No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

I am a person who when working out, wants NO ONE else around. I don’t dress cute, style my hair or wear make up. My shoes and outfit don’t match or even coordinate for that matter. I wear loose, over-sized shirts, whatever pair of clean bottoms I can find, and strap myself down under three sports bras so I don’t knock myself out while jumping or moving. Some days are better than others, but usually I have to drag myself there, and I try to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

The past few months, I’ve been boxing. Which is completely empowering and makes me feel like an all around bad ass. Until I see myself in the mirror that is. In my head I’m much faster and more agile than I am in real life. Cue why I don’t like anyone else around while I’m practicing.

But for the past few weeks, it seemed anytime I frequented the gym, so did this middle-aged gentleman. He almost always attended with his two young daughters, neither looking to be over the age of five. Put out that other humans besides my husband and best friend could witness my total lack of skill and athleticism, I cringed every time they walked through the door. Not to mention that the young girls were full of energy and very talkative. My initial thought was “why would you bring these two kids with you while you work out? They’ll just get in the way.” But to my surprise, this stranger was exceptionally considerate and went out of his way to ensure neither he nor his daughters interfered with anyone else’s workouts.

One day, the man and his daughters were in the gym before us. Immediately after walking in, the man offered to leave if his daughters presence would be a distraction to us. I reassured him that they were not and we each went about our separate workouts. And in trying to avoid the mirror while doing some squat jump things, I observed the man interact with his two daughters. He was seated on a bench set up at an incline while doing some shoulder press moves. All the while, one daughter was propped on each knee. Giggling, smiling and interacting with each other and their father. It was an extremely touching encounter to witness.

It was apparent these girls adored their father. And he clearly reciprocated. Never seeming irritated or frustrated at the modifications he was forced into utilizing while trying to entertain his two young girls. Never scolding if they needed to be redirected. Keeping them close while making it appear they were getting just as much benefit of the the gym time as he was.

The more times I ran into this family, the more I looked forward to seeing them. Not really interacting much, but a definite positive impact on my day. We’d exchange pleasantries, and the father would always make sure their attendance didn’t put any inhabitance on our gym time. Which I assured him it didn’t.

About a week after I truly began to respect and admire this family, another third party observation shifted my perspective even further. Jess and I were rotating through some boxing circuit reps, taking turns working on different skills. I was yet again doing some fashion of squats and drifted away from the mirrors that seemed to surround me. Jess was on the boxing bag looking like a pro while doing some round kicks.

But what caught my attention was the father and his two daughters. Again, they were seated on his knees while he managed to do some dumbbell presses. The look of awe in the young eyes is what first zeroed in my focus. “Do you see those girls?” He questioned both his daughters. It was apparent they noticed, because their eyes were wide with curiosity. “These girls are strong. And when you get older you will be strong like they are too.” Grins flashed across their sweet faces and they looked in amazement as Jess continued to kick the bag.

Even throughout the remainder of my workout, I couldn’t shake that brief conversation. What an impact that father made on his children. Not only by showing them what a priority their health is by creating a positive relationship between his daughters and the gym. Even before they are old enough to work out. But also by pointing out a stranger as a positive role model. Not a pointing out a particular physique or workout method. This father recognized strength in another female and created a foundation of awe to support it.

Now, in the grand scheme of these young girls life, this encounter may be forgotten in a few weeks. But as a stranger who overhead a personal conversation by being a semi-creepy eavesdropper, I have a good instinct these types of conversations are not the exception. They are the normal for this father-daughter relationship. And what a beautiful lesson to be teaching young girls.

All this to say that you never know who’s watching. Or listening. You have no idea who is around. So to Jess, keep it up sis. Just by you working out like you do every week, you taught two young girls (and a girl a month older than you) that strength is awe-inspiring. You had no idea this family noticed you being your usual bad ass self. And yet just by showing up, made a positive impact.

And to this exceptional father, I am encouraged by your interactions with your daughters. You’re instilling traits in them before the age of five, that this 27 year old is still trying to sort out. What was most likely a brief conversation between a father and his daughters was also such a positive experience to a complete stranger.

Even though you may think no one notices all the little things you do. Someone is always looking. You may never see your impact on others, but you are making one just the same.

Be encouraged friends.

xxx

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

It’s been one entire year to the day since I hit publish on my first post on relentless Sarah. So, what have I learned in the past year of blogging?

Anni Still (1 of 1)

Show up and keep showing up. People can’t support and engage with an absent account.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it NEVER will. Post it anyway. The imperfect words, the flaw-full picture. Post it and move on. Don’t stress over what could have been better. Critique kindlyand apply next time. No one wants a robot. They want a real person.

Be vulnerable. It sucks. It’s hard. It’s scary. But it’s so important. Letting your guard down lets others in. While also opening up you to others as well. A fully guarded heart helps no one, not even itself.

