Tag Archives: love

The First and Only: A Theory About Love

The loss of young first love is so painful that it borders on the ludicrous.
– Maya Angelou

As a writer (and general over-sharer), I have noticed this phenomena that occurs when I get a “topic” on my mind.  Something harmlessly and lightly crosses my mind – I think “hmm, I should write about that sometime” – and then suddenly that topic is EVERYWHERE. Even when I’m not consciously thinking of it, there it is. I see things that remind me of it. I see quotes that relate to it. It comes up in conversation. Now, I don’t know if these are actual “signs,” per se (I mean, if you buy a red truck, you’re probably going to start noticing red trucks…I think that’s just life), but nevertheless, they sure make it pretty miserable on me until I just give in and sit down and write about it.

So, here I am. I have no idea where I’m going with this so I’ll be just surprised as you as to how it turns out. Like author Margaret Atwood says, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So, I’m not waiting. I’m just gonna start talking.

I’m going to tell you about my high school boyfriend.

I know, right? What the heck?!  Where’d that come from?  Hey, beats me. You don’t want to climb in this head, trust me.  It’s a circus in here.

Okay, maybe I do kind of know where it came from. In a conversation with a dear friend a month or so ago, I was asked how many times I had been in love in my life.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked that before and the first answer that popped into my head was “You mean how many times have I actually been in love or how many times have I thought I was?” Which then led me to bring up this theory that I’ve always subconsciously had but never had actually vocalized. It’s kind of negative so if you don’t like it, just ignore it. I’m not a psychologist and I’m just babbling so you can pretend you never heard it.  (I also have a tendency to be wrong about things so there’s that.) But anyway the theory is this: I think we’re only romantically “in love” once in our life.  And it’s only the first time. I know, I know. That sounds awful. And I’m married and my husband is reading this so I’m probably in trouble. But whatever – I honestly believe that.  And here’s why. I think to be “in love” (at least in the romantic sense) requires complete innocence and ignorance. And I don’t think a person can truly allow themselves to feel the euphoria of being in love once they’ve learned what it’s like to lose it.

Let me try to equate this to something a bit more simple.  My younger siblings used to love jumping on a trampoline. That trampoline was the cornerstone of their youth. If they were awake, they were jumping on that thing. But then one day, my sister Jenny fell off of it and broke her leg. Now, I’m not Jenny. And I don’t actually know what it feels like to fall off a trampoline and break my leg.  But I’d be willing to bet my left lung that jumping on the trampoline was never the same for her again.

[I pause here to report that I just took a break from this blog and sent her a text. It went like this:
Me: “I have a weird random question for you. Did you still jump on the trampoline after you broke your leg on it?”
Her: “Yes ma’am! I was on one Thursday. lol!” (Jenny is 28 years old in case you were wondering…)
Me: “Sigh. Work with me here. Did it change how you felt about it though? Are you more careful now?”
Her: “I was to begin with. But I actually broke it because we had basketballs on there playing ‘popcorn.’ I landed on one and it broke my leg. Definitely haven’t done that again.”]

[Note to readers: Do NOT try that at home….]

So, anyway, there. She proved my point.  We’re all big dummies and we eventually get back on the trampoline, but we sure are more careful from that point on, right?  I mean, we don’t throw basketballs on there with us because…duh…that’s just stupid.  Point is…we lose a bit of that old risk. That feeling of euphoria. Because we kind of know better now. We know we can break our frickin’ leg.

Make sense?

Okay, so maybe throwing basketballs on a trampoline isn’t an obvious example, but it works. We adjust our game after that first fall. We are never going to allow ourselves to feel that invincible feeling of “falling” again because we now know what it feels like to land.

So, back to the high school boyfriend. His name was Nathan and he was my first love.  Some may call that puppy love, but I don’t know. The older I get, the more I think that childlike love was more real than this cynical adult will ever be able to feel again. I was hopeless. And so very ignorant. And oh man, our story had all the makings of a Nicholas Sparks novel. We were American high school seniors living in a foreign country. We had been best buddies before I found out I had cancer and he ended up falling in love with the bald-headed version of me. He traveled 6 hours once alone in a car with my step-dad – the guy he had just met FOR THE FIRST TIME – to see me in the hospital after a major surgery. When I had to miss the senior trip because of my health, he took me on a day-long train ride through Germany a few months later when I was healthier to try to make up for it.  And as if that weren’t enough?  Our prom was in a CASTLE…yes, a REAL castle…complete with my getting too tired and us going outside to sit on a bench and watch the full moon reflect off of my bald head as my wig lay on the seat beside us.

