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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

The Stupid is Strong with this Week.

Calvin Hobbes suffering

February can kiss my ass.

There are times when it should be entirely justified to throw a temper tantrum despite being 34 1/2 years old. This week is one of them. So far:

~ Stomach bug that made me throw up, ending my 22-year streak of not puking. It happened shortly into the Super Bowl party/nephew’s birthday party, so I had to leave early, missing cake, football, and getting to play the game I bought him. It also meant that my boyfriend saw me covered in puke, and later, at home, in my oh-so-unsexy Cuddlduds pants and the Adidas t-shirt I have owned since my junior year in high school. I made him promise he would forget what I looked like that night. And this is just on the heels of a case of sinusitis and bronchitis.

~ I had to work last weekend, so that means no break in a really long time. I did stay home on Monday with my bad stomach, but sipping ginger ale and hoping to stay vertical doesn’t really count as a time to recoup.

~ Meddlesome witch tried to mess with my relationship. She didn’t succeed, but it was the same day as my puke fest. I went from stunned to anxious to angry in the course of a couple of hours. There are still moments when I want to respond, but I am going to be the bigger, better person.

~ Work has been frustrating. Really frustrating, but I can’t go into details. It’s sufficient to say that I am twitching by lunch, most days.

~ I was in an accident while driving the company bus on Tuesday. The roads were icy, and I came around a bend and down a hill and neither I or the other driver expected stopped cars at a green light. No tickets, the cop was nice and said that it was weather and whatever, but… still. Everyone was OK, but holy hell. I didn’t need that this week. Now, I’m nervous when I drive.

~ I’m adjusting to my boyfriend having moved to the city, an hour and a half from me. Thankfully, I still see him a lot, but it’s an adjustment.

~ My anxiety has been a roller coaster with everything going on. I had a panic attack after the accident on Tuesday. Most of the week has felt like I am swirling around another one, and it is a lot of work to keep it from happening.

~ My apartment needs to be tidied and I have zero motivation. I’ve left the laundry soap and hamper right where she can get to it, but my dog has yet to wash a single load. My pink Converse have been on the floor in front of the bookcase for too long, and I should have run the vacuum a couple days ago. No one really warns you that a byproduct of anxiety is leaving the clean dishes in the drain rack for days.

~ Insurance kicked me over to mail order medications, which is cheaper, but apparently they take for freaking ever, and I’m out of one and the new bottle isn’t here yet. I called to get a new prescription from the local pharmacy, but I can’t get it until tomorrow. More stress.

There are a few other things I can’t mention, but really, it has just been a long week. I haven’t had a vacation in 14 months. I’m tired and crabby, my whole body was thrown off by the start of my week. I want to haphazardly throw things, to stomp my feet and flail my arms and scream nonsensical things at the universe.

Part of my frustration is that I have come to a place where I want more – and I no longer feel like I am undeserving of more. For so many years, I was told that to want more was wrong. That it was selfish and sinful. I believed the leaders who told me that it was arrogant and presumptuous to feel like I had anything to offer. Modern American Christianity is full of this weird brand of self deprecation that teaches people to believe that they are “worthless without Christ,” and that has the dangerous byproduct (for myself and a lot of people I know) of believing that we don’t actually have a lot to offer the world. In a lot of cases I’ve seen, one’s self worth is then determined based on the feedback from others in the church who tell you whether or not you are checking all the right boxes. I don’t have time to unpack how demented that is right this minute.

It’s something I have had to unlearn. As I’ve walked away from Christianity (not from faith, or God, but the American bullshit machine that is a lot of the formal church), I’ve had to learn that I am worth more than what they think I am. It has been anything but easy, but I am finally to a place where I feel like I have things to offer. So I want more. I want to make a decent income, to not have to work two jobs, to have a job I enjoy, to live where I want to live, love who I want to love, surround myself with laughter and beauty and joy. I want to be the leading lady in my own life, to borrow a line from The Holiday.

