Year Four

4 Oct

One of the weird things I think about constantly is that October 4th used to just be a normal day for me. I lived for 27 years before October 4th was anything I thought about other than to write it on a check or a school paper that happened to be penned on that day. After four years with my mother gone it shocks me how terrified I still get counting down in late September to a day I have no control over.

It’s still just a day; maybe that is the worst part. For the last three years I have worked my schedule to get this day off work so I could find a safe place to be; a place where tears on a hairline trigger weren’t going to be out of place. This morning I went back to my posts from Day One and Year One and was struck by how everything below the surface feels exactly the same and yet I have become an entirely different person all around my grief.

It’s less scary. The sadness feels more purely like sadness now, without the anxiety of how I will get through a moment with her gone. I have gotten through thousands of moments without her now, not because I knew I could but just because I had to. The world doesn’t stop for grief, it barrels forward and at times I have gotten clipped by it when I wasn’t ready for that.

What has changed the most in four years is that I have found myself becoming more and more like her than I think I ever would have if she had been around. It was as if I subconsciously filled in the spaces where I so desperately needed her by doing what she would have done or trying to figure out what she would have said. I look for ways to be her so it feels more like she exists. Everything is for her and it always will be, but that has evolved naturally into doing things for myself too.

In four years I have figured out how to pay bills without her calling me to remind me. I have found a home in great friends and local theatre which I have never stopped being a part of. I find her in theatre every minute I am there and I still see her sweet loving face in the front row like I am six years old again in The Sound of Music singing “the sun has gone to bed and so must I”. I have found a relationship that lets me be independent and strong and I have learned how to not need a man but to simply be with one because I love him. I bought a three family house by myself and navigate being a landlord based largely on what I remember learning from her. I have found a career path in a field I love with a company I feel lucky to be a part of. I am closer with my aunt who steps in as one of my mommy stand ins when I need to talk to a mom.

I see in myself a woman who has a long way to go but I feel proud for maybe the first time ever that I got here with her lessons but not her.

She is still the person I want to talk to the most.

To my mother: You not being here is like living in a strange, dangerous place all alone. Your energy is everywhere and nowhere and I am constantly chasing you. I want to tell you that I miss you every minute because you were extraordinary. You were more than just my mother. You were vibrant and talented and kind and funny and brilliant and passionate and warm and all the things most women spend a lifetime striving to be just one of. Your big red hair and your beautiful smile are missing and I surround myself with photos of you so I can see them. You never gave yourself the credit of knowing how important you were to everyone.

I am terrified more today than ever before that my life moving forward will mean that you are further away.

You never said goodbye to me. I found out after you died that you had given moments to certain people where you said goodbye in your way. I was hurt for a while thinking you hadn’t had a moment like that with me. I was so convinced you would live that I was left paralyzed when you didn’t. Andy once told me that you had pushed me away those final weeks because I was someone you didn’t know how to say goodbye to. Maybe you knew I still needed you, or maybe you knew that you were my best friend. We had spent most of the previous 5 years with each other and you were the most important person in my world. Either way it’s ok that we didn’t have that moment. You left it so that all of our moments exist in a bubble of you living. I still sit in coffee shops and wish we could talk for 8 hours, I walk through cemeteries and talk to you. I pay my car insurance and say, “look mom, I did a thing”.

I try to love like you did and work like you did and sing like you did and cry like you did. I want to do everything with gusto and passion like you. So I will love like love is the only thing worth feeling. I will work like doing my best can always be bigger and my job is an extension of my soul. I will sing at the top of my lungs with the windows down at red lights even when people are looking. I will cry like the world is flooding when I am sad, but especially when I am happy or I see something beautiful.

I miss you. I love you. Thank you for all of it.

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Us.

 

 

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Small Comfort

9 Nov

This morning, after a night of little to no sleep and a lot of tears I turned in my bed to see my phone light up with a call. It was my best friend John ringing, I knew, to seek comfort in our mutual fears. He sounded like the brilliant John I have always loved but he was meeker and spoke of his dread. I wept about the possible hit the environment would take if we back out of the Paris Treaty and for my own personal worry that I will lose my heath care coverage as a person with a pre-existing condition. There were so many nuances of this situation all flooding through me and each one hitting me physically until I felt trapped in my own tears. I kept saying I just wanted to let it go a little and care less and worry on a smaller scale but at 9am this morning I couldn’t do that yet.