Y’all, you can’t make this stuff up. This was my life.

With our moms (who were younger then than we are now) – High School Graduation 1996, Giessen, Germany

Fast forward to the end of our senior year though. Those two 18-year-old lovestruck teenagers were getting ready to graduate and watch their entire world change like they could have never imagined.

Oh, we had all these plans. We had it ALL figured out. In the military, your “home of record” is the state you were in when the parent joined the services. Mine and Nathan’s homes of record were just about as far apart as they could be. His? Oregon. Mine? Virginia.  And this mattered because of our college plans – in-state tuition, where our extended family was, etc.  So June 6, 1996, came and went. We graduated high school – such a bittersweet day – and a few weeks later, I watched him get on a plane and leave my life.

Shortly after he left, I got on my own plane and flew to Virginia to live with my dad and start college. I was in college full time and working three jobs at one point just to save money to be with Nathan. I even applied and was accepted at his university and had every intention of moving there to be with him as a sophomore where we could begin to start our life together. It was what we both wanted and were working towards.  This was before cell phones and internet were a huge thing, so most of our communication was real-life letters. I still have them in a memory box somewhere. We wrote each other all the time – sent each other cards and even recorded our voices on cassette tapes and sent them to one another so we could hear each other any time we wanted.  (Long distance phone calls were not cheap.)  We were making it work and we were determined.

And then, just like that, everything changed.

He met someone else.

Oh, it was devastating. I felt like someone had pulled my heart out of my chest and stomped on it.  I hated him. I hated me. I hated life. I hated the military. I hated our parents. I hated cancer. I hated everything that conspired to bring me to this point I was at – a sobbing, hiccupping pile of crumbled, broken-hearted mess cradling a “Dear John” letter in my lap on the floor.

I survived though. We humans always tend to make it through these things we think will destroy us.

I refused to talk to him for a long time, but he kept trying. He still sent me letters for a few years and then when email became a more popular thing, he’d email me. He tried to keep in touch but I was so incredibly angry and would either not respond, or would respond sarcastically asking why he still wanted to talk to me when he had Miss Perfect now.

He and Miss Perfect stayed together for five years, by the way. It didn’t ultimately last, but it was apparently pretty serious. As it turns out, I ended up getting married and having two kids in the interim. And my marriage was ending about the same time his relationship was. So we found ourselves unattached and heartbroken at 22 and did the only logical thing.

Tried to get back together.

But, um, let’s just say that didn’t work. Boy had those five years changed us! He had become a successful college graduate living in the big city with a business degree and a big salary. I had become a broke, divorced mom living in the middle of nowhere. Just those five little years changed everything.

Anyway, I’m kind of digressing here. That was just some extra “what happened next” info that doesn’t really play into my point. So, what is my point exactly?

Darn it. I still don’t know.

I thought maybe once I started writing, it would all become clear. Honestly, it usually does. I start with an idea, have no idea where it’s headed, and then wrap it all up with a pretty little life lesson bow at the end. But I don’t really have a bow this time. I just wanted to talk about something that shaped who I am – at least as far as romance is concerned. I wanted to tell my “tragic love story” so that maybe you might think about yours and realize that we all have them.

Ok, and maybe there is something else.

No, I don’t believe I’ll ever feel the way I felt about Nathan again about anyone. But you know what?

I’m glad.

We were so incredibly innocent. We had no idea what lessons life was going to hold for us once we left the sanctuary of high school. We didn’t know what it was going to be like to pay bills, have kids, have real responsibilities. We had no idea what it was going to feel like to have to actually work at love.

No, at that time in our life, love wasn’t a choice. It was just something that happened to us and swept us off our feet.

But that’s not what love really is.

No, being “in love” is not where it’s at. LOVE is what it’s all about. The real kind. Love is the hard stuff. Love is saying I’m sorry. Love is saying mean things in the heat of the moment and then begging for forgiveness. Love is being hurt and yet choosing to move forward together anyway. Love is knowing that you can be yourself – the bad and the good – and they’ll still be there tomorrow. Love is knowing that you probably should have been given up on long ago, but yet you weren’t.

Love is choosing to stay.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still a hopeless romantic at heart. But I’m learning as I go. And the older I get, the more I realize that the “in love” feeling can, in fact, still be replicated. It has just shifted a bit.

I’m just not going to find it in other people anymore.

Now I have to find it in me.