This week has felt like a shitstorm of things designed to rock that new-ish, somewhat fragile self image. So this week can officially suck it.

Thankfully, tomorrow is the last day of my work week. I am going to pick up my dog after work and drive to the city for the weekend, where I get to spend almost three whole days with my boyfriend. I’m going to have a good time, kiss his face off, and eat more than I should. And then, on Monday, I am going to start a new week that is free of the colossal mess that is this week. And I’m going to work on more. Because I deserve it.

Wait Gain

I’m just a few days shy of the anniversary of my resignation from The Salvation Army, a day that changed every itty bitty piece of my life. Last night, after pizza and a movie at my mom’s, she hurried out the door to give me something that I had forgotten in the move: my scale.

I didn’t really forget it. I was trying to, though. By the time I’d resigned, I’d lost about 82 pounds. Then, I had a year of nonstop change and uncertainty, and I plateaued in clothing sizes and gained a few pounds. For the last six weeks, since moving into my own place, I hadn’t weighed myself at all. And I ate a lot of food that wasn’t the best for me. Like hell was I going to step on a scale!

This morning, I couldn’t help it. I had to face the music. I stepped on the scale and in the last six weeks…. I gained a pound and a half. I was so happy!! Partly because I was certain it was going to be 10 pounds, but mostly because for the first time in maybe forever, I really didn’t care so much.

Since resigning, I’ve gained 14 pounds back. Not the best, but given the colossal changes I made in the last year, that is a huge victory. As a lifelong megafatty, it would have been so easy to wallow and eat everything and be back up to where I was.

I thought about all I’ve gained and lost in the last year, and I can’t help but think that this morning feels like a really big victory:

Lost:
– Some people I thought were friends
– My need for daily sleep aides / anxiety meds
– Guilt for “not measuring up” to TSA standards
– Fear of my bosses and pastors

Gained:
– 14 pounds
– Confidence
– Joy
– A handful of strangers who are my support, cheerleaders, and source for really inappropriate jokes (that’s you, LSKs!)
– My own car and apartment
– So much time with my family
– New friends
– A job I love
– A kickass boyfriend who makes most men look like chumps
– Better credit
– The ability to sleep at night
– So much faith in myself

I honestly don’t care at all about 14 pounds. Well, I do a little, but I know I can lose them and I don’t feel like my worth is at all tied to that number.

Each of the last three years has felt like the universe is trying to kick my butt. This year, I finally feel like I’m making progress in my fight back. A year is a super long time sometimes. But oh, the things you can gain in a year.

Brick by Brick

There are parts of the world that I am not dying to see, and art exhibits that bore me pretty quickly. One thing inhabits both of these lists: Egypt. Whenever I’m at the Art Institute with my sister, she could spend all day in the ancient Egypt collection while I quickly get to the point where my brain is screaming “oh look: another chipped clay pot, just like the last 700 you’ve seen.” My desire to visit Egypt is lessened quite a bit by its recent political climate, but I have to say, the biggest draw for me are the pyramids that showed up in the background of story books when I was a child.

They aren’t amazing because of what they look like, but because they are a testimony of greatness and power. Over decades and decades, thousands of nameless people slaved -literally- to turn crappy limestone into something great enough to house the holiest, most esteemed people of their society. One brick at a time, they carried and stacked. Each brick unimpressive on its own, like millions of tons of other limestone rocks all over the planet that go unnoticed every day.

A year ago, my life felt as barren, hot, and miserable as that desert must have been. I wanted out, but to imagine successful life on the outside was as insane as the ancient Egyptians dreaming up the first pyramid. I wasn’t the first, though. Thank God, I wasn’t the first. I had two in particular who were my own pyramids, Cory and Christin. Both had left and built their own pyramids, so I wasn’t as afraid to build mine.

