No. 24 – Apartment 213

No. 24 – Apartment 213

The next phase of my life unfolded rather quickly. I now kinda, sorta, hopefully had a job – nothing had officially gone through Human Resources yet. I was moving into my own apartment. And two days later beginning teacher inservice for my first teaching assignment, 7thgrade Special Education.

I got the keys to my apartment on a Friday. Cassey was driving out that same day from Van Alstyne to bring some of my things, none of which were packed because I hadn’t anticipated everything happening so quickly. She was going to stay with me my first night. A relief so I wouldn’t have to spend my first night alone in an empty apartment. My mother and father were going to be driving out on Saturday to bring the rest of my clothes and other belongings. I had no apartment furniture, so there wasn’t much for them to bring, but I hoped they might gift me some of the extra items they had around the house. The carrot my father had been dangling out all summer was that he would help me furnish an apartment once I had landed a job. Maybe if they were in good spirits, they may even let me pick out a couch or something.

Signing the official lease to my own apartment was the most adult thing I had ever done. I had no co-signers, no help financially, it was just me. I had gone from a college graduate living in her parents’ house working as a waitress to a woman with a career and her own place. It felt good. Really good. Until I wrote out the rent check with all the deposits. Most of my savings were tapped out with one signature. My next few months were going to be tight, but my freedom was priceless.

I walked from the leasing office to my apartment. Put the key in the lock and opened the door to my future. I stepped in, closed the door behind me and took it all in. I breathed in and out. This place instantly felt like home. I surveyed the big, empty living room and imagined all the fun I would have decorating it. I could see myself now in a couple months lounging in my cozy living room, curled up on my stylish and plush couch reading a book.

I then stepped into the dining room and I could see my friends enjoying themselves as we played games and enjoyed each other’s company. The smell of all the amazing food I would be serving wafting through the air. Flashes of the faces I loved most feeling at home in my apartment filled my soul. I continued to walk through the apartment room by room envisioning the life I had been dreaming about all summer long. Each room further solidifying to me that my dreams were more than a vision, but my very close reality.

Just as my imaginative tour was wrapping up, my cell phone rang. It was Cassey. She was here. I ran out to meet her, excited to show her my new home. She had a small Chevy Cobalt and wasn’t able to bring much. I didn’t care, I was just appreciative for her company and support.

“I made sure that I brought your TV dude. Your dad didn’t want me to take it because he said they could just bring it in the morning. But I wanted to make sure you had your TV,” Cassey informed me.

I laughed and thanked her as we unloaded the TV and other items from her car. Cassey’s approval of my new apartment made me feel even better about my selection. I had never gone apartment hunting before and had to take care of all the details on my own. With no help from my parents and no experience. Sure I didn’t have a lot of options in my budget and on such short notice. But this place seemed to be perfect for my situation.

We met Kendrae for dinner at Texas Roadhouse and celebrated my new beginning. I could feel the love. And all the stress and tension from the worst summer of my life began to lift off my shoulders. I had willed myself to this point, and all my persistence was paying off. This was the first day of the rest of my life and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.

Cassey and I finished the night with a glass of wine and some Carrie Bradshaw. We made a pallet on the carpet in the bedroom, had one pillow a piece and slept on the floor. I was exhausted, so I feel asleep quickly but peacefully.

My parents rolled in about 9 that next morning. Cassey and I were both surprised at the lack of furniture my parents brought with them. No couch, no dining table, no chairs. They brought two night stands, and end table, and a broken coffee table. And a dresser that I specifically asked them not to bring. Half of my clothes were missing along with some shoes, jewelry, and other personal items.

“Where’s my mattress?” I asked, confused.

“Oh we brought you this air mattress. I figured it would be more comfortable anyway,” my mother nonchalantly answered.

I stared at her. Then glanced at my father who hadn’t seemed to be listening. I shifted my gaze back on my mother, “So…you didn’t bring my bed? That was the main thing I asked for. That was kind of the point of you guys coming out here today. To bring my mattress and my clothes. Everything else I can do without.” I gazed at the long-bed trailer hitched to my father’s truck. The dresser and unnecessary tables took up about a quarter of the space. There was plenty of room for my mattress, box spring and bed frame.

It was clear neither my mother nor father were going to address my question. So I posed another. “Is the air mattress any good? I can’t remember the last time we even tried to blow it up.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Sarah. Air mattresses are really comfortable. Plus we brought the frame you can put it on,” my mother said with a smile.

I glanced at Cassey and could see she shared my bewilderment at the items they chose to bring. And more so the crucial pieces that they left back in Van Alstyne. I kept my mouth shut, but couldn’t shake the question in my mind. Why didn’t they bring all my belongings? Was it because I was moving to Longview, the city where Kendrae also lived?

With the four of us moving the few items from my father’s truck to my empty apartment, we were done quickly. Cassey said her goodbyes, and headed out. My father offered to take me out to lunch and to the grocery store before they left. I was caught off guard by the gesture, but accepted.

After returning back home with some groceries and a few kitchen necessities, it was time for us to part ways. I found myself sad that they were leaving, and I couldn’t justify why. The entire summer all I could do was dream about my freedom and the day I could leave. And now that it was here, I was filled with sadness. Deep, overwhelming sadness. Maybe because now I was truly on my own, no longer a little girl, embarking on a new season of life. Or maybe because I still so desperately sought their approval, and hadn’t received it. Perhaps it was due to all the brokenness between us that had not shown any signs of improvement. Manifested in the scraps they brought me to “furnish” my apartment. Maybe it was all three.

The three of us stood in the parking lot outside of my apartment and shared a bittersweet moment. Regardless of the recent events that rocked our relationship, I was still their daughter. Even in my fury of emotions and confusion, I still loved my parents and wanted nothing more than to make them proud. A mark I had clearly fallen short of. In true family fashion, the three of us exchanged words that skirted around the truth. Expressing nothing of our true feelings.

“It’s a nice apartment, Sar,” my father reassured me. “Here’s some money so you can get a table and whatever.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I hugged my father. “Thanks, Dad,” was all I could muster without bursting into tears. An emotion my father does not deal with.