That feeling I get when I watch my grown children successfully living their lives. That moment when I have been training for months and finally reach the top of a mountain I’ve been determined to run up. When I finish a grueling project at my job knowing that everything was completed because of my hard work and determination. When I hear the sound of the audience’s applause at the end of a theatre performance that I’m so proud of.

That feeling I get when I write something and then look back over it and realize that maybe I did, in fact, say exactly what I was meaning to say all along.

So if you’re one of those whose romantic “in love” moment has been used up, stop mourning it.  Today. Seriously, stop it. Don’t glamorize it. It happened and it’s over – and that’s a good thing. We’re different people now and we have evolved. We don’t throw basketballs on trampolines anymore.  Got it?  Time to replace that feeling with these other beautiful moments of euphoria that are out there waiting for us to discover them.

There’s a lot more life out there to be lived. And so many more kinds of love to learn.

Well look at that. I guess there was a life lesson bow after all….

***

“You get over your first love by falling in love with something new.”
– Mo Ibrahim

 

the-book-of-love

 

 

 

 

Loving Lenny

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

“Something is wrong.”

It was three years ago today on a bright, cold winter Saturday morning in February. I had popped out of bed early and hurriedly thrown on a pair of old jeans and a comfy sweatshirt, excited that this much-anticipated day had finally arrived. After six full days of this animal-lover’s pleading and begging on Facebook for someone to adopt a sweet, lonely pit bull mix that had found his way to our local animal shelter, my prayer had finally been answered. Little “Lenny” (the name I promptly bestowed upon him after observing his ‘gentle giant’ ways that mirrored his namesake in the classic Of Mice and Men) was going home! And who had adopted him?

Lenny’s shelter photo – Facebook, Feb 2015

You guessed it—me!

After seeing that there was no public interest in saving this sweet boy from his ever looming demise date, my big-hearted husband finally gave in. Lenny was coming home to join our family. Lenny would be pet number five.

The only problem we faced was timing. The shelter (which was unfortunately not a no-kill shelter) had scheduled sweet Lenny to be put to sleep on Friday. But because of mine and my husband’s out-of-town work schedules, neither of us could work it out to go pick up our sweet boy before closing time on Friday. So, the shelter graciously agreed to extend his date to Saturday—with our promise that we’d definitely show up by the time they closed at noon. No problem! I rose with the sun with my happy heart pounding out of my chest. Our baby was coming home!

And then I walked into the living room and everything changed.

There lied my precious fat calico kitty Patches on her little pet bed, struggling for air.

“Something is wrong.”

At first the words came out in a whisper, but as I realized the seriousness of the situation, they gained strength.

“Something is wrong!”

I called out to my husband, “Richard! Something is wrong with Patches!”

My husband came into the room and said, “Let’s get her to the vet. Hurry.”

I began scrambling for my shoes and for a large towel to wrap my sweet cat in. We rushed to the car and started the thirty minute drive to town, with me all the while holding my fluffy girl like a baby in my arms in the passenger seat. We made it to the emergency vet and while my husband ran to the counter to explain what was happening, my beautiful cat’s gentle sweet soul left her body as she lay in my arms in the waiting room.

My girl was gone.

The last photo of Patches – February 6, 2015

Just like that. This day that was supposed to be filled with such anticipated joy was just bombarded with a soul-crushing sadness that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I heard voices swirling around me, offering help–burial services, cremation–but all I could do was look at the lifeless eyes lying in my aching arms. My sweet girl had seen me through so much over the past few years. She had watched my children grow with me. She saw my marriage fall apart. She saw me fall in love again and welcomed this new, amazing man into our world. She had been my constant through all the changes swirling around me.

And now she was gone.

I looked up into my husband’s empathetic eyes and saw the pain I was feeling reflecting back at me. He gently took my arm and led me to the car. I wouldn’t let Patches go. I held onto her lifeless body and couldn’t bring myself to put her down.

“Honey. We have to get to the shelter.”

My husband’s sobering words pulled me out of my stupor and I glanced at the clock. 11:00 a.m. In the rush of the morning’s tragic events, time had slipped away from me. We lost my baby that morning but we still had work to do. We didn’t have time to take my sweet Patches home and bury her and come back to get Lenny. We had no choice. We had to go straight to the shelter or we’d be too late.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shelter and my strong, stable husband finally convinced me to turn my kitty over to him. He gently took her from my arms, covered her lifeless body with the towel, and placed her into a box. We had no choice but to lay her sweet body in the trunk until we could get her home to her proper burial. After we got her in place, my husband took my hand and walked me into the shelter. There, we found our Lenny.