How long would it take you to build your life if woke up tomorrow with no job, home, car, phone, insurance, credit, and only $374 to finance your move to another state? It’s a hell of a thing to envision, and even imagining it beforehand is nothing compared to living it.

No one, and no previous experience prepares you for building your pyramid. I wasn’t on my own – I had family and friends who have been an unquantifiable amount of help, but it’s both a solitary and community effort. Every tangible bit of building a pyramid is the result of the mental work that goes into it. Sometimes, the mental work involved was coming to the weary, humbling conclusion that I needed someone else to carry and place a brick for me.

And the only way to see any results is to just keep going.

Ten months and fourteen days ago, I packed everything I owned in a uHaul, unloaded it into my parents’ garage, and started over, covered in scars that still feel raw from time to time. I did a lot of pride-swallowing and took the exact job I swore I would never take after college and worked enough to buy a car. Stock up on some interview clothes. Pay for my coffee at Starbucks where I used their free WiFi to look for a job that I didn’t hate.

Slowly, bricks were laid, even when I wasn’t looking. Wounds healed, friendships unfolded, nightmares lessened and dreams took their place.

Today, I signed the lease on an apartment. A one bedroom apartment at the end of a street lined with old trees in a small town just outside of a university bubble. It feels like a very significant brick. It’s just a couple miles from where I live now, in a town that has managed to feel more like home in three months than anywhere has in a long, long time.

I’m going to move in over the next week, with the help of more friends and family. For the first time in three years, I’ll get to put my Christmas decorations up. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ll have a space to invite friends into – until now, it seemed like I either had space or friends nearby, but rarely the two together.

My pyramid has a really long way to go, but today feels good. It feels like I get to finally believe that I wasn’t crazy to think about the possibility of life of the outside. Individually, the bricks laid in the last year aren’t much to brag about, but let me assure you: they were heavy, they were necessary, and they took a hell of a lot of effort. So when I look at these little silver keys in my hand, they are a lot more than just keys. They are big, gigantic bricks in my pyramid.

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Gigantic bricks disguised as tiny silver keys

Pricks

Did you know that a person stands on the other side of the counter when you pay for something? Or that your boss is a human?*

Tonight, I was trying to have a decent night at work. I was working with my favorite employee, one who works hard is always cheerful, and makes the time go by faster. I was mostly succeeding. Shortly after she left, though, my night got a lot harder.

I have figured out who some of my regular customers are, and sometimes, we give each other a hard time. Bears Hoodie Guy comes in and I disbelieve his stories. Colorado comes in and I tell him I won’t sell him cigarettes because he said the last one was his last pack. Girlie Drink comes in and gives me crap because the computer still rings up his booze wrong and I have to override it. It’s not mean, but it makes the night go faster.

This guy wasn’t a regular. Just some schmo buying menthol cigarettes (I totally judge people based on their cigarette choice, on top of judging them for smoking). But before we had even gotten that far, he was insulting me. Bashing me for working such a low-brow job. For not being smart enough to do something better with my life. On and on. For seven minutes. Finally, he left, and I could finish up my night.

A night that ended a lot later than it should have, thanks to Smirky McLazyBum, the employee who was taking over for third shift. Because she loathes the idea of me being her boss, she smirks and rolls her eyes at everything I say. She slams things, stomps around, and does everything she can to make it clear that she doesn’t like me. I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I do expect respect, and she doesn’t seem willing to do that. Tonight, she showed up almost 20 minutes late, then gave me crap because she didn’t like me giving her instructions. For bigger reasons than that, she probably won’t last a whole lot longer.

Another regular of mine is a waiter at one of my favorite restaurants, Stone Eagle. He’s a fabulous waiter, and every time he comes in, he’s the same friendly person he is at work, so it’s not really an act. When he went to pay for his stuff, he counted out singles onto the counter, and when I went to pick them up, he apologized for not handing them to me. It’s a matter of etiquette I hadn’t thought of until I worked at a gas station years ago, but one that has stuck with me. At least in the US, handing the money to the cashier is polite. Dropping the bills on the counter for her/him to pick up is rude, but it happens a lot. I told him it was OK, but thanked him for his apology.

