Author Archives: BearsGrl8

Bygones 

There was a time, fifteen or twenty years ago, when I took an average of 2000 photos a year. That might not be so impressive now, in the era of unlimited digital storage, but this was when we had to buy film, carry a camera, get it developed, and hope that the shot came out right. It was expensive, especially since I was paying for it with a minimum wage job while in high school and college. 

Since then, I have moved A LOT. Over and over, I’ve packed up albums and books and boxes of prints and taken them with me. All those boxes get heavy after a while, especially when those pictures don’t mean what they used to. 

They are a record of my life, and in that, they have value. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to only keep the happy, or the current. But at what point do I stop carrying those photos with me? 

What do you do with photographs of family members who have chosen to no longer consider you family? Or of former best friends who betrayed that trust? Or of religious celebrations and milestones along the path towards what was eventually abuse and cruelty? These people and places are part of my story. I don’t think I need to memorialize them anymore. 

So, little by little, I toss them out. When I have a brave moment, I sift through them and, if I feel only loss, bitterness, or sorrow when I look at it, I put it in the garbage pile. I choose which parts of my story to carry with me to the next place. 

Today has been one of those days. As part of a larger effort to take charge of some projects I’m always meaning to do, I sorted another album today. I have another stack of photos to toss. It’s always a terribly complicated feeling. I’m sorrowful for the way things ended, for the hurt caused. 

This time, though, I’m also sorry for them because they missed out. Life is pretty good now, and they chose to step away, not knowing who I have become. They never saw me so thoroughly happy. They will never meet my fiance. They don’t get to be a part of the adventures ahead. 

That sounds a little arrogant, I guess, but at least it’s honest. Maybe a different person would be more comfortable keeping so many old pictures. Maybe some day, I will regret it. What is more likely, I’m pretty sure, is that I would continue to carry them around, to wince when I see them mixed in with happier memories, that some day, I will find myself having to explain who the stranger is. 
Today, I made more room for more photographs. Photos of my upcoming wedding, honeymoon, anniversaries, parties, graduations, Christmases, and cats. There is a lot to look forward to. Even if it requires taking a few painful moments to let old memories go. 

The trash pile

Advertisements

Yes, what about Chicago?

I grew up mostly in suburban Cook County, near O’Hare, in what is locally referred to as “Chicagoland.” For as long as I remember, Chicago was, at minimum, the most fun place to be. As an adult, it has been home a few times, including now.

love my city. I always have.

There is a spot on the inbound Kennedy, right before North Avenue, where you can get a gorgeous view of the skyline as well as the smaller buildings that make up the city I love. I’ve probably photographed it a 150 times. I love the architecture, and how walking between the skyscrapers downtown makes me feel somehow embraced. I love how the details on older, smaller buildings make neighborhoods feel unique, and hold its history, however long forgotten.

In my neighborhood, it seems more common to hear a foreign language than it is to hear English. If I want ice cream, the nearest places to go are either Latin or Indian. I have a dozen taquerias within about two blocks, and the grocery stores stock foods I cannot pronounce, and in some cases, have labels written in Gujarati or Arabic or Korean, so I am even less able to guess.

Since moving back, I’ve gone to comedy shows and met a ton of funny, talented people. Some of those people, I am sure, are going to be quite famous some day, and I will get to say that I knew them before they made it big. My city is a city of blues, art, comedy, folk, and all kinds of wonderful things.

I love my city.

My city is also broken. I have driven around the south side of Chicago, unable to find a gas station that didn’t have a long line of cars, waiting to fill up with gas that costs 25% more than gas in my north side neighborhood. I’ve parked a van full of food on the side of the street and stood in the cold as people lined up, hungry, and eager for whatever sustenance was in the cambros. I have gone from one block to another and noticed the spraypainted tags change, the color of clothing change, and realized that my ability to move so freely was aided by the fact that I clearly didn’t “belong” there. I’ve spent time with my neighbors who are homeless and addicted, been brokenhearted by children who do not know what it is to have a bedroom or a constant place to call home.

I’ve heard the stories of friends who were pulled over for being black, by cops who wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going, without citing any kind of traffic violation. I’ve heard stories from white friends, pulled over on the south or west sides and asked if they knew where they were, warned that lone white girls shouldn’t be in this part of town. One friend told me about the time he was informed that he, a minister, should not visit his congregation in the projects without a resident escorting him because he probably wasn’t safe.

