No. 34 – It All Adds Up

No. 34 – It All Adds Up

Question number ten. Of the 250 sheep in a flock, 34% are white. What is the total number of white sheep in the flock?

  1. 85
  2. 216
  3. 165
  4. Not here.”

I read the last test question aloud to my small group of testing students and waited for them to work out their answers.

“Miss, where the times sign on the calculator again?” one of my students blurted out, loudly.

A grin crept across my face as I walked beside my student’s desk. “Remember if we have a question, especially during a test, we raise our hand,” I reinforced as I raised my hand in the air.

“Yes ma’am. Now, where’s the times sign?” J questioned again.

My black painted index finger nail pointed down to the multiplication symbol on J’s calculator.

“I knew it was that one!” he exclaimed. Then a moment later, his hands flew over his mouth as his eyes darted up to meet my gaze.

I pursed my lips together, attempting to restrain a smile, unsuccessfully. I shook my head gently at J as I began to weave my way between the students’ desks. Checking to see that they were working and keeping their eyes glued on their own tests. Zig-zagging my way through the desks I found myself standing at the front of the room again.

“Raise your hand,” I had to preface, “if you would like any of the test questions read again.”

“I need number fo” K shouted across the room, forcing the other students to look up from their papers.

I looked at K and waited for her to self-correct.

With an eye roll, lip pop and a lot of sass, K dramatically raised her hand with a wrist flip at the end. Just in case I hadn’t noticed.

I walked quietly and stood in front of K’s desk and responded to her gesture. “K, which question would you like me to read for you?”

“Number fo.”

I waited again. Giving her another opportunity to respond.

“Okay Miss………..question four” she over-emphasized, “……….please.”

I smiled, and nodded my head as I flipped to question four. I quietly read the question and returned to the front of the room again.

Five more minutes passed by and all my students had completed their tests. I dismissed them back to Math and I collected the three calculators that were left behind. Flipping off the light switch, I walked down the hall following my trail of students back to class.

Mrs. Math had quickly graded the tests within a few minutes of our return to class. She motioned for me to join her up at her podium where she had been grading. J’s test was at the top of the stack. She circled the 60 on top of his paper and smiled at me.

My eyes lit up as a full faced smile spread across my face. Now normally, a teacher wouldn’t typically be excited about their student making a 60 on a test. But this student, J, had been making 20’s all year. The same student who asked me to show him where the “times” button was on his calculator. He was incredibly intelligent, but had such difficulty showing it on paper. Mrs. Math and I had both been wracking our brains and resources to find ways to help him learn to better translate his knowledge to paper. So his 60 felt like 110.

I wasn’t sure if J would quite grasp the growth he was making, but I would do my best to convey it to him. Mrs. Math called up the students one by one so that they could see their test score. If they needed to make corrections, they could do that tomorrow during class.

I waited impatiently, just like the students for J’s name to be called. He sauntered up to the podium, taking his sweet time, then finally lowered his gaze on his test score. Mrs. Math whispered something to him, and I watched in awe as a smile crept across his face. Realizing he may have shown too much, J masked his smile quickly transforming his expression.

I was unable to mask my smile. I felt my grin consume my face. Right as it reached maximum capacity, J’s glance met mine. I couldn’t help but smile at him and nod in my head. Nothing too overt, or I might blow his cover of not caring about doing well. But a smile like the one I was radiating is contagious. Because as J swaggered back to his desk, I caught a glimpse of a suppressed tight-lipped smile.

My heart back flipped.

The bell rang soon after and all the students filed out. Mrs. Math and I exchanged hopeful yet tired glances and made my way to the next class.

Nothing could top the high I was riding the rest of the day. As the school bell rang indicating the day was over, I found myself still smirking. These kids were nothing like I could’ve imagined or prepared for. Perpetually exhausting, sarcastic, way too cool and eager to learn, but afraid to show it. My mind had never been so challenged before, yet so invigorated. Facilitating this type of authentic learning was the stuff movies were made of. My first taste of student success.

I unrattled my brain and called it a day. I was going to end on a high note. I deserved it. Most days ended with more work to do when I left than when I arrived in the morning. It regenerated and multiplied daily. Always more to do. But not today. I was going to bask in this victory. Revel in the moment in hopes of willing another like it into existence. I locked up my room and headed out to my car.

Strutting from my classroom at the end of the hallway, the furthest room away from the parking lot, I held my head high. Unlike most days where my eyes were buried into my phone screen as I responded to emails, typed out a to-do list for the next day or hung my head in utter exhaustion.

I exhaled deeply as I sat down in my car. This moment was too good to pass up; I wanted to share my victory. Pure joy is meant to be shared with others, not internalized. I dug out my cell phone to call my mom. Only to be sent into a screeching halt when my thoughts caught up to me. I gulped down a knot in my throat as the realization crashed over me. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in a month. Not since her unfriendly text message ordering me to disconnect from the family.

My mother and I certainly had no perfect relationship. We were not the pair that talked every day, or got mani/pedis together, and we often had differing opinions. But one role my mother had played in my life was my cheerleader. When I was down and frustrated, I could call her and be assured of myself. She would celebrate my victories, dust me off when I’d fallen and encourage me along the way. Oftentimes she felt like the only person I was able to truly talk to in my darkest moments.

However, this dynamic had feathered out over the past year or so. My senior year of college was a holistic growth spurt for me. Emotionally, mentally and spiritually I learned so much about who I was and what I believed. And through this growth, maybe I distanced myself a little. Or maybe, my mother anticipated my growing up and distanced herself. Maybe we both drew back simultaneously. But whatever the reason, the past year consisted of a rocky relationship, more disagreements, less heart-to-hearts and less communication in general.

Add the family explosion and my relationship with my mother seemed non-existent. I wanted to call her. In that moment, I longed to call her.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t call my mother. Too much time had passed in silence. Our lack of words, said more than any conversation could have. And just like that my moment of triumph on the hilltop crumbled into a puddle in the valley. Like a deflating balloon, I lost my air rapidly. Sinking further and further into my driver’s side seat. Call someone elseI urged myself. But it was no good. The moment had soured quickly and reminded me of the reality I had been unintentionally avoiding.

My life had changed drastically in a matter of months, and the dust had yet to settle. Today was simply the first day I had paused long enough to look up at my surroundings, only to be painfully greeted by chaos. The familiarity I had once possessed of my life was completely foreign to me now.

The ache in my heart was met with shame. Shame that it was my responsibility for the ever-growing fault in our relationship. Shame that I had a mother that I wasn’t communicating with when I had the capability to, while others didn’t have that option. Shame that I had let my guard down and self-inflicted this wound. Shame that I still cared, deeply.

So I sat in an empty parking lot while the my tear greeted the crease in my mouth that once housed a smile.

Author’s Note: I’m back! Did you miss me? I know I sure missed all of you. I would like to acknowledge that my sabbatical was unavoidable and imminent. To begin, I am fresh off one of the worst bouts of sickness I can recall experiencing. Three weeks it has taken me to feel completely well again. Five missed days of work, two doctor’s visits, two shots, one prescription and a lot of rest later and I am finally back to Sarah again. That was the unavoidable part.

Which brings us to the imminence of my silence. Yes, I was very sick. However, once my mind began to feel well, I had ample time to sit and write. In fact, it would have greatly behooved me to write. And yet, for the first time, I didn’t want to. Not because I was tired or busy or unable to. I truly did not want to write.

When sailing at sea and met with a vicious storm, you don’t think, you react. Everything happens to and around you, while you remain helpless to stop it. All you can do is respond to your environment. And the ocean can be a cruel creature. In my case, the waves obliterated everything in my life. My ship, my life preservers, my navigation and sense of direction. I was pummeled under the waves for so long that I couldn’t even swim. I was pushed, pulled, dunked, and overwhelmed so that my body stopped resisting. Because fighting the current was actually worse than succumbing to it.