You aren’t suffering alone. Even if you believe your situation is completely unique to you, it’s not. Someone else has or is currently dealing with something similar. Don’t hide out. Strength lies in numbers. It doesn’t come from muscling through, it comes from breaking down and building anew.

Seq1

Let yourself heal on your own terms. Don’t force it or rush it or fake it. It will progress naturally as long as you work to give yourself the time, space and mindset.

Be gentle. Gentle with others but especially with yourself. You can be your own harshest critic, and stand in your own way. Set realistic expectations. And when you fall short, because you will, treat yourself with grace.

While your pain may not be unique, your voice is. Don’t ever undervalue that. What you say, think and feel matters. Even if no one else ever hears it, your heart needs to say it. And that is plenty reason enough to speak up.

Seq2

Pain has a purpose, but so does joy. Don’t believe the lie that only out of pain can you produce. Pain is not the only catalyst. You don’t have to marinate in your suffering.

Be creative. Step outside of your own box of comfort that you created and placed yourself in. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This should be fun and creative, not a chore or a stressor.

Be open to change. You cannot grow otherwise. Yes, it can be scary, but so can a stagnant life. I’d much rather be open to new opportunities and try. Even if I fail, then to settle for complacency and mediocrity.

Seq3

Just start. The process is worth the effort. I didn’t begin this journey with an end in mind. I just started. My only plan was to post once a week. That’s it; I could figure out the rest along the way. I didn’t have some looming pie in the sky I was reaching toward. I was more concerned with the act than the result. And that’s okay. In certain situations focusing on the craft rather than the product can lead to possibilities we would have never dreamed of.

You can’t plan everything. As a natural-born planner, the unknown stresses me out. And while having an outline can be helpful, it can also stifle the creative process. Many times I had an idea for a post, spent hours trying to stick to the script, only to scrap it and write about something completely unplanned. And every time, I surprise myself. In the best possible way.

I spend lots of time, energy and finances on my blog. And up to date have yet to make a cent. Close up, it sounds like I have an expensive hobby. And if I only focused on a product like money as a gauge of success, I would be running a failing operation. But, because I measure success based upon outreach, internal personal growth, creativity and discipline, I’ve already earned far more than I ever thought possible.

Anni Still (1 of 1)-3

Reflecting back over the version of Sarah before the blog and the version of me today, the difference is remarkable. The lessons I learned from my blog are just as applicable in life. You can’t always control where you’re planted, but you can blossom just the same. Through the unfertile soil, droughts, storms and lack of affection and resources, you can still bloom. A flower in a garden surrounded by other flowers is indisputably beautiful. But a flower that blooms despite a rocky terrain is breath-taking.

Just like the confetti in my photographs, I have hand selected beautiful words and breathed them out into the universe. Unsure if anyone would catch even a tiny sparkle. And each week I am overwhelmed by the reception of my words and experiences. But what I didn’t expect was for so many of you to shower me right back.

Reaching this year milestone wells my spirit with gratitude. I only hope to continue this journey and see where my confetti lands. So from the depths of my soul, thank you for allowing me this great privilege and for receiving me and my words with utmost kindness.

Cheers to many more years of growth and encouragement together!

Seq4

xoxo

Sarah

No. 37 – Poetry

No. 37 – Poetry

Growth. 

We’re all seeking what we cannot see,

Our future self- who we’re supposed to be. 

But with each step forward, 

My past keeps dragging me back. 

 

Split between two people:

The me I could be, 

And the version who couldn’t 

Let go. 

 

Shame. Disbelief. Fear. 

Overwhelming me. 

I watched myself on auto-pilot.

Less than a whole person 

Aimless and incomplete. 

 

And yet…

 

In the very same reflection: 

Embracing. Accepting. Kind. 

Love illuminated like I’d never known. 

I felt myself blossom and flourish. 

Realizing I am already whole. 

 

Torn down the middle.

Clutching onto my past, the familiar. 

While reaching forward, towards the unknown. 

In order to fully embrace one

I must let go of the other. 

 

If I know my past is hurting me,

Why is it still so difficult to let go?

 

Author’s Note: I decided to change things up this week. A lot. Rather than writing my traditional 1500-word post, I wanted to challenge myself to write less. Instead of aiming for 1500 words, I aimed for 150. Could I convey the same message with 150 words that I could in 1500? It was a challenge. I must have written and rewritten this same entry 15 times. Scratching and starting over. Tweaking and revamping. Then starting from scratch again. 

Why poetry? Besides the fact that I enjoy it, poetry is raw. It strips away all the noise and cuts to the real emotions. I want my message to be more than a word count. I don’t only want to tell my story through a rigid perspective. Part of the beauty in having my own blog, is that I’m able to dictate what I say and how I narrate. So I challenged myself creatively. A process I thoroughly enjoyed.  