I know that in some cases, my whiteness and my north side residence give me a more privileged experience than some have. I am not blind to what is around me, nor am I immune from the heartbreak.

I still love my city. I want everyone to have the chance to love my city.

Today, Trump used my city as an example of the horror this nation has become. I’ve read countless articles in which a stranger to my city uses statistics to make some very ugly arguments. While the statistics are true, the way they were used was manipulative, and is at best ignorant of the reasons they are what they are. Unfunded and overcrowded schools, food desserts, gangs without leadership, few jobs to be had, and a long list of reasons contribute to the heartache my city faces. 

I love my city. I ache for my city, the way one does when a loved is deeply troubled, or seriously ill. I still see her beauty. I still know her joy. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

Great Expectations

There is a truth about growing up poor that other people don’t understand. I’m not talking about “we only had basic cable” poor. I’m talking the kind of poor where no power or no running water was par for the course, where you sometimes had to take your bags of garbage to grandma’s house because they stopped picking it up from your place, where your mom skipped medicines because she didn’t want you to miss a field trip, where you wanted new crayons so bad but were afraid to use them, if you got them, because the next box of crayons was a long, long way off, where generic pop was luxury you can’t afford, where you didn’t have a phone at home for most of high school because it was too much money:

Everything takes more work than it should.

Everything requires more energy, whether it is mental or physical. The mental energy is the hardest. It’s survival, not only to have enough to eat and a safe environment, but the kind of survival that lets you feel as normal as possible. What shoes can I afford that don’t have a Kmart brand stamped on the side? If I go to the mall with my friends, how well can I pass off the I just don’t want to buy anything today act, when really, I see so many things I would like to have? Oh God, the teacher is asking about whether I’ve bought the book for AP English and I don’t want to tell the whole class that we can’t afford it because all the money is paying medical bills, so now what? Trying to feel normal despite being poor takes a shit ton of energy. 

What energy wasn’t spent on managing poor was spent on being fat. Extracurricular sports and vegetables cost money, but genetics, depression, and starchy carbs from the food pantry were free. There are a million reasons I was (and am) fat, but not a damn one of them was because it was fun. I know that everyone else took a second piece of pizza, but if I take a second piece, will they judge me for eating it? If I was skinny, he wouldn’t keep me as his secret girlfriend and would finally hold my hand in public…. Oh god, how much will that chair creak when I sit on it? That space looks tiny and everyone else has walked through it, but I think I’m going to get stuck, but walking the long way around is so obvious, too…. Shit, I can’t get this damn shirt off in this stupid fitting room and I don’t think I can take it off without ripping it, and I can’t afford to pay for a ripped shirt. 

This exhausting, endless questioning became how my brain works. As of two measly months ago, I make enough money to not feel poor for the first time in my life, but that is only until I remember my school loans, the payments I’m making on my eleven year old car, and the $1000 car repair that I financed three months ago. I have a ways to go, still. 

Mike and I are being awfully frugal with wedding planning, which is great, because I certainly don’t want to take on any debt getting married. But I need a dress. And as frugal as I am, there is still are part of me that wants to feel like every other bride. I know that the day isn’t about the dress. I know my marriage isn’t about the day. But I want that chance to be the prettiest one in the room. To wear the lacey dress and rhinestones in my hair and be a goddamn princess. Just once. 

Finding locations for dress shopping has been hell. I can’t afford almost any of it. I hate the thought of a used dress, but when I contacted the most reputable resale place around, I was told my size is pretty much a disqualifier. The whole while, this sick feeling just rots in my stomach: You’re too poor and too fat to be like everyone else. You better dial back what you want, because your best hope is to settle for what you can scrounge and tell people that this is actually what you want. 

Well meaning people have suggested that I find a “nice dress,” and “not to worry about it because it won’t matter in the long run.” Most of these people have not been in my position. They either have the money or the figure that makes a lot more available to them. I don’t begrudge them their ignorance. I wish they would kindly shut the hell up, though. 

If it came down to where the only thing I could wear to my wedding was two yards of burlap and an empty whiskey barrel, I would still get to marry the man I love. I have absolutely not lost sight of the fact that my goal for the day is to marry him. 

But being poor, or fat, doesn’t exclude me, or millions other brides, from wanting a day of sparkles and magic and a ridiculous dress that will only be worn once. And it shouldn’t be this hard. 

