happy new year?

A few days ago, I jokingly referred to tonight as New Year’s Eve. If you don’t know, my father unexpectedly passed away last year and tomorrow is the one year anniversary of that date.

2021 wasn’t half bad, well only half of it was good so I guess it was half bad. Sure the year had a promotion and a passing score on the licensing exam, an awesome camping trip full of hikes and waterfalls, plenty of good food, nice drives and tasty cocktails. It also had my dad in a nursing facility for the better part of the summer recovering from a stroke, the same facility where they had a Covid outbreak the week I was supposed to be visiting him. Then, it had the heartbreaking, days long dying and death of my cute, funny and oh so sassy dad. Oh yea, two weeks before my birthday.

Okay, so, 2021 was half bad.

I was happy for the year to end, I tried my hardest to embrace healing, going to therapy, stop binge drinking tequila in my underwear, eat more vegetables, try to losing the 20 depression pounds, crying less, making more dead dad jokes, and finally moving into a new apartment. Hello, 2022!

Haaaaa!

2022 started out on an okay path but it got bumpy just weeks after we signed the lease on our new place. There were days then weeks and then months of crying, talking, arguing – all while I was getting my independent license and then – a breakup. Just starting to feel like a human again, trying to remind myself that I could survive the death of my dad, and then being faced with having to survive the death of my relationship. Sure, therapy helps, more tequila helped, sleep, crying, eating my feelings, it all helped. I started to style the apartment that we never got around to decorating. I started hanging out with people from work, created an office in my apartment, spent time with a new guy for the first time in over a dozen years and again finally started to feel like I was gonna be all right after all.

Oh, wait!

Weird ethical shit and policy and procedure infractions at my job? Causing me frustration, for sure, but also concern for that license I worked so hard for, the fear that staying in that role could negatively impact my carer moving forward and so, you guessed it …. resignation.

So here we are, on the eve of the night that started what I don’t think is an exaggeration to call the worst year of my life … and while I don’t see tomorrow as a happy day, though I plan to celebrate my best guy by making his favorite dinner and using it as an excuse to overdose on black and white cookies … I truly hope the day is the start of a better year.

happy new year, to me.

makin’ moves

I feel like it’s a common sentiment that a woman shouldn’t ever move for a guy. I don’t know where I picked up that impression but in different circles over the years it seems to be shared advice.

Twice in my life I have moved “for a guy”. The first time was in 2002, the second in 2011. Neither of these guys, for different reasons, are part of my daily life now, but I have no regrets.

In 2002, my father was transitioning to a new position that would be relocating him (+ mom & 2 brothers) almost a thousand miles away. I was old enough to not live with them never mind need to move with them. I considered that I wouldn’t. I’d get an apartment with a friend or two, keep waitressing, keep dating my boyfriend and just figure it all out. That narrative changed one morning as my father drove me to pick up my car. I can still picture us driving down route 1, near the Mexican restaurant where I worked, to the car dealership where the repairs were being done. He never said “you should …” rather, he told me all the things that I could be or do in a new place, without putting down what I wasn’t doing or being in that one. I remember when I got out of the car he told me to “just think about it” and in true me fashion, that’s all I did. Think it over, think it under, think it sideways, think it inside out. Every green light where a driver hesitated too long, I thought about Wisconsin. Every customer who answered my “Hi how are you guys?” With “diet coke” or “don’t we get chips and salsa?” I thought about packing my car full of the things I needed and following my family west-ish. Every time my then boyfriend didn’t call when he said he would “I could be doing this same shit in Wisconsin” – so I did.

I spent almost ten years living in Americas Dairyland. I met a lot of great people, finished my bachelors degree, got my first masters degree, dated and broke up a few times with a handful of guys, and eventually rekindled an old connection that turned romantic and had me back at my waitressing job thinking “I could be doing this same shit in Massachusetts” – so I did.

In 2011, I moved myself from Wisconsin to Massachusetts to share my long distance boyfriends apartment with him. We talked about it as a trial of sorts (even though we already trialed the summer before!) and gave each other permission to call it quits. We didn’t. I met a lot of great people, waitressed a bit, worked as a nanny, had weight loss surgery, some cosmetic procedures, learned how to manage my money better, got another masters degree, went on many outdoor adventures, learned about myself, started a career and learned, both unfortunately and fortunately, how to live alone.