I decided to write a poem expressing my emotions during the in between. In between the drama, the big moments, the “blog worthy” topics. This poem is about the development and challenges I had just living day to day during this phase in my life. It highlights the juxtaposition I think we all face when striving towards growth. Acknowledging our past and appreciating it in a way that doesn’t stagnate our potential. While also not apologizing for our internal struggle. 

Hope you enjoy it! 

xoxo

Sarah 

No. 35 – Self Worth

No. 35 – Self Worth

Half a year had come and gone and it hadn’t felt as if I had time to blink. My days were filled with scrambling, and I wasn’t getting much rest. When I wasn’t teaching, I was working in the mall at a little clothing boutique called Francesca’s. Kendrae and I felt like ships passing by but never meeting. My work schedule was a muddled mess, and his hours consisted of early mornings and late nights. We would squeeze in time together as much as possible, but it didn’t feel like much. A robot on auto-pilot, I was set on survival mode. 

I was constantly on edge. Fearful of what might be lurking just around the corner. Always glancing behind me, slowly turning corners, eerie of any sound I heard while in my apartment. I had been there nearly six months and the place still didn’t feel like home. Perhaps because I had no means to make it feel that way. It felt like a echoic warehouse building. I had finally managed to scrape up enough money to buy a thrice hand-me-down couch, but it was so lived in before I got it, that the springs were out of place, and inflicted actual physical pain to any who dared to sit on it. I never got a table, or any chairs for that matter. The only place I could really sit down was the floor or the bed, Jessica had so graciously loaned me. 

Truth be told, I was so busy, I didn’t have much time to want for anything. Besides more time with Kendrae. If I would’ve invested in a couch, I wouldn’t have any free time to sit on it. Better to just keep the apartment empty so that it was easier to come and go so often. 

Over time the place felt familiar, but not like home. Maybe it wasn’t even the lack of furniture that had any influence over my current nomadic feeling; it was deeper than that. I never felt safe. My irrational fear that my parents would come banging on the door, demanding to take me back home was a reoccurring nightmare, waking and sleeping. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I expected to see one of their ten cars waiting on me. No matter how many times I tried to rationally talk my fear down, it was no good. In fact, the longer it had been, the surer I was that they were going to pop up. Kendrae shared my fear and didn’t feel comfortable visiting my apartment. Another reason it was hard to see each other.

The only time I had felt safe in the last six months was when he was around. And when he wasn’t, which was most of the time, I battled a constant state of unease. Looking over my shoulder. Inspecting every shadow. Sitting in silence so I could hear even the slightest breeze. Never truly resting. Mind constantly reeling. 

But when Kendrae was around, the fears dissipated. My two extremities wreaked havoc with my emotions. I found myself clinging to him more tightly, and coming to tears when we would part. A complete and total wreck, sobbing uncontrollably without constraint or insight as to why. Even when Kendrae was near, he couldn’t be more than six inches away from me or I felt susceptible to danger. I knew my behavior and emotions were erratic, but it was as if I had no physical or emotional filter. 

And one January night, it all came crashing down on me. I had the night off from the boutique, and Kendrae was getting off of work around 6. Naturally I was excited, because this meant we could spend some actual time together. I would make us both dinner, and we could watch something on Netflix and just relax. Until I got a text message that knocked the wind straight out of me.

“Just getting off work. I’m tired, so I’m just going to go home.” It was a basic message, but sent me into a frenzied panic. A dozen questions flew through my head so intensely that I felt dizzy. And before I could even think of a response, I found myself calling him. 

“Hello.” 

“Hey, I just got your text. You’re not going to come over?” I said as my voice cracked. 

“Yeah, I’m tired and need some time to myself.”

“…Um…okay…” I said choking back tears. He’s tired of you. He doesn’t want to spend what little free time he has with you. You’re losing him, Sarah.

Trying not to sound as panicked as I felt, “I was going to cook something for us and then I thought we could watch a movie or something.” 

“Maybe another time. I just need some time. That’s all.” 

“Oh…okay,” was all I could muster. 

“Well I’m almost home now, so I’ll text you later okay?” 

“…alright. Bye.” 

Cue the waterworks. I crumbled onto my bed and felt my world collapsing. 

How could he not want to spend time together? 

We lived 20 minutes apart, and he didn’t want to see me? 

What was wrong with me? 

What did I do? 

What wasn’t I doing? 

My thoughts whizzed around me in a vicious circle and after completely eviscerating myself, I was left crushed and wounded. 

I attempted to type a message to Kendrae about 20 different times, but the words avoided me. Despair evolved into latent hostility. Fine. If he didn’t want to spend his precious spare time with me, then I didn’t need to spend my effort on him either. 

My faux feelings of anger quickly relented back to despair as my self-loathing ritual began again. After about two hours of wondering how I could possibly pick up the pieces of my shattered life, I received a text message from Kendrae. My heart jumped into the air and did a front flip. He loved me, he really loved me and was apologizing and was on his way over here. 