A Series of Impossible Events

2016 has been a shit year for a lot of people. 

But not for me. In fact, this year seems to be year of impossible things happening all at once. 

On September 14, 2016, Mike and I got officially engaged! It wasn’t some big, grand production, just a very sweet moment when, after a few months of talking about it, Mike looked at me and said “I’m going to marry you,” and that was about it. Well, until two days ago, when we picked up my rings and he asked, just before sliding the ring on my finger. I’m happy and excited, but even more than that is this feeling that it’s right. Like we make so much sense together that it’s the most natural thing. We thought we were sappy and schmoopy and obnoxious before, but holy cow. This is a whole new level. 

About a month ago, I finished the second longest interview process EVER, and I was offered my first choice job, just 4.5 miles from (as opposed to the 43 miles each way that I was driving), with an unbelievable raise in salary, and out of the toxic mess my previous company had become. I was able to give my notice and take a week of “staycation” before I start my new job on Monday. 

And then, tonight. Tonight, I saw the impossible happen: my Cubs, the team I’ve loved my whole life long, won the World Series. I screamed and cried. I couldn’t believe it. It still seems surreal. Impossible. 

So now, here I am, outside of a Dick’s Sporting Goods at 1:30 AM, waiting for my sister, who made it inside, to buy me a shirt, with a ring on my finger, the best fiancé at home waiting for me, and a kind of excitement that I can’t express. 

I almost don’t know what to do with this hope. What do you do when all of these things that were otherwise impossible start actually happening? 

I guess you just go with it. You take a deep breath and hold on tight, and you keep both eyes open so you don’t  miss a moment of it. 

Word Vomit

I haven’t posted in weeks, not because I have been intentionally neglectful, but because the post that has been floating around in my brain feels impossible. I’ve started and trashed a ton of times. While venting this frustration to some friends, I summarized what I wanted to write about, and after thinking it over for a few days, I’ve decided to just go ahead and post what I told them, so that it is at least out there. I need for this post to be outside of the confines of my anxious brain. When I have something rattling around in my brain and know that I need to spit it out to Mike, as messy as it might be, I warn him that I need to word -vomit. So here goes: 

When Mike and I met, he was polyamorous, but not seeing anyone, really. He had a friend who used to be someone he dated, but they had pretty much ended before we met. He hadn’t had a date in 4 months, and I wasn’t looking for serious, so it seemed like it was going to be fine: someone to hang out with once and a while, but casual. I had naively thought that knowing he was on a different wavelength would keep me from getting too invested, and thus, keep me from getting hurt. And then, we ended up liking each other way more than expected, and got so close. And it was so easy. Except for the poly thing. I understood it and had no problem with it from a theoretical standpoint, but to think about it in practice was another story. I was falling in love. And so was he. He wasn’t seeing anyone else, so that wasn’t an issue, but there were questions to work out and insecurities to face that are different from relationships between two people who are only interested in monogamy. 

Over the course of our relationship, Mike has fielded a LOT of questions. It comes down to this: when single, we both had assumed that we wouldn’t find someone who would check all the right boxes, but our solutions were different. It worked for him to have several relationships that each fulfilled different needs. I had just assumed that I would find someone to date, maybe, but no one would really ever “get” me. When we met, we didn’t have a roadmap for working it all out.

He seemed nervous because he was increasingly comfortable with monogamy with me. I have a big fear of comparison and am terrified of not being “enough.” There have been times where the general feeling is “holy shit, I’m so happy I can’t breathe, but I still don’t know what to do with this feeling or that feeling.” We’ve worked through a lot of it, and continue to do so. 

For me, the hardest part is that in some ways, I’m figuring it out on my own. There aren’t many cases where someone polyamorous chooses to be in a monogamous relationship, so there really aren’t a lot of people saying “yeah, I’ve struggled with that, too, and here is what helped me.” 

There are advantages to Mike having the experiences he’s had. It has helped our relationship in ways. Having to explore my own reactions and feelings has been really helpful. He has since adjusted his label to ambiamorous (which, admittedly, I made up), because he is not strictly poly, where he is only happy in multiple relationships, but is capable of being happy and fulfilled in a wider range of situations, from some polyamory to monogamy. And he knows that I have no desire to ever open our relationship, and he doesn’t consider that a problem.