And he was terrified.

My eyes locked onto his and I saw his fear of the unknown. I saw the uncertainty and questions that I was feeling too. Could I do this? Could I switch gears so suddenly? From the heartbreaking pain of loss straight into the joy of a new adoption?

No. I couldn’t. And my sweet Lenny didn’t expect me to.

Dragging our terrified new pet to our car, my husband placed him in the backseat. And, in a last minute mindless decision, I climbed back there with him. We both cried all the way home. Both of us were scared. Both of us were leaving what was familiar to us and embarking on a journey where nothing would ever be the same. Both of us were shaking, sad, and weak.

Lenny’s ride home from the shelter – 2/7/2015

We needed each other more than ever.

Now, three years later, here we are. We’ve adjusted. My sweet Lenny helped me through one of the hardest days of my life back then. And I think I helped him through his, too. We snuggled on the couch on that cold Saturday back in February until our pain began to subside. We held onto each other until we realized that our broken hearts had just enough room for each other. My gentle giant coaxed me back to happiness and taught me to open my heart to another furry soul. And I taught him that some people just won’t ever leave you.

They just won’t.

We’re a team now, sweet Lenny and me. We didn’t have the happiest of starts, but we’ve promised each other that we’ll have a happy ending. Instead of me saving him, he saved me.

Someone told me once that they believed that my precious Patches chose February 7, 2015 to leave me on purpose. She knew that this would be the day that I would be able to accept her departure. I don’t know about all that. But I do know this.

A whole big furry ball of gentleness and love immediately filled the spot that she left behind. Was that divine intervention? I don’t know.

But I certainly know who’s a good boy.  My Lenny, that’s who.

Lenny and mom. February 2018.

***

“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron

Attraversiamo

“I crossed the street to walk in the sunshine.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

(I wrote this nine years ago and never showed anyone. It has been on my mind lately and I decided it was time to share it.)

***

“Attraversiamo.”

With this last printed word, meaning “let’s cross over” in Italian, I close the book and stare through the tears at the wood-paneled wall before me. Sitting alone on a Friday night in my small newly acquired two-bedroom mobile home, my thoughts are consumed with the book I have just read.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Just a random bookstore purchase, like so many before, yet this one has changed everything.

I am 30 years old and my second marriage has just ended.

My children from my first marriage—two adorable, bubbly redheads who are the only lights in my life—are at their dad’s for the weekend. I have no distractions, no bedtime baths or tuck-ins to take my mind off the nagging lessons that Eat Pray Love has instilled into my brain.

I’ve messed up. This thought bursts forth before all others and refuses to be ignored. I look down at the closed book on my lap and those three words are all I see.

I’ve messed up.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert documents leaving her life to travel for a full year. Could I do that? Could I travel the world in search of the “me” that got lost in those last two marriages? Would a plate of Italian spaghetti or an Indonesian medicine man fix everything for me like it did for Liz?

Of course not. I’m a mother. A broke, divorced mother. I can’t leave.

So what then?

Prior to my second marriage, I was what some would call a fireball. A fiery, spirited gal, with red hair to seal the deal, nothing could get me down. Even my first failed marriage, painful though it was, did nothing to stop my headstrong determination. The same spunk that entered that marriage with me trailed along after me as I left. I was still the same, just a little broken-hearted and slightly off course. But that would soon ease and, with a little time and forgiveness, both my kids’ dad and I would see the split for what it was: necessary. We would soon learn to co-parent and eventually even call each other friend. I was going to be okay.

And then I met my second husband.

I wonder what it was that had drawn me to him. Although my feisty personality gave off the aura of independence, the truth was that I wanted someone to take care of me. I didn’t want to be worrying about bills and packing school lunches alone. I wanted a partner. Then suddenly, there he was.

Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. In retrospect, I see the red flags I overlooked then. A controller can easily be disguised as a caregiver. He wanted to do things for me. For a tired, overworked single mom, this was a welcome turn of events. Little by little, he began to take care of it all, making decisions for me to help clear my heavy load.

Then came the other changes. What clothes I wore, how I kept my hair, what friends I could keep. Others seemed to notice what was happening, but not me. It just felt so good to be loved. To be noticed.

This couldn’t go on forever though. One morning as I sat in my doctor’s office trying out yet another depression medication, my doctor said something I would never forget. She pulled her chair right over to me, sat down and looked me straight in the eyes. “Melissa,” she said, “I do not have a medication that is going to fix your marriage.”