Rude customers and petulant employees are nothing new. However, they are the little things that eat away at my joy. I try to ignore them, but some of them hurt. You can’t help but notice when you get stung by someone. I try to focus on the happier encounters, like the ones with my favorite employee or Stone Eagle Waiter. Some days are easier than others. Today, I deserve a medal simply for not punching anyone.

*OK, this might be stretching it… I know some of your bosses, and “human” is generous.

My Friends, the SuperHeroes

If I had to choose, it really wouldn’t be much of a contest between Marvel and DC Comics – Marvel would win just about every time. That said, I happen to be friends with a family of superheroes that would probably fit right in with the DC gang.

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SuperEwan being interviewed by the press on an Adventure Day!

Like every legend, it didn’t start out as a way to get publicity or notoriety; it started in the kind, epic heart of a little boy named Ewan, who wanted to help people who are homeless in Detroit, near where he lives. His parents decided to put Ewan’s heart into action, and through the magic of social media, it has become a cause that not only the family works on, but one that the community is helping make happen. Elderly widows, Boy Scout troops, and random strangers contact SuperEwan’s mom, Ange, and twice a month, they load up vehicles and take food, clothing, and other supplies to people who struggle. No questions asked. No names collected and turned into any agency. As far as I know, no one has ever been turned away.

SuperEwan is humble, silly, empathic, and smart. It’s no surprise that he is such an admirable kid when his parents are such welcoming, open-hearted people who continue to impress me with their honesty and grace. His younger siblings, a preschooler and a toddler, get in on it, too, packing baggies of toiletries and tagging along on “Adventure Days.”

If you haven’t seen his page already, pretty pretty please check out http://www.SuperEwan.org! There, you’ll find links to articles about their adventures, television interviews, and more. There are also ways for you to get involved, whether it’s a donation or reblog or other effort. There is a Facebook page, too, and he gets really excited about new likes/followers, do even if you can’t donate, a “like” will make him smile – and he has a great smile. SuperEwan is a nonprofit organization, meaning donations are deductible.

If You’re Happy and You Know It… Help Me Out!

I’ve been happy lately and it’s weirding me out. Seriously.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been told that I’m too serious, that I look perpetually bored/angry/sad (a.k.a. “bitchy resting face”). I’m told that I don’t have/show enough emotion. I’m pretty Spock-like, in that it isn’t that I don’t feel emotions, but it’s that they are intense and the way I handle them is to control them. For a long time, as long as I can remember, the prevailing emotions were anxiety, fear, loneliness, frustration – almost always unpleasant ones, in one way or another. I am a cynic, and I’m usually good at it.

You would think that becoming jobless, car-less, and technically homeless right before the holidays would make those things worse, but what I realized months ago is that the source of much of that trouble was the mismatch between me and my old denomination/work. In walking away from that, as scary as the rest of it might be, I walked away from those miseries and towards a lighter life.

This week, I start a new job. An unglamorous job that is nowhere near my field, but in a town with an astronomical unemployment rate, it’s a full time job that is willing to pay me 20% more than they usually pay someone in this position. That’s a decent start, I think, while I keep my eyes and ears open for something better.

What’s really different for me, though, is that this is the first time in years that I am going to work to live, instead of live to work. That is really liberating. Another thing that is really great is that it is second shift, four days a week, and then first shift on Sundays, which means that during the week, I will have the same hours as CJ and I won’t miss family things on Sunday afternoons. One of my days off, Monday, is the same as CJ’s and the other is Saturday, which means I’ll be able to go to my niece and nephew’s games. The only sucky thing about the schedule is that first shift on Sunday means missing church, but they said they can try to work something out so I can have an occasional Sunday off.