So that’s what I want to write about: about figuring out a relationship that really doesn’t fit into most boxes. But I don’t know how to do that without ending up with people either 1. Thinking less of him because polyamory is still largely taboo, or 2. Giving me a long list of reasons why we will fail.
What I have learned in trying to figure out how to write this damn post is that while our situation is pretty unique, the experience of working through something as a couple is really common and vital to the health of any relationship. Couples everywhere work through challenges like blending families, religious differences, or a million other things. In each of those cases, there tons of reasons that a relationship might fail. 

At the end of all of that, my conclusions are this: 

  • I am ridiculously happy in my relationship, and that does not depend on anyone else approving of it. 
  • Anyone who thinks less of it, or especially of Mike, can go to hell. 
  • Anyone who tries to give me crap about it better be prepared for me to respond. 
  • Our relationship is very healthy. We have pretty effortlessly worked out a lot of things without it ever feeling like work, and when we do need to slog through a tough conversation, the overriding desire for both of us is to come to a conclusion where we are both happy and know we are loved by the other person. 

I guess that is it, for now. I’m happy. Mike is happy. And my brain feels less stressed out by having all of this on the outside of my head. If you have questions, I’ll answer them, as best I can. 

And maybe, someday, I’ll tell you about the dinner party with my grandmother’s crystal. 

I hate clichés, except when I love them.

A year and five days ago, I went on one of the worst dates I could have ever imagined. The guy was unattractive as he pounded beers, talked about how much he hates his job and hates the place he lives and hates that he has no friends, but nothing was as unattractive as when, at the end of the date, he made a homophobic joke about merchandise in a store window. It is the only date I was ever on when I texted my sister and had her make a rescue call. In retrospect, I should have just ended the date with a “no thanks, I don’t need your negativity!”

I was so tired of bad dates that it made me twitch, so I decided to take a break. No more reading profiles, no more awkward coffee dates, no more waiting for a text that might not come. Clichéd… so clichéd.

Three days later, I was up well past my bedtime, had already put my glasses on the bookcase, and I get a message: 

Ok, Mike, I guess I will take a look at your profile, but I don’t know… an hour later, having read what has to be the longest profile in the history of dating sites, as well as answers to questions, I figured that if I was interested enough to read that much, there is enough to respond. Except, I was tired. Like, really tired. I had no idea how to muster up the charming sweetness I tried to have in messages. So that is nearly exactly what I said: 

I wasn’t sure that the little smiley face at the end was going to make up for my complete inability to flirt, but I went with it. I had said I was done dating, but he said he wasn’t looking for serious. What harm was there in having someone who lived in the same little town, who could meet for dinner once in a while?

Our first date was July 29, 2015. At a tavern downtown, I walked in and was greeted by a huge smile and a white and orange Hawaiian shirt. I sat, terrified that I was going to be too nervous to be interesting. And then suddenly, it was three hours later, and I was fascinated by this guy. We left the restaurant and walked up and down the main street, flirting and laughing and oh my god, why won’t he just hold my hand already!? We got to his car, and he asked if he could kiss me. Swoon. Finally. He walked me to my car, and we stood there, talking, and he kissed me. I was not ready for this date to be over. So it wasn’t. We ended up sitting in his car for a few more hours, never running out of things to say, always smiling, wishing that the clock would stop. Our first date was seven hours long. 

But we didn’t have “serious” on the horizon. He had other commitments, like his show, which was just getting started. I had just started a new job, and was looking for a place to live, trying to get settled. A short while later, date three or four, maybe, there was a moment after he reacted unexpectedly to something I said, when I thought, oh no, I’m in trouble. If this keeps up, I’m going to fall really hard. 

I swear to you on my mother’s life, I did not expect the next year to go like it did. I couldn’t have imagined it. I had dreamed about it, but never thought it would happen. Not to me. Falling in love like this was something that happens to other girls. Prettier, thinner, funnier, braver girls. 

All those clichés, the annoying ones that keep young actresses on a steady diet of rom-com roles, happened. Have you seen Trainwreck? That part when she and her new boyfriend become that obnoxiously new, starry-eyed couple who make eyes at each other in restaurants, kiss in the freezer section, and all that stuff? Yeah, that’s us. AND I LOVE IT. I’ve become one of those women.  

There have been hard moments, when I’ve had to deal with insecurities or have a conversation I would like to avoid. But in each and every one of them, his response has been nearly perfect. 