John said, “I’ve never been this scared” and described to me his feelings of watching life go on in the coffee shop around him this morning as he panicked. He talked to me about not knowing what to do with his day and how grateful he was he had some work to throw himself into. As I heard this I responded with an understanding, “I don’t know if I have ever felt this way before either. I’ve never been so terrified.”

But that isn’t true.

My Aunt, in a similar phone call just after my talk with John said to me, “No, I have heard you like this before. I will never forget your voice on the other end of the phone the day you called me with your cancer diagnoses.”

It all came rushing back to me. This exact feeling has existed in my body before and I remember it vividly.

When the doctor said the words to me I didn’t understand them. It was like he had created a new language or I had suddenly forgotten English. It was only when I looked to my mother in the tiny chair of the exam room that I started to understand the gravity of the situation. Everything had changed in a moment.

What happens in our bodies and minds when everything we know is turned upside down? The feeling I remember most and felt again today was that the light in the world had altered. The energy of everything shifts and small things like familiar streets and the side door to your house that you’ve walked through thousands of times all look new and scary. The two mile drive from that exam room to my house I looked out the window of my mothers car as she drove in silence and thought “where am I?” It wasn’t dramatic, it was deafening silence and a light post, another light post, another light post, another light post and another light post. Had there always been so many light posts on Hope Street?

The mind races and a desire to have all the information and simultaneously wanting to push out all knowledge clash. What do I eat? How do I spend this day? The fear of shutting down is real and I allowed it to happen moments at a time. I had to break completely down for minutes at a time in order to burst back to life for a few minutes to process and prevent a total collapse.

For a full week I went through the motions of life and lived in a constant state of panic. There are always so many variables when everything changes, aren’t there?

The full story of my illness, treatment and recovery is larger then I want to explore here and now. But that moment was on August 26, 2008 and over eight years later I am here. I am happy and healthy and I have come back stronger. Oddly enough, the time in my life that I fought the hardest and was the bravest was when I was technically at my weakest. I let days and weeks and months pass now casually without having to fight for anything and I hope that hasn’t allowed me to forget my ability to claw like hell towards things getting better.

I will not overlook the permanent damage done to my body and mind by chemotherapy. My immune system will never be as strong as I need it to be and my mind has lost certain abilities and memories I cannot recover. Still, with all of that being said, I’m more powerful and loving and appreciative and capable then I ever would have been without that experience.

I am not special. I did not conquer that moment of life because I am gifted or magic, I did it because I had to. Everyone is capable of inspirational things.

Donald Trump is our next President. The next week will be filled with new fears and worries that we have never felt before. I am here to tell you all, that I have looked that fear in the eyes, cowered and then come right back. Allow for this moment to be hard. Sit with it, think about what makes it scary and then rest for a moment. Then get up and fight like hell; not against what is happening but alongside it to chip away at everything we still have control over. We will get through it and fight for necessary social changes and eventually win. We may also witness permanent damage to the planet and environment we cannot take back.

Do not engage in hateful fights with those who voted for this man. Trust that their fears are valid for them and they made a choice that felt right in their hearts. Show everyone love, inspire people to join their community, smile at everyone on the street, write positive words on social media outlets for the world to see. You do not have to agree with his supporters, you can be upset with them privately or in like company, but do not allow this loss to create more outward hate.

A year after my diagnoses my mother was diagnosed with what they thought to be breast cancer (ultimately neuroendocrine cancer). She called me on the phone after her appointment while I was still recovering in bed myself. She wept and admitted to me that she couldn’t stop shaking. She was scared and felt alone and told me she didn’t know what to do next. I calmly reminded her of the day we shared together when I was diagnosed and filled her in on everything that had been racing through my mind while she was in mom mode caring for me. She was silent when I told her I felt like nothing would ever be the same again and talked about my inability to process what came next. Then I promised her that within a week she would feel better; not one hundred percent or anything close, just better. Every small fear would slowly be replaced with solutions and those solutions would turn into experience and that experience would blossom into strength. I told her I loved her and we got off the phone so she could take whatever time she needed to process everything.