“We love you,” my mother said as she hugged me. “We’ll text you once we make it back home.”

“I love you guys too. Thanks for everything,” I choked out, suppressing the tears as best I could.

I watched the truck drive away through blurry eyes. I waved goodbye and faked a smile. It all seemed so final. I tried to tell myself that I would see them again soon. But deep down, I didn’t believe it. This parting felt like an ending. I wrapped myself with my own arms and rushed back to my apartment. Keeping my head down so others wouldn’t see my streaming tears and snotty nose. I flung the door open and collapsed against the wall, hugging my knees. And I sobbed.

I mourned the ending of the worst chapter of my life. I mourned my tattered bond with my family. Fearful that even a defibrillator wouldn’t be able to resuscitate our pulseless relationship. I mourned my childhood as I was quickly becoming an adult. I panicked at the fact that for once, I did NOT have it all together. I was unsure about a lot in my life. And I was scared. So I let my tears splash on the floor and squeezed my knees tighter against my chest. I allowed myself to grieve all the things I had lost in hopes of being able to start fresh.

And somewhere in the midst of making a puddle on the ground and approaching dehydration, a closing line to a favorite movie of mine sounded in my head. I could hear Sandra Bullock’s voice billowing:

Beginnings are usually scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.

I found myself at a simultaneous sad ending and scary beginning. My onslaught of emotions now made a little more sense. I forced myself to take a deep breath, and I slowly rose from the ground. There I was, giving hope a chance.

***

Author’s note: I found myself putting off sitting down to write this post. Excusing my lack of writing with I’m tired, I’m busy with other things, and I’m not feeling it. But I’m going to be completely transparent with you. At the root of it, I did not want to write this post because I did not want to sort through the painful emotions so tightly associated with this event in my life. I can still feel the ripping in my heart as my parents drove away. The wound is still there and continues to ache. Time certainly helps, but it doesn’t eradicate pain.

So this is me, showing up late, but showing up. In my pain four years ago and in my pain today. It’s okay not to have it all together. Grief has its own timeline and it looks differently for everyone. And just because something hasn’t bothered you for years, doesn’t mean it can’t creep up and catch you unexpectedly. Allow yourself to grieve and be sad. Don’t mask your sadness. Let it out. Sit with it. Give yourself time. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for dealing with the mess that comes with life. And if nothing else give yourself grace. We could all use more of it.

No. 23 – The Search Continues

No. 23 – The Search Continues

My job search continued, even though it felt hopeless. But I remembered seeing a job opening at a middle school in the Longview Independent School District when I checked all the openings last week. I had looked it over since it was in the forbidden application area set up by my parents. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And at this point with about two weeks out from school starting, what did it hurt to send in an application? This late in the game, maybe I would actually be considered. I had already sent out 100 applications, what difference would 101 make?

Because of the location of this school, Longview, I didn’t want to apply for the job opening while at my parents’ house. I wanted to avoid any potential friction. I was nervous that if I was in the process of doing so and my mother or father walked in, it might spark a whole new argument. And I had reached my limit on lectures, arguments, disagreements, and disappointments with them. This entire situation was beyond uncomfortable. I did not like feeling like I had to sneak around and be elusive about applying for a job. I was doing the very thing my parents had been harping about all summer. But as usual, everything must be handled on their terms, on their time table and in their idealized reality of my life.

What were my alternatives? Play it their way, limit myself, live at home for a year and make all of us miserable. Or, do what I believed was best for my sanity, spread my wings and find a way out. Which ultimately, I hoped would leave both parties better off in the long run. I honestly couldn’t think of anything I had left to lose by taking one last stab at escaping. I had already lost everything. Everything except my sense of self, which would be stripped away if I didn’t get out. And soon.

A few days passed by and I found myself on a Monday afternoon at Cassey’s. I sat in front of the computer and filled out an application for a middle school Special Education teaching job. Middle School was not my first choice of grade level; my degree was in elementary education. But I needed to start somewhere, and the assignment was in Special Education which was what I wanted to teach. Plus, I doubted I would even hear back from this school. So I sent in my application and then sent a follow up email to the assistant principal.

Cassey and I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool and savoring the dwindling days of summer that remained.

The next morning, I went through my usual routine. I was cleaning out my email inbox which was 99% junk. Then an email subject grabbed my immediate attention: Special Ed Position. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest and through my shirt. My fingers couldn’t open the email quick enough. It was a response from the assistant principal at Judson Middle School, in Longview. The message read:

Hello Sarah,

We received your email about the Special Education position and would love to talk with you. We need to make a decision quickly since school is starting soon.

Could you come by the school today at 3:30 to meet with us and bring a copy of your application and resume with you so that we have your credentials? We are having registration today in 2 hour intervals until 7 pm tonight so I will not be in the office to check your response. You may call the front office and let the office staff know if the time is going to work for you.

Thanks for your interest!

I couldn’t believe what I just read. I read over the email again just to be sure. My eyes weren’t deceiving me, a principal at a middle school wanted to interview me for a job. For this year. Now my heart really felt like it would break free of my chest cavity it was beating so intensely. An interview. In Longview. TODAY. Accounting for the three-hour drive and getting interview ready on such short notice, I needed to get going. First, I would have to pass this whole thing by at least one of my parents. I guessed that my dad would be my best bet. His business brain would be more likely to approve a job in Longview as opposed to no job anywhere else.

I dialed my father’s phone number and waited nervously as I listened to the ringtone.

Click.

“Hello,” my father’s voice bellowed through the phone speaker.

“Dad, I got a job interview…today,” I nervously stated.

“That’s great. Where?” he questioned.

The moment I anticipated was upon me. Play it cool, Sarah. “A middle school in Longview.” I kept my answer as vague and relaxed as possible.

I’m not sure if the silence on his end was intentional or just my imagination. But after either a few seconds or about 30, my father spoke.

“Well you better get going. You want to make sure you’re there early.”