Quickly grabbing my phone, I typed in my password to view my digital love note. Or not…It was a picture of a yogurt parfait Kendrae had made with the caption: dinner. 

What? So he was just going to pretend that this massive wedge between us wasn’t there? That he hadn’t just dropped a massive bomb shell on my heart? My whole world hadn’t just been shattered? 

I played it cool. “Looks good.” I responded, trying to keep it brief as I tossed my phone across the bed. Letting out a mudled huff of frustration, I reclined back onto the mattress and rested my head on the edge, legs dangling off the opposite side. Gaze fixated on the static ceiling fan. Gravity tugged at my hair which slowly cascaded down the edge of the mattress towards the carpeted floor. I let out another deep breath as I felt my body sinking. And as my eyes focused, so intently on the fan blades, my mind explored. 

Where had I gone so wrong? What could I have done better, to make him want to stick around? Was I too vocal about my feelings for him? Too needy? Could I convince him to want to be with me? Or was his mind already made up? What would I do without him?

What would I do without him? 

The connotation of that question reverberated through my mind. What would I do without him? Really…Sarah? Had my life so completely revolved around one person that I was questioning how I could get by without him? Chills ran down my spine as realization set in. Somewhere between wondering if I would ever get out from underneath my parents and now, I had become co-dependent on Kendrae. So much so, that the thought of spending an evening apart sent me spiraling down the unworthiness worm hole. I felt sick to my stomach.

My eyes widened, so laser-like focused on the fan blades that they became blurry in comparison to my thoughts. And as I took a step back to see my own reflection, the picture became very clear. Losing my relationship with my family created a large void in my life. In my frenzy and vulnerability, I had cast Kendrae as the leading role of my life. Not only that, but signed him up for just about every supporting role too. He was now acting as my family, my closest companion, my security, confidant and sounding board. And that wasn’t fair. Nor right. How could one person live up to all those responsibilities and expectations? I know I wouldn’t want to occupy the end all, be all in his life. In fact, that was quite terrifying. 

And in the process of filling my life up with Kendrae, I was missing a part of Sarah. I had lost myself in our relationship because I so desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. Identifying myself as his partner, rather than a whole person. When was the last time I had just spent an evening with myself? Not because I had to, or because other plans fell through, but because I wanted to. My mind was blank. The last time I truly felt like Sarah had to be before everything blew up over the summer. But really before that I was so consumed with soaking in every minute with my friends, teammates, and new boyfriend before graduation that I wasn’t much of a factor then either. Actually, there had always been an excuse for why I was always my own last priority. I spent my entire life consumed with others, allowing everyone and everything to rank higher on my priority list. 

Serve others. Value others first. Think of yourself less. Put your wants and needs last. All notions that had been fed to me since I could remember. Notions, that in isolation serve a fine purpose, but together can also encourage and perpetuate the undervaluing of oneself. I had been trained that the only capacity in which I mattered was in my role to someone else. An ideology I had never given much thought, just robotically followed. 

Spending time solely exploring my thoughts, dreams and emotions seemed dirty and vainglorious. 

Was it possible to foster and value a relationship with yourself? If I gave myself the time, love and energy that I so desperately craved, would I lose Kendrae in the process? Or worse, had I lost him already? 

Author’s Note: We find ourselves at the start of a fresh, new year. A pausing point, inciting self-reflection. An act that I once undervalued and flat out misunderstood. What I once mistook for self-centeredness, I now recognize as a necessity. Constantly bombarded with blatant and subliminal messages, it is easy to lose yourself in the clutter. We intake so much, that if you don’t spend time sifting through it, you may not realize all the garbage that stacks up. Spending time alone was an occurrence I ardently avoided. Turning on music to drone out my thoughts, fearful of what I might hear. Watching mindless television to spare myself a rendezvous with my own mind. Believing that silence lead to self-absorption. A straight path leading only to loneliness and emptiness. 

And now, I crave the stillness. Yearning for even just a few brief moments of absolute tranquility. No distractions, no sound, just Sarah. A space where I’m encouraged to pray, dream, cry, think, explore and reflect. Where holistic clarity joins me. It is this steadfast priority to always believe in my value as an individual and to continuously explore and refine that propels me to be my best self. 

I want to be the best version of Sarah for me. Which also happens to spill out into my relationships. My work. My writing. My interactions with strangers. All of which were being stifled until I learned that I am important. My time is valuable. I can choose and not choose how I’d like to spend it. And if I’d like to spend quality time with myself, it is not vanity. It’s sanity. 

Often times, it is much easier to pour ourselves into others than it is to seek out what fills our own cups. But the danger in this lies with running on fumes. Starving ourselves and giving everyone less than our best. To paraphrase a fictional radio psychiatrist, “Like this camembert, I am at my most delicious when I’m not spread too thin.” 