She called me back within a minute and told me she felt okay. She didn’t mean okay like everything was fine but she said she had stopped shaking completely and she felt hopeful and calm.

She was strong during her chemo and fought like hell and one day she told me while we were sitting in her treatment room that my having gone through it and telling her what came after got her through the worst moment of it all. I suddenly felt like it was possible that cosmically I had gotten sick just so I could help her in that one moment with my experience. I like to still think that is the reason because it was all worth it if that was what I was now empowered to do.

The moment my aunt reminded me that I had felt this way before, I remembered what I could do and what we can do. We are strong, kind, forgiving, optimistic and ready in spite of our fears.

 

My Best Day

12 Aug

I think it is possible that today was one of the best days of my whole life. I made a roundabout trip from Providence to New York City with the cast of a show I am in. We are performing at Fringe Festival NYC starting this Saturday and today was our dress rehearsal in the theatre we were assigned to. The entire trip was daunting from the start; coordinating 16 people to be at a specific location on the Lower East Side by 2:30pm and then getting 14 of them back home again the same day was a logistical nightmare.

The very talented Hannah

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Hannah!

mapped out a whole chart for the next two weeks showing who was coming and going what days, who was staying in the city and where, who was carpooling, what methods we were using to get into the city and it was insane. Today was the one day that most of the group was traveling together both ways and it could have been a clashing of personalities and moods, but it just wasn’t. Instead I found myself stopping every few minutes and looking at the people around me, the sights on the journey and really absorbing every moment knowing that I was so fortunate to be there. I was lucky to be included in this group of talented actors

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The star of the show for me, Tammy

who I believe will light up Fringe NYC and I am grateful to be active in a hobby that takes me on so many adventures.

The past few days I have been in a bad headspace and I was dealing with it just fine but I was noticeably sad. I have been telling people about this festival for months now and only a handful of people shared in my level of excitement. Only one person had the reaction I had been longing for; the reaction my mother would have had if I had been able to call her with this news.

A mother is the person in the world who gets excited for their child’s accomplishments as though they are their own. I wanted to tell someone about this huge life event and hear that they were excited and proud. I don’t feel that I needed to hear this to be excited or proud myself, but rather, I was already feeling those things and it was lonely to be experiencing that alone. Like finishing a marathon only to find there is nobody cheering at the end. You cross that red tape and cheer and realize you are just a sweaty idiot alone in the middle of the street 26 miles away from where you parked your car.

Then there is Lisa. My best friend who told me over and over how proud she was and how impressive she thought it all seemed. Then she told me she had bought a ticket for one of the shows and said, “Seeing you perform in this festival is important to me.” It was said in a text message but it stopped me where I stood. It was the exact thing I had needed to hear to feel like I wasn’t alone. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of people in my life who have expressed excitement and enthusiasm about this opportunity, but this was the only thing that made me feel like it mattered to her as much as it mattered to me. I should mention that Lisa lives over an hour further away from NYC and has a husband, two small children and a full time job, but she is coming because she wants to be there. That’s a powerful sentiment that doesn’t always get noticed, but I felt this fully and it was everything.

Today was just the dress rehearsal. I wanted to write this at one o’clock in the morning after a 16 hour day because I didn’t want to lose or forget a moment of it. I want to move into the next few days with the knowledge that this won’t last very long, but I know it is something I will remember forever. This isn’t about becoming famous or making it big in acting or getting my name out there. If five people sit in the audience each night I won’t care. This is about a play I loved the first time we performed it, with a cast

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Kerry makes the whole group prettier

I believe to be exceptional and a director so wildly talented I fear I may never fully keep up. We are going to be in a festival many entered to be a part of and few in comparison were chosen. I want to see other shows and meet lots of other actors just as excited to be able to stand on a stage in New York City. I want to say that the stage I stood on meant something to me and that is enough.

Our number One and Director, Kevin

Mostly I want to remember the key moments from today, the first day before the real ride began:

  • Carpooling with three people who make road trips in movies look dull by comparison. We actually spent two hours driving home at midnight doing sing-a-longs at full volume to Madonna, Queen,
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    Puppi was upset that he wasn’t tagged on Instagram

    Led Zeppelin, Abba and Hall and Oates.