I was on auto-pilot, survival mode. And that’s all I did-survive. So that when I resurfaced and was met with stillness and quiet, it sounded louder than the storm. I looked around me to find that I was isolated in the middle of the ocean, with nothing in sight. As my body descended out of survival mode, I was unsure what would happen next.  

When chaos becomes your normal, peace and tranquility are petrifying. I spent so much time and energy fighting to survive, to just merely not drown that by the time the storm had calmed, I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Because now, I would have to make a decision. Which direction would I go? Was I able to swim? Did I have the strength to rebuild my life? The daunting dynamic shift left me feeling paralyzed. Because while surviving the storm was the most difficult thing I had ever done. What would come next would be grueling and tiresome and painful and difficult – I would have to swim. All that lay ahead of me was hard work.

To be frank, while writing about the big events in my past was hard, incredibly hard, I was able to somewhat disconnect and record the facts. What happened is what happened, I just had to put it down. But the part of the story that comes next is the calm waters. No major events, just minutia. My deep thoughts and feelings. My experiences with a gaping wound in my heart that I tried to repair as I had to keep moving.

And as I write about these next months in my story, I know that greater healing will follow. But not without pain. Because now I will reconnect with my story in a deeper way than I’ve previously had to.

Rather than be discouraged that you haven’t made it and you still have pain from your past, I want to encourage you that healing is not a destination. Healing and rebuilding is a process and one that is fluid and ambiguous. Do the hard work and self-reflect. Show yourself unending love, grace and forgiveness. And then give yourself even more.

With much, much love,

Sarah

No. 33 – Bruno Mars Said it Best

No. 33 – Bruno Mars Said it Best

I got paid on the 25thof September. (I know, it sounds like a moody rock song lyric). And being a newfound “responsible” adult, I decided to sit down, crunch the numbers and see how much my flexible income would be that month. So I factored in my rent, car payment, car insurance, cell phone bill, electric bill, internet bill, student loan payment and $500 alternative certification payment and subtracted the amount I spent on my new bedding set. The harsh reality of the amount of my paycheck set in with a quickness.

My eyes blinked as they focused on the remaining number. I must have mistyped. Let’s try that again. Once again, my eyes settled on the number I would be left with until the 25thof October. Not possible. I hadn’t even factored in food and gas. One more time, I slowly typed in my starting monthly rate, and subtracted one by one the items that would need to be paid this month. Purposefully hitting each number, double and triple checking to ensure my accuracy. I exhaled and hit enter a final time. Slowly averting my eyes to the remaining total. Heart beating heavily as my breath quickened. Hoping my reality would be different than the previous two versions.

My jaw dropped. With just my bills factored in and the purchase I had already made, I would be left with less than $50. How was that possible? There was no way that I could make $50 stretch for 28 days. My gas light was already on, so gas was a necessity and I had to eat. In all this time, the notion had never occurred to me that my cost of living could be more than my paycheck.

My naiveté assumed that you got a job, and it would cover your bills, as long as you were smart and didn’t spend on frivolous items. But this? This was outrageous. I had worked for a month and a half with no paycheck. Barely scraping by with the money I had saved over the summer. I had no savings left, nothing to fall back on. I had nothing of value in my empty apartment. No fine jewelry that could be sold, no furniture that could give me a little wiggle room. And I barely had enough professional clothing articles to get through the work week. Not an asset in sight. I was one giant liability.

And according to my calculations, I wouldn’t be able to purchase any furniture, no clothes for work, no money to do my laundry, barely enough for gas, and about $20 left over for food. I didn’t even have a dollar a day to work with. And wouldn’t be able to save a penny. I was tapped out the day after getting paid. Worse than tapped out, I was going to be in the negatives, if I purchased what I needed.

Tears overwhelmed my eyes and hung there, making the miniscule number on my calculator app blurry. Gaining volume, until plunging from the depths of my eyes and splashing on the screen of my illuminated phone. As water continuously flowed from my overburdened spirit through my eyes, my brain reeled with options. Running frantically in any direction that would lead to a solution. My initial thought was to return the bedding, I could do without it. But then I quickly realized that I could not return an already slept-in set of sheets and comforter.

Next, I thought of asking Kendrae for help, just a little. But then came to my senses. He was a college student, working to cover his own bills. And he was student teaching, so he was already maxed out. Maybe I could apply for a loan. Just enough to help absorb some of my initial costs. How would I be able to budget paying back a loan? If I couldn’t afford to pay my current bills, how would I be able to factor in an additional expense?

My mind went blank. It had run in every direction and come back empty handed. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had spent the past four years of college dreaming for the day when I could strike out on my own. Envisioning the long-awaited freedom I so desperately yearned for my whole life. And when I got what I had been so thirsty for, I found myself in the middle of a desert, more dehydrated than ever.

Kendrae and I had made plans to shop at Walmart together so we could both get what we needed and still spend some time together. His work hours were sporadic and consisted of a lot of late night shifts, my only free time. So a lot of our dates were completely unglamorous and involved grocery shopping. I honestly wasn’t sure what I would purchase as I had no budget to shop with. I might use the excuse that I left my list at home. Maybe I would blame it on being tired and I would come tomorrow on my own. Or I could be forthcoming with the information and be honest with my boyfriend. But I was embarrassed. So embarrassed at my lack of money management. I mentally kicked myself for being so stupid.

But then my heart told my head, that I did what I had to. I my apartment because it was the only one out of the ten I looked at with availability on such short notice. I needed a car, and got the one I qualified for with the lowest payment because I had no credit, no trade-in and no one to co-sign. I had to make so many arrangements quickly, before knowing my monthly budget because of the situation with my family. None of my bills were frivolous or extraneous because when you have one day to make arrangements, you do what you can. My choice to be independent came with a very high price tag. One that was almost unaffordable.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell Kendrae, but I knew that I needed to be honest with him. If anyone would understand why I was struggling, it would be him. He read the text messages, he experienced the conversations. He witnessed the extreme financial circumstances I was forced into for my “life choices.” And knowing his gentle, understanding demeanor, I could make a solid bet that my admission would be met with kindness, the way he dealt with everything else.

I would tell him after we got done grocery shopping. I would make us some dinner, and then break him the news. So I hopped in my car and headed to Walmart to meet Kendrae. My mind was elsewhere, so I opted for silence on my drive. I quickly spun the volume dial to low. Stuck somewhere between inaudible and a whisper as I made the short commute.

I pulled into a parking space in the Walmart parking lot and parked my car. I let the engine run as I shot Kendrae a brief text message to let him know that I had made it. As I hit send and leaned back into my driver’s side chair, a song sauntered through my speakers. Bruno Mars melodic intonation meandered from the car speakers to my receptive ear drums.

“I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen”

I laughed out loud at the song lyrics and the extreme notion. Billionaire, I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and buy some groceries. Where was the song for that? And then, loud and clear I was hit across the face with an idea. So forcefully that it was as if I heard the words audibly spoken to me in the car. Get a second job. I sat up straighter in my seat and looked around the Walmart parking lot. I leaned forward, chest pressed against my steering wheel and strained my neck to see if there was anyone around me. No. There was no one. And then, the phrase resonated again, even more clearly. Get a second job, Sarah. The idea presented itself to me as if it was an entity all its own.

Huh… A second job? That was something I could do. My school schedule was incredibly routine and wasn’t going to alter. I was free in the afternoon after 4:30 and never had any weekend obligations. If I could find a place willing to work around my day schedule, I might be able to pull this off. I began thinking of all the places that I could work that had reasonable hours.

I wouldn’t want to work anywhere overnight, because teaching would still be my top priority. This job couldn’t interfere or take anything away from my ability to teach my students. I would have to find somewhere that closed around 9 and would have the availability to work on the weekends. A place that would allow me to leave the work at work and disconnect when I went home. I always had my students on my mind. How can I help them better? How can I let them know I care? Am I making myself relatable to them? Are they getting what they need at home? I already brought this job home with me. I needed a part-time job that I could pick up when I clocked in and drop off when I clocked out. Making some extra cash would hopefully help me have a more reasonable budget for my minor weekly expenses. My paycheck from school would cover everything else.