Fix my marriage?

Armed with that old redheaded stubbornness, I marched out of that doctor’s office with the certainty that she was a quack. If she wouldn’t give me a different medicine, I’d find another doctor who would. Something was wrong. It was chemical, I was sure of it. My life was great.

Really.

But later that night, lying in bed beside my snoring husband, the doctor’s words kept running through my mind. I needed to talk to someone. But who? The only friends I had now were my husband’s friends. I used to have friends from work, but my husband had convinced me to take a job in a smaller office where there weren’t so many annoying office functions and parties to attend. I cut contact with all of them at his suggestion – moving on was easier if you would just forget.

Maybe one of my old theatre friends? I once loved community theatre so much. It had once been such a huge part of my existence…where had it gone? Ah yes. My husband didn’t like the time that it consumed. My place was at home with him and the kids, not out doing God knows what with God knows who. It was time to grow up and be a wife and mother. Isn’t that what he had said? So no, the theatre friends were out. I hadn’t talked to them in so long, I couldn’t call them up now in the middle of the night.

I had some friends from a women’s church group that my husband allowed me to go to on Monday nights. Maybe I could call one of them? No, I couldn’t. He told me that talking about my problems in that group was only asking for trouble. He made it clear to me that our business needed to remain private and was not to be shared with a bunch of busybodies who wanted nothing more than to spread the news throughout the church.

So, who could I call?

Mom.

I snuck out of bed and walked into the living room. I pulled out my cell phone and just as I had her number keyed in, my husband walked into the room. Of course, making a phone call in the middle of the night could only mean one thing. I was cheating on him. I attempted to show him the number I was dialing, tried to prove that it was only my mother, but he wouldn’t listen.

I had to be stopped from making that call.

And I was.

I packed my bags the next day.

Now, here I am only a few short weeks later (many bruises healed, many to remain), closing the last page of Eat, Pray, Love and sobbing like a toddler.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s words fill my mind.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting – which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments – and set forth on a truth-seeking journey… then the Truth will not be withheld from you.”

Where is my Truth, Liz? Where is it?

“If you’re brave enough…” Is that what I was? Was I brave to leave my husband?

Just like that, I receive my answer. Somewhere deep inside me, a fiery redheaded community theatre actress screams, YES!

Yes.

This is it. This is why this book has gotten to me. Today is the start of my journey. It may look like a little rented, singlewide mobile home, but to this lonely, lost sojourner, it is the first step towards the journey of freedom.

Attraversiamo.

I head to the telephone to call my mom.

***

gilbert.jpg

Wisdom from Elain

“Nature chooses who will be transgender; individuals don’t choose this.”
– Mercedes Ruehl

Yesterday, I wrote a blog called The Guise of Love.

Today, I read another blog post similar to mine by a man named John. While going through the comments on John’s post, I saw one comment that deserved a blog post of its own.

Today’s blog is dedicated to Elain. These are her words.

They need to be heard.

Open your mind and your heart and listen.

 I’m transgender. Do you know what I think about when I go into the bathroom? Going to the bathroom. Washing my hands. Checking my hair and makeup. Full Stop. I and every other transgender person I know (and I know about 600 transgender people personally) feel exactly the same way. We just want to pee.

“Use the men’s room then” people say.

I have rather pronounced breasts (Yes, real, physical breasts, natural and made by my body). I wear a dress. Heals, Blouses. My hair and makeup is not even close to being masculine.

Do you know what happens to me when I go to the men’s restroom looking like this? 4 times I have been assaulted. Once that put me in a hospital for a week. I have been spit on at least 30 times. I’ve had more disgusting things said to me than I can count. I’ve had urine thrown on me twice, feces once. I’ve had to pull my pistol out on men 5 times. I started carrying a firearm after I was hospitalized by a right wing Christian hater in Florida, who nearly beat me to death and would have, had he not been pulled off me and restrained btw. One of these days I am going to be forced to shoot someone who thinks it is perfectly fine to assault the transgender person for no other reason than I am transgender. And it will be because of right wing pretend ‘Christians’ and their ramped up hate towards transgender people, since they can no longer legally hate on gay people.

We are the next target for their disgusting, un-Christ like hate.

I got so tired of the hate I was facing, on a daily basis. EVERYWHERE I went, that I chose to relocate to a state with transgender protections because I REALLY don’t want to have to shoot some hate driven so-called ‘Christian’ for trying to assault me because they have been taught by their church that I am an easy target for their hate and fear.