  • Laughing in heat so unbearable it was hard to find air to breathe but we kept on joking.
  • Squeezing 15 actors into one unisex dressing room while boys changed into speedos and nobody seeming uncomfortable or awkward; feeling like a big family.
  • Creating a count off system while walking through the city to make sure we didn’t lose anyone and realizing that we were shouting numbers like assholes in the middle of Grand Central Station (also learning that the concept of counting and numbers isn’t so easy for everyone)
    • Me: Let’s count off.
    • Kevin: One
    • Hannah: Can I be six?
    • Me: You are literally two.
    • IMG_1344

      Rico got to be number seven

      Rico: Oh! I want to be seven!

    • Me: That’s not how counting works.
    • Kevin: You’re realizing now you may not want to have kids, huh Sam?
  • Learning that your friends are even more fun and are filled with more patience and kindness than you knew before.
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    Justin & Foldie in the Main Concourse of Grand Central

    One actor carrying a metal folding chair in 100 degree weather through NYC to have it as his prop. Watching him open and use said chair in the middle of Grand Central as well as the middle of our subway car. Then arriving at the theatre only to find at least half a dozen identical folding chairs already at the venue. Then naming the chair “foldie” to give it importance so we wouldn’t feel silly for having lugged it in two cars, a train, a subway and a mile walk.

  • Walking into a beautiful theatre with a stage twice the size of the one we rehearsed on and realizing that we get to play in that space.
  • Arriving home exhausted and barely walking with a huge smile on my face feeling inspired.
  • Knowing that although the whole thing will fly by, right now it’s all still ahead of me and I’m lucky enough to have noticed the moment before it was gone.

What My 30 Looks Like

5 Jun

Tomorrow I am turning 30. I think this post is mostly me trying to exist in this moment where I am still 29 but prepared for 30. My twenties felt adequately long and I don’t feel like I missed them or they went too fast or anything like that. I guess I just feel strange to identify myself differently to others as a new decade of age.

Does turning 30 mean I have to become an adult? Does it maybe mean that automatically without a say in the matter that I AM an adult?! Maybe I’m scared that I’m not doing enough or accomplishing enough to be 30. I remember being 14 and thinking that 30 year olds were so mature and adult. At 14 where did I think I would be at the end of my third full decade?

I will look at 30 from where I thought I would be and compare it to where I am.

I thought I would be married. For sure I know I saw myself hitched  with a super hot husband by 30 when I was younger. He had a name like Clifford or Geoffrey and his job was rescuing animals from oil spills but he made a ton of money doing it. I’m not sure it was ever explained to me back then how salaries worked for different careers. Plus, it’s my fantasy, so I am responsible for setting the pay grades for these fictional men. Man who washes a baby duck with dish soap: $1 million dollars a year. Now I get super excited when a guy can afford his own taco’s on $1 Taco Tuesday. If he splurges for the extra guacamole for himself I’m floored.

I used to think, “which man will be lucky enough to get a special girl like me?”

Now I think, “who is kind and patient enough to put up with my being a cuckoo nut-job forever?”

I used to think, “I’ll be so happy and lucky to be married.”

Now I think, “I’m so happy and lucky to not be married!”

I used to think, “Having a husband will mean I’m never alone.”

Now I think, “Having a husband will mean I’m never alone… so how will I have time to dance to the Hamilton Cast Recording in my underwear at full volume?!”

I thought I would have kids. At least one or two by now and all very well behaved (don’t make me repeat the part where my fantasy gets to be awesome and unrealistic). My children would mow the lawn and do dishes and we would all play games and read books together and never fight and I would love them so hard they would explode. Now the thought of having kids, let alone multiple kids by this age is HILARIOUS to me. Not for everyone, I know lots of people who are together enough for kids in their twenties, but I forgot to buy toilet paper last week and was peeing and then immediately showering for two whole days, I am not that person. If I had a child now, every stuffed animal they owned would sleep with me in my bed. I would name them all and if my beautiful sweet angel wanted one to play with themselves I wouldn’t want to let them. As a full grown adult, I would be reluctant to share a stuffed children’s toy with my own child, the person I’m supposed to be teaching about sharing. Video games? Those are also for me. Here is a stick, go play with that.

