No. 47 – Work of Heart

No. 47 – Work of Heart

Working as a teacher is tough stuff. No year has been easy, and I don’t expect it will ever be so. However, with the finish line in sight of my 5th year, I feel as if it has been my first all over again.

The classroom I’m in this year has shaken up my entire world. Teaching students with low incidence disabilities has challenged me beyond measure. The absolute sweetest humans in the world living in untraditional packaging. These students deserve nothing but the best and it often feels like my best isn’t enough. There are many limitations both between my students and myself: cognitively, physically, mentally and emotionally. And it is frequently discouraging. 

I’m constantly self-assessing, working on improving myself and my teaching styles so that I can meet these students in their needs. Consistent positive progress is few and far between as fluctuations are expected, but often blur the progression. It’s been a lot of trial and error; a constant journey. Wondering the whole way through if I’ve gotten a single thing right. 

Today, during my conference, one of my students walked in with several flowers in his hands and a grin on his face. “Mrs. Carter!” he exclaimed, “I got these for you!” 

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My heart melted and all that worrying about my teaching performance melted with it. Oftentimes as a teacher we get so wrapped up in performance, data and if we’re checking all the boxes our campus and district requires that we satisfy. That it becomes easy to lose sight of why true teachers began in the first place: an innate calling to serve. To serve students through building relationships, providing a safe haven and acting as a catalyst that ignites the passion for lifelong learning. 

A precious student of mine reminded me of my reason behind teaching, students with special needs especially. I’m reminded that what I teach them couldn’t possibly compare to what they teach me. And keeping that at the forefront of my planning and instruction will guide everything else. 

I can’t fully control everything my students retain, but I can be sure of this: they’re hearing me. Hearing my call to serve them. Hearing my love for them and their quality of life. My dedication to give them my best, even if it will never feel enough. 

So if you’re a struggling educator counting down the days until summer while simultaneously not wanting to let this precious group of students go at the end of the year, be uplifted. They’re hearing you. Maybe not in a way that will necessarily show up on test scores or report cards. But your students are hearing you where it most counts- they’re hearing you from the heart. 

That’s all the feedback I need. 

xxx

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. 27 – The Message

No. 27 – The Message

My new life had begun to fall into a routine. Going without was normal. I didn’t find myself as hungry. My back grew accustomed to the floor. Without furniture, my apartment seemed much bigger. It was easy to keep clean. I didn’t have much to mess it up anyway. My sleep schedule was even adjusting because me and mornings…were not on the same team. This adulting wasn’t so hard.

I also began to get in the groove of this whole teaching thing. I had developed a positive rapport with my students quickly. Were my days utterly exhausting? Oh yes! Very much yes! But I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives. Seeing their eyes light up when I walked in the room to help them helped to give purpose to my exhaustion. And to my struggle.

I communicated with my parents about once or twice a week. Most of the conversations revolved around teaching. It was all very surface level and forced. I doubt that would ever change. However, the newest development was that my mother was coming down for the weekend to visit me. I wasn’t quite sure what we would do, but maybe this would provide an opportunity for my mother to see the state of my apartment that they left me in. Or maybe, just maybe it would allow us to have a mother-daughter interaction that doesn’t end in a fight, tears, or both. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time.

Maybe this weekend could set our relationship on a new, more positive track. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, because that usually ended in heartbreak, but I was still hopeful. This could be good. We had some time and space apart so everything had to have settled down, right?

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had several students in my room to complete an assignment. I was walking around, monitoring. A buzz from my cell phone on my desk redirected my attention. I finished my lap and paused at my desk, picking up my phone. The screen illuminated as I glanced at the notification. It was a text message from my mother. She most likely wanted to pin down the plans for tomorrow.

I froze as I read the message.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

My stomach sank and my face was flushed. It felt as if one of my students had set the thermostat on 100 degrees, a vast difference from the usual “meat locker” temperature it remained set at. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and stared at my screen. My fingers hovered above my phone’s keyboard, but they were frozen. Or maybe it was my mind that had come to a screeching halt. I set my phone back on my desk as I couldn’t steady my shaking hands.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and walked back to the round table. “Good job,” I managed to blurt out as I nodded towards my student’s reading excerpt. The rest of the class period was a blur. I was glad the students were working on their own and needed little support to finish their assignment. Seven minutes seemed like 700 as my mind was reeling from the text I received from my mother. The bell rang, and my small group of students left. I remained seated at the table and blankly stared out the window. Maybe I had misread. Maybe there was another piece of the message that hadn’t come through yet.

I rose from the chair and walked back to my desk. My entire body was tingling, reeling with the intenseness from my mother’s message. Where was this coming from? Why out of the blue? And Kendrae? Had they talked to one another?

Upon reaching my desk, I gently picked up my phone and stared at the blank, black screen. My hands trembled as I unlocked the screen. I blew out a deep breath and re-opened the message. Eyes wide, ready to soak it all in.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

It was still the same. I hadn’t forgotten a single syllable. I screenshot the message and sent it to Kendrae. The alleged boyfriend in my mother’s message. Moments later, I received a screenshot of a different message my mother sent out.

“Tell your girlfriend she has a week to get her own cell phone plan, car insurance and health insurance. This is just as much your fault as it is hers.”