Both of these men, and the overall experiences raised me; helped me get to the next trajectory for my life and I wouldn’t change a single thing about those moves.

If anyone ever tells you not to do something, consider the benefit of it to you in the long run and recognize that the persons reservations are likely about them, not you. Hell, I’m hoping to meet another guy to move for and find my next home soon! (kidding!)

43.

Today is the birthday of one of my long time friends. He turned 43 and in our text convo that started with my happy birthday message, he said 43 is the worst birthday, the most mundane and I should write one of my “blog things” about how awful it is. Dude, remember my dad died two weeks before I turned 43? Dumpster fire of a year.

He was just being snarky, but he’s right. 43 isn’t anything special. It’s the weird birthday between going “over the hill” and hitting 45 – which just seems cooler since there are so many cards and gifts for it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “Happy 43rd birthday” or “Yay, you’re 43” which makes sense because of its bore factor. Mundane middle aged stuff. The cards, in order to be accurate would have to say “Woah, you made it!” Or “This card is good for one free chiropractic adjustment” even “Sorry about your divorce but hey you’re alive, happy 43rd” Please. No.

This isn’t to say that a persons 43rd year can’t be their best – I mean, mine hasn’t been, but if we did a survey I’m sure it’s a fair split of good and bad for people. Life is what you make it blah, blah, blah …

43 for me, rolled in while I was standing on a hot airplane, bent between my seat and the overhead compartment waiting for my chance to escape. I was puffy eyed and borderline disheveled having just spent a week with my family after my dads unexpected passing. After not enough sleep, my then boyfriend took me to a boozy brunch, that I made more booze than brunch and then for pastries on the way home, where I had to sit in the car with a buzz and a grief hangover while he picked some treats.

I feel like the rest of the year was spent in that hazy grieving buzz. I gained twenty-ish pounds, learned about said boyfriends sexting hobby, didn’t drink enough water, cried a lot, worked too much, ended up living alone in a newly leased apartment draining my savings to pay the high for two people, never mind for one person rent, ended up quitting my job because of some sketchy and unethical stuff… cried a lot …. I mean, it’s been a year. But take out those big hits – mostly a snore fest – minus the independent licensure and meeting my current boyfriend.

My own birthday is approaching soon and I don’t know that I have ever been happier to see a year go. Looking very forward to the day I can kick in the door and wave in the 4 4.

trif3cta.

I’m almost 44 years old and I am standing in my kitchen, on the phone with my mother, I am sobbing. My head firmly pressed against a cabinet, she asks what’s wrong. “I’m fucking tiiiiiiiiired” like a toddler short on naps, I bellow “I am so fucking tired of my life getting fucked up because of things that are out of my control” ….. she’s sympathetic and I feel almost guilty to say that to a woman who lost her husband after days of being told not to worry.

In September, which I honestly can’t believe is coming up on a year ago, my father died pretty unexpectedly. Had a little procedure on a Friday and did not wake up. Just like that. I lost my mind for a minute, I made a lot of comments about hurling myself off the roof of a building, I drank tequila out of the bottle in my underwear. I cried, I yelled, I wanted to trade people around me for him. I went back to therapy. I grieved (still do) and worked on healing (still am) …. I crawled out of that dark place, faced the weight gain from what I referred to as my ‘dead dad depression’, I refilled the Xanax and I took a lot, and I mean A LOT of deep breaths …. I finally started feeling like I might feel good again. I felt almost whole and was excited for the next step in my career which was a promotion and my independent licensure …. should be happening in May or June.

March came first though, and that’s when I saw a text message that I shouldn’t have seen.

I was unplugging my then boyfriend’s phone, well, boyfriend sounds like a small word, he wasn’t just some boyfriend, he had been my partner, and what I thought was my greatest love, for 13 years. Anyway, I’m unplugging his charging phone to plug in the toaster as part of a breakfast feast I’m making us when I see the text not meant for my eyes. It wasn’t anything earth shattering, but scandalous for sure. There was crying and talking and arguing and tequila out of the bottle and crying phone calls to my mom and brother and friends from the car, from the porch. There were weeks of rehashing, text messages during work hours, badgering during home hours … that turned into months … and eventually we broke up … and I was, devastated. My heart was shattered and now all the dead dad depression was resurfacing, too.