I used to think, “I can’t wait to have kids.”

Now I think, “I should really wait to have kids.”

I used to think, “Having kids will bring me such joy.”

Now I think, “Having kids will bring me so much joy… in like five or six more years. Today this hamburger brought me so much joy.”

I used to think, “I’ll be a great mom.”

Now I think, “I’ll do my best when I become a mom, but dammit am I going to screw them up royally”

I thought I would have an impressive career. Professional chef or veterinarian were my logical choices but anyone who knows me knows that my real dream was to be a sea lion trainer at the aquarium. I would have gone to school, gotten all A’s easily and found a job instantly out of school. I would show up every day and love my job and love Ce-Lion Dion and Cee-Lo-In Green (the sea lions names, obviously). I would be making an easy six figures a year (although money would be no object because my husband is seen on those Dawn commercials scrubbing pelicans, so we are good) and I would be well on my way to becoming Queen Head Trainer. Soon after I believe the next promotion is Queen of all Sea Lions, a job I would have taken quite seriously and accepted with honor and pride.

I am now a writer and bartender. Turns out I love them both more than anything else I’ve ever done. Although I do tire of people asking me what I’m going to do with my life, I know that I wake up every day excited to go to work and my life is my own. I have a flexible schedule, make good money, have fun every day, meet new exciting people and get to express myself on my own terms. It’s really great.

A few weeks ago I was bar tending a business event at work and one of the bosses of the company, an older gentleman (maybe 70’s?) ordered a very specific martini. I always love someone who knows exactly what they love to drink so naturally we were having a pleasant conversation while I mixed. He told me he had been a bartender years ago and said, “Of every job I ever had, that was my favorite. I have always missed it.” I make no qualms about his choice to find security, but the look in his eyes while I peeled his lemon twist was pure admiration and it made me feel good about where I am and how I got here.

I used to think, “I need an impressive job to be successful and happy.”

Now I think, “I need to make sure I pay the bills, beyond that success and happiness are found, for me, in non-conventional jobs.”

I used to think, “I will know what I’m meant to do with my life.”

Now I think, “If I ever stop exploring and learning my life will have no meaning.”

I used to think, “Being a well respected career woman would be nifty.”

Now I think, “I wonder if Cat Fancy Magazine would publish my songs about Ninja Squee?”

I would have tons of awesome friends that I saw all the time. Oh wait, I do.

Nailed it!

I guess I just needed to write this to see that I’m alright. I feel like I can wake up tomorrow and face 30 with gumption. Sure I haven’t done things the way I planned, but some of my plans were misinformed or insane (except the sea lion thing, I still want to be their Queen). If I’m giving myself some credit I can say I have lived in the moment enough to be aware of who I am, who I want to continue to become, what and who is important to me and how to be happy most of the time. Heck, I got to name my cat Pooter with no one objecting and I can eat burritos every day and fart alone in my beautiful apartment. If that isn’t success, I want no part in what is.

“From Inferno to Paradiso”

29 Jan

It’s been a crazy week. This has further proven to me that I’m a crazy person.

Monday, January 25 would have been my mothers 66th birthday; one of a few torturous days that used to be just a day and that now will be forever marked. I started feeling the effects of it days in advance, leaving groups of friends to weep uncontrollably in the bathroom and then gathering myself knowing I could be alright. I believed by early afternoon that day that I was going to get through the day itself alright and that the anticipation had worn out all my feelings. I was wrong.

After a lovely phone call with my Aunt, reminiscing about my bright, bubbly, effervescent mother I tumbled into a heartache so excruciating I could feel it in my bones. I lay in my study listening to Barbara Streisand and feeling my insides mush together like they were being shoved through a vice. I felt grief, as I often do, in the most acute way possible.

Sometimes I marvel at how commonplace that feeling has become for me. I feel it, I cry, I ache and my mind thrashes. Then, as though I am two separate people, I ease myself out of it. I remind myself that I am alright, that things are the same and I think about the positives in my life. I remember that I will feel that way again, possibly soon, and I accept it and take breathes in the moments I feel calm. I have learned though experience that I will come out the other side even though it feels at the time like sadness you never recover from.

I move forward.

