Goodbye 40. Hello 41.

Personal Narrative

On Mother’s Day I cried.

I felt anxious most of the day. Irritable. Off-kilter. But I wasn’t sure why. Late afternoon I sat with Blue and he held my hands until I could say. I truly didn’t know until the words flew out: “I’m not a mother.” I buried my face, hiding tears.

It felt strange to say. And really it was more that I felt in between. Displaced? Out of place? I dunno. I was coming to love his children, but who was I, really? Despite the growing relationship we all shared, there was no neat space for me. Not stepmom. Not stepmom-to-be. But there they were. And here I was. A lovely conundrum in the grand scheme of things, but one that confused my heart. Normally, I don’t look to commercial calendars for commentary on my life circumstances, but for once that Hallmark holiday hurt. The silence stung.

Blue reassured me with his warm brown eyes and a tight squeeze, but there wasn’t much he could say then. We were little more than two weeks away from his proposal and he didn’t give away his secret.

Harp Family  Unity CeremonyI learned a lot in that moment, and in many moments of my 40th year. The lessons I signed up to master this lifetime have seemed to spiral each decade, although teachers and learning environments change as I do. One of the ways I move forward is by looking back and noting the wisdom I’ve gathered thus far. What follows is an admittedly incomplete accounting of my most recent trip around the sun.

  • Life’s victories and joys ebb and flow, not unlike the ocean.
  • You can be happy and content without being giddy.
  • You never step in the same river twice. You may get another chance at {insert thing here} but everything about it is different the next time. Including you.
  • Sometimes you expect what never comes, and get what you weren’t expecting.
  • Titles really do mean something. Act accordingly.
  • Watching and listening are active tasks and are best done with your whole heart.
  • Those who truly know you, understand.
  • Praise and encouragement are loving and effective motivators.
  • You can’t force change, although with clarity and warm persistence, you can influence your environment.
  • Human relationships are complicated. The best ones teach you something about yourself.

Here’s to another trip around the sun…

Who presents this bride?

Personal Narrative

Today makes eight.

For years I went to bed early. As an elementary school teacher, I had an extensive morning routine involving exercise, prayer, and a 30-minute commute. I arrived at work by 7 a.m. – well before the kiddos who often wanted to share household news as soon as they said good morning.
Because I require 7-8 hours of sleep to function well, I observed a strict bedtime of 9 p.m. My friends knew this and generally avoided calling past 8 or 8:30. From time to time an acquaintance would call too late, so I turned off my ringer at night just to play it safe.

That is, until Daddy admitted his health was fading.

It was shortly after Mama died. His prostate cancer wasn’t a secret, yet he seemed to be doing well. But y’all know how (some) men like to hide shit. Reality didn’t exactly align with appearances. I told him in no uncertain terms, he wasn’t allowed to die any time soon. His reaction, some mixture of exasperation and acquiescence, was disconcerting. He said okay because that’s what I wanted, but he hinted there were no guarantees.

I began leaving my ringer on at night.

Daddy and me. Wasn't he sharp?
Daddy and me. Wasn’t he sharp?

My parents eloped when they were 23. As a little girl my mother offered me several thousand dollars if I eloped, too. I can’t remember what prompted her to mention it at that moment. The only possibility that comes to mind is Princess Diana’s wedding, grand affair that it was. I was too young to have heard about the bride’s family footing the bill for weddings or other such traditions. I’m serious, she said. I shrugged. I tucked it away for later.

As a teenager I thought I’d get married shortly after college. My 20s came and went and I remained single throughout. I was grateful, honestly. I hadn’t met “Mr. Right,” and by the time I hit 30, I’d evolved into a completely different woman.

My dad did his best, as much as one can wield control over such things. He held on another three years. My phone rang just before dawn. I sighed awake, already shaking my head. No good news comes at this time of day. The voice on the other end was Daddy’s but softer in tenor. I instantly recognized my uncle, Daddy’s identical twin. Did I call at a bad time? he asked. I pressed him to spill the news. Daddy was en route to the hospital. He wasn’t breathing on his own.

Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.
Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.

I arrived at Grady Hospital eight years ago today. I didn’t see Daddy that morning. Nor any other since. Following my uncle’s lead, we both left without seeing his lifeless body.
 I wanted to say goodbye, but I did not want the image of death burned into my memory. I had made that mistake with Mama.

Toward the end of my 30s, I met my future husband. When we spoke of marriage, I told him I didn’t favor a big wedding, and, in fact, eloping was fine with me. I was down for a courthouse ceremony, or a small gathering on the beach. I don’t think he believed me the first few times we discussed it, but the seed Mama planted nearly three decades earlier bore fruit. I had never planned or even considered a “fairy tale” wedding.

A few months after my 40th birthday, Blue proposed.