Half in shock and half in the spirit of excitement, I blurted out. “Yeah, thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Alright. Love you.”

“Love you too,” I reciprocated.

I knew my father loved me. And I also knew that he was proud of me for landing an interview. I reveled in that feeling. Of him being proud of me. Approving of something I had done. Despite everything that had and hadn’t happened these past few months, I still desperately craved his validation. It was a driving force in my life, always. But it had even more recently peaked. Because even though I whole-heartedly disagreed with many of his actions, I still wanted him to be proud of me. And even more than that, I wanted to make him so.

I shook off the deep train of thought and proceeded to get interview appropriate as quickly as possible while still ensuring that I took my time. I grabbed a few cosmetic items for final touches that could be reapplied once I arrived at the school and headed to my car. I punched in the school address and pulled out of the driveway, Longview bound.

Two hours and 52 minutes later my Honda Accord rolled into the Judson Middle School parking lot. I was 30 minutes early, just as I prepared to be. I inhaled deeply and slowly released my breath back out calming my off the chart anxiousness. This could be it; my way out. A job that could financially allow me to branch out on my own. Allow me to start fresh, in a city I already knew well and felt safe in. Allow me to actually live in the same city as Kendrae. Whew! What a thought that was. I hadn’t even had time to process how wonderful that aspect would be for our relationship. Wait, I told myself. Focus on the interview first. Then after I clinch this position, I can enjoy all that benefits that come with it.

So I composed myself and walked into the front office with my head held high. I got this.

After about an hour I walked back to my car hopeful and confused. The interview had felt great. I met with the principal, who was new to the district, and the two assistant principals. The four of us really seemed to gel and the interview felt more conversational than question and answer. I found myself surprisingly relaxed and exuding confidence.

The interview ended on a vague note though. Mr. Mitchell, the principal, explained that if they should decide to recommend me for the position, HR wouldn’t be able to verify my credentials right now, because they were in the process of all the new teacher orientation. Which left me partially excited because that sounded like an indication that I might have the job, but if I couldn’t be processed, how could I get it? Either way, I was instructed to follow up with them on Thursday. Whomever they decided to hire would start on Friday.

The murkiness of my next steps overpowered the excitement of maybe landing a job. That left me with two days to try not to freak out about this potential job. And then, when the results were in I would either freak out at not getting it, or freak out because I would have to find an apartment, start teacher inservice and prepare for the school year. Before heading back to Van Alstyne, I had to see Kendrae. Seeing his face would calm my nerves, and strengthen my emotions. Plus, he had no idea I was in town. Everything had happened so fast, that I decided I would just surprise him.

As I pulled up to Kendrae’s apartment complex, more butterflies took refuge in my stomach than they did before my interview. At every encounter with Kendrae I found myself dizzy, weak at the knees and giddy with excitement. I didn’t know how this man could affect me this way, but I didn’t want it to ever stop. I knocked on his front door and waited with anticipation. I felt like a child in line to use the restroom, liable to burst at any moment. Just when I thought I couldn’t wait a moment longer, the door opened. And I was greeted with a look of utter shock, excitement and love.  A look and feeling I’ll never forget. All my anxiety about my maybe-job melted away there on the doorstep. The look in Kendrae’s eyes spoke more than his words ever could.

And in that moment, I knew. Just knew that Kendrae and I belonged together. I was going to get this job. I was going to move back to Longview. And we were going to make this work. I was claiming my future. And for the first time in the last six months, I was never surer of anything else in my life.

No. 22 – Testing…Testing

No. 22 – Testing…Testing

The day of my test was finally here. I felt like my future, my sanity, my well-being in general were all riding on one test. I had spent four long, hard years in college learning the skills necessary to be an effective teacher. But none of that mattered unless I passed this test. No pressure. Even though the likeliness of me finding a job at this point in the summer was nearly microscopic, I hoped that by passing I would be qualified to accept a position if something were to come available mid-year. Or maybe by filling in as a substitute who was certified, a principal would be more likely to offer me a job for the next school year. Regardless of how it would come about, I had to be certified, which meant I HAD to pass this test. Not to mention it was expensive, and I was not in a financial position to be throwing my money away.

I woke up before my alarm clock went off; a feat of nature for the anti-morning person that I am. I dressed quickly and headed down stairs to make myself presentable. In the words of Cassey, “you look good, you play good!” Or test well, in my case. So I applied some make-up, styled my hair and instantly felt a slight boost in confidence. I grabbed a breakfast bar from the kitchen pantry and headed out the door. I had a 45-minute drive to the testing center and wanted to get there early – alleviating any extra stress like running late, hitting traffic or getting lost. Even with a GPS in tow, I could still manage to get myself turned around.

I pulled into the designated parking garage 20 minutes before I needed to be present for check in. I briefly reviewed my study guide, touching on the objectives I wanted. After my quick refresh, I took the deepest breath my lungs could hold and let it out slowly. You got this,I assured myself. I gathered the few items I could bring with me, left my phone in the car and walked in to my destiny.

Two hours later, I exited the building and walked towards my car with a pit in my stomach. I was going to be sick. Each step further away from the testing facility sent a fresh wave of stomach pangs. I could hurl any second. Keep breathing, I instructed myself. Just make it to the car. I was going to burst. Into tears or with projectile. Either way it wasn’t going to be pretty. Finally, I spotted my car. I collapsed into the driver’s seat and buried my face in my palms. I dry heaved and dry cried simultaneously. A horrific blend of all my pent-up anxiety over this test. I could look forward to this torture for a whole week as I awaited my results.

Usually, I had an accurate gauge as to how I performed on tests, but this time I was clueless. One moment my natural test-taking confidence held the reigns and I was sure that I passed the test with ease. The next moment, my all familiar self-doubt creeped in and took control. Of course, you didn’t pass the test, Sarah. You’re never getting out of your parents’ house. This cyclical back and forth plagued my drive home. Stepping back into the palpable darkness didn’t help either. The presence of the house consumed my thoughts and poisoned any resolve I had left. I sunk into the couch and continued to sink into myself. I was a tiny speck in black hole that continued to suck me further and further downwards into the abyss.