Wednesday of this week was my Stepfather’s 66th birthday and I made sure to get the night off so I could spend it with him. We went to dinner with a friend of his, I got him his favorite cake and we all spent the night celebrating the ever wonderful Andy. He is such a satisfying person to do things for because he always acts so surprised that anyone has considered him at all. He is appreciative and fun and a joy to be around, so all of it was really most enjoyable for me I think. I would eat Indian food and Carrot Cake with him everyday if I could find an excuse.

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Andy’s first official selfie taken this past fall

Today I received an e-mail from Andy thanking me again for the birthday festivities and telling me that he felt “greatly loved and happier than I have been in some time”. The feeling is so mutual.

Having these two birthdays, which we as a family used to celebrate together, land so back to back had me wrecked with exhaustion this morning. I hardly slept all week and continue to feel something like a hangover of sorrow from Monday combined with a lovely high from Wednesday. I went to work tonight as scheduled and put on my usual public smile. One of my bosses even commented and said, “I’ve never seen you anything but bubbly”. The compliment combined with a friend visiting me at work, my coworkers all in good spirits, and a great comedy show, made for a nice shift.

On the drive home I felt overcome. I felt the ceaseless despair and the undeniable glee that both define my inner self constantly. I thought about each one separately and realized just how dramatic and wild it all is. I rarely feel anything that couldn’t qualify me for a Jane Austen novel or Nicholas Sparks film. I don’t just cry, I weep. I never feel good, I feel exuberant. I love deeply, give heartily, receive graciously and create passionately.

All of this comes from my mother; for better or worse.

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My shameless, fabulous mother owning the 90s aerobics scene

Tonight I feel grateful for all of it. Without living in the spirit crushing events of Monday I would hardly have been so thankful for all the love I felt on Wednesday. I don’t want to be someone who tries to stifle all the insanity, it makes me feel alive. My mother would want me to feel alive. I want to cry the way she did, so openly that she left nearby strangers worried. I want to love the way she did, so deeply that I risk everything. I want to find myself in the many moments I am blessed to have because I was raised by a women who was never ashamed to feel what she was feeling. I want to frighten and astonish everyone with my quirk and zeal and find inspiration in theirs.

I want my life to be madness; crazy, wonderful, unrestrained life that spreads from those I adore to others I meet. I’m sure that way I won’t have regrets and it will certainly make the January 25th’s feel more purposeful instead of just sad.

Note about the posting: I wrote this listening to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (noteworthy for those who knew my mother well and for the title of the blog). This is dedicated to Morris, my mothers best friend, who wrote me a letter this week that made me feel like I could and should write again. His reaching out to me made an extraordinary difference in my drive and I’m so thankful.

For Jamie On Her 29th Birthday

22 Sep

I consider myself very rich in friends. Not just in the quantity that I am fortunate to keep but also in the unending quality of each of them. I have been told that I use the term “best friend” loosely because I claim to have three of them, but for each I mean it in a different way. With my best friend Jamie I say it because we have been through so much together, grown up together and are likely the only people who know each other’s history in full. She is the long term best friend.

Best Friends

Junior year of High School

As we arrive at our late twenties, we have grown up very differently and become two unique and varied people. We always feel lucky that we have been together for so long because we recognize that if we met now we might not bond naturally. For me, Jamie is “my Jamie” and I still see the girl I knew in high school. Back then we were known as a duo; rarely would you see one of us without the other. This included sleepovers on many weeknights, rotating between houses, but always together. I distinctly remember feeling slightly panicked when I was away from her back then. I don’t think I have ever told her this, but she always made me feel safe. She is the friend who taught me how to be braver, more outgoing and she showed me resilience. Her home life wasn’t perfect and she became an adult early and handled everything life threw at her with such grace; I was always in awe.

It’s funny that now people who know us would likely see Jamie as the more reserved and I’m credited for being outgoing because at it’s roots, much of that in me came from her. Having a friend that close at an age where everything feels like the end of the world made me feel like I was never alone. There was a person who wanted to hear every detail about my crappy spanish test or who knew immediately what was going on in my head with just a glance. We developed our own shorthand and language, and not only knew about but witnessed every major teenage milestone together.