Hey, at least it was June, something good would be coming.

My licensure application was approved and I was officially an LMHC in mid-June, which also meant I would be promoted at work and given a pretty hefty raise. Someone who had to authorize that was on vacation though, maybe next week. Oh wait, not that week either, actually nobody will be around can you do this and that, too? We hit July and the program where I worked felt less stable than it ever had in the two years I was there. I was witnessing behaviors that shouldn’t be, I had my name put on a report that was inaccurate, I was concerned about the safety and security of the clients, of my licensure that I had worked so hard to earn. My concerns were brushed off, seen as negative and while I loved my job I had to shine a light on the problems before clients fell through the cracks. Resignation.

They say bad things happen in threes:

Dead dad.

Dead relationship.

Dead job.

Three grand events.

A trifecta?

Try fucked up.

confessions of a concession

I’ve talked, and written, a lot about how I made myself small over the years. How I would literally crouch my big body in photos or in groups to not be the largest person, to not call extra attention to myself. I have skipped events and not spoken up, for fear of taking up too much space, too much room.

I don’t do that anymore. Not in what feels like years. Now I fill up any space I am in, I embrace others, I invite discussion, attention, I sprawl myself out wherever it is I feel like I can. I am my authentic self and I push everyone to be. I spend almost every day encouraging adolescent girls to stand tall, to not take the shit, to not be ashamed about their body, to not be dependent on a man, to not make decisions for their lives based on the expectations of those men, to not make themselves small, ever, for anyone.

Imagine my surprise one April morning when I heard my own words to one of these girls, I heard myself saying things that were true, they were honest and heartfelt, and she believed me and hung on every sentence. What a fraud, I remember thinking about myself later in the afternoon. I am talking this talk and not exactly walking the walk, I think that I should be saying these things to myself.

When I met Steve, I was, small internally, but a whole lotta girl on the outside. I had a big mouth and a strong personality but my self-esteem was in the toilet. I didn’t like my body, I had no career prospects, I was financially unattractive and overall just floating (or sinking!) through life. Years before we were together, we first met and spent a few days across a summer hanging out and then we lost touch. He was the one who got away, I searched for him on the internet in it’s clunky early days, I wrote emails to his last known email, I called the old number I had for him.

When he resurfaced in my life, it was like coming up for air. I loved him instantly.

I don’t know what my thought process was like; this is 13 years, eighty pounds, a bankruptcy, a second masters degree, a dead dad and a professional license ago. I didn’t know who I was. We didn’t know who we were.

There were, I know now, things that I expected to have or experience in my life that did not coincide with the things he wanted or expected. I conceded. Unknowingly, unwittingly, but just the same, I moved as an us. I doted, I did the things that would keep us an us. I went along with most things, not out of pressure, honestly, but because why not, why not do XYZ, this is what a relationship is. We called ourselves ‘team awesome’, the ones who didn’t care about petty things, silly things, we went against the grain, non-traditional, cool kids. It was perfect. Until I was sitting across from my therapist processing yet another series of dead dad emotions. I was talking about how I wished my father had the opportunity to have done more these last few years, how life is short, how I hope he didn’t die with regrets … how I don’t want to die with regrets.

I spiraled, briefly.

Who am I? Outside of my relationship? I know what I have accomplished and what I’ve done, but this has been the last dozen years of my life, am I living and loving this life or am I going through the motions? Was I truly anti-things, did my statements reflect my own beliefs, or was I operating as part of a unit, what happened to my loud-mouthed autonomy? When people would ask about our relationship, about marriage or a baby …. we don’t want those things I’d say, or we don’t care about that. Did I care about those things? Did I numb things about myself for acceptance and love? Am I a fraud? Did I force it? Do I swallow it? Do I put it all out there?

What. The. Fuck.

I unraveled, briefly.

I am shining a light on all these parts of myself now, and of my relationship, our relationship. I have begun examining my role in my own disappointment and how that has impacted the relationship, and the person I care so deeply for. I started with one small concession, let’s say, not celebrating a hallmark holiday. I gradually let myself slip through the cracks and I share this not because I am proud, but because in an effort to have what I wanted, keep who I wanted, I made concessions – and they are not the same as compromises. In a relationship, they can be life-altering for both parties, so I guess it’s a cautionary tale of sorts as my deep dive into self-reflection has caused some waves and now we are both holding a flashlight.