I have a new church I love. I am close to most of my family. I have tremendous friends who are so kind and supportive. I’ve had two months of God providing for me in ways I didn’t expect. My anxiety level is almost zero compared to what it was two months ago. I have a boyfriend who seems to be an exceptionally good fit. I have a new job that is in some ways better than I’d expected. I have a place to live that might be a little drafty, but I also have a space heater and blankets galore. I have the best parents in the universe, even if they watch way too many episodes of NCIS. I have a dog that is my best friend some days, always willing to listen and forgive me for my bad moments.

And all of this is weirding me out.

I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not afraid. I don’t know how to think about myself when I’m not beating myself up. Some days or hours have still been rough, but not like they used to be. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but at the same time, I am not so miserable about where I am. I am smiling a lot more – I think – at least on the inside – and this less Spock-like expression just feels weird. A good weird, but I still feel like I don’t quite know what to do with it. If I’m honest, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be happy, that I haven’t done anything to earn it, or that it’s all going to fall apart just as soon as I settle into it.

I’ve realized that I kind of don’t know how to be happy. This new homeostasis is more pleasant, but like all transitions, it’s also a little exhausting. New ways of thinking, new habits, new bits and pieces of life coming together, combining into some weary days sometimes. It’s in those weary moments that I struggle the most, when I’m tempted to revert back into my cynicism and dwell on the things that AREN’T making me happy. Usually, I can catch myself before I’m too far down that rabbit hole, or I have enough good sense to let Melissa and Brandon remind me that it’s going to be OK.

Learning how to be happy is an unexpected task, but one that is long overdue. Sometimes, I’m in such a good mood that I kind of annoy myself because I feel like all those perky people who used to annoy me. As tiring as it may be, I’m going to try to keep this up. It’s bound to make for a much more pleasant Cindy for everyone involved. I may even find that I like the newer, more pleasant me.

Oh Freedom!

A week ago, while packing up the house as fast as I could, an old choir song popped in my head. If I remember correctly, it’s a South African anthem that is little more than a few lines sung over and over:

Oh freedom!
Oh freedom!
Oh freedom!
Freedom is coming: oh yes I know!

I was hurrying to leave an unhealthy situation, and it was like I was inches away from exiting the dark tunnel I had been in for years.

I knew leaving was the best decision for me. My health and safety depended upon it. Despite not being as perfectly timed as I would have liked, I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed out.

For the last week, I’ve been happier than I have been in probably a decade. Well, maybe “happy” isn’t the right descriptor. “Lighter” might be better. “Freer” is certainly true.

I haven’t been afraid for a week. That is EPIC for me. I haven’t had to take my anxiety meds for a week.

When I told my youngest nephew, who’s almost 6, that I don’t live far away anymore, he gasped and squealed. My oldest nephew, 17, gave me one really long hug Friday night AND a second one on Saturday. My middle nephew hugged me while at his middle school with his friends and then later paused his Xbox game and made his friend wait while he hugged me goodbye. Oh my gosh, friends! Wanting to be there for them and wanting them to know I love them are a few of the reasons I left, but these boys were there for me and let me know they love me. I haven’t seen my niece yet, but I’ve already heard about how happy she is, too.

The second day I was here, I got on the scale in my parents’ bathroom, and it said I’d lost 20 pounds overnight. Clearly I hadn’t, but I feel lighter without the weight of the world on me.

My family has noticed, too. I have had a few moments when I snapped too harshly at them when I was overly tired, but even with those moments, they have seen a happier me than they have in a long time. When my mother mentioned it Friday night, I told her that there was great freedom and joy in knowing that the people I feared, the ones who had intimidated me for years, couldn’t take anything away from me anymore.

I commented to a friend tonight that I almost feel like I “should” be more upset than I am. I have moments that are harder than others, but generally, I’m doing pretty well.