A wave of relief washed over me as the probability of this new idea sunk in. This really seemed like the best solution to my money problems. Excitement at the idea of breathing room filled my lungs. I jumped out of the car as soon as I saw Kendrae’s truck backing into a parking spot near me. Before he could unbuckle his seat belt, I flung open his driver’s side door and pronounced: “I’m getting a second job!”

Without a beat or even a blink, Kendrae responded, “sounds good.” He stepped down from his truck and the two of us walked into Walmart together.

Author’s Note: I had a rough week. One of those where you feel like you’re in the middle of ten boxers and they’re all swinging at you. Jab in the ribs. Uppercut to the jaw. Front kick in the chest. I went through the emotional ringer. This match-up had been a long time coming. I could feel them brooding at me for a few weeks. They just waited until I let my guard down for a split second, and then pounced all at once.

It wasn’t one major event. It was the culmination of one hundred little things. Things that hadn’t been dealt with, but pushed to the back of my mind for a later date. Maybe it was just that I felt out of place lately. I found myself constantly feeling like a fraud. I felt like the child mistakenly seated at the grown-up’s table for dinner. But, I didn’t belong at the children’s table either. I was in between phases in life. I was supposed to be starting this new book, but was stuck in an unending preface. I kept turning page after page, only to feel stuck in the same place.

The irony of the title of my blog felt like a slap in the face. How can you call yourself relentless Sarah? You are nothing more than a relentless mess-up, I heard on repeat in my head. Each utterance holding more and more weight until I believed it was true. Sunk in my own pit of despair.

Until I reread the definition of relentless.

Relentless (adj) oppressively constant; incessant

synonyms: persistent, continuing, constant, nonstop, never-ending, unabating, interminable, unceasing, and so on.

Did anyone of those syllables suggest perfection? No. Did they imply not getting knocked down? No, quite the opposite in fact. The synonyms persistent and unceasing indicate that regardless of the circumstances, you won’t give up. No matter how many times life roughs me up, kicks me around, and slams me to the ground, I will continue to fight back.

So I will leave you with this message. One that I penned before ever starting my blog. It was one I needed to be reminded of, some 30 weeks later:

“I have misplaced so much time and energy on my pursuit of perfection and always trying to have it all together. Not only was it exhausting, but it was impossible. I found myself in a perpetual state of disappointment because I always seemed to fall short of my unreachable standards.

 In an effort to combat my own insecurities and shortcomings, I have dedicated this blog to my imperfections. To the pieces of Sarah that don’t have it all together. And to the pieces that do. Because both my assets and imperfections add up to be whole.

The title, relentless Sarah, stems from the direction I want to be moving in. It is my mantra for how I choose to live my life, and one that I take very seriously. Every day, I strive to be relentless. In my daily pursuit of my passions. To be relentless in loving others. Relentless in my advocacy for standing up for my beliefs. Relentless in sharing kindness and generosity. And to relentlessly spread the truth.

I hope that through my blog, my message of being relentless shines true.”

Yes, I am relentless, even in my struggles. And so are you.

 

 

No. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

No. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

My eyes blinked as I gazed upwards at the stagnant fan blades. My outstretched arms and legs reached further longing to uncoil. I pressed my body gently into the many plush cushions pillowing the mattress. The grandmother’s couch inspired floral pattern embraced my rigid frame. The soft whisper of relaxation rippled through my body as my tenseness began to loosen.

An exhalation followed by a realization that I had stopped climbing. These past six months had felt like a straight uphill climb. Wrought with jagged edges, vision-clouding fog, an unsurvivable drop beneath me and an unforeseeable end. I had been steady climbing without the slightest idea of what lie in wait for me atop Mount Everest. Was it physically possible for me to make this trek? Was my own peril inevitable?

Having no room or energy to dwell on doubts, I continued climbing. Sometimes resting, but never, not even once did I stop. I couldn’t. I knew if I stopped and looked any direction other than two feet in front of me, I would give up. I would realize how much further I had to journey and lose to disheartenment. Or if I looked down, I would see that one minor slip up and the drop would succumb me for sure. Without a carabiner, I had no guarantee of my safety. I was operating purely on the fumes of faith.

Faith that I had made the right choice. That all my struggle, lack, tears and heartbreak was for a reason. A reason that would serve me and hopefully bring about something that was even greater than just me. Maybe not today. Maybe not for five years. Maybe even longer than that. But I had to believe that none of this was in vein. Not the disarrayed chaos with my family. Not the daily roller coaster of emotions, the fear, the confusion, the exhaustion. Knowing that a divine purpose rooted beneath me propelled me upward.

And finally, after six long months, I had reached a crevice. A rock that was flat enough that I could rest on it. Stop climbing and enjoy my small victory before continuing my ascent. Rest, never stop, I reminded myself.

After my mental and emotional rest, I sat up. My climb would be there waiting for me in the morning. I deserved to celebrate this feat. Because as thrilled as I was to have my new-to-me mattress and box spring assembled, I was anxious to outfit it. After all, this was a monumental step for me; it deserved the most appropriate celebration. I just couldn’t dream of a better way to christen my bed than with some brand-new sheets, pillows and a comforter and the best night’s rest.

Where could I go on a week night and purchase a stylish and functional sleep set that wouldn’t break my bank? Got it! I sprung off my spring mattress and grabbed my keys as I floated out the door. Hmm…maybe adulthood had gotten a bad rap? Because this, this felt amazing.

I extended my fingers and delicately brushed against the diverse fabrics. From cool and silky to warm and plush. The differing textures danced on my skin. Delighting my mind with all the possibilities. The home good aisles of TJ Maxx were my creative wonderland. My spirit relished in the incredible process of dressing my apartment. Well not quite entire apartment, but at least my bed.

Next month, I could worry about the rest of the bedroom, but today, I would buy pillows, sheets, and a comforter. My mind reeled with the euphoria that awaited me tonight. My first time in months sleeping on not only a mattress, but in fresh new sheets, bountiful pillows, and blanketed in softness. I instantly felt like a queen at the thought of it. I could feel the sensations of comfort and joy as I hunkered down for my first night.

My hiatus of rest quickly coupled with reflection. Reflection on my life as a whole. Looking back I saw it completely differently than I did as I lived through it.

I had certainly taken having a bed for granted. Sure I’d been camping, I’d been to sleepovers where you get in where you fit in. And sometimes that meant sleeping on the couch or on a floor. But I had never imagined a reality that involved me sleeping on the floor because I had no other options. A day or two, fine. But going on two months? It was certainly a humbling experience. But today was a new day and that life was no more. My transition chapter was closed. Now that I had a real bed, I could conquer the world!

I completed my TJ Maxx shopping trip and came home a proud owner of a new bedroom set. I kept it simple; black comforter, light grey cotton sheets and two pillows. Buying home goods made me feel like a real adult. Believe me, nothing felt grown up about coming home to an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor. And being excited to make my bed? Who was this person controlling my body?

Whoever she was, I was beaming and couldn’t wait to show Kendrae my first official grown up purchase. After he finished his shift at Kroger, I was going to treat him to dinner. He had been phenomenal these past few months. Supportive always, encouraging, attentive, understanding, sweet, generous and stable. Knowing that he was there for me filled me with courage to press on and forge my own life. A life that he was celebrated to be a part of.

One dinner certainly couldn’t repay him for all his kindness, but Kendrae’s love language was definitely food. So it was a good start. It would give us a chance to go out and get to feel normal for a change. We could be that couple who was celebrating a victory, regardless of how small it may be. Giving us a chance to be young and carefree for a night. Forgetting the pain-streaked reality that clouded over most days.

So I got ready and waited for my real-life hunky boyfriend to knock on my door.

Today? Yeah, today was a great day. Tomorrow, my journey would resume.