When we got to the point that we were serious, I made a very conscious choice to not keep a running catalogue of all the things he has ever done “wrong,” or when he has done something to really upset me. Instead, started another list: romantic things he has done, and moments of sweetness. I didn’t want to overlook those things, and I wanted those things to be what I think of when I am upset. I wanted to remember, even when it was tough, that I have someone who loves me, and whom I love very much. Ugh, that is a cliché right out of a relationship expert handbook, except I started it without it being suggested. Can’t I just be normal?

In truth, there have been two times that I have been upset, and one of them was so minor that now, I can’t even remember what the cause is. But I would make Hallmark roll its eyes over the list of sweetnesses. 

The last year has been one surprise after another. Meeting people, going places, doing things: all great. What has surprises me more, though, is how easy it is to be with him. He is my home, no matter where I live. He is the first person I want to see in the morning  and the last person I want to see at night. He makes me laugh, encourages me, and believes in me, even when I struggle to. He is every damn cliché in the Guidebook for Lovely Boyfriends and sometimes I think my heart and head will literally explode. 

I do have a list of things he does that annoy me to the point of giving him the stink eye. In its entirety: 

  1. He leaves cabinet and microwave doors open (though he has mostly stopped leaving he dishwasher and kitchen drawers open, so there is hope).
  2. He squeezes the toothpaste in the middle and sometimes gets spit splatters on the faucet when he brushes his teeth. 
  3. He likes everything too loud.

I mean, ugh, men can be so annoying… meh, who am I kidding. He does the dishes without asking, so I totally don’t care about the toothpaste. 

I cannot believe how lucky I am. I know that people say that all the loveliness of a relationship changes and often lessens as it gets older, but that is the cliché I hope desperately to avoid. So far, I still think he is the best thing since peanut butter. 

Today is our anniversary, and we are going back to that same tavern. Despite having woken up next to him this morning, and having gone to work, holding his hand nearly the whole way, and having kissed him about two dozen times before I went to my office, I can’t wait to see him. I never expected him, or us.  But holy hell, I couldn’t be happier about it. 

Before one of his shows

After a very long, very excellent birthday

He was mid-laugh on this one. It’s one of my favorites.

The Day the Crayons Quit

With Pokey at his graduation

A month ago, my eldest nephew graduated from high school. Yesterday was his graduation party, and I bought him a book, The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. I picked it up at Target one day and I was stunned by the (potentially accidental) metaphor it is for the kind of people we meet and the way we feel sometimes. 
This is the letter I wrote him, taped to the inside of the book: 

My dear boy, You are just about the age I was when you were born. I could not have imagined what life would bring between our graduations. From the joyful to the devastating, from the funny to the mundane, life never stops being a surprise, and it should be no other way. 

At every moment, I have loved the person you are. From the chubby baby you were, to the toothless flag football player, to the shaggy haired boy, to the honorable man you are today, you have never ceased to make me proud. 

Because I am older, I am supposed to impart some kind of wisdom. Because you are so young,  you must try to listen. I’ll begin with what is not said often enough: the most true things in life are most often found in children’s books. Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and so many others will speak truth and humor to your soul if you let them. 

It’s true that the things you will learn in the next few years will prepare you for life, but I do not mean academics. What you learn about yourself and others will last longer than any Intro to Chinese History class will. The book I’ve chosen for you, The Day the Crayons Quit, is about the people you will meet. You will meet people who: 

Like red, are overworked 

Like purple, are a little picky and neurotic

Like beige, feel ignored

Like gray, are weary

Like white, feel empty and unimportant 

Like black, are more than what they first appear to be

Like green, are mellow and easygoing 

Like yellow, is a drama queen 

Like orange, wants to feel special

Like blue, is at the end of their rope

Like pink, feels overlooked

Like peach, has been left out in the cold

And like Duncan, who just wants everyone to get along. 

My dear boy, with all you are, try to handle each person as best you can. Learn to be the best kind of friend to all kinds of people. Notice who is around you and strive to make their lives better. 

But Poke, don’t forget that you will often feel like these crayons as well. You will feel mellow, overworked, and all the rest, sometimes in the same day. Feeling this way is ok, but you must never let them push you to quit. Use each of these things to push you to continue to grow, to become a full, complete person. 