The walls closed in on me, slowly, dragging out the painful reality that I might not get out this summer. I couldn’t take another year of being a disappointment. Another year of falling short of impossible expectations. Another year of wearing the façade that was killing me. The mask that left me feeling empty while still failing to please my parents. Chipping away at me each time I had to pry it off my face.

And what would come of my relationship? I couldn’t even begin down that road. The ONLY way we had survived this far was to take it one day at a time. Relishing the beautiful past. Trying to make the most of the present. And attempting not to zoom too far into the unpredictable future. At this point, we could make no plans, had no inkling of when we might see each other again, and my light at the end of the tunnel was blacked out.

I spent the rest of the day in a funk that I couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to be around anyone in the house, but my solidarity was only propelling my negative thought cycle. I decided after a shower and a brief conversation with Kendrae that it was best if I just called it a day and slept it off. In brilliant Sarah fashion, rather than relaxing my mind and falling asleep, I couldn’t shut it off. My mind was running rampant with question after question. I couldn’t quiet my racing thoughts and I lay awake for hours battling my incessant insecurities.

I woke up the next morning with a more positive outlook. Playing out all the ridiculously awful scenarios my tormented brain could concoct had done no good, and only made the situation worse. If I didn’t pass the test, I would figure something else out. I was nothing if not resourceful. If Plan A didn’t work out, there were an infinite amount of other options I could sort out later.

Sometime that afternoon as I was cleaning out my email inbox my heart caught in my throat. Was I reading that right?

Your score report for the following test…can now be viewed online.

I wasn’t expecting to get my test results back for another week. I instantly overwhelmed with dread. This could not be a good indication for passing. Results the next day? That must mean I completely bombed the test. A cold sweat covered the surface of my skin and my hands shook as I clicked on the link to see my score. Even after realizing that I was holding my breath, I still couldn’t let it out. The molasses slow internet in the middle of the country moved even slower than usual as my phone loaded the page.

The ringing in my ears grew louder by the millisecond. I rested my arms on my legs in attempt to steady the shaking. Now my entire body trembled with angst. This had to be the slowest page load time in the history of this internet.

The page finally finished loading and my eyes froze on the screen.

Oh, this was just the login page. A slight wave of relief washed over me as I typed in my credentials.

Then, even stronger than before, my intensity increased as I awaited another slow page load. This was it…

Seconds later, my screen illuminated. The page had loaded successfully.

As ready as I was to see the results, I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with the ramifications that would follow.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I swallowed my fear and forced my eyes towards my phone screen. My eyes began at the top of the page and stopped. My results boiled down to one word: PASSED.

Tears streamed down my face releasing all the feelings of unworthiness that had coated over me the previous day. My breath deepened as my nerves relaxed. The end of my tunnel was blindingly bright. I took off in a full sprint towards the light.

 

No. 21 – My Best Bet

No. 21 – My Best Bet

Public school teachers started in mid-august, which meant the time was really ticking on my job hunt. I had begun the process of an alternative certification program to gain my credentials to teach. Which was all well and good, but the process was contingent upon my passing a content test. Once I passed the test, I would receive a probationary teaching certificate enabling me to teach in a public school. Without this certificate, no schools would even give my application a glance. So it felt pointless to apply for a job knowing that I didn’t stand a chance of getting it.

When I wasn’t working, sneaking off to the bathroom to send virtual love notes to my beloved, or contemplating an escape plan, I was studying. In my eyes, passing that Special Education content test was my golden ticket to get out of here! Ordinarily I was a natural test taker. I loved school, so I absorbed the classroom knowledge like a sponge and had no difficulty transferring it to a test. But this test, was different. It had been at least a year since I had taken my prepatory classes and I was under extreme stress from all angles. Not an ideal testing environment. I found it hard to concentrate. I was not retaining the information and the test questions did not center around common sense.

These tests are crafted with a perfect society in mind – unlimited resources, involved and supportive parents, students with an innate desire to learn and succeed, and formulated to be answered with the opposite nature of your initial response. So all my innate testing strategies went out the window. Answering with your gut – not effective. The pressure was on, and I felt one push away from cracking.

I was late in the game. The soonest I was able to sign up for my test was August 7th. The results of your test usually took about five days to receive. Teacher in-service training started mid-August. So I basically had no time. By the time I would get my test results back, schools would already be staffed for the year. If I waited until after passing my test to apply, it would be too late. But by applying early, and saying that I wasn’t certified, I was guaranteeing myself out of a job. I made a choice to bet on myself. I believed that if I willed myself to pass that content test, I would pass it. So I applied for Special Education teaching positions like a madwoman. I filled out the applications as if I had a certification under my belt. This way, by the time I hopefully got an interview, I would have already passed my test.

Now, my madwoman application spree was placed under some restrictions. Teaching in the Dallas area was my first choice, but in huge districts with no connections, this had proven to be extremely unsuccessful. I actually would have preferred to get rejection emails as opposed to no response at all. At least I would know my application was going somewhere. So I had to widen my scope of applications. If connections were the key to getting an interview, then applying at school districts near LeTourneau would be my best bet. LeTourneau holds a certain level of clout in East Texas, and would hopefully catapult my resume to the top of the deck.

But, this came with its own problem: I was forbidden to apply to any schools within an hour radius of the Longview area. My parents were firm on this stipulation. There was no discussing it, no loopholes around it – it was out of the question. I wasn’t dying to go back to Longview, but at this stage in the game, I couldn’t afford to limit myself to one geographic location. I applied to Big Sandy Elementary School, about 30 minutes outside of Longview.

To my utter surprise, I got called in for an interview! Finally, I was starting to see the light at the end of my tunnel of darkness. As excited as I was to have earned an interview, I was equally as nervous to break the news of where to my parents. Fearful that they would forbid me from even going. I mulled all day over the best way to tell them, and felt that my father would be the most likely to agree that I should go to the interview. After all, he was a business man and had made it exceptionally apparent that he was ready for me to get off his “payroll” and be out on my own. My gut instinct was right. My father expressed genuine excitement that I had gotten an interview, and understood that maybe being at a school near LeTourneau University would be in my best interest in securing a job. So it was settled, I had my first big girl job interview.