Choose yourself first, every time. Not because you’re selfish. Not because you don’t care about another person. Not because you are the only one who matters. But because if you lose yourself, you can’t fully connect with another person, you can’t be authentic. Choose yourself before you give away the pieces, so you aren’t trying to fit them together years later.

You can’t be half of “team awesome” while you’re wearing the “team who the fuck am I?” jersey.

six.

thats how many months its been since my dad took his last breath. the amount of time that’s passed since that awful fucking weekend of waiting and crying and middle of the night phone calls. feels like six days ago, sometimes six hours. sometimes, longer.

rationally, i’ve known that this wasn’t the worst case scenario for my dad, like it was for those of us he left behind. my rational brain knows that we all die, and that my father suffering isn’t fair. emotionally? this is some god damned bullshit and i can’t wrap my head around it. i’m getting better about it, but …

i make a lot – really, ask my coworkers! – of dead dad jokes and references – most of the time they are pretty funny and i know that as tasteless as some think they are, my dad would laugh. and thats what makes me sad; that ill never hear him laugh again. he’ll never leave me another message sharing a joke, he’ll never talk in funny voices or say something goofy or hilariously inappropriate.

i have a voicemail where he tells me a total ”dad joke” and i listen to it at least once a week, sometimes i close my eyes while i listen so its like we’re in the same room. i don’t crack jokes because i think dead parents are funny. i mean, my dead dad was funny …

ya know how people say ”if i don’t laugh, i’ll cry”? its like that.

fisherkid

One of my first memories, or the first that I vividly recall in full, takes place in the hallway of the first house I lived in with my parents. It was a two-family home that they bought with one of my mother’s brothers and his wife. I am not sure if I was so young that I was the only child in the house, or just young enough for there to be a few babies there too. To be honest, there could have been babies and toddlers because I have no idea how old I am.

I’m going to school – library school or kindergarten and I am in a raincoat. In my memory it’s designed like the ones old crusty fisherman wear, and yellow. I’m in the entry way with my mother waiting for the bus to come. I know it’s chilly and the rain hasn’t stopped. I am breathing on the window and rubbing my chubby little fingers through the condensation. I press my face to it, nose pushed up, and pull away only to question my mom. My father is on a business trip and I miss him, I ask her what happens if I die? She is taken aback but I think she begins to speak, only to be cut off by my clarification. What happens if I did before daddy gets home?

I remember crying a little, worrying, not that I would die, or that I would miss anyone, or not see my school friends again. I stood there, red faced and cold, like a Weeble in a raincoat, worried that my father would live a life of misery having lost his only daughter and not made it home to say goodbye.

I feel like there’s no way you’re not going to become an over thinker when you’re barely able to hop up on the toilet alone yet you’re worrying about others coping with your death.  The good news is, I survived every trip my father ever took. Some days I struggle, knowing this last trip he went on is permanent, and there are days I’m sick over having not seen him in the previous months, or called him the night before his procedure … but I am certain that he would not want me to live a life of misery losing my only father and not having made it home to say goodbye.

framinghome

Its been twelve year since I was sick of my waitressing job and not having any real prospects after spending about ten years in America’s Dairyland that I quit my job, packed a couple bags and headed to Massachusetts.

I stayed for about five months learning my way around, waitressing again and headed back to Wisconsin to figure it all out. Six months later, I sold the majority of my bedroom furniture and extras, packed up the rest of my things and headed back to Framingham where I moved into Steve’s apartment.

I’ve been here ever since. It became our apartment. It was small when I got here, and the bigger our lives got, the smaller it has felt. We have been talking about moving some place bigger for about eight years, maybe ten to be honest. Something always came up, or kept us here. We were going to forgo the bigger apartment and buy a home right as the pandemic was booming, so the uncertainty (and market) had us back burner that. Time continued to pass and we realized how much we’d outgrown this space, this neighborhood and honestly – this city.

We found an apartment months ago that was about to have a total makeover, so we’ve been waiting. Getting the progress pictures and the update texts for what seems like a year. Today we picked up the keys and will be moving our things in the next few days.

Exciting.

And somehow, sad.