The days ahead are an adventure only you can live. It is one of my greatest joys to get to be a part of this adventure. 

Congratulations on your graduation, and with excitement for all that is to come, welcome to your next chapter! 

I love you, Aunt Cindy 

With Pokey, at his graduation party

Allied Pride

Disclaimer: I know that Pride is not about me. This is not a way to appropriate something in a kind of white, straight, cisgender arrogance. It is, instead, written with humility and appreciation.

Yesterday, June 26, I was standing in the bathroom, swiping mascara on my lashes, when my boyfriend walked in, said “Happy Pride, baby!” kissed me, and left. I wished him a happy pride as well, and tied the rainbow ribbon in my hair. It’s too big, but I was wearing my marriage equality shirt from the Human Rights Campaign anyways, because it was Pride, and because it was the anniversary of the SCOTUS ruling legalizing marriage equality.

I love Pride. I understand that as a straight, cisgender woman, it is not about me, but I love Pride. I love that, in its pure form, it stands for courage and love, and celebrating true selves and diverse beauty. Whenever I have gone to a Pride celebration, the energy that radiates is breathtaking.

I love what Pride means for the people I love. I seem to have more non-straight friends than average, and I love that despite the trials they face, there is a time specifically set aside to celebrate.

I have no respect for the degradation that happens when narrow-minded and assholish straight people use Pride and gay bars to get sloppy and gawk at others. This isn’t about that sort of straight-person-at-Pride kind of experience.

Selfishly, I love Pride partly because even as a straight chick, it is one of the most welcoming and free spaces I encounter all year. When I’m there, a surrounded by color and positivity, I am at peace. I’ve been touched by the kindness I’ve experienced there, whether it is a stranger complimenting my hair ribbons or a hug after a good joke, or seeing someone take care of someone else who needs it.

For most of my life, I haven’t felt like I fit in, for one reason or another. I don’t think that is an uncommon feeling, but I never feel that way at Pride. When I was a pastor, the rest of the pastors in my denomination thought I was a lesbian, and because of that, many treated me differently. As a woman who has a diverse range of interests and skills, sometimes, I get crap about not being feminine enough or too feminine. Not that those are the same kind of experiences that LGBTQ people have, but it certainly has given me more than enough empathy to make a difference.

I love going to Pride to celebrate my friends. To be grateful to the community that has welcomed, accepted, and loved me, even though I am an outsider. I love being able to be an ally for great and beautiful people.

Pride is not about me. I’ve seen some articles floating around the internet lately that are pretty blunt about saying that Pride is not for straight people. I don’t disagree. But I do think that Pride can be, and is, a time for everyone to celebrate the far reaches of love and the advances made in equality and justice, and recognize that the work is not yet done. In reading that, it kind of sounds like a bad version of “all lives matter,” but that’s not what I mean. I mean that as a woman lucky enough to be included by a community, I am happy to celebrate as an ally and a friend.

I couldn’t make it to the Pride parade this year because we were leaving for vacation, but my heart was there. Every time I looked down at my shirt or saw the hair ribbon in my reflection, I was reminded of what should be celebrated. I can’t wait until next year, when I hope to be there again.

image

In my Pride shirt and rainbow ribbon

Transition Statements

It’s been almost two months since I posted, and in such a short time, my life has, again, turned itself inside out:

Shakespeare warned us to beware the ides of March, and this year, that warning was painfully appropriate. The night before, my dog, Mrs Weasley, was breathing kind of funny. Then, Tuesday morning, I woke to find that she had thrown up three times, and her breathing was worse. I cleaned up the mess, gave her a pet, and had to go to work. A few hours later, when my mother went to take her out, she was not herself: very labored breathing, not moving off the floor, a worrying look on her face. My mom called me, I called the vet, and she took her right over. In half an hour, my biggest fear came true. She had developed tumors too big to treat. The vet said that even if they tried, the treatment would kill her before the tumors were cured. I sobbed the rest of the afternoon, left work early, and stayed with her as the vet put her down. It was a monstrous grief that followed. My mother was with me, and Mike came straight to me after he got off work. My sweet girl was gone, and being in the apartment without her was almost unbearable at times.

image

Shortly before this happened, Mike and I had started talking about living together. Since he moved to Chicago in January, it had been a constant effort to make arrangements to be together. A few nights at my place, a few nights at his. So much time and money spent driving back and forth, and it was becoming silly. That night, Mike asked me to move in with him.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. ~Alan Watts

image

It was a no-brainer. Not only did the logistics make sense, but I have fallen so shamelessly in love with him. Like, the kind of love where I think he’s the best thing since peanut butter, and where I don’t care what people think when he kisses me in the produce section at Jewel, and where I fall in love with him over and over and over again, at the weirdest moments (this week, it happened when he was singing Rainbow Connection in his Kermit the Frog voice).