I woke up the next morning with a sense of purpose and a newfound determination. This was it – my chance to break free. Except, I wouldn’t even have to escape. I would have a legitimate reason to walk right out of the front door, no questions asked. Hopefully, with me out of the house and with three hours driving distance between us, the dust would settle between me and my parents. Time and distance would eventually reveal that this had all been blown way out of proportion. They would realize the error of their thinking and everything would work out in the end.

Flash forward to one week after my interview. I felt that it had gone well, but I really didn’t have much else to compare it to. The principal had been polite and informative of the position, but I had to tell her that I wasn’t certified yet. I assumed that she wouldn’t ask someone to drive three hours to an interview if they didn’t stand a chance of getting the job. After a full week had gone by and I hadn’t heard a response to my follow up email, I decided to give the principal a call.

I was beyond nervous. I practiced my phone script at least a dozen times in my bedroom. Focusing on breathing evenly so I would sound professional and calm. It wasn’t working so well. With each repetition my nerves only increased. My face was flush. My palms were sticky, even with my window AC unit set on 70 degrees at full blast. My breath was short and rapid. This was my only chance at leaving. We were in the last week of July, and if I didn’t get this job, I had no other options.

I walked over to the full-length mirror secured on my closet door. Placing both hands on the edges of the door, I leaned in and looked at myself. “You can do this, Sarah,” I reassured my reflection. “You can do this,” I repeated four more times. Each time with more vigor and belief in my message. I breathed out deeply before turning away from the mirror and sitting on the edge of my bed. I dialed the principal’s phone number and forced myself to breath out as it rang.

“Hello,” I was met with a professional greeting.

My heart started racing, this had to be a good sign that I reached her rather than her voicemail.

“Hello, Principal Varnado; this is Sarah. I was just giving you a follow up call to see if you had made any progress on selecting a candidate for the 3rd grade position?” I said all the words correctly, but I was speaking much quicker than I practiced. I couldn’t help it. This was a pivotal moment and my emotions were anything but calm.

“Hello Sarah. I’m glad you called. We have selected another candidate for the position; someone with more experience teaching 3rd grade,” she said so smoothly. Almost as if she had been the one rehearsing her line for the past half hour. “I appreciate your willingness to interview and wish you all the best. Buh-bye.”

And just like that my resolve was shattered. I couldn’t even bring myself to respond. I just sat there on the edge of my bed, phone still pressed against my ear in shock. And just like a well-rehearsed performance, the tears took their cue. An instant gush of heartbreak streamed down my face. I had received an extended sentence: one more year in captivity.

All summer, my thoughts were consumed with getting out of my parents’ house. I had played out a thousand different scenarios and explored many different options. But never once did the thought occur to me that I wouldn’t find a job. I believed that if I applied myself and sent out my resume to enough school districts, one would hire me.

Not in my worst nightmares did I ever consider having to stay for another year. My mind went wild with new scenarios. None of which ended well. The walls of my bedroom were closing in on me and I was swirling down into a pit of darkness. All my thoughts halted at the newest question in my head. What about Kendrae? How could we make this long-distance thing last under these conditions for an entire year? My mind reeled, searching for a glimmer of hope. Anywhere. Anything that would ease this fall. But I couldn’t concoct a happy ending. And then an even more concerning thought chilled me to my core.

What if…I never get out?

No. 20 – Wild Heart

No. 20 – Wild Heart

It hadn’t taken me long to settle back into my previous routine after coming back from Ohio. Nothing had changed during my trip. Except maybe my bank account, that had declined. But the severed relationships – were exactly as they were when I left – broken. I hadn’t gained any newfound perspective. I didn’t really enjoy myself either. All the time away had accomplished was to stress me out more.

I did receive my cell phone back from my parents. So at least I was able to communicate with the rest of the world. But I knew my parents were watching my account like a hawk. My good friend Chris and I had a phone conversation in the mid-afternoon because, well, no one knew why I dropped off the face of the earth for an entire month! A few hours later, I was brought into questioning.

“Who is this Houston number you talked to for 28 minutes today?” my mother sternly questioned.

They could see the number and the call duration, but they couldn’t see who the number belonged to. “That was Chris,” I responded flatly.

“Let me see your phone,” my father instructed, while holding open his hand.

I handed the phone over to him and could feel the warmth surfacing on my cheeks and forehead. They weren’t going to find anything on that phone. I refrained from texting about anything that could slightly be taken out of context, and decided all my communication on that phone would have to be via calls. I had sense enough to know that I could never communicate with or about Kendrae on that phone. Because it was under severe scrutiny and could be confiscated at a moment’s notice.

After about ten minutes of searching, my father finally found his way into my contact book and matched Chris’s phone number to the phone call from earlier that day. My cell phone was returned sans apology and I was dismissed from the room. I was irritated and anticipated that this would be added to the list of my new norms. But scrutinized conversation was better than none at all. And at least I knew how to work around it.

Jess, my best friend from college reached out to me later that evening with a plan to reunite Kendrae and me. The alibi – I was going to help Jess get her new classroom/office set up for her teaching gig. She had just gotten a P.E. job in Fort Worth. The truth – Jess had some old apartment furniture in a storage unit in Longview. Some she needed to sell, some she was taking back with her. In between moving, and selling her washer and dryer, Kendrae and I could finally see each other for the first time since the big incident.

I was absolutely flabbergasted that my parents were allowing me to leave the house to go somewhere besides work. But knowing that I would get to see Kendrae kept me awake – the butterflies in my stomach danced all night. My mind couldn’t fathom seeing him again. This whole time, we had been running on fumes. Not knowing how or when we would be face-to-face again. Not knowing if I would ever be able to breath in his intoxicating cologne. Unsure if I would ever feel safely wrapped up in his strong arms again. Certain that my heart would never recover until I felt his eyes light up as they locked with mine.