I remembered the brides who cried in the days leading up to their weddings. I vowed not to be one of them. As spring melted into summer, we played around with wedding dates, sizes and locations. Nearly every Friday from June through August, we considered jumping in the car and heading to the courthouse. In September we settled on an intimate October affair.

first lookIf we had eloped, we would’ve escorted each other during the ceremony. But the venue we selected encouraged something a little more traditional. I decided Daddy’s twin, my “DNA Daddy,” might be the perfect choice.

He later told me it was one of his greatest joys.

During our ceremony, we invoked ancestors and loved ones who were not present, and that, of course, included my parents. Although neither were present in body, it was a loving comfort to hear Daddy’s voice and witness his smile through his brother.

Said our officiant, Who presents this bride?

My uncle replied, I do. 

Who presents this bride? I do!
Who presents this bride? I do!

Sunshine, fog and love

Personal Narrative

I’m still waiting for the latest to sink in. Awareness comes in flashes, but it hasn’t quite settled in.

Maybe in a month? A season? I dunno. But seven days hasn’t been enough.

A week ago today Blue and I were married! I told him every day of our honeymoon it feels so surreal. I’m a wife now. And a stepmom. Wow.

Perhaps I’ll spend a few posts digging into these as I try these labels and responsibilities on for size.

The ceremony was short, sweet and intimate, and remains quite hazy in my memory. I was in a fog most of the proceedings, despite the clear, sunshiny day. Dina, our photographer, offered suggestions for poses and she had to repeat them all. I could hear her, but somehow she was talking to… someone else.

I didn’t feel nervous beforehand, despite the group of teenagers who walked by just before the bridesmaids went down the aisle. “Are you going to trip?” one asked. I’m sure I gave her my infamous side eye, but I responded with a shrug and something like, “who knows? I don’t plan to.”

When my uncle escorted me out the double doors, I found Blue and gave him the biggest smile. He matched it with his, waiting. I’d never experienced tunnel vision before that moment, but aside from the blur of guests standing, I didn’t see anything else. I wanted to get down the stairs safely and stand next to him, so I concentrated on that. Even the music – an upbeat tune from Earth, Wind and Fire – is hard to hear in my memories.

Friends and family posted a few snaps of us on social media, or emailed and texted us their faves. I’m floored to see them. That was US! We’re THEM! Each picture helps me recapture the moments I lost to the fog.

 

Tunnel vision.
Tunnel vision. Photo credit: Ray Gilstrap

 

Sinking in

Personal Narrative

As a little girl, when I was about to do something fun, I wouldn’t feel any excitement. Like we’d be preparing to go to Six Flags. SIX FLAGS of all places, where the roller coasters were great and your stomach did all the flips. And I was like, cool, with the shoulder shrug and everything.

And it wouldn’t be a fake cool. I’d seriously have no emotion attached. It was an event that would take place  at some point. And I was glad to go, but just slow to warm. Like the idea needed to marinate or something.

But suddenly, something would click. Usually the night before said event or even the morning of, it would finally sink in:

I’M GOING TO SIX FLAGS!!!!

And I’d be excited and smiley and all the things you often associate with excitement. And it would be just as much fun as I knew it would be, and I’d be just as overjoyed as anyone else might be.

I’ve always been that way. I can’t pull up a single memory that contradicts this. It’s like the darkness before the dawn and suddenly it’s daybreak and you can see the beautiful morning.

So we’ve been wedding planning off and on the past couple of months, and it’s been like that. It’s been cool, and some parts have been fun and others stressful, but all of them busy. And I’d see wedding this, or bridal that and it was always just words. Words talking about someone else. And because I know me (and all my close friends know me), no one bothered to ask if I was excited yet. It was simply too early.

Lately I’ve been trying on wedding gowns and some of the consultants are gushy and intrusive and I have to Heisman them: Hey, I’m not a gusher. I’m reserved. I’m not going to faint and scream and fan girl at this dress and I’d love it if you didn’t either. 

But now, it’s sinking in. When I read something that says the bride or bridal, it’s referring to ME!

I’M GETING MARRIED!!!!

I’m getting excited! And right on time, today my aunt asked, “are you getting excited yet?” And I had to giggle because now I can say YES!

Now if only I could say yes to the dress…

hearts-37208_640

Where does the time go?

Personal Narrative

Today is connection day! That’s what I’m calling it this year, as Blue and I mark our second anniversary.

On this day two years ago, we acknowledged our mutual interest in getting to know each other better. We had been acquaintances on social media for a couple of years by then, with no more than a handful of tweets and a couple of happy birthday FaceBook statuses between us.

During those couple of years we’d both experienced our share of dramatic life changes. But even now, neither of us can pinpoint the reason or timing of the shift from “that guy/woman I never met in person although we have 50 mutual FB friends,” to, “that guy/woman I might need to pay more attention to.”

Yet one day out of the blue, a tentative message turned into the beginning of a romance. And here we are, two years later.

Happy anniversary, Blue.

Me and Blue picking up the kiddos and heading to see The Nutcracker.
Me and Blue picking up the kiddos and heading to see The Nutcracker.