Just when I think I’ve learned the way to live, life changes. ~Hugh Prather

And so, I let my apartment manager know and started packing. Once again, my picture frames were wrapped in paper, my I Love Lucy snow globe put into its Styrofoam, and, after the moving weekend from hell, it was done. Since Mrs Weasley died, I had been slowly taking things to Chicago, but now, it is home once again.

I have wanted to live in Chicago ever since I left it. No place else feels like Chicago does. I live on the north side, where most of my neighbors are Hispanic, Indian, or Asian. When I walk to Walgreen’s, I pass a Mexican bakery, a few Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, some Halal restaurants, and a lot of other places I haven’t explored yet. I hate the lack of parking, and I could do without people honking in the alley so much, but it’s wonderful.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ~Lao Tzu

There is a part of me that is anxious about all this change. Part of me that wants to be more cautious about life, but that part is swiftly drowned out by the awareness that life is too short to wait for everything to be risk free. The greatest decisions in my life have always been the risky ones, and this is following suit. I am ridiculously happy, even when I am tired or anxious, to wake up with Mike every morning. I love living in the city again. There is a sort of settled feeling in me that says ah, yes, this is how life is supposed to feel.

Someone asked me a while ago where I see myself in five years, and I honestly can say I have no clue. Five years ago, I did not think that this would be my life at all. But the truth is, this is so much better than what I would have guessed. I know where I would like to be, but if I don’t get there? That’s OK. Life is meant to be lived, not just survived.

Her Name is “Bitter.”

In the fall of 2010, I entered my second year of seminary and Mary entered her first. We had the same mentor and we sang in the vocal ensemble group together. She was one of the oldest cadets on campus, the mother of four, three of whom were with her and her husband on campus.

Galatians lists gentleness as “fruit of the Spirit,” but I hadn’t ever recognized it in anyone like did in Mary. Going back to school was intense, on top of raising her family, and what astounded me more than anything else was the gentleness she had throughout it all. It was a kindness and simplicity usually reserved for young or delicate children in literature, the sort of sweetness that never speaks ill of someone, bandages the broken wing of a song bird, etc. Until I met Mary, I wrote those characters off as being idealized and unrealistic.

That’s not to say Mary never had a bad or frustrating day, just that she handled it, and others, differently than I might have in the same circumstances. When my reaction would be to go to the mattresses, Mary responded with compassion and prayer. She worked for joy, even on bad days. When her heart was broken, it was often out of love for someone.

I haven’t seen Mary much since I finished seminary. Life pulls us in too many directions, but we stayed friends on Facebook. From afar, I saw pictures of her kids growing up, getting married, her first grandson, her youngest going off to school. We chatted now and then, but not as much as I wish.

I knew her health isn’t great, but one wretched day in December, she shared that she was moving to hospice care. It was the first thing I read that morning, and immediately, I sobbed. I don’t mean I got teary-eyed: I was almost heaving by the time I called my dad, who is the first one I call when the world cracks apart again.

“Mary” means “bitter,” but my dear friend has greeted this part of her journey with the same gentleness that she has always had. Her posts, though few, have been so full of the same grace that I saw years ago.

I miss my friend, am sorry I have not seen more of her, and I confess that I lack the gentleness she carries. The other day, during the Lutheran service in the activity room at work, they sang “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” which is one of the songs Mary and I sang together in ensemble. At once, it broke my heart and made me smile to remember my friend:

1. The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
And He is mine forever.

2. Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

3. Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.

4. In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy Cross before to guide me.

5. Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

6. And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

I don’t know where my faith is these days, but nevertheless, the song is comforting, at least when it comes to Mary. Someone posted a picture of her the other day, and while she looked weary, I was stunned by the grace and gentleness that still radiates from her. Her name may mean “bitter,” according to the baby name books, but not to me. Mary will forever be associated with overwhelming gentleness. I am so very lucky to get to call her my friend.