I got up early that morning and made the drive to meet Jess in Fort Worth. From there, we hit the road and made the two-hour drive to Longview. Spending time with Jess always lit my soul on fire. She has an unassuming away about her that puts you at ease, but pushes you to experience more deeply. Whenever we were together, no idea was too big and dreams were absolutely possible. My mind, heart and spirit were spilling from the brim with gratitude for this friend who shook me out of my slumber and helped me see the light again.

We got to her storage unit and quickly took care of business. We emptied it out quickly and secured everything in her U-Haul. She would drop me off at Kendrae’s then sell her washer and dryer, catch up with a few of her former basketball teammates, then pick me up and we would head out. We would only get about an hour together, but I didn’t care. When it feels like you’ve been separated for an eternity, one hour suddenly seems infinite.

The ride from the storage unit to Kendrae’s apartment complex felt more like 100 miles than 10. I was beyond nervous. Would I feel the same? Would he feel the same? Would we feel the same? Had we built up our love to more than it was? Would he still look at me the same after everything that had happened? My whirlpool of what ifs had sucked in me too deep to escape. All I could do was gaze out the window and focus on breathing. Breath in. Breath out…

We were here. The car was moving in slow motion and my ears were ringing with silence. Jess pulled up in front of the apartment and said she’d be back in an hour. I slowly stepped down from Jess’s royal blue Jeep Patriot. I took a deep breath as I closed the car door and waved as she drove away. Breathe, Sarah. I truly didn’t know if I would ever see this view again. This modest three-bedroom apartment that housed Kendrae and his two roommates. I paused for a moment and stared at Kendrae’s apartment door. It was the most beautiful dingy white door I had laid my eyes on. I swallowed slowly in an unsuccessful attempt to settle my fiercely beating heart.

The first step towards the apartment door felt like the first step out of oblivion. Right foot. Left foot. Right. Left. Right. Until I found myself at the door. My nerves and excitement were racing neck and neck to see who came out victorious. The butterflies were in full flight and felt more like pterodactyls than delicate creatures. As I raised my closed fist and rapped on the door, my emotions were so intense I was afraid I might pass out before the door ever opened. I heard the feint click of the lock sliding out of its cave and saw the knob turn. My whole body was underwater and the weight of my storm of emotions was too much to bear. And then…I was greeted by the most handsome face and an instant calm washed over the shores of my emotions.

I found myself instantly wrapped in a warm embrace. Big arms braced me as my head fell into Kendrae’s chest. The warmth of his skin comforted me and sent chills down my entire body. The feeling I had been dreaming about for the past month. Safety. And the tears flowed from eyes as all my pain, grief and frustration quickly exited my body. I was going to be alright. We were going to get through this.

When I said an hour could be infinite, I was wrong. It felt more like a blink. Before we knew it, Jess was outside and I had to leave. It wasn’t enough time, but no time spent with Kendrae ever was. Like bookends on a book shelf, I ended my visit with Kendrae in his doorway with a tear-soaked hug. These tears felt different, because again, we had no idea when we would see each other next. The future was so foggy and neither of us had a compass handy.

That one hour, however brief, was more than enough time to reassure us that nothing had changed between us. In fact, we found ourselves more in love than ever before. I wasn’t imagining our relationship to be grander than it was, like we were the starring roles in a Shakespeare play. If anything, I was underestimating the depth of our love. For it was more complex than any love story I could have ever imagined. And even though our visit ended with a goodbye, Kendrae reassured me that this was just a “see you later.”

I joined Jess in the Jeep, and attempted to recompose myself. It took a good fifteen minutes before my eyes finally cleared up. The heart is a wild creature, able to feel multiple extremes simultaneously. But the emotion that continued to rise to the top was gratitude. Grateful for a ride or die friend who found a way to help two people rekindle their love. Grateful for a man who loved me so purely, even when he had so many reasons not to. And grateful for a heart that continued beating regardless of all the pain it endured. An honest smile found my face for the first time in the past month. The dawn was coming, I could feel it.

No. 19 – Forged Freedom

No. 19 – Forged Freedom

Freedom is not about the size of your cage or power of your wings or non-attachment to a person or thing. Freedom is about being so truly, madly and deeply attached to your own soul that you can’t bear – if only for a moment – a life that doesn’t honor it. – Andrea Balt

July 4, 2014 – a day that started no different than any other the past few weeks. Even though it was a holiday, Crow’s was still open for lunch. So I got ready for work and welcomed the escape from the house, however brief. On top of the small window of freedom, I enjoyed waitressing because it allowed me to interact with people who knew nothing of my current situation.

For a couple hours a day, I could take on the role of Sarah, the waitress. Exhaling kindness to strangers and more often than not, inhaling it back. A shift from the pollution I was forced to breath in my parents’ house. I didn’t feel looked down upon. In fact, people were grateful for my presence. Regardless of how surface-level my feelings of purpose were, I soaked them in nonetheless. Storing them away to sustain me through the trenches.

Quite a few people came to dine for lunch at Crow’s. I was appreciative of the amount of people because it helped the time pass smoothly and kept me busy. Focused solely on serving my guests. I wished we were open for dinner, because I’d rather be at work than stuck at home pretending not to be decaying away on the inside.

As I walked out from the kitchen and into the dining area…

“Sarah, phone for you,” my boss, Lee, shouted across the restaurant.

I blinked. “For me?” I questioned, confused why anyone would call me at work. Or who knew that I was working for that matter.

“Yes. Phone call for you!” he declared a little louder and with a hint of irritation as he crossed the dining room floor on his way to the back. Mostly likely headed to wash dishes.

“Okay,” I responded as I briskly stepped across the backside of the restaurant to the phone behind the bar.

“Hello, this is Sarah speaking,” I stated in my most professional tone.

“Hey man, it’s Cassey. I called your dad to ask if you could come over and hang out at my Mom’s house with us tonight for the Fourth. We’ll shoot off some fireworks and chill by the pool. He said you could, so you can just head over once you get off work.”