Author’s Note: One of the many side effects to telling my story, is the opportunity to peer into the heart of my past. Rehashing each experience is often hard, but also allows me to relive each emotion now as a wiser version of myself (hopefully my wisdom and discernment has multiplied)! I’m now able to live vicariously and simultaneously in a way that provides a crystal-clear perspective. I’m able to see my mishaps and embrace them. I’m able to watch that girl struggle while encouraging my heart that she’ll make it. To feel the heartbreak with a heart that’s now whole.

This is a note to a specific individual, and no one at all. A note for me and a note for you. Self-reflection is such a powerful tool. It’s enabled me to view my life as a whole rather than one piece of the puzzle. Part of the art of looking back is being in a different space mentally, hopefully a better one. So if I could talk to myself four years ago, I would want her to know what I know to be true today. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I value you.

 You are enough. Imperfectly flawed and all. Some lessons you’ll pick up quickly; celebrate your victories. Other lessons you’ll feel like you’ll never learn; give yourself grace. Get in the habit of resting, restoring, and then rising. My dear precious one, it is okay to not be okay. Again, it is okay to not be okay. If you’re sad, let yourself be sad. Your body knows better than your mind does, listen to it.

You don’t have to have your entire life figured out. Spoiler alert: you still don’t four years from now. And I’m going to branch out and say you never will. Situations will unfold contrary to your expectations. Unexpected changes are often the best surprises, so stoptrying to plan everything. Laugh at yourself, always. And work hard. When no one is looking. When no one is asking you to. Even if you don’t know what you’re working towards. Hard work is never something you’ll regret.

Start each day fresh. Give yourself the opportunity to start new each day. Wasn’t your best self yesterday? Fix it today. Not all your goals will be accomplished overnight. In fact, a lot of your dreams will change too. Don’t worry. You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this very moment. In whatever space you are currently in, you are there for a reason. You may not know why, but find peace in the truth that you are where you should be.

With love, 

Sarah

 

No. 31 – The Wading Game

No. 31 – The Wading Game

The alarm on my cell phone jolted me from REM cycle to reality. Sitting fully upright, I frantically reached for my phone lying on the carpet next to me. It seemed that with each millisecond that you didn’t shut it off, the alarm grew louder and more frequent. I viciously tapped my phone screen, urgently seeking to shut the thing up.

Ahhh…tranquility. I exhaled as my sleep-laden eyes struggled to fully open. I grasped for my phone, checking to see if I had any notifications awaiting my perusal. As I nonchalantly glanced down at my illuminated phone screen, the day’s date registered in my foggy brain. It was September 25th! The day I would get my first paycheck! I couldn’t log into my Chase Bank app quick enough.

After mistyping my credentials a few times due to my still foggy brain, I successfully accessed my account. I blinked. Something must be wrong. There was still only $0.21 in my account. The same number that had remained for the past 3 weeks. Maybe it was too early and the money wouldn’t process until the banks opened their doors at 9:00. I mean there had to be some explanation for my lack of finances. I had been working for a month and a half…I certainly earned my check.

I was in dire need of some funds and had a page long list of items that required my financial attention. I HAD to get my money today. I had not budgeted for getting paid a day later than the 25th. I would be in some serious trouble if that was the case. But paycheck or no paycheck, I needed to get up and get ready for the day. But most importantly, I required some coffee. Way too much had gone on for 6:30 AM.

I had checked my bank account 5 times so far; and it was only lunch time. Every hour on the hour, and still zilch. Nothing! How was this possible? Did I misinterpret the payment date? Did the 25thmean at midnight that night? Maybe the funds wouldn’t disperse until 12:00 AM. Distraught on how the rest of my day would play out, I tried to shift my focus. Just make it through the day, and I could figure something out later.

A text message from my best friend Jess commanded my attention. Jess was a teacher also. She worked in a school district just outside of Fort Worth. It was her first-year teaching too. So she understood my struggle…kind of. I quickly typed up a message to her asking if she had gotten paid yet. I went in to vague detail about how tight my situation had been with having a new apartment and not having any furniture, “not even a bed yet lol,” I tried to downplay my desperation.

Moments later, my phone was vibrating. Jess was calling me.

“Hey! What’s up?” I playfully answered.

“Sarah, you don’t have a mattress?” She cut to the chase.

A long pause. “No. My parents didn’t bring mine. And the air mattress they did give me has a hole in it and won’t stay inflated.” I barely managed to choke out.

“Umm…why am I just now hearing about this? Why didn’t you say anything?” she questioned.

“I don’t know. I just figured I could make it a month or so and then once I got paid, I could buy a mattress. It’s no big deal.” Embarrassment laced through my tone.

“Well, I have a mattress that I’ve been storing in Longview from my old apartment. I haven’t needed it, but didn’t want to sell it. It’s at Coach T’s house in his storage shed. I’ll text him right now and let him know that you’re coming over to get it later today. It’s a mattress, box spring and bed frame. You can have it.” The kindness in her voice brought tears to my eyes.

“…are you sure…?” I fought hard to get out.

“Dude, of course. Take it, it’s just sitting in storage collecting dust,” she assured me. “I feel awful that this whole time you could’ve been using it. I can’t believe I didn’t know, Sarah.”

“I could have said something. But it’s not the most exciting topic to bring up,” I responded honestly. “Being so broke that you have to sleep on the floor isn’t the first thing I dying to tell you, you know?”

“I get it, but you still should have said something,” Jess replied. “But, you shouldn’t have that problem anymore, we got our first paycheck today. Finally, right?”

“See, I thought so, but the direct deposit hasn’t posted in my account. I’ve been checking all day!” frustration dripping.

“No, our first check is a physical check. Direct deposit won’t kick in until the next pay period. At least, it’s that way for my school.”

My jaw dropped. How had I neglected to remember that? “Duh! I completely forgot about that. I remember them saying that…now.” I exclaimed.

“So you better go check your mailbox, girl!” she teased. “And, I’ll text Coach and shoot you the details later about picking up the mattress.”

We said our goodbyes, and I thanked her what felt like 100 times, yet somehow still not enough. And then I bee-lined it for my school mailbox. My heart was thumping so violently that I was sure others could hear it. I flung open the teacher’s lounge door and scanned for the box with my last name. There it was. Moment of truth. Did I have an envelope with a check?

I grabbed the stack of papers in my mail box and shuffled through them, searching for one very important item. And then, my fingers felt it. The edge of an envelope. This was it. My golden ticket. I dropped the stack of papers on the counter next to the mailboxes, and gave the envelope my full and undivided attention. Slicing into the top fold with a key from my lanyard so as not to damage any of the precious contents.  My fingers grasped hold of the slim slip of paper. Gripping it gently, I shimmied the contents free from their casing. I unhinged the tri-folded piece of paper and let my eyes devour the contents. Tears quickly engulfed my eyes as the realization sunk in that this was, in my hands, my first adult paycheck.

The money that I had worked tirelessly for. The money that was fueling my race towards independence. The funds that were supporting me establishing a brand-new life for myself wholly on my own. Relief echoed through every fiber of my being. Resonating through my heart and into my spirit. Water welled in my eyes as I forced the lump down my throat. Trying to hold it together so I wouldn’t have a complete break-down in the teacher’s lounge at 11:23 in the afternoon.

I sniffled a few times before collecting myself and taking the plunge out into the hallway. Briskly walking with my eyes averted downward on the papers in my hand. This way I’ll look preoccupied, not rude.

Unloading Jess’s mattress into my apartment that afternoon made me feel like I had just won the lottery. I had been lying to myself about sleeping on the floor. It wasn’t helping my back stretch out. I was not able to get a sound night’s sleep. And I was waking up to muscle spasms at 2:45 in the morning, because my muscular quads and a hard, flat surface did not coincide.

After the frame was assembled and the mattress was in place, I drank it all in. My first piece of furniture. And my first paycheck. This hollow shell had just begun to feel like home. A glimpse of light penetrated the darkness.

Author’s Note:  

This photo was captured by my generous, artsy, talented and adventurous friend, Jess. The very same soul, who gifted me her bed four years ago. Who still to this exact day helps me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be helped. Slow to judge, quick to give and open to adventure, always.

