It’s been a hell of a year. The twelve month rollercoaster that none of us wanted a ride on is reaching its final loop de loop. We’re all sitting in our seats, pulling the safety bar close to our torsos, bracing ourselves for the last upside down, hands in the air, twisty, terrifying moments.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve yelled up to God saying, “CAN WE STOP NOW? I THINK WE’VE HAD QUITE ENOUGH.” I can’t think of a single person in my life who hasn’t had their world rocked by this past year. There has been loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of health, and loss of normalcy. Empty classrooms and empty booths at your favorite pizza joint. Abandoned playgrounds and libraries closed until further notice. Nursing homes and hospital floors with big warning signs- no visitors allowed. Grocery stores and targets running out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Mothers with empty arms that once held their precious loved ones, now carry their grief instead of their children. Weddings and graduations postponed until further notice. We wear masks on our faces to stay safe, while others have taken this turbulent time to remove their masks and show us who they really are with violence and hate.
We’ve taken things for granted that would never have crossed our minds before- like breathing. Filling our lungs with the oxygen that’s required to keep us alive. People have suffocated right in front of us.
Breathing. So simple. But- when the breathing stops, so does the living.
I’ve been spending a few much needed days home with my amazing, loving and extremely patient parents, as well as my amazing, loving and extremely patient little sisters and brother. After months and months of FaceTime and many tears, I’ve finally been able to hug my grandmother and visit my Gramps final resting place. There’s some kind of magic in the New England air that fills up my heart and heals the parts I thought were broken.
Earlier today, I was sitting at my Aunts house today admiring the warm, familiar space where she and my uncle live. The walls are covered with memories of an ever growing and changing family, the Christmas tree still lit up and pretty.I felt at ease as we sipped on tea and reflected on the past few months.
Shit got real this year. Shit got ugly. Shit got desperate and dangerous. Shit was never ending. Shit was big and bad. Shit got messy and we lost our way.
And then we came together.
But- surely we realized that the human spirit is not so easily crushed.
Families came together and made sure that their neighbors didn’t go hungry. Teachers gave their students their all, while taking care of their own families in the classroom or remotely. Parents working from home balanced conference calls and middle school algebra. Bus drivers deliver free food and graded homework to all the kids on their routes. We’ve supported each other in peaceful protest, louder than the contagious hate others have shouted on Twitter and sidewalks all over.
The opportunity to help or hurt others didn’t start in 2020 and it won’t end in 2021. There’s always something happening, somewhere in the world. It’s a little unexpected when it ends up on your doorstep and blows up like a glitter bomb, covering everything and everyone. You can try to vacuum it up, or you can surrender and realize you can sparkle. Even just a bit.
New Year resolutions can be a starting point or a crutch. Loosing ten pounds, quitting smoking, training for a marathon, reducing screen time, finally finishing reading that book you started three years ago- all of that stuff is good.
Instead, wouldn’t it be great if we could all sit back, take a deep breath and search within ourselves to pull out that euphoric feeling we get when we do the right thing? Helping our neighbors. Going that extra mile. Recognizing gratitude. Standing beside those who are hurting.
The date really doesn’t mean much. There’s no real difference from December 31st to January 1st. A resolution doesn’t have to be made. Your expectations don’t need to be all that high. If you fail, it doesn’t have to be the end. You don’t have to wait another full 365 days to make a change in your life or others.
You can do it right now. You can do it tomorrow. Do it whenever you want. When we wake up tomorrow it’s still going to be Friday. The calendar date is irrelevant. Make it simple- just for today. One day at a time. Do your best. And if you can’t? There’s another day coming. I can promise you that.
Happy 2021, happy new day.
(…and don’t be afraid to steal a smooch from someone you like to get smoochie with at midnight. You have to live a little!)
This time last year a lot of us were blissfuly unaware of what lay ahead of us after January 1st. I was adjusting to life in a new town, new state, excited to host Christmas Eve at our house for the first time. New year, new me…right? Let go of the past, march straight into the future with anticipation and hope.