It was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping. Besides the initial shock that the prisoner was allowed to leave the premises, this girl had called her 22-year-old friend’s father to ask if she could hang out. When I say that Cassey is a real friend, I mean it. Hell, she had my back more than my own family members did.

“What?” I said in surprise, “My dad is cool with me leaving the house?”

“Yeah man, so just grab your suit and head over later.”

I reassured her that I would, hung up the phone and went back to taking care of my tables. After my shift at work, I went home, changed out of my uniform, grabbed my swim suit and made the trip to Cassey’s mom’s house. This was the first speck of good luck I’d stumbled into all summer. My father had always been a fan of Cassey; he appreciated her bluntness and transparency. Ironic, because these were traits he didn’t appreciate in his own daughter. So I wasn’t completely surprised that he’d agreed to let me spend time with her. But then considering my current situation, I learned to eradicate any expectations for my family.

On the fifteen-minute drive from my parents’ house to Cassey’s mom’s I couldn’t help but feel my spirits lifted. I had forgotten how good the freedom I had been longing for felt. Even if my sense of freedom had a time frame, I embraced every second of it. I rolled down all the windows of my 2009 Honda Accord and savored the fresh air. No music, just the gushes of the wind in my hair and ears. I viewed this slice of freedom as the foreshadowing of what was to come in my near future. Maybe I was making something out of nothing. But in times of desperation, all you have to cling to is hope. Hope that what you’re enduring is temporary. Hope that you’ll emerge through the other side stronger, wiser and ready to thrive.

My time with Cassey and her family was just what my battered and worn out spirit needed. To be around a family that enjoyed each other. They laughed, teased and interacted with one another in love. I sat back observing that families could be warm and supportive and tender. This wasn’t to say that I had never experienced these same feelings with my own family, but I certainly hadn’t recently. I so desperately needed reminding that my new normal didn’t have to be this way forever.

We swam, ate, and set off fireworks. Simple and spectacular simultaneously. After the festivities, Cassey and I found ourselves relaxing in her room. Cassey’s mom joined us and asked how I had been doing. I was honest with her. Not well: I was hurt, confused and unsure. I was a captive in my parents’ house. I couldn’t trust anyone. And I missed Kendrae desperately. She may have been the first adult I felt comfortable around the past few months.

Her mom listened and responded in a way that I will never forget. She explained that as a mother, it was difficult to imagine what I was going through with my family. She comforted me with her kindness.  She went on to talk about her relationship with her three daughters and how she may not always agree with all their choices, but that she would much rather them be open and honest with one another. This two-way communication allowed her to share her mistakes with her daughters in hopes of preventing them from having to learn those same lessons. But it also allowed her daughters to come to her without fear of rejection when they did mess up. And rather than navigating their messes on their own, they could sort things out knowing that they had the undying support of their mom.

Cassy’s mom’s words felt like salve to my wounded heart. For once I didn’t feel judged and criticized. I wasn’t lectured or shamed for not thinking a particular way. The conversation was just that – a conversation. She listened to what I said and responded in a way that let me know she not only heard me, but sympathized with my pain. A reaction opposite of what I had been experiencing lately. Further confirmation that my situation was visible to those not a part of the nightmare.

I left their house that night appreciating the support from Cassey’s mom. I’m not sure she had any idea what an impact her kindness had on me. The taste of freedom left me salivating for more. I was determined to get out, sooner rather than later. I didn’t care if I had to sleep on the floor and eat 25 cent ramen noodles. I was willing to sacrifice minor comforts for my overall well-being. My freedom was worth fighting for.

No. 18 – Backyard Rain Drops

No. 18 – Backyard Rain Drops

My eyes inadvertently squeezed tighter as the morning light peeked through the window. Distaste for mornings and my lack of sleep did not blend well together. Placing my right hand over my eyes and forehead had no effect on the throbbing. I gripped the outsides of my face as I slid my hand downwards, a feeble attempt to wipe off my headache. It was unsuccessful.

I sat up in the slim, twin mattress set in the middle of the small upstairs bedroom. My eyes lost focus in the light breaking through the window slats as my mind wandered to last night’s events. No, it wasn’t a nightmare; it had all been real. The love of my life had told me that he didn’t think we could make this relationship work – that it was too hard. And in a simultaneous split second and an eternity, I felt my heart rip in two. I couldn’t breathe. I was paralyzed in agony and unsure how to cope. Yet somehow, a beacon of hope propelled me forward to respond in love rather than pain. The epitome of an out of body experience because in that moment I was not lucid enough to respond in that nature.

I know…I know. Do you really want to be with someone you had to convince to stay with you? No response to this question seems justifiable enough to be true. But these circumstances were different. And I wasn’t convincing Kendrae to keep fighting for our love. I was sending his fear on its way. Banishing it from ever returning in the space between us. Because even a 240-pound man of pure muscles can be overpowered by fear.

We had talked into the night, much longer than our usual thirty-minute window. But again, these were extenuating circumstances. Our relationship’s pulse had flat lined and I wasn’t going to let it die without a fight. For once, my brain had relaxed and let my heart do the talking. I acknowledged Kendrae’s fears and reassured him that I too had endured some crippling bouts of it. Fear attaches itself to powerfully exhilarating things. So if our relationship lacked any fear on either side, then I would be concerned. The unknown is frightening. Opening up your heart and allowing another person to hold it, is petrifying. Working through distance and family drama was no different. But I took all this as a good sign. It meant we had truly tapped into magic. If my life experiences had assured me of anything, it was that nothing of great value came with ease.

Running through our conversations from the night before my brain was processing on overdrive. Creating an entirely separate sub conversation occurring between the lines of what was really said. Unsure if it was my desperation or the depth of my love, but I was relieved my brain handed over the reins last night. Otherwise…

I shuddered at the thought. Unable to continue thinking it.