 We set out to take some pictures a few Sunday’s back. I got all dressed up, decked out and was ready to shoot. Jess being incredibly generous offered to come with and take photos for me. On her one off-day as she is a high school coach and works all the time.

So we show up to this picture perfect location and it starts to rain after five minutes. My hair instantly poodle-izes and my dress gets wet as I slip trying to duck and cover. Hoping to salvage all the hard work I put into getting ready.

But instead of worry and chalk the day up as a loss, I decided not to simply splash in the puddles, but embrace the mess. I stripped off my shoes, got my hair wet and waded into the water. The water was cold, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes, my hair remained a frizzy mess, but I reveled in it. We had the most fun by simply stepping out into the water. An experience I would have truly missed out on had I only been willing to stick to my original plan.

I feel like this photo captured a facet I rarely see in myself. A glimpse seldom caught in my own reflection: adventurous. A quality I hope to pursue more.

No. 30 – Blinds

No. 30 – Blinds

I opened my eyes to find a brown wooden ceiling. Deep brown wooden panels that covered the length of the room. I blinked for a moment, absorbing the sights around me. My head was fuzzy and my eyes had difficulty focusing. I glanced around me and observed that I was surrounded by a sea of brown. Brown walls, brown ceiling, brown tile floor. The room was warm. I stood up and walked over to an air conditioning unit, resting in the window sill. I pressed the on button, noticed the green light illuminate, but it wasn’t functioning properly. All I could feel protruding from the vents was warm, moist air. Like a blow dryer, heating the room rather than cooling it.

I looked around again. Why did this room feel so familiar? My head hurt. My panning gaze stopped on a big, brown door, that I assumed was the portal out of here. I walked across the room from the faulty air conditioning unit and towards the door I hoped would lead me out of this eerily strange room. I jiggled the golden door knob, but it seemed to be locked. Locked from the outside. Strange.

Slices of light from the window to my left caught my attention. I quietly crossed the room, making my way to the opening. Stepping gingerly so as not to make any noise. Breathing softly, so as not to make a sound. Why was I being so intentionally quiet? Was I nervous?

My head really hurt.

I arrived at the window without making a peep. My fingers gently grasped the wooden tassel at the end of the pull cord. It was cool to my touch. An unexpected side effect because the room was warm, and gaining temperature by the minute. I rubbed my fingers on the wooden tassel and noticed the smoothness. I pressed my fingers into the wood and tugged the pull cord down until the slats ran parallel to the floor. Light penetrated the room causing me to avert my eyes momentarily while my pupils adjusted.

I surveyed my outdoor surroundings. There was a black roof that extended from the window over what looked like a patio. Beyond that was green grass running to a white, chain-link fence. Beyond the fence was more grass and then a section of trees. Tall trees that blocked whatever was lying behind them. I moved further to my left so that I could get a broader view. I strained my neck to glance further down the surface area of the roof. It looked like a road…or a driveway. It appeared I was in a house.

I couldn’t remember anything from before I woke up. Whose house was I in? What was I doing here? Throbbing in my head continued.

As if it magically appeared before my very eyes, I suddenly noticed another door. Right next to the very door that was locked. Perhaps this door led to my escape from this befuddling room. I approached door number two and tried the equally golden knob. The cool knob turned with my hand and I pulled the door away from the frame. My eyes settled on clothes, draped from multi-colored hangers. The apparent closet was full of clothes. And jewelry. Shoes. Belts. Scarves. The closet smelled fresh and clean. As if these clothes had recently been washed. Not musty from being cramped up in a closet while going unworn.

No, these were someone’s clothes. I stepped further into the closet and realized how large it was. There were more articles to both my left and right, invisible to me until I stepped inward. As I turned around to gaze back out into the room, a shimmer caught my eye. It was a mirror, mounted on the inside of the closet door. I looked at the reflection, and…

Gasp! It all came flooding back to me. I quickly spun back around to face the clothes. My clothes. This closet was full of my clothes. I flung through the hangers hoping to find something contrary to my epiphany, but only further confirmed it. My shoes. My jewelry. My everything.  I darted out of the closet and into the room. My eyes widened as I crumbled to the floor.

I sank further and further into the cold, brown tile. I was in my bedroom. In my parents’ house. Trapped upstairs with no way out. I suddenly recognized all my belongings filling the room that was closing in around me. How did this happen? And why couldn’t I remember anything?

No! This was not happening. I leaped towards the window and gripped the metal frame surrounding the glass pane. I pressed my feet into the floor and powered through with my legs hoping to open the window. But it wouldn’t budge. I repositioned and tried again. But still, nothing. Exasperated, I pounded my open palm on the wall, unconcerned about disclosing my presence. It was obvious, I was not here in secret.

Sprinting to the window with the air conditioning unit, I surveyed my options. Either try and lift the widow and let the air conditioning unit tumble down to the ground, or try and pull the unit out and maybe I could squeeze through the tight opening. At this point, I had zero concerns for the well-being of this old air conditioning window unit. It was the one obstacle standing between me and my escape. I positioned my feet close to the wall and took a firm grip on the window unit. Deep breath. On the count of 3, I’d pull with all my strength.

1, 2, 3…

Pulllllllllll!

All the strength I could muster was no match for this stubborn window unit. Alright. I was going to kick it out the widow then. Who cares if it plummeted and shattered.

In one powerful motion, I pressed up through my left leg and propelled my right leg forward and towards the window unit. Nothing personal, I just needed out. The force of my kick and the steadfastness of the unit collided and sent waves up my entire body. My foot throbbed in pain as I collapsed to the floor.

I composed myself and stood up. I crossed the room, getting as far away from the window unit as possible. A running start. That’s what I needed.

1, 2, 3…

I lurched forward gaining force as I encroached on the window unit. I powered through my last step and flung myself forward with all my energy. Again, my foot met the unmovable unit and I was sent reeling towards the floor. I flung my closed fists towards the ground in frustration. I had to get out of here!

I sprinted to door number 1 and viscously shook the knob. It was still locked. I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped. With no way out. I pounded on the door as tears streamed down my face. I opened my mouth to scream, but couldn’t muster a sound. Sheer panic overtook my entire body. And then…

I awoke with a rapid thump in my chest, gasping for air. Sitting fully upright in a matter of milliseconds. The oversized t-shirt I wore to sleep clung tightly to my skin. Beads of moisture covered my skin and plastered my shirt to my sweaty body. The neck was already stretched out and hung limply around my collarbone. I grasped at the neck of the gargantuan t-shirt yanking it downwards, ensuring that nothing was remotely close to the circumference of my neck. It didn’t help. I attempted to take deep breaths to sooth my petrified heart, beating more intensely by the second. Not effective. I tried to guide my mind in a new direction, shifting my focus. But nothing was assuaging the sense of sheer panic wreaking havoc through my body.

Moments after catapulting from dream to reality, my brain yearned for clarity. My eyes darted around my bed room that was flooded with light from my lack of curtains. My focus slowly sharpening as my gaze slowed. There was no one in the room but me. This was my bedroom. In my apartment. In Longview. The stillness crescendoed into a deafening silence. Penetrating the stillness making the lack of movement chaotic.

This was the third night in a row I had suffered through this nightmare. A reoccurring dream that haunted me several nights a week. They varied slightly, but all ended the same. With me being dragged back to my parents’ house and trapped with no escape. The worst part wasn’t even the dream, it was the reality that I awoke to. A heightened stage of panic. Crazy scenarios running rampant through my head. Was I being watched? Were my parents here to kidnap me and drag me back home? Was this my subconscious warning me of impending doom? I wasn’t in a position to take these dreams lightly, so I proceeded with precaution. First I needed to secure the perimeter.

Slowly lifting one blind, I peeked out my living room window. My heart beat becoming more noticeable as I examined my outdoor surroundings. Grass. Sidewalk. Street. Cars. A bird walking along the top of the short brick ledge running parallel to the grass embankment. My eyes fixated on the small, black bird as he paid no notice to me. He was being watched, but was completely unaware of that fact. My heartbeat quickened and my body felt tingly. I removed my finger tip from the edge of the blind and let it slide back into its rightful position.