At the end of high school she and I got into a fight so dramatic that the friendship seemed forever over. We spent three years apart, growing up separately. It was the vacant hole in my heart, the missing person who I couldn’t replace. The night that we finally saw each other again we sat on my couch talking until the sun came up. We both knew that we could go back to being close as though we had barely skipped a beat. The time apart suddenly fell away and we both rarely speak of it, and when others questioned how we could just let go of a three year feud we told them they couldn’t possibly understand and left it at that. We know now it is always a mistake for us to be anything but in love.

I sometimes look at how much she has been there for me and hope that I have balanced things enough. After college I was dealt some tough situations and without missing a beat, Jamie was there. She is the only friend I have who has been around through everything and always found a way to get to me when I was in need.

Celebrating post cancer

Through my cancer she was strong, she would come over my apartment and listen to every gory detail of my treatments and then transport me back to being just a normal girl again by talking to me like everything was the same. We would gossip about people we went to highschool with and I was right back in her bedroom at age 16, healthy and active and part of the living world.

Jamie was the friend who I chose to cling to at both my mother’s and grandmother’s funerals. I felt grounded clutching her beautiful dainty hands and because of her I knew I would never be unable to cope. It helped to have someone there who knew my mother and understood the loss. So many people who helped and supported me had only met my mom a few times or some not at all, so they had to take me at my word that she was incredible. Jamie spent years at our family dinners, Thanksgivings, birthdays, holidays; she was another member of our family. It has been invaluable being able to remember those times with someone who lived it with me.

Jamie Burr has a talent for knowing the perfect balance between letting me talk about the thing that is happening that is terrifying and helping me to talk about something else. I know with her that I will never talk for too long or lose her interest because she has always made me feel like everything I say matters to her. She and I are both known for talking a lot, and often times chatty types encounter those who make us feel like we’ve said too much. With her, I know we could never tire of hearing the other one speak, no matter the subject.

Cuddling at Newport Folk Fest 2015

She is my girly best friend so we often chatter on together for hours about everything in girl world. Conversations about weddings, makeup, boys and the like are wildly comforting when bigger things are going on. Yet every time the conversation transitions into something serious, she always knows how to effortlessly switch into being my rock.

I have watched her grow up to become a brilliant and accomplished student with a masters degree in Occupational Therapy. Her job is now to help people who are hurting, and nothing could make more sense. She is so beautiful, in every way. I feel convinced that her heart must barely fit inside her tiny frame because she is such a reliever of pain for everyone that knows her. Her enthusiasm and high energy brings light into every room. I could go on and on about her talents and qualities of character, but I hope it is enough to say that I feel lucky to have her.

So on her 29th birthday I want to thank her. If I haven’t said it or she doesn’t know, she is someone who has kept me strong. Through everything thrown by life she has been a life force and safe haven. She is a source of comfort and joy and I know no matter how far apart our life paths go, we will never be apart. I hope I can do for her as much as she has done for me until we are old and wrinkly together.

A candid moment captured. I love her so much.

Just One Mile

2 Aug

I returned home from an incredible trip to Europe and found that I had brought back a new woman. I felt confident, happy, capable and ready to take hold of my life. I was cast a major role in a play and a short film, my coworkers made me feel right back at home in a place I love to work, I reconnected deeply with friends and family at a beautiful service for my ever deserving grandmother. I took hold of my love life by cleaning house of all selfish, negative mooches and felt excited to be alone. Things were great, I was unstoppable.

The clue in to this flow of constant wins not lasting must be that I’m using the past tense to describe it all. The truth is, it was real, I am changed, I am happy; yet no trip or event or play could hide the gaping hole I have without my mother. It’s the broken record of my writing, “my mother died”, “time doesn’t heal”, “I need her”.

I talk about it less and less with a majority of people because I don’t want it to be the thing that defines me outwardly even though it is still the thing that defines me inwardly.

This unchanging and constant ache functions as both a motivation and an obstacle, it just depends on the day.

I started to fluctuate heavily between productive days and motionless days. I call it a motionless day because I lay still for entire days sometimes. I get up to find food or shower and my body feels immobilized and heavy. My head swims, I consider fighting it and going outside but I can’t on these days and I just lay back down and go to sleep. On the good days I explore my talents through acting, comedy, auditions for new roles, sewing classes a countless sea of friends I get to call my family, dates with one of the kindest men I’ve ever met and an intensely active social life. I am a force.