Kendrae and I had come to the agreement that we would wait this whole situation out. Emotionally taxing was an understatement. Neither of us wanted to split up and given a less toxic environment, these doubts wouldn’t be quite as palpable. We both believed that once I got a job and could stand on my own two feet, most of the tension would resolve itself. I wouldn’t be so stressed about getting out, and we could be open about our love. The conversation ended with a comment that we should just, “go with the flow,” and see how things played out. This, was perhaps my least favorite phrase in regards to relationships. It very much went against my nature and left me more anxious and insecure as ever. One half of me was attempting to take the phase to heart and relax. And the other half of me was in a complete panic. Alarms were sounded, barricades were in place and my mind was running rampant in a thousand different directions, none of which were helpful.

I let out a deep breath and thought it best that I conquer these inner demons in the light of day, outside. They never seemed so big and scary in the sunlight. So I walked down the stairs, through the kitchen and onto the patio deck. Spotting my sister out in the yard at the outdoor table, I decided to join her. I pulled up the metal chair and sat down, facing my sister and the deck behind her. The yard was at my back, and the sun warmed my skin.

My sister and I had an interesting relationship. We didn’t get along as kids, grew closer in our teen years and since I had been in college, gotten even closer. But now, I felt like I couldn’t be myself around her. I didn’t think she felt the same as my parents, but I also understood that she still had a few more years of living at home. I didn’t want to put her in a situation where she would have to choose sides. No. It was just better if I kept some things to myself.

We did talk about my relationship with my parents though-especially my mother. This was a common topic, because well who better to understand your twisted mother-daughter relationship than your own sister? I expressed my frustration with never being able to please my mother. How nothing was ever good enough for her unachievably high expectations. How we were always at odds with one another, yet my quest for her approval remained unrelenting. It was a vicious cycle that left us both upset.

The conversation started out fine, but as usual, I can’t keep my personal opinions, personal. I made a remark asking my sister how I could compete with her, the “golden child who could do no wrong.” I admit, I didn’t intend it as a compliment, but it was more of a jab about my mother’s vantage of me than my sister. But it wasn’t untrue. In fact, it was pretty spot on.

But my sister didn’t take too kindly to my observation, because she quickly spat back, “Don’t make me feel bad for listening to Mom and Dad. The Bible tells you to obey your mother and father, Sarah.”

I paused for a moment before posing a question. “Even if you don’t agree with them? I’m not like you. I can’t just go along with something that I don’t agree with.”

That only fanned the flames in my sister’s eyes. Visibly upset, she stood up from her seat, and walked back in the house. This was exactly why I couldn’t be myself around anyone in my family. I hadn’t intended to hurt her feelings. I was just so frustrated. With this mess. With my parents. With my relationship. With my life. How had everything spun so viciously out of control? And how could it continue to get worse by the day?

Ahhhhhh! I screamed inside my head.

Deep breath Sarah. You’re losing focus on the end goal here: freedom. All your thoughts need to be framed around getting out. But I couldn’t shake my sister’s words. They bounced around in my head all afternoon.

Later that evening after dinner, I used my sister’s cell phone to call my mother. Sure, we definitely didn’t see eye-to-eye, but I wanted to find some common ground. I wasn’t sorry for being with Kendrae, but I was sorry that our relationship was so strained. I hoped the physical distance between us these past two weeks would take some stress off our frayed relationship. I was sorry that I had been so terse with her. I could sincerely apologize for that.

Sister’s phone in hand, I walked out to my grandparent’s backyard for the second time that day. Physically incapable of sitting and talking on the phone, I began walking in a square pattern in the grass behind the garage as I dialed up my mother. Something about walking and talking was soothing to me. Especially when having a difficult conversation. I began my walking and the phone started to ring.

“Hello…”

“Hey, it’s Sarah…I…wanted to call you and say that I’m sorry. I know things have been crazy lately, and I haven’t been the nicest to you. Actually, I’ve been really mad at you, and I don’t want to be. So, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry.”

A long pause.

“Mad at me? I don’t understand why you would be mad at me?”

“Just from this whole situation. It’s been a lot, for everyone. And we don’t have to agree on everything…”

A little louder and more succinct, “So you still don’t agree with this, do you?”

I made the fatal mistake of pausing. My pause to search for the right words to diffuse my previous remark signaled to my mother that she now had the floor.

Thirty minutes later and my ears were still burning from her heat. I heard every word, but they slid in my right ear, curved around my brain, and oozed out of my left. Tears hung on the edge of my eyelids, so full it was all I could do to keep them from rushing over. This was impossible. We spoke two entirely different languages, and it was apparent no common ground was anywhere to be found.

The buzzing on the other end of the phone continued, but my frustration was too much. My tears tipped the balance and poured down my face. I looked up, towards the blackness above me in hopes of finding solace among the light of the stars. Just as soon as I had succumbed to the heavens, a splash met my forehead, right between my eyes. Then another found my cheek. And then my shoulder. And then the splashes fell closer, almost simultaneously and the splashes turned into a steady rainfall. I aborted my square pattern and darted to the backside of the garage, seeking cover. Pushing my shoes against the wood that outlined the dirt between the garage and the grass, I leaned up against the paneling. My legs locked and my back fleshed up to the white siding. If I was going to be stuck out here, I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of this diatribe too.

“Look,” I interrupted, “I didn’t call you to get a lecture. I called you because I wanted to apologize and try and start over. This wasn’t supposed to turn into an argument…” Deep sigh. “I can’t even apologize to you right.”

Those pesky tears started welling up again.

This time much softer, “I’m sorry Mom. I love you. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”

“Alright, love you too. Good night.”

I pressed the end button, and slipped the phone into the back pocket of my jeans.

My fingers brushed my wet hair away from my face, tucking it gently behind my ears, and I stared out at the falling rain. When I was upset, nothing eased my pain, like a steady rainfall. Partly, because I garnered joy from the weather matching my disposition. And also, because rainfall is temporary. Another reminder that my storm wouldn’t last forever.

The thunder rolled in, and I knew that lightning wasn’t far behind. I braced myself and darted into my grandparents’ house.

This storm was far from over.