My mind reeled as I began the daunting task to mentally prepare myself to step outside. I could not go back there. Memories of my parent’s house flooded my head. Again, my heartbeat quickened. My legs felt heavy and immovable. My Fear became almost paralyzing as the possibility of being taken back became more and more real. Breathe. I closed my eyes and took another breath. I quietly removed my keys from their hook to the right of the door. I selected the apartment key and readied my hand.

I exhaled and unlocked my front door. I pulled the door open and surveyed the outside. No one was there. Gulp. I stepped out of my apartment and pulled the front door closed. I locked the door, and checked the handle to make sure it was truly locked. I forced myself to take another deep breath, and took the first step towards my car. As I rounded the corner of my apartment building, I surveyed the parking lot, but I never stopped my stride. They weren’t here. I briskly continued the path to my car, unlocked the door and got inside.

I let out a deep sigh of relief. They weren’t here. I let that phrase resonate through my entire body. Relief washed over me, forcing Fear out of the car. Almost. I knew Fear would be right here waiting for me when I got home from my day of work. We would pick up right where we left off. We always did.

Author’s Note: Plans. Plans. Plans. We all have ‘em, and we all realize that it’s impossible to always keep them. Being a recovering perfectionist, planning was my safety blanket. If I knew what was coming, I could be prepared for it. If I didn’t know what was coming, I was left to my own, under-equipped devices. A situation I wanted to avoid at all costs.

What I have come to peace with, after many, many instances contrary to my natural instinct, is that you can’t spend your life planning everything. It’s an impossible battle to fight. Not one of those “its only impossible until its done” sort of things. No, it is not physically possible to plan everything. You can’t predict every outcome. Situations arise you couldn’t have dreamed up if you tried. And you know what, it’s a lot less exhausting rolling with the waves.  

Life is like surfing. I can look out at the ocean, and see there are waves. I can plan to surf those waves, but what I can’t plan for is the strength, magnitude, and frequency of those very same waves. I can see waves, paddle out to the surf and be met with stillness. I can also observe stillness in the water and be met with a gargantuan wave that knocks me off my board.

What I can do is to anticipate when a big wave is coming, put in the hard work to get myself into position for it, and then let the wave do the work. I cannot make myself ride a wave that isn’t there. I cannot will the waves to come. All I can do is realize that ultimately, I have no control over the waves, but if I relax, work hard, and learn to trust my gut instincts, then I can enjoy a beautiful ride.

*This was the first post I wrote when I decided that I wanted to start a blog documenting my experiences. Why this particular subject? Because palpable fear was something so raw and so present in my life for such a long time that this instance came to mind immediately. I’m glad to be in a place now where Fear is not my roommate anymore.

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

I was one step away from absolute independence. The only puppet string that I hadn’t cut was the one attached to my car. Well, I was told it was a “gift” and that it was mine. But I was also told that if I left the house in that car that the cops would be called and a stolen car would be reported. I was living in fear that one day, I would walk out to my car to find it surrounded by police officers waiting to take it away.

I couldn’t continue living in fear worrying that any day I could be without a car. Trading it in wasn’t an option either because the title was in my father’s name. That would require me asking him for a title change, something I wasn’t willing to do. I didn’t want any help or to attach any new strings. Knowing that I used the car they bought to purchase my own would suck any joy out of the experience.

No, I would have to purchase a car all on my own. Except that I was unable to put any money down and had nothing to trade in towards a new one. I hadn’t really put much thought into buying a car, it was not something I had ever worried about before. My father was a car connoisseur and I had never had to think about purchasing one without his guidance and expertise up until the past few months.

Add another item to the list of things I would have to handle on my own with zero experience doing so. I asked Kendrae to come with me to the car dealership for moral support. He knew less about vehicles than I did. But I felt that I should have someone to celebrate this milestone with me. Just because my situation wasn’t one that appeared to be ideal, didn’t mean that I couldn’t celebrate my own mini victories. Buying your first car is a big deal and should be treated as such. So I was happy when Kendrae agreed to support me.

We pulled up to McKaig Chevrolet in Gladewater, TX and I had a ball in the back of my throat. It was hard to swallow and my palms were moist. I was anxious. I felt like the salesmen could tell I didn’t have any collateral and no money in my bank account. I was unsure if it was even possible to purchase a vehicle with no money down, not much credit and nothing to put towards the first payment.

Walking into the dealership doors, I steeled myself and tried not to get my hopes up. I didn’t want a new car. I wanted something low maintenance, with great gas mileage and compact so it was easy to park. I didn’t want something in a loud color. I wanted a car that blended in – a common model that wouldn’t draw any attention. So if my parents decided to drive by my apartment complex, they wouldn’t be able to identify which car was mine. I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing where I lived, but by changing my car, I was adding an extra measure of security. A miniscule measure of security that eased my mind, even if only slightly.

I was greeted by a young woman named Alexus. Her smile consumed her entire face and instantly put my nerves at rest. Her face didn’t strike me as a salesperson who would try and get over on someone interested in purchasing a car. She struck me as warm and helpful, exactly the kind of person I was interested in car shopping with.

Alexus, Kendrae and I test drove three cars. The first two cars were total letdowns. Not at all what I pictured myself driving. Reality was beginning to settle in that maybe I had set the bar too high. It was true, I didn’t really know what my budget was and maybe all I would be able to afford was an even older model than I imagined. And then we walked up to car number three.

“This is it, Sarah,” Kendrae remarked, emphatically. “I can feel that this is your car.”

If this car was anything like the first two, I wasn’t so sure. But I kept my mind open. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations. I needed a car because each day that I kept the Honda Accord, was a day I risked having it taken away. I needed a car. So, I needed to find one today.

As I drove the 2013 Hyundai Elantra down the long stretch of road, I was surprised at how easy it was to maneuver. It rode smooth, had a quiet engine and I definitely took note of the great MPG it clocked on the highway. It was light blue with a soft tan cloth interior. Perfect for the excruciating Texas summers. It was small, with not much room in the backseat, but how often did I really plan to have more than one other person in my car for an extended period of time?

Kendrae was right, this was my car. So long as I could afford it. I crunched some numbers in my head and came up with a figure that was the absolute highest I could afford. If this car was over that number, I would have to find something else. A highly unfavorable option.

An hour later, I left the dealership driving my new car. The payment matched the figure I calculated in my head, I owed no money down and wouldn’t have to make my first payment for two months. An actual miracle! I was soaring. This was it, the last step required to get my affairs in order and begin my new life.

Suddenly my flight was sent hurtling down to the ground by a text from my grandmother from Ohio. A text completely out of the clear blue sky as we hadn’t communicated since I left her house in July.

“I can’t believe you never told us about what happened with your high school boyfriend. Being forcefully made to do something you didn’t want to do. You are damaged. You need to go to counseling. No wonder you ended up with Kendrae. Look what happened to you.”

My jaw fell open as I stared at my phone screen. My mind was blank, still in shock from her vicious words. All the moisture from my mouth instantly evaporated and my throat went dry. I swallowed in attempt to satiate my tongue and allow my brain to come back from that blow.

What…?

That was all I could compute. I read and reread that message what must have been a dozen times and still the shock was just as potent. Unbelievable. I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t wrap my mind around the contents.

I certainly wasn’t going to respond to her message. I shuddered as the all too familiar feeling of guilt overtook my body. It was MY fault that I was taken advantage of? I did tell my mother about this situation about a year ago. And her response: “You know how to say no now though, right?” No concern, no anger, no solace. Just cold matter of factness. We never discussed it again after that one night.

And now, it was being used against me. It was my fault and just HAD to be the reason I was dating Kendrae, a man that they labeled as unsuitable for their daughter. Who now was also damaged goods.

This vicious cycle of guilt and manipulation had to stop. I couldn’t control what they said and did. But I could control allowing it to have an effect on me.