I’m not one to get caught in a cycle so manic or unreasonable. I overthink everything and in this case it stopped me in my tracks to look from the outside at how dramatic the daily shifts were.

The answer, it turns out, is small for now. Find the balance each day, on high days, find moments to to grieve, cry and feel. Listening to music in the car, calling Lisa or hugging the cat a little too long are all good options. On the low days, find just one thing to do that makes me feel proud. Not productive, not happy, it’s more than that, it’s about pride.

Today I woke up and thought about a presentation my friend Cait gave this past week about running. I could see and feel her pride and I remembered how much I used to feel that when I ran. So at 7:00 am, instead of going back to sleep for two hours before my day had to start I lept out of bed, threw on my gym clothes and said out loud, “I will run one mile. I will not stop.” It’s amazing how much can happen in a mile.

The first few blocks I felt incredible. The weather was sunny, dry with a slight breeze; summer had never created a morning so perfect.

When I got to about a 1/4 mile my lungs felt like they were being lit on fire, suddenly the sun was no longer my friend, he was the asshole in the sky turning my face into hot lava. I thought to myself, “I can run part of the mile and then walk the rest, I will still be active and I will still be proud” I made the executive decision that I was allowed to stop at any time I needed to because it was very clear I wasn’t going to make it a whole mile. I saw a funeral home and knew that I just had to make the one last block to get there and then my run could die. It was the appropriate place. Then I saw a sign a block past the funeral home (a “one way” sign to be exact) and I can’t explain it, but I knew could run just to that sign and then I was allowed to stop. I heard my mother telling me years ago that on her runs she used to do the same thing, “commit to one small block at a time and tell yourself you can stop whenever you want. Just to that big tree, then just to that cafe then just to that street sign and then before I knew what happened I had run all the way home.” I actually remember where I was sitting when she said that to me.

I was recommitted. I could make it to at least a 1/2 mile. Then as I ran past the liquor store an old homeless man was outside, I recognized him because he is often at that location and so I smile as I chugged by, gasping for air but still running. He looked at me, smiled back and then began to clap. He was actually applauding me. I leave room for the possibility that he was patronizing me, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like the exact boost I needed and the universe and that man were giving it to me. I never lose sight of the fact that I have always been lucky in that way, or at least always willing to see things in life through that lens.

When I reached a 1/2 mile I knew I was going to do the whole thing. I still wanted to stop and things were starting to hurt more, but I knew it was a cop out to not make it. I woke up and thought “just one mile” so I couldn’t let myself down. I was determined to make this mean something; to make this the first mile of many more to come. I was changing the pattern of my life and nothing that big ever comes easily.

I needed to focus my attention on anything but the fact that I was still running. I saw fresh West End dog poop covered in flies and thought a few moments about how nice it was that they were so happy. Nature really does have a way of giving gifts in unexpected ways.

Then I felt a surge of nausea and instead of worrying I decided I would just barf if need be and then keep on running. I never did puke, but the pain in my stomach from poor life choices last night intensified. I said out loud, “physical pain is no more impossible to handle than any other pain, and you are the most capable girl I have ever known at handling pain. You know pain, you embrace pain and then you push through it and beat pain.” The diners outside the breakfast place must have seen a crazy, red, sweaty, crazy person talking to themselves and clawing for air. In my mind I decided to pretend like I looked like my running friend Cait, adorable and effortless. Imagination is a beautiful thing; all that mattered was how I saw myself.

I rounded the corner of my street knowing that my runkeeper would announce that I’d reached a mile at any moment. It happened under a beautiful shady tree just next door to home and the moment I heard it in my headphones I doubled over and burst into tears. I had given myself the opportunity to just let it out. I was sad, I was happy, but mostly I was proud.

I had traveled thousands of miles to start my new adventure and discovered almost as much within one half mile radius of my home. I see the value in both now.

In her presentation, Cait had mentioned that she took a photo on each of her runs while training for a marathon, and in the moment I was pondering this during my cooldown walk I saw it. The marquee at the theatre across the street from my apartment was my last sign. So here it is, the photo from my first of many more runs. It was only one mile today, but it was the first and it was the hardest and it was the best.

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