Loving Day

Loving Day

I wrote this post a year ago and shared it on my personal Facebook. As I reread this emotional time capsule, I realized that I still feel exactly the same. The issues I wrote about a year ago are still just as prevalent now, if not more so. Because unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in a year’s time. So I decided to reshare my old thoughts with some present day updates.

Loving v. Virginia. In 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a Black and Native American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia. Richard and Mildred could not be married in their home state of Virginia because the state wouldn’t recognize their marriage. The couple traveled up North, to DC where their marriage could be legalized. The newlyweds returned to Virginia shortly afterward, but were charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored”. The Loving’s were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. Or they could leave their home in Virginia so long as they would not return together for twenty-five years. If they agreed to these terms, the judge would suspend their sentencing.

Mildred and Richard Loving decided that leaving their family in Virginia was a better alternative to serving jail time. I don’t blame them. But leaving the only home she ever knew and not being allowed to visit her family was not an alternative that sat well with Mildred. She reached out to a lawyer in hopes of being able to appeal their sentencing. And after nine years of waiting, the Loving’s case reached the Supreme Court.

June 12, 1967. The Supreme Court came to a unanimous agreement that outlawing interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The court stated:

“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

In 1967, there were 16 southern states with effective laws outlawing interracial marriage. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, several states made no changes to their constitution’s laws. South Carolina did not correct their state constitution until 1998, 30 years after the ruling. Finally, in 2000, Alabama was the last state to alter their constitution in regards to interracial marriage.

June 12, 2018. Today is the 51stanniversary of the declaration made by the Supreme Court pronouncing all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional. Fifty-one years. No, scratch that. Eighteen years. Meaning, that in the duration of my life, only eighteen of those years it has been legal in every state for me to marry Kendrae. While laws have changed, some of society’s viewpoints have not. Eighteen years later, and interracial couples are still plagued with shame, opposition and hatred.

In my four years together with Kendrae, we have certainly faced all three of these obstacles. Obstacles based solely on our outward appearances. We have been out in public and been treated notably different; we have heard from both ends of the spectrum some of the nastiest words and phrases that one can utter; we have faced rejection from family members and from total strangers; and received the full range of looks and insensitive comments. Fifty-one years later, in the year 2018, an interracial couple is still faced with the same recurring stigmas. We’re plastered with labels declaring our love to be less than and impure because we have two different skin tones. Our characters are attacked and we’re painted in unflattering light based on a difference in skin color. It is absurd and a concept I will never fully grasp, but it will not alter my view of myself, my partner, or our love.

All of these experiences have helped our relationship more than they’ve hurt. Sure, the words sting, being made to feel as inferior is certainly not pleasant, but we have made the choice to be even more intentional with our interactions with those around us. By Kendrae and I being kind to one another and maintaining a positive relationship in public and behind closed doors it helps to combat these contorted mentalities. In the past year alone we have seen racism flare its foul head with even more frequency and intensity.

Each day, now more than ever, we consciously choose to fight for true equality. We share the same dream. I am not so proud to think I could more eloquently convey a message that has rung true since the moment Martin Luther King Jr uttered it into existence on August 28, 1963; that we will one day live in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Today and every day we fight to break the stigmas swirling around us by doing what comes so naturally: loving each other.

No. 15 – Houses

No. 15 – Houses

Another day’s worth of traveling and my brother, sister and I had arrived in Fairview Park, Ohio at my grandparents’ house. A house that had been a safe haven and the most consistent place in my ever-changing life. Our family had never truly set roots because we moved fairly frequently. In fact, I never attended the same school for longer than four years. My routine became my lack of a long-term routine. I never truly settled in anywhere because that made it easier for me to disconnect and uproot when the time inevitably came. So I learned to enjoy my many houses, but I never made them my home. I saw no sense in getting attached to a place that wouldn’t last.

The first two houses on my list, were not ones that evoked fond memories. Simply because I was so young that I don’t remember much of anything about my time there. House No. 1: Huntington Beach, California. The place where I was born, and lived for about three years. Besides photos of little Sarah there, I have no recollections of living in California. Which brings us to House No. 2: Streetsboro, Ohio. Shortly after my sister was born, our family of four moved from California to Ohio, where my mother had grown up. Streetsboro was a place I don’t much remember and was not much talked about. We lived here for about two years, before moving again.

House No. 3: North Olmstead, Ohio. We moved here to be closer to my mother’s side of the family. Her parents, grandparents, and many of her aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a short driving distance from our new house.  I have some great memories here. We lived four houses down from my great grandmother, and many of my relatives were close by. We had a large front yard that was ideal for baseball and kickball games. The backyard contained a swing set and playground built by my father. My brother was born in there. And I have nothing but fond memories of my first memorable house.  We stayed in this location for the next five years.