A few days later Kendrae and I decided it would be nice to take a trip to visit his family in the Houston area. Things had been tense for me and getting away sounded like a nice change of scenery. This also provided the perfect way to give my parent’s car back.

But I crafted a plan so that I wouldn’t have to see them to give it back. I didn’t want a fight. Or a guilt trip. Or anything for that matter. I just wanted to give the car back and move on. So I found a public place halfway between Longview and Van Alstyne. Kendrae would follow behind so that once I dropped off the car, we could make our way to Houston.

It seemed so cold and final, but I couldn’t think of any other way to give it back that wouldn’t rip my heart out.

I pulled up the pre-written text message and hit send.

“I dropped the car off at Walmart in Terrell. The key is under the back-passenger floor mat; the back-driver side door is unlocked. Thank you for providing me with a car for as long as you did. The Walmart address is 1900 West Moore Ave. Terrell, TX 75160.”

I stared at my screen as I sat in the passenger seat. It had been 30 minutes since we left that Walmart parking lot, but I wasn’t sure we had enough distance between us yet. Maybe in 15 more minutes, I would feel a little safer. Wrong. As each minute ticked by on the dashboard clock, I grew more and more anxious. Why did it seem like making any choice was so difficult? Why did every situation feel like I was the only one losing?

“Did you send it yet?” Kendrae asked.

I nodded my head yes. I sent it. Kendrae reached over and grabbed my hand. We sat in silence. Tears poured down my face as my body gently shook in resistance to my suppressed sobs. I kept reassuring myself that I was making the right decision. I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I did. I was so programmed to feel guilty, feeling any other emotion would seem foreign.

I was snapped back to reality by the vibrating of my cell phone. Dad read across the top of the screen. My heart sank. I anticipated that they might call in response to my recent text message. I stared at my screen and let it go to voicemail. It rang again, and I clicked the button on the side of my phone to silence the vibrations. There was no sense in answering. My text had said everything I needed to say. They had lost their privilege to speak to me in a non-controlled environment. And I wasn’t sure I possessed the strength to speak to them over the phone. Not yet.

A notification that I received a voicemail lit up my screen. I handed the phone to Kendrae. “You listen to it. I can’t,” I squeaked out, my voice quivering. I stared out the window, my eyes scanning as if there were answers in the grass. The sound of the road was the only audible sound in the truck as Kendrae listened to what I couldn’t.

“They’re confused why you dropped off your car,” Kendrae said.

I gave it back because I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want anything with a string attached to it that could be ripped out from under me at any given moment. A car that could be reported stolen because I wasn’t coming home. This was the only remaining string of the tethered rope of my parents’ hold over me. Any car payment in the world was worth paying for my independence. The knot in my stomach uncurled slightly, as I reassured myself this was a step in the right direction. I sat up straighter, gazed back out the window and let the feeling of ease wash over me.

I had started at the bottom. With absolutely nothing, but now I had taken one step forward. One slow, small painstaking step. But forward progress is progress all the same.

Author’s Note: We are all the same. Your struggles. Your fears. Your dreams. Your story. You are not in this alone. Of course no two situations are quite identical, but what you’re going through is not unique to you. You do not have to suffer in silence and think that no one knows what you’re going through. Don’t let your pride prohibit your healing process. Don’t believe the lie that you can handle it all on your own.

 True strength does not come from muscling through something, gritting your teeth and suffering through. Strength comes from identifying and admitting your struggles. Strength comes from allowing others to support you.

I spent so much time in my own head delaying my overall health and well-being. I was so worked up, stressed out, heart broken and lost. All because I believed that I had to handle everything on my own. Partly because I was embarrassed, partly because I was raised in a family dynamic that avoided confrontation at all cost and partly because I was prideful. I was more concerned with what people would think when they learned the truth that it prevented me from telling it.

So I struggled and struggled to find the surface of the water. Frantically panicking in every direction but up. Consumed in a sea of darkness and self-doubt. Only hurting myself. Only stunting my own growth. And not gaining any strength because of it. It was not until I vocalized my struggles that I was able to learn from them. Somewhere along the way we are fed this idea that we have to have it all together. We have to fix all our own problems, self-inflicted or not. We have to have all the answers on our own, without any help or guidance. When nothing could be further from the truth.

No. 28 – Taking Care of Business

No. 28 – Taking Care of Business

My first order of business was Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright.

So I quickly typed up a message asking how he was feeling. Kendrae responded that he was fine. That messages of hate had no effect on him, because he knew they were full of lies. In fact, he even messaged my mother back. A response that caught me off guard, but filled me with pride and a hint of jealousy. I was proud that Kendrae was able to stand up for himself. Jealous because that remained a feat I was unable to master. I had written, typed and vocalized a thousand responses to my parents. Some came out of spaces of anger, others came from places of brokenness and disappointment, others from confusion and guilt. And then most were a mixture of all of the above. But every single one, came from a place driven by emotion. And I knew, until I could remove my emotions from the situation and be objective, no conversation would better the situation. Anything I said, would only heap more onto the pile.

So I continued forward in silence. I believed that right now, the most impactful thing I could say, was nothing. My heart was too tender and still bleeding. Attempting to have a civil conversation was not only out of the question, but not safe for my well-being. And like I planned out, saying anything before I had taken care of the items on my mother’s list was a waste of energy.

Which brought me to Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day.This would most likely be the most difficult of the steps. I am a girl who naturally wears her emotions very openly. To survive the past few months, I had to fight against my natural tendencies and wear a mask. A task that drained me and left me feeling completely empty. But, I wasn’t out of the clearing yet. I would have to don my smiling mask, yet again and get through another day. Outwardly wearing a smile while inwardly suppressing tears.

The bell rang, indicating that I needed to join my students in their next class. Mrs. Vaughn’s 6thperiod. A dynamic class that engaged both students and teachers. A class that was going to be exceptionally difficult to fake it through. Mrs. Vaughn didn’t accept anything but the best from her students, and she would certainly notice if I was slacking in that department too. I was worried that she might notice something was wrong, and want to talk about it. She cared deeply for everyone; a trait that I very much admired normally, just not on this particular day. Because that would mean spilling the beans to my entire story. A fatal chink in my armor of surviving the school day.

So I pulled myself together, and glanced at my reflection in the glass window pane on my door before exiting. Smile,I told myself.Just two more periods. Even for a small glass window, my reflection wasn’t very convincing. So I closed my eyes, slowly breathed in. And out, then tried my smile again. Better, I thought. I could work with this.

I joined my students in the class and sat down in the back. Seeing their faces renewed and lifted my spirit. You can do this, I reminded myself again, a little more convincingly. And then Mrs. Vaughn and I made eye contact, and my cover was blown. She knew. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell that she knew something was up.

Oh please, God, don’t let her ask me any personal questions. I cannot handle any more right now.

I quickly moved to the other side of the room to check on two of my students. They were working quietly, but I stayed over there on the opposite side of the room. Maybe my acting skills weren’t up to par today, so my avoidance skills would have to kick it up a notch. I did a lot of floating around from desk to desk, a continual motion. Never stopping so that I really seemed engaged. I mean, I was, but still.

45 minutes passed by and the bell rang, bringing the class to a close. I shot Mrs. Vaughn a poor attempt at a half smirk as I quickly slipped out her classroom door. I passed through the busy hallway, making a bee-line to my classroom at the end of the hall. It was my conference period, the final period of the school day. I was in the home stretch. I used this time to google where an Allstate insurance office was located. I hoped there was an office in Longview. There was, thank goodness, 2.9 miles from my school. And they were open until 5:30. Perfect.

I had made it through the day without any hiccups. Which took me to Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office.After the final school bell rang, I gathered my belongings and followed the mass exodus of students out the doors. I kept my eyesight forward, not desiring to make eye contact so as to deter my crucial plans. I made it to my car without engaging in any conversations with co-workers or students. Pulled up the programed insurance office on my cell phone GPS and pulled out of the parking lot.