I’m fresh out of the shower brushing my hair and looking at all of our boxes. ”We’re actually moving. Feels kinda sad” He says ”Yea it does, in a way” and reminisces about when he moved in and whats different with him, and the neighborhood, and the world.

I frown. ”I grew up here” If you know me, you know I didn’t actually grow up here as a kid, but as a person – an adult, this is where I really grew.

I came here eleven years ago with a couple duffle bags, a preoccupation with my weight, no career path, no prospects and a payday loan I haphazardly took out on the dark web the night before I left. I found myself here, in this apartment. The first place I lived without my parents. 1000 miles from my family. I fell in love in this apartment. I found peace with my body and my bank account and I’m building a career. I celebrated life in this apartment. I learned that my father died and then sobbed my way around this apartment. I’ve struggled and I’ve thrived within these walls.

I’m thrilled to be in this place, living this life this way. I always thought I’d be happy to take off and leave Larrabee behind as a faint memory, and I mostly am but it’s bittersweet as we get to moving day, because this is where I grew up.

double d

The afternoon that we learned my father was not going to wake up came after a day and a half of waiting for him to.

So much crying and talking, so many sour patch kids and swigs of tequila.

I remember sitting on the couch, looking like someone who just escaped a pile of rubble. I hadn’t eaten much and didn’t care to, but something in the decisiveness of what was to come cleared my mind enough to drink some water and order a pizza.

Steve had driven me everywhere those few days (and the days after), so he took me to pick up the pizza. As he turned the corner I motioned to the gas station ”pull in here please!” He did, quickly, thinking I was going to be sick or forgot my wallet or there was some emergency he didn’t realize.

Really it was just a donut. The girl at the counter asked how she could help and in my trance like state I said ”I need a donut” and she chuckled ”you need one?” and I didn’t laugh, I said ”Yea, my dad just died, I need a donut”

Her whole face changed, she apologized, told me about losing her mom not that long ago. She place the boston cream donut and pumpkin muffin in the bag and handed it to me. She didn’t let me pay, she asked that I let her do that for me and shared heartfelt sympathy.

I have thought about her, and her kindness every day. I’ve thought about going back to thank her, to let her know what that meant to me. Time passed and it started to seem weird to just pop in looking for her – did sugared up, buzzed and emotionally drained me even remember her name?

Tonight I took a ride with Steve to get gas so he wouldn’t have to get it in the morning. I was in my pajamas but changed my pants incase I wanted to get something. I ran in for a drink while he was pumping the gas and they didn’t have what either of us wanted. I walked back to the door and yelled out to him, we decided on nothing and before I made it back to the car, I saw her.

I went back in and walked up to the counter, where she was closing up and probably hoped I wasn’t a straggling customer. I said ”Hi, i think I’m looking for you, if your name begins with an S” She looked at me exactly the way any of us would look at the person approaching them this way …

”Back in September I came in when my dad died and …” She said ”I gave you donuts” ”YES! I have thought about you so many times, and hoped I’d see you again to thank you for that, for being so kind in one of the worst moments of my life” She smiled, I told her how things got blurry and said you know how grief is, she agreed. She told me her name.

5 months to the (sun)day, I got to say thank you to the stranger who comforted me on the brink of unimaginable grief.

I recently joked that my new mantra would be ‘a donut a day keeps the depression away’ – today it was a donut shop that helped it wane.

Thank you, Savannah.

winds of change

I’m in my pajamas and a pair of boots I stepped out of in the hall when i came in from work. I slid them back a few minutes ago to carry an empty pizza box to the dumpster. It snowed a few days ago, was 12 degrees a day ago and now its 56 and breezy. In mid-February.

It’s weird. Is it spring? Late summer? Early fall?

As I was walking back up the driveway I remembered walking up and down this driveway and around this neighborhood for hours on the phone … with my boss, my brothers, my cousin, an aunt or two, my mom …. in pajamas, with a lump in my throat and the same weird kind of breeze swirling around me, waiting for my dad to wake up.

Ya know when the air just feels different – like something is going to happen? You can’t know if its a good something or bad something … just that something is coming … changing.

I stayed out there for a few minutes, letting the breeze blow my hair into my face and tug at the hem of my pajama top. I just let it wash over me because honestly, a change might do me good.