going on.
We tried to carry on, like normal. Classes weren’t canceled. I was supposed to attend one in an hour. The hour passed in a minute. My mom finally called to tell me that my godfather was okay. He got out. He was safe.
I told my professor that I had to go home. She seemed to understand, although nothing had sunk in, then. No one knew what to do or say. Follow the routine. Teach. Learn. It seemed to be some kind of refuge. Something to focus on.
Then, all classes after mine were canceled. I drove home. So did my brother. I can’t remember if my dad came home early from work. I want to say yes; I’ll have to ask him. I remember him being there when I got home, but that could be a trick of memory.
My brother stopped on the way home and bought groceries. Just in case. No one knew what was going on or what might happen. There was smoke and silence, screams and sobs. Anger and tears. Fear. That fear was so real I half-expected to find it waiting like a monster in my closet.
The irony of having been in a history class when that tragedy happened never escaped me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on Jason’s face when he told us the news. The next history class, our professor apologized for his lack of reaction. He didn’t understand what had happened. He would never have kept class in session if he knew. He was only human.
Ten years ago, this is what I saw and what I knew. This was where I was. I cannot believe it’s been ten years.
It feels like yesterday and forever ago in a single breath of memory.