House No. 4Allen, Texas. Due to a new job, my family of five packed up all our belongings and moved to Texas. A place where we had no family or friends. As a nine-year-old, leaving her entire family behind and moving to an envisioned tumbleweed tumbling, tractor driving, horseback riding flatland was a scary adventure. Much to my surprise, all my notions about Allen, Texas were wrong. We moved into a two-story house with a salt water pool. My brother, sister and I each had our own bedroom with plenty of space to grow. Our house backed up to a small lake and greenbelt with a walkway circling the water. I fell in love with this house and its location; it was definitely one of my favorites. My family resided here for four years, until my parents decided it was best for us to move out of the suburban city and into the country.

Cue House No. 5: Van Alstyne, Texas. The last six weeks of my eighth-grade school year, my family moved 45 minutes North of Allen to Van Alstyne. We moved into a log cabin set in the middle of 20 acres of land. Instead of a pool, we had a barn and lots and lots of backyard. And front yard for that matter. I was against this transition since the idea originated. Moving to the middle of nowhere and living thirty minutes away from a real grocery store did not sound like my idea of fun. But I adapted and met one of my best friends while living there, but it was certainly not at the top of my list of houses. The entire house was brown and dark. Dark brown wooden walls, dark brown wooden ceilings, dark brown tile, and dark brown wood floor. The whole nature of the house was depressing to me and housed some dark days during high school. I couldn’t wait to graduate, leave that town and never look back.

Flash to House No. 6: Longview, Texas. Well, it was more of a dorm room than a house, but I can’t exclude the place where I spent four years in college. Longview is not a large city, but it is certainly more populated that Van Alstyne. It is packed with majestically tall trees and bursting with green life. It’s quiet-natured and lacks much traffic which gives it a definite plus in my book. Most necessities for a college-aged girl were readily available within a short driving distance. And it was here that I met some of the most wonderful people. I discovered who I really was. And in a series of incredible events, I met the man of my dreams. A lot of major life events took place during my college experience in Longview, Texas.

After living in six different houses in six different cities, I somehow found myself back at House No. 5trapped and stifled. I had never intended to go back to House No. 5. In my past 22 years, my input hadn’t mattered about where my family lived. But now, as a college graduate in search of a job, I could choose to live wherever I wanted. In theory, of course. I would require a job that covered the financial burden of living on my own, which I hadn’t quite worked out yet. I was doing everything in my power to add a House No. 7, to the list.

But through all the moving and uprooting, my grandparents’ house had remained the same. In fact, my grandparents had lived in that same house since my mother was a little girl. Do the math and that’s about 50 years. All throughout my childhood and young adulthood, my grandparents’ house had been a desired vacation destination, a central gathering place, a creative workshop, the most delectable goodie store and my favorite place to spend my time. Everyone was always welcome, and good times were never in short supply. When my family lived in Ohio, we naturally spent a lot of time at their House. It was about a ten-minute drive from ours. Even after we moved to Texas, we continued to make trips at least once a year to visit our Ohio family, usually staying at my grandparents’ house. Spending time there was a treat, and one that I never tired of. My grandparents’ house was my epitome of home.

Their House was two-stories high and complete with a basement. It sat on a long rectangular lot with tall trees at the front and back of the property like bookends. The garage had been converted into a workshop/garage so that my grandfather could run his printing business out of their house and still have room to park their Ford Explorer. The garage turned workshop was my favorite element of the entire house. It was carpeted, had a television set up with cable, outfitted with heat and air conditioning and was constantly stocked with any art supply imaginable.

My grandfather is an incredible artist and an even better art teacher. He took great joy in helping to instill a creative love within his grandchildren. Anything we imagined, he would help bring to life in his garage studio. I would spend hours out in the workshop dreaming and creating. None of which was very good, but I didn’t care. And neither did my grandfather.

As soon as I pulled the Pontiac Torrent into the driveway, I expected the all familiar feeling of home to greet me and welcome me in. But to my surprise, the welcoming feeling was nowhere to be felt. I felt nothing. The place looked the same, but the feeling was gone. I quickly glanced back at my brother and sister, but neither of them said anything. I looked closer. They didn’t seem to notice the missing feeling. Maybe I was just tired from two full days of travel. That’s all it was. I was tired. After some time settling in, home and I would be reunited.

Later that evening, after some light unpacking and a home-cooked meal, I found myself out on the covered deck, soaking in the cool night air.The deck was enclosed, but the windows were open so that the screens could let in the fresh air while still warding off the night creatures. I was seated on the porch swing and lightly rocked myself back and forth. The House felt the same, but I didn’t. I felt different. Everything around me looked familiar. Nothing was out of place. Except me.

What had changed? Could it be my newfound individuality and perspective? Could it be that I had grown into my own woman? Could it be that I was simply tired and had been through a stressful past few weeks? As I continued to sway myself back and forth, my grandmother joined me on the swing.