The feeling in my hands turned numb. I couldn’t feel the phone in my hands. The four walls around me started spinning and closing in at the same time. A lump formed in my throat, and as I tried to swallow, I couldn’t breathe. Cold beads of sweat percolated on the back of my neck. Glued to the screen, my eyes reread that same message over and over. And then one more time.

My mind was too frazzled to settle on one thought. I had hundreds bouncing around in there. Reverberating off the walls, knocking into one another, spinning out of control in circles.

Where did this come from?

What do I say?

What do I do?

How am I going to pay for all of that?

Did they bug my apartment?

Was there a tracker on my car?

Now what?

I sat in the chair behind my desk and handed over the control of my thoughts. Leaving me no more at ease because of it. I was actually more distressed than before. I felt as if someone dropped me in the middle of the ocean. I was underneath the waves, frantically swimming. Searching for which direction was up. Getting tossed and tumbled with each new wave, tiring more by the minute. The moment I stopped thrashing, stopped trying to make sense of everything was when I began to float up to the surface. The murkiness began to clear and the light penetrated the depths of the water. I emerged on the surface, gasping for air.

This was not something I could fix. This was not a problem I could out-think the solution to. Bottom line, I would have to do what the message said. Get my own phone plan, health insurance and car insurance. I was planning to do all of that in a few weeks, once I got paid, but it didn’t look like I had much of a choice. The logical portion of my brain took back the reigns and drove my thoughts to safety.

First, I would transfer my phone plan from my parents’ plan to my own. That shouldn’t cost anything up front, I could just be billed for all of that later. As far as car insurance, I would try the same thing. Transfer my insurance to my own policy and hope that I could pay the bill at a later date. After the 25thof September. But health insurance…I don’t think I would be able to take care of that now. I had already declined coverage with the school district because I was covered on my parents’ plan. I didn’t get sick often, I could handle a year without health insurance.

I could do this. Calmly, I could do this. I just had to breathe, and handle this situation one step at a time. Thinking about the situation in its entirety was too overwhelming. I had already been down that vortex, and it was paralyzing. No, I had to tackle this task in small, manageable chunks.

Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright. He did nothing to deserve a message dripping with disdain, guilt and shame. All he had done was love their daughter.

Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day. Which meant, closing this up for now and not allowing anyone to know what was going on. My students didn’t deserve to suffer because I was.

Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office and see how to get on my own plan. Make sure to double check that I could pay at a later date.

Step 4: Visit a Sprint store and get my own cell phone plan. Again, make sure that I could pay the bill at a later date.

Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. Do not be tempted to text beforehand, it will do no good. Perhaps even make the situation worse.

Step 6: Pray that I don’t get sick because I certainly won’t be able to afford it.

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.

Authors Note: Life can be overwhelming. We’ve ALL been there. Been through seasons, long and short, of struggle. Survived, barely, on the other side of a harsh reality. I will admit, I’m the first person to smile, nod, and say “I’m fine” when I’m absolutely not. I am the first person to sit and listen to someone else’s struggles, but never verbalize my own. Offer a helping hand to pull someone else up, when it feels like I’m the one falling. Focus all my remaining energy to brighten someone else’s day when I haven’t seen the light for weeks.

The recent tragedy of Mac Miller losing his life to drugs really hit home with me. Any death, untimely or not is tragic. Losing a loved one is never easy. But I was unsure why this particular tragedy really resonated with me. I didn’t listen to his music. Didn’t follow him on social media. Didn’t really know much about him. So I researched and consumed every article about him I could. He was 26, my age. And a common theme laced through each post and article I read was that he was kind. He was caring and a good friend. He was a positive person. Not the first adjectives that come to mind when hearing of an individual who suffered from a drug addiction.

But that’s the thing. EVERYONE has their own inner battles. Everyone is struggling with something. And it is often the ones with the biggest smiles and kindest hands that have the deepest wounds. How many people have I passed by and smiled hoping they don’t ask me how I’m really doing? How many people have I greeted and just went through the motions, not taking the time to truly see them? We need to do a better job of seeing those around us. Not just smiling and exchanging casualties because we’re too busy or too consumed with our own lives to care.

On the flip side of that, we need to do a better job of letting ourselves be seen. Allowing other people to be there for us, rather than trying to take on the world in solitude. Speaking from personal experience, my first response when I’m down is to shove that mess in the farthest corner of my brain and focus on anyone else but me. And while this might sound noble, it’s really not. Because how can I truly help someone else up if I won’t tend to my own broken arm? Life is messy. And hard. But don’t ever feel like you have to go through it alone. If you’re hurting, don’t minimize your pain. Because ignoring it, will never solve anything. It actually makes it worse.

I wasn’t able to truly move through my struggle because of my own grit. Did it help? Sure, but I came through this valley by the pure grace of God and because I leaned on those around me.

So in short, what I want you to gather from my post is this: you are not alone. Reach out to those around you. And if you have no one around you, reach out to me. I’ll welcome you in with open arms. See the people you come in contact with. And allow others to see you too. It always seems darkest before the dawn. Your light is coming, I promise.

No. 24 – Apartment 213

No. 24 – Apartment 213

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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