Reflections

Personal Narrative
reflections by lashun beal
Reflections by LaShun Beal

She’s here! I’m so excited to welcome her home.

I bought this print by LaShun Beal circa 1998 as a 20-something graduate student at Florida State University. Fellow grad students hosted in-home art shows, and we’d select our prints, matting and frames.

Beal had a few captivating pieces at the time, but she’s the one that spoke to me. Money was tight, and framing isn’t free, but I’ve never regretted the purchase.

She’s been with me through many moves back and forth across the GA/FL state line including last year’s epic return.

Bibliophiles unite!
Bibliophiles unite!

Blue and I are in the process of consolidating homes, and last night we began by collecting my bookshelves. But as we surveyed my house, there she was, hanging patiently on my bedroom wall. I knew I wasn’t going to leave her there another night.

This morning I returned from my run, and Blue had already unloaded the smaller odds and ends. And her.

Each day it feels more and more like home.

On puzzling

Personal Narrative, Productivity

crowd pleasersSo we puzzle. The kids are gifted puzzles for birthdays and what have you, and the four of us sit around at various intervals and piece them together.

Our latest enterprise? Tour de la Tour, a 1000-piece Crowd Pleasers that features countless bikers who are dressed alike and are engaged in sometimes similar, oftentimes strange activities. This puzzle is sort of challenging, yet also sort of easy because many of the pieces have tell-tale images:

  • A small red bell on a bike that’s otherwise the same as all the other bikes.
  • A black shark fin in a stretch of sandy pathways.
  • A dark sheep in the middle of all the ivory ones, and so on.

I’ll have to admit, this puzzle has drawn me in more than the others we’ve done so far. Perhaps more than the others, all at once, the eyes no longer cooperate. Suddenly you simply can’t find the edge of that yellow brim on that rounded edge even though you’re sure it’s somewhere “over there.”

The smart ones walk away, and do something else for a while. Perhaps housework or homework or work work. And as you return to consider the puzzle once again, the edge of the yellow brim practically leaps into your hand, as do those other three pieces you saw but didn’t recognize during your last round at the table.

Creation is like that. Or doing anything that requires serious engagement. Sustained focus is helpful and even necessary for some projects or tasks (or conversations), but there comes a time when too long on task leads to diminishing returns. It’s helpful to take a break in the action, put some distance between you and the activity and returned refreshed, ready for a new perspective. And in fact, when I’m working, I’ll often turn to puzzles to clear my head, shift my thinking, or change my energy levels.

What about you? Do you enjoy puzzling? Are there any strategies you use with puzzles that you apply to daily life?

6 to go

Personal Narrative

I’ve been 40 for six months! Yesterday was my half birthday.

We have to blame Sojo and Sam for this whole half birthday thing. They are the ones who introduced me to the concept, and it took a few years before I actually paid attention to the calendar and remembered my own. But this year, finally, I did, and so happy half birthday to me!

Some days it seems I haven’t accomplished much this year, but as I sit and reflect, I have to admit that’s impatience talking.

I’ve gotten new opportunities at work and landed some interesting freelance contracts. I’ve made strides in my creative projects and midway between my birthday and my half birthday…

Me and Blue in NYC at an impromptu engagement party.
Me and Blue in NYC at an impromptu engagement party.

I got engaged. *shimmies*

It’s been a fun year thus far. My only regret is not documenting more of it. I’ve been writing morning pages and journaling semi-regularly, but I can do more to record this chapter of my life. In anticipation of the next six months, I plan to write a letter to myself to arrive on my 41st birthday.

There’s always a balance to strike between living life and writing about it, but inspired by Pearl Cleage’s work, I want to maintain the one, increase the other, and enjoy the hell out of both.

Cheers to life and love and all that jazz. And happy (half) birthday to me!

 

Old Snippets

Personal Narrative

I’m organizing.

This is one of the first steps in my creative process. It’s resistance, or maybe it’s preparation for creation. All I know is, I can always tell how serious I am about writing by how much I suddenly have to clear off desks and organize files. Ha.

Today’s resistance-preparation is clearing out some of the random notes I’ve written in my computer’s Stickies app. Some of these are a few years old and most of them are interesting.

The one I’ve pasted below was written on Christmas Day 2012. At first I had no idea what was on my mind, but on second thought, I was pretty sure it was about love.

It was stream of consciousness so this is unedited. Maybe I’ll expand it, revise it, or something. Maybe not.

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Coming out of a cave is at once liberating and fear-inducing. Eventually, you see, one comes to love the cave without so much as a second thought. It is home. It is cozy. One is protected from the elements. And there again, in many ways, from life itself.

And there I was, comfortable in cave-as-home. Caged. And here I am, out. Free. And it is joyful. Yet painful. Elements assault underused senses. The prickly sensation of blood flowing through sleeping organs. It’s uncomfortable.

Laughter as sunshine. Tears for rain. Breath – sometimes quick and shallow, other times relaxed, deep – so much wind.