I must have taken a wrong turn, because I marched straight into a tsunami. The sheer depth of the wave stunned me and as the current pulled back from the shore, I watched parts of me drift away. Lost at sea.
I lost friends. I lost sleep.
I lost weight.
I lost my partner. I mean, he’s still kicking’, he just ain’t kickin’ it around here anymore.
I lost my serenity.
I lost my sanity.
I lost my socks. All of them.
I lost family.
I lost my voice.
I lost my light.
I lost library books.
I lost my patience.
And most recently, I lost my car keys.
In the early months of 2020 I had a hard time trying to figure out if I could live through my wreckage. The voice on the other end of the phone repeated over and over that I was crazy. A sociopath. An insecure, jealous, vindictive little girl. My brain tricked me into believe these things were true. I could have let it wash right over me, but my reaction was to make those statements my truth. Night after night screaming and crying in my mind. I am the one who made myself suffer. I could have chosen to pause and breathe. Someone once told me that just because your thoughts are there doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.
I didn’t listen. I started to future trip and let fear take over.
What if my kids grow up to hate me?
These people must think I’m super fat.
Only an idiot would fall in love with me.
I’m a disposable piece of trash.
My daughters would be happier without me.
I believed those things for a long time. I felt like a voodoo doll being poked for pain. I just wanted to be happy, but the negativity was smothering me. At some point I realized that there isn’t a single person or thing that can make me happy. My happiness is my issue, no one else’s. My happiness must come from me.
My happiness is right in front of me.
I let fear creep over and over. I feared what life would be like as a single mom. I feared that my ex leave me and I would never have love again, if I ever had it to begin with.
Fear spreads quickly like cancer destroying your insides before you even realize it. Fear lives in the “What if’s?”. What if I hadn’t walked out? What if I asked for help years ago? What if I raised my hand more during class? What if I hadn’t left home? What if I kept pursuing my dreams of music and theater? What if I had waited to have kids? What if I hadn’t snuck away night after night trying to fix or fill my heart with someone or something else?
What if I had surrendered and let go?
What if I held onto the comfort of late nights and cozy blankets? What if I followed my heart, my gut or whatever you want to call it?
Or- instead of running on the hamster wheel of what could have been, or who I thought I should be and decided to embrace the fear. Push through it and never look back. In the words of Robert Frost, “ The only way out is through.”.
Turn fear into motivation. Turn loathing into action and open up to a new way of life without the weight of resentments and broken expectations. Instead of counting losses, count my blessings.
There are so many right in front of me. I don’t know what lays ahead, but I do know that it’s not my job to control it. My job is to be grateful for what I’m given, stop whining and start living. Half of the reason I write here is to remind myself of these things when the ghosts of the past show up and try to confuse me into believing I’m weak and disposable.
Children live what they learn. Watching my daughters grow and forge their own path is both inspiring and terrifying. I am inspired by their childlike wonder. They approach things with an unbiased view. Each new experience is an adventure, whether realize it or not. They learn as they go and experience bumps along the way. Bumps turn into life experiences that shape who they will become. We all make choices in our lives, but what if we based our choices without the fear that we’re used to? What if we opened up our our minds and hearts with fearless exploration? Will we still have mistakes, heartache, addictions, sadness and grief? Yes. But instead of it detouring our path, what if we accepted those things as a part of our journey thats led us to where we are now and where we will go? What if we replaced fear with gratitude?
I grew up during a time when Family Video was a thriving business filled with endless amounts of VHS tapes to enjoy on a Friday night. The checkout line displayed row after row of candy. When you reached the cashier you were greeted with signs saying, “Friday Family Fun Night Snacks!” next to large tubs of popcorn with real movie theater butter. That was the shit right there.