“It’s nice out tonight, isn’t it? The weather hasn’t felt this nice in a few days,” my grandmother disrupted the silence.

“It is a lot cooler here than it is in Texas,” I responded. I didn’t know what was worse. Addressing the drama head on or babbling on about trivial details pretending there wasn’t a giant elephant sitting on the porch with us. His grey, heavy trunk weighing on my shoulders, enhancing the internal pressure I already felt.

My stomach was in knots. There really wasn’t a good direction for this conversation. Of course I didn’t want to dissect my “former” relationship with Kendrae, I knew my grandparents felt the same as my parents. Attempting a conversation with someone who refuses to hear you out is infuriating, not to mention pointless. Neither side can find common ground, and all your energy is left spinning in circles. I was exhausted: from the past two weeks and from the past two days. But, by ignoring the obvious reason for my visit, it just left room for the conversation to present itself later. Leaving me in wait for the inevitable. Which almost seemed worse than just getting it over with.

Meanwhile our talk danced around the truth and consisted of fluff. Filler to appear as if a conversation was being held, but instead we were just living in denial. All the while, mister elephant just continued pressing his trunk on my shoulders. Increasing the pressure ever so slightly. I leered his direction and smirked. After my past two weeks, it was going to take more than a little pressure to make me crack.

Perhaps this was for the best. I was exhausted, out of place and a stranger in what I once considered to be my own home. Delving into my personal life tonight would only lead to more heartache. So I continued swaying on the swing, elephant trunk on my shoulders, and talked with my grandmother about the Ohio weather. The house was reminding me of a familiar feeling, but it didn’t feel like home anymore.

 

No. 14 – The Cycle

No. 14 – The Cycle

I was being shipped up to Ohio for a “fresh start.” Which meant two weeks taken off work. Two weeks away from my parents. Two weeks away from my problems. Well, not really. I was in for two weeks of a microscopic study session and discussion of them. Not to mention, I had to make the 22-hour drive with my younger brother and sister. I didn’t mind having them around, but I just wanted to be alone. Throughout this whole incident, it felt like I was being watched at all times. I was not interested in having company, because I couldn’t think straight unless I was in complete solitude. Which I think was the idea. If they ever left me alone, they feared I would come to my senses and bolt. They were right about that part. But my leaving had to be calculated. Because when I did finally leave, I wasn’t coming back.

I had to seize any possible sliver of solidarity so that I could vet my plan. Which at the moment was: GET OUT ASAP! I hadn’t had enough time to work out the details to get me to that point yet. I was hoping for a job offer that would give me the financial security to make that jump, but right now, that plan wasn’t looking too promising. So Plan B was to waitress as much as possible and save every cent. But with two weeks off work, that plan wasn’t progressing at the pace I’d prefer.

Regardless of my dissatisfaction with the timing of the trip, my brother, sister, and I awoke early that morning, loaded up the car and began the arduous trek to Fairview Park, Ohio. As I directed the car down the long winding driveway away from my parents’ house, my eyes were drawn to the sky rather than the gravely path. The skyline was deeply blue, not quite black. It was the early time in the morning where the nocturnal creatures had called it a night and the early risers were still in bed. It was silent and still. The air crisp and dark with an edge of chill. The crunch of the gravel underneath the tires fell into a rhythmic pattern and lulled my nerves to sleep. My brother and sister settled for a few hours of rest leaving me alone with the road and my thoughts.

As the tires of my brother’s Pontiac Torrent eased us away from Van Alstyne, my eyes continually found their way to the sky. The moment of day break was upon me. The pivotal point where the night turns to day. The point where the light slowly creeps into the darkness. The exchange was so gradual, that I didn’t notice the presence of the light so much as the absence of the darkness. The transition a gentle one, nearly unnoticeable until the light had totally consumed the darkness. The sky danced before my very eyes illuminated with beauty and radiance. Each color sauntering into the next, quietly edging out the darkness while blending together to create a colorful tapestry.

The exchange between the darkness and the light fascinated me as my eyes focused on the road. It gave my thoughts a chance to explore in a new direction. As the road moved us onward, my mind ran parallel to it as well: forward on a new path. Perhaps the action in the sky was prophetic of what was to unfold in my own life. I couldn’t help but hope the magnificent sunrise mirrored what was to come in my near future. Oranges, yellows, peaches and reds painted over the once dark sky in my mind to reveal that every period of darkness ends.

Then, as they often do, my thoughts drifted towards Kendrae. What was he doing? Was he thinking about me? Would he wake up tomorrow and realize this was all too much, and find someone else? No, don’t go down that road. I backpedaled as much as I could and went a different direction. Maybe later that evening after we stopped for the night, I could sneak a moment and give him a call. The sound of his voice would dispel all those nasty self-doubts and give me the strength that I needed to press on. Just the thought of Kendrae’s voice occupied my mind for hours as the sun slowly rose in the sky.