I was very worried that I would lose people when I left, but if anything, I’ve become more certain that I’ve kept the right group of people around me. The same people who loved me several weeks ago are the ones who are still cheering me on today. They are magnificent.

This week is more job hunting and hoping for a call back from the place at which I interviewed on Friday. I tried out a new church today and loved it, so I get to look forward to going back next week. I still haven’t really unpacked everything, so that’s on the agenda as well. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, except for this little bitty thing that is still new to me:

Freedom.

This Boy

I was seventeen when he came into my life somewhat unexpectedly. We were both blonde and chubby, although he was given a pass; infants are supposed to be chubby.

My eldest nephew, Pokey, was born on a cold November 10 morning. My sister’s first born, this darling boy managed his first heroic feat just by being; in ways I can’t articulate, he seemed to save my sister. She became a new person, like most women do when they become mothers. At the same time, she was the same person she had always been, since she was like a second mother to me and my younger siblings.

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Probably 2003

I changed, too. I became an aunt, the favoritest title I’ve ever had. I babysat, changed diapers, spent money earned at the video store on presents. I couldn’t help it. I adored him. My sister lived in the house next door to ours, so I saw Pokey every day. I got to play a bigger role than some aunts do in helping him grow up. I am so very lucky. 

April 24, 2000 was the first time he said he loves me. We were sitting at the table at my great-grandmother’s house and he suddenly said ‘I yuh you,” to which I said “You love me?” “Yep” was all he said and he went back to eating oyster crackers and watching PBS. He was 2 1/2.

I have countless memories of flag football, Saturday morning bowling, Halloween costumes, and squishy noses. I have stacks of pictures of Little League games, birthday parties, and candids.

The hardest part of moving away to college was knowing how far I would be from him and his eventual siblings. It was a million times harder than leaving my parents or anyone else. Coming home to see them was the highlight of any return trip.

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His nose is perfectly squishy.

One day, when he was eleven, I was in training, and we had a random day off of classes. I hopped on the Metra train and went out to my sister’s. When Pokey got home from school, he hadn’t been expecting me, so he didn’t think far enough to play it cool when he walked through the door. He squealed and jumped up and down. It was a moment when I felt so very loved.

He’s an incredible athlete, a great big brother, and exactly the kind of teenager people hope their kids will turn out to be. I was lucky enough in my ministry appointments to be near enough that I could still make it to the occasional football game or Easter dinner. He humors his old aunt, and for that I’m grateful. I love spending time with him, even if he is WAY cooler than me.

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Pokey with his best friend and youngest brother after a game

He turned seventeen on Monday. The same age I was when he was born.

Monday also happened to be the day I moved home, having resigned for the sake of my health and my family. As I drove the Uhaul home that night, I decided that this year, nephew gets his aunt back for his birthday. No more fearful, quiet, angry aunt, exhausted and unhealthy from a difficult work environment. He might be too old for Tickle Monster attacks now, but he can still laugh with me (and sometimes at me). I doubt that any seventeen year old kid is terribly excited about getting a geeky, slightly broken aunt for his birthday.

But tonight, when I got to my sister’s for the first time since being home, I hugged him in the basement after he turned on the Wii for his youngest brother. Instead of the too-cool-for-this hugs he usually obliges me with on holidays, he gave me a real hug. And he didn’t let go right away either. In those seconds, hugging this kid who is now taller than me even when I’m in heels, it felt like part of the world was made right again. I doubt that he has any idea what it meant to me. I don’t think he has a clue that he is part of why I am home. I’m not sure that he’s given my return a ton of thought (not because he’s careless, but because he’s a seventeen year old with a busy life), but I’m going to allow myself a bit of delusion and think that that hug meant a little more than the birthday hugs. I’m going to think that his arms around me, head on my shoulders, and solid almost-ten-seconds of a hug means that he is glad I’m home.

This boy who is almost a man has been in my life for half of my existence. I’m really looking forward to getting to be a bigger part of his life again, now that I’m home.