She’d let me pick out whatever I wanted. We rented “Selena” with a side of candy lipstick (if you’re a child of the 90’s, you know what I’m talking about), a big tub of popcorn, some skittles, and a soda. If I had asked her to buy the entire place out, I’m sure she would have. I was the only grandkid for ten years and I wore that crown like a boss. She would set me up in the guest room upstairs with the big AC unit so I could watch Jennifer Lopez reenact the career and life of Selena. I learned every word to “Como La Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” while dancing on the queen-sized bed, using the remote as my microphone. I remember knowing right then and there that I wanted to be a singer. The music moved me in a way I had never felt before (I mean… I was nine years old, but whatever). That movie, in that room, on that hot summer night is when my love affair with music began. As an adult working on a degree in musical theater in my 20s, I reflected on that night over and over.
I learned to swim in the pool out back. I can remember the way the pool liner felt on my feet as it dipped from the shallow end to the deep end. “Look! I can still touch here!” Flip flops off the diving board. Underwater handstands that ended with a mermaid splash. I would put my goggles and flippers on and spend hours dipping in and out of the water while getting in touch with my inner mermaid. “Count how long I can hold my breath underwater!” I would yell out as she dipped her toes on the edge, watching me try to break the Guinness World Record for youngest person in the history of time to hold my breath underwater for the longest amount of time. Or, at least that’s what it felt like. She gave me unconditional love and attention, which I’m sure was exhausting. I was kind of dramatic, if you can imagine that!
Hard to picture, right? I was an only child, the only grandchild, THE LIGHT OF EVERYONE’S LIVES until some other kids were born and blah blah blah. (Love you little cousins and siblings!). After my parents got divorced, my grandmother joined my mom and I on a trip to Disney World. It was fantastic- until we lost her. Yes, my mother and I lost her. One minute she was standing next to us, the next I started screaming about wanting my own parasol with my name written on it in cursive and I had to have it RIGHT NOW before the nighttime Disney parade started. If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know that they close the park each night with a massive light spectacle and parade. When the parade starts you can’t really move. If you’re on one side of the street and your family is on the other, that’s just too bad, because Mickey is on his way and you better just stand back.
Did I know this at the time? Probably. But I needed that damn parasol. My parents just got divorced, woe is me, my childhood is ruined forever! The only way that I would ever have happiness in my life was if I had that parasol. The purple parasol with my name written in fancy cursive on top. She crossed the street at the last second. I think we thought she would probably stay there until the end of the parade, but as things came to a closing we realized she wasn’t there.
Imagine losing a family member in Downtown Disney and then having to go to the “Town Hall” where a man in a barbershop quartet is taking your information and putting out an announcement that there’s a lady missing: blonde hair, medium height, probably wearing a fanny pack. My mother was freaking out, and I realized that we may never ever find her- or my parasol.
A few hours later after an extensive search by people and Disney characters alike we realized we had done all we could do. There were no cell phones or GPS trackers yet. We hopped onto the trolly back to the “Mighty Ducks” parking lot trying to figure out what we were going to have to tell everyone back in CT.
“Lost? Disney? What happened?”
“Did she bibbity-boppity-boo herself right out of there?”
“Did she turn into a pumpkin at midnight?”
“Did you call the police?”
As we pulled up to our designated lot we saw a figure in the distance sitting on the hood of a car that looked vaguely familiar. There she was! Sitting there under the stars, waiting for us to finally show up, parasol in hand.
Every winter and summer we would head up to the homestead in Oxbow, Maine. It was a place of serenity and beauty. There were acres upon acres of forest covered in fresh snow and small woodland creatures. We would walk a bit down the road to fill old milk bottles with fresh spring water. If you came for a visit in the summer you would have a chance to see the beautiful gardens cared for by her loving hands and experience the thrill of being eaten alive by 50,000 black flies for weeks on end. My great-great Uncle, whom we called Gramps, warmed the cabin with a wood stove and cooked bran muffins every morning to eat on the screened-in back porch. We’d also do another very fun, exciting – thrilling, if you will- activity while out in the wilderness up there.
We went moose watching.
Not once. Not twice. But dozens and dozens of times in my childhood.
We’d wait for it to get dark out, hop in the old fashioned mini van that looked like a cross between a station wagon and a box, drive out a bit, turn the lights off and wait.
Until all of a sudden you saw something out of the corner of your eye.