Our 22-hour trek paused for the night in St. Louis, Missouri. All three of us were grateful to have arrived at the hotel and get some rest from the road. The trip hadn’t been as awful as I expected. In fact, I had actually enjoyed the bonding time with my siblings. We didn’t discuss my current prison sentence and I feigned optimism and excitement of our potential “vacation” activities. Regardless of my own feelings towards this trip, I knew my brother and sister were looking forward to it. Maybe if I bought into the vacation idea, I might end up enjoying myself more. It was at least worth the effort for my siblings’ sake.

Three full stomachs later, we were ready to settle in for the night, stretch out and get some rest before another full day of traveling. My brother plopped down on one queen mattress and began surfing the screen of his cell phone, and my sister occupied the bathroom taking a shower.

Opportunity!

I made up some excuse to go look for something in the car, and darted out to the parking lot. I quickly shimmied my burner phone out of my bra and punched in Kendrae’s number. I knew I wouldn’t have much time with him on the phone. Ring. As the phone rang, I walked to the trunk of the Torrent, opened up the rear door of the sport utility vehicle, and sat on the flat, carpeted floor. Ring.I positioned myself behind the head rest so that the hand holding the slim phone to my ear was camouflaged. I didn’t think you could see our car from the hotel room, but I didn’t want to risk being spotted. Ring.I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until I heard Kendrae’s voice.

“Hello,” his molasses-smooth, melodious voice beckoned me in.

Every muscle and tendon in my body relaxed, even if only slightly. Because I could never fully let my guard down. Not while I was in survival mode at least. Wanting to ensure I captured every decibel of sound in Kendrae’s voice, I pressed the phone speaker closer to my ear. My senses heightened as the car pulling up three spots over caught my eye. Slam. The car doors closed and the couple flitted in, hand-in-hand into the lobby. The aroma of coffee from the diner in the next lot consumed my nose. And the simultaneous softness and prickle from the trunk’s carpeted floorboard danced on my legs.

I quickly updated Kendrae on our day’s progress. I also updated him on the depth of my longing to see him again. And how much I loved him, no matter my geographic location or duration of time between us. Much to my utter relief, Kendrae expressed feeling the same. With reassurance of our love, we daydreamed about when we’d be able to live in the same city and spend as much time as we wanted with one another. But those thoughts were short-lived as I knew I had to get back up to the hotel room. I didn’t want to give my brother or sister any reason to wonder why I was out of the room for more than a few minutes. We both clung to someday, as we exchanged goodbyes with one another, and I promised to text him when I could.

Pressing the red phone icon to hang up the sleek black phone filled my eyes with tears. Recently, I often found myself in an uncharacteristic state of sadness. Despair, depression, melancholy, heavyhearted. All words that better suited the depth of my feelings. But any emotional label other than sadness would have been too overwhelming. Considering myself just “sad” was the least sad emotion I could be feeling and  while still being true. It sounded less hopeless and not quite so far away from happy.

My eyes averted to the skyline above the diner across the parking lot, in hopes of finding the silver lining I stumbled upon that morning. As my eyes settled on the low-hanging light left in the sky, a lump formed in my throat. The darkness was overtaking the sky. Forcing the light out of it completely. Its presence was heavy and weighed down upon my chest. Knocking the breath out of my lungs. The victory this morning was a pyrrhic one. The darkness had reclaimed its kingdom in the sky, vanquishing the light. No matter how many times the light captured the sky, the darkness would always return. My epiphany this morning was nothing more than false hope. If the day’s light cycle was any indication of what my future beheld, the forecast seemed bleak.

But a still, small voice quieted my thoughts and whispered to my soul. A grain of peace sprouted in the depths of my heart. So I steeled my resolve, wiped my tear-streaked face and narrowed my gaze towards the sliver of light left in the sky. Sure, the darkness returned for the night, but it would be dispelled yet again in the morning. Day after day, this exchange of power occurred. The light never tired of battling the darkness no matter how many times it was forced out. Maybe my epiphany wasn’t what I originally thought, but I could still have a change of perspective.

I hopped out of the trunk, slipped my burner phone back in my bra and closed the trunk lid. I quickly checked my makeup in the car window reflection. Ehhh…it was good enough to pass an inspection at a distance. I locked the car and slinked back into the hotel room. My brother was engrossed in the screen of his cell phone, ear buds in mesmerized by another Breaking Bad episode. Bullet dodged there. And my sister was still in the bathroom. Shower off, but steam was seeping through the crack of the door. Another dodged bullet. I quickly gathered my shower toiletries and prepared to occupy the bathroom. I smiled to myself, because the number of obstacles in-between Kendrae and me didn’t matter. Our light would drive out the darkness every time.