I was nervous as I pulled up to the insurance office. Not nervous to get on my own plan, but nervous about the payment details. I knew it would be embarrassing to admit that I had $0.00 in my bank account. Not even some change. And the couple bucks I had on me in cash would not be enough to cover the cost of an insurance plan. That if the agent asked me to prepay for a plan, I would have wasted their time and have to come back on a later date.

I composed myself and took the first step towards the office. I opened the door and was greeted by a friendly, dark-haired receptionist. She informed me that Mr. Gonzalez was with another client at the moment, but that I could wait in the lobby for him. I’m not sure how long I waited, but it felt like hours. And with each passing moment, my nerves only worsened. My mind running full speed towards the worst-case scenario. Not only did they expect a payment up front, they would need to speak to my parents to get me removed from their family insurance plan. I would have to have an awkward and overly personal conversation with my mother in front of a complete stranger only to be declined coverage. Or even worse…

“Sarah, Mr. Gonzalez will see you now,” the kind receptionist interrupted my crazy thoughts.

I exhaled, relieved that her timing stopped my crazy train dead in its tracks. But now my nerves were at an all-time high. I stood up and walked into Mr. Gonzalez’s office. I smiled nervously and sat down, absorbing all the details of his office. Motivational sayings, a picture of his young family, an award hanging on the wall. It was welcoming, but not too personal.

I explained to Mr. Gonzalez, or Eddie, as he insisted that I call him, that I had just gotten my first “big girl job” and that I wanted to get off of my parents’ insurance plan. I tried to keep the conversation light and polite, disclosing enough information to seem friendly, but not too much that would probe further in-depth questions. We talked about where I was teaching and a little bit about the special education field. Fine, I could handle these surface level questions.

As Eddie pulled up my current insurance plan, he noticed that my father was not tapped into all the discounts he could be receiving. With a few keyboard clicks, Eddie applied more discounts to my father’s policy. Not exactly on my seven-step plan for the day, but whatever.

After going through the rest of the details, and selecting the lowest coverage plan I could possibly manage, we reached the final step. Settling the payment.

“Card information please?” Eddie asked.

I swallowed hard as I reached down in my purse for my wallet.

“You are wanting to enroll in the automatic monthly billing, correct? It will lower the cost of your monthly plan, and ensure that you never miss a payment.” Eddie further explained.

“Sure,” I responded. My face must have matched the color of his office walls- white. I was sure all the color had retreated from my face.

“And your payment date?”

“I’m sorry”, I questioned, “payment date?”

“Yes, you have the ability to select the date that your payment is drafted.”

The color instantly rushed back to its rightful place under my skin. “Ummm, can we do the 25th? That’s the day I get paid every month.” Why I felt the need to explain my date selection, I’m unsure. But I was nervous.

“Not a problem! So your first payment will come out on September 25th. Anything else I can help you with today, Miss Sarah?” the kindness in his voice soothed my nerves.

“No, thank you Eddie. You have been very helpful.”

I smiled, a real smile, and thanked him again as I left his office. I said my farewells to the receptionist and made my way to my newly insured car. I placed my new insurance card in the glove compartment and glanced at my phone.

It was 4:45. Plenty of time to complete the next item on my list. Step 4: Visit a Sprint store. The store location was actually on my route home from the Allstate office. They closed at 8, and I wanted to make sure that I got everything squared away tonight.

I pulled up to the store and sighed as I saw the line of people ahead of me through the glass window storefront. I put my car in park, turned off the engine and walked into the store. I was greeted and instructed to write my name down on the paper sign-in sheet. There were five names ahead of mine that had not yet been crossed off. Great,I thought, more waiting. No, this time I was going to be productive with my time, not allow my mind to turn down the dark road it inevitably always turned down.

I paced around the store for at least 45 minutes, feigning interest in the different cell phone models and accessories. I was not interested in a new phone at the moment. I had just purchased the one I had this summer. I hoped that switching plans would allow me to keep my phone and my number.

“Sarah…” my name was called by gentleman wearing a black polo shirt with the yellow Sprint logo.

Finally, I wasn’t sure I could pretend to look at the new iPhone one more time. I smiled as I approached the counter. Halfway genuine, halfway out of politeness. I pretty much gave this guy the spiel that I gave Eddie. First job, wanting to get on my own plan. Can I please keep my same phone and cell phone number?

To my absolute surprise, I was! Same phone, same number, new plan. This was actually the easiest step so far, minus the long wait. Again, I was signed up for the automatic billing feature. Since I signed up in the middle of their billing period, I would not have to make my first payment until October 10th, well after my first pay check. Whew! What a relief!

I thanked Greg for his assistance and walked out of the store. Wow, now all I really had left to do was Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. The most difficult step of all. Communication with my mother. I never knew how to phrase things with her. What I meant to say and what my mother actually heard were two completely different messages. As far removed from each other as Mercury was from Neptune, millions and millions of miles away.

I would have to be objective and succinct. Nothing about my message could be open to perception or interpretation. After about 15 drafts and over a half hour sitting in my car in front of my apartment, I had crafted the perfect message.

Got my own car insurance, switched over my phone line, and took care of the health insurance. Thanks for covering it all as long as you did.

It was to the point, it let my parents know that they no longer needed to spend a cent on my behalf, and was objective. I toyed with the notion of not even including the second sentence, but it felt too cold without it. I was appreciative that up until this point I didn’t have to worry about my own bills while I was still in school. I truly was grateful. We may have disagreed on some fundamentals, but none of that negated my gratitude for their providence.

I reread the text for the twentieth time. I couldn’t find any flaw with it, but I’m sure there was. There was bound to be something that wouldn’t be received well and would be added to list of things Sarah couldn’t do right. But it was late, I had an exhausting day and I was ready to be done with this whole mess.

So I copied the message from the notes in my phone and pasted it into the open text message. I entered my mother’s name at the top and hit send.

I wasn’t sure if I would get a response from her or not, but I didn’t have the emotional stamina to deal with it tonight. I turned my phone on silent and wouldn’t look at it again until the next morning, when my alarm woke me up.

Which brings me to Step 7: Get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll be a few steps closer to true independence. This will all be worth it. Chin up.

I didn’t skip Step 6: Pray. That step was interlaced all throughout the other seven steps. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through any of the other steps if I hadn’t been praying along the way.

A big inhale. And an even bigger exhale. In all the commotion of the day, I hadn’t realized what a relief this all truly was. I had taken two huge steps toward absolute independence from my parents. All the puppet strings had been severed, except one. And I would take care of that string another day.

Author’s Note: I want to touch on the concept of gratitude. It’s a word that has been on my heart a lot lately, because I don’t know if was I truly grasping the concept. What I’ve come to realize is that living a life of gratitude does not mean you have it all together. It does not mean that you have no desires for anything else because your heart is already so full.

 Delving into these painful experiences from my life, I see a common thread of reaching and longing. A thread that is still present today. And for a most of my life I believed that in order to practice gratitude, it meant I had to be holly content with every aspect of my life. And if one area of my life was still in process, I wasn’t truly grateful, because I was still longing for something else.

Guilt overwhelmed me and I thought that if I was TRULY grateful, I wouldn’t be concerned with having a mattress. If I was truly grateful, I wouldn’t be worried about how I was going to eat. If I was truly grateful I wouldn’t be fixated on my broken relationship with my family.

 And it wasn’t until very recently that I was hit over the head with the concept of gratitude. Gratitude is not something that only presents itself when life is just peachy. Because, let’s be honest, when is life ever peachy? Sure, we all go through phases, but part of being human is growing, developing and moving forward. With that forward movement comes reaching and longing and pushing. To be a better individual, sibling, friend, partner. Gratitude is not the absence of want. Gratitude is not complacency. Gratitude is rather the overwhelming presence and acknowledgement of what we do have.

I can be grateful to have four solid walls around me with a roof over my head, and still long for a bed. I can have all my bills paid and still long for margin. I can be working at a job that I don’t love while still demonstrating gratitude that my needs are being provided for. Gratitude is not a destination or a complete lack of want. Gratitude is the warm wave that washes over us as we continue swimming.