“Shhhhh! Look…Katie… see? See over there?” “See what? I don’t…”
…and BOOM turn on your headlights and there’s a handful of large Moose ready to charge into your mini van from 1994. But, they didn’t. They just took a good look at us and we took a good look back, and we continued this tradition for most of my life.
“TEN! Ten moose this time! Can you believe it?”
I had more fun looking for moose with my grandmother as a kid than I’ve ever had playing candy crush on my iPhone. Those were some of the best times, and there was no social media to distract us from the wonder and beauty of life.
She has a green thumb that I envy. I couldn’t keep any plant or flower alive if my life depended on it. She has always taken great pride in her work outdoors. Her garden always flourished, and so did the poison ivy rash she would get countless amounts of times. Honestly, in my 34 years of life, not a single spring or summer has passed without that woman catching some rash from this and that in her own backyard. When I was in high school, I went away for the weekend once. She had come over to help my parents with their garden and ended up staying the night. She slept in my bed. A few days later I overheard her talking about her recent bout of poison ivy which just happened to be all over her body. I started itching before she could even finish the sentence. I somehow manifested phantom poison ivy itching because I was certain that the woman had infested my sheets with it. I was a teenager. I never changed my sheets. All of a sudden I imagined big pink and oozing poison ivy blisters all over my torso and how my boyfriend would never want to hold my hand ever again.
The closet upstairs is where she keeps most of her photos. If you opened the door to the damn thing, you’d be buried alive under all the albums that she’s shoved in there over the years. Books filled with photos from Memorial Day parades, birth announcements, birthday parties, piano recitals and more. She would pull them out for me all the time and say, “Hey Katie- look at this one. Remember that?” She would hand me a picture of the time we had a unicorn at my birthday party in her backyard. Of course I remember.
She’s always made me feel important.
She and I have always had a special bond, but I didn’t realize how special it really was until recently. Our demons know each other well. When I was a child I found this all to be very confusing. What happened? What was going on? Was she okay? Where did she go?
She always came back. I didn’t ask questions, I just knew that she loved me and she was trying to love herself too. I had no idea how heavy her burden was. I didn’t know what it felt like to carry that burden alone. I had no idea that one day I would understand.
I do understand, but because of her, I have never had to carry that burden alone.
I woke up a few years ago and realized that I was missing out on life because I was too busy numbing myself from it. I couldn’t experience joy, pain, sadness or happiness. I did my very best to drown my feelings, good or bad. I thought it was normal, until it wasn’t.
I isolated myself from everyone I loved and who loved me. I was too terrified to try to cope with life, I just wanted life to shut up. It was too loud. I drank up everything I could, hoping to float. Instead, I just sunk deeper and deeper to the bottom. The deeper I went, the more the darkness grew.
I was scared. I was ashamed. I was broken. I was nothing.
I thought I was alone.
With trembling hands I reached for my phone, dialed her number and waited for her to say hello. I could hardly get the words out, tears were streaming down my face and I could hardly breathe. I called her because I knew that she knew what this felt like. I could hear her own voice trembling and could picture the tears on her cheeks too.
She said she was proud of me for asking for help. She said she loved me and she was sorry.
“Sorry for what?”, I asked.
All the times she wasn’t there. All the times she tried and failed. All the times I saw her at her worst.
I could feel her heartache in my own heart.
None of that matters, Gram.
Every obstacle we go through in life has the ability to either take us down or make us stronger. Even in defeat we have the opportunity to grow.
I sound like a cheesy self-help infomercial right now, but it’s the truth.
When I think about what she’s given me, I can hardly express my gratitude. She and I share the same disease. Without help, it’s fatal. If she wasn’t who she is and hadn’t gone through what she’s gone through, I’m not sure I would have been able to recognize it in myself and muster up enough courage to say, “My name is Kate and I’m an alcoholic,” if she hadn’t said it first.
Her journey helped me discover my own courage to accept and surrender.
She saved my life.
I love you a bushel and a peck Gram. To the moon and back and over again, endlessly.