‘Christians’ are always screaming about people who are LGBT being so militant.. you know why we are that way? Because YOU do everything you can to cause us harm, to revile us, to hate us, to treat us as less than human. So.. we got active. We defended ourselves from YOU. Now many of you are crying we have an agenda.. that we are trying to take away your rights. NO.. WE RE NOT! We are just trying to be allowed to live, love and be happy, like everyone else. BUT YOU WON’T LET US. So we have to activate, protest, be militant. We’d rather not have to do that. We just want to live, like everyone else, without being afraid we will be fired for who we love, evicted for who we are, not for anything we did wrong. Be able to walk down the road without pretend ‘Christians’ spewing their idiocy and hate at us. Be able to marry the person we love. JUST LIKE YOU!

And then we have people like John here, who actually gets it. Who understands that humanity isn’t black and white. One way or the other, that we are in fact an amazingly diverse and variable species. People like John give me hope that someday, I will be able to walk down the street without fearing I will be attacked, and possibly murdered, just for existing. Right now, that is a very real fear for me EVERY TIME I STEP OUTSIDE OF MY HOME. And I blame that 100% on ‘Christians’.

If any of you walked a day in my footsteps. Lived a day in my shoes. Had the faintest glimmering of what goes on in my mind, how I feel, how I think… you would know that being transgender isn’t a choice, it’s a matter of living or ending your life. It almost ended my life. I fought who I was as hard as I could. I created a façade. Male. Tried to live so society would leave me alone. Buried myself so deep, that nobody even knew I was there. And I hated myself and life so thoroughly, just hated everything and everybody but mostly I hated myself. I was so deeply, miserably unhappy that death seemed a viable and much better alternative. Every day of 50 years of life, I was miserable. Unhappy. Hated myself. Hated everyone else. It came to a head. I almost succeeded in killing myself. My doctors don’t even know how I survived and have told me that I shouldn’t have. That was a year ago. I stopped pretending and playing YOUR game, and finally accepted what I had been forced to deny my entire life. I accepted who I was, something I knew before I even turned 4.

Oh yes. I have memories going back to 4 and earlier. Massive distress at my body, at parts of my body. It was wrong. Broken. Misshapen. I didn’t know what to call it back then, but the one and only time I voiced it… I got beat so badly I had to lay on my stomach for three days. I never mentioned it again until a year ago.

And you know what? I am happier. I no longer hate people. No longer look in the mirror and hate myself. For the first time in my entire 51 years of life… I like who I am. I will kill myself rather than be forced back into that THING I pretended to be for 50 years. You don’t know my pain. None of you except another transgender person can really know it. But you can be empathetic. Understanding. Instead of hating and fearing what you don’t know. You can educate yourself. And if you really are Christian… you can do what Jesus told you to do in the first place. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You can’t love your neighbor when you are trying to criminalize their very existence.

Sorry for the rant John. You strike me as a decent person and one I could respect and admire. But it had to be said. From our view.

~Elain

public-restrooms

That Time I Shut Up

“The world is filled with people who, no matter what you do, will point blank not like you. But it is also filled with those who will love you fiercely. They are your people. You are not for everyone and that’s ok. Talk to the people who can hear you. Don’t waste your precious time and gifts trying to convince them of your value, they won’t ever want what you’re selling. Don’t convince them to walk alongside you. You’ll be wasting both your time and theirs and will likely inflict unnecessary wounds, which will take precious time to heal. You are not for them and they are not for you; politely wave them on, and continue along your way. Sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift; don’t cheapen this gift by rolling yours in the wrong direction. Keep facing your true north.”
– Rebecca Campbell, from her book, Light is the New Black

Make sure you read that quote up there. Read it very carefully.

Did you read it?  Good. Now, go back and read it again. I’ll wait. Really, go on.

There.

[See? Still here. Told you I’d wait.]

I read that quote yesterday for the first time and it really got to me. And I mean really. I went back and read it again. And then again. And then one more time for good measure. Seeing those words, and then committing them to my heart and mind, reminded me of something that I don’t talk about very  much.

And today, I’m going to change that.

I want to tell you about the time I shut up.

I know, I know. Sounds like fiction, right? Me? Shutting up? But nope – this story I’m going to tell you is all true. Every last word of it.

Unfortunately.

Most of you who read this blog either don’t know me at all, or know me through the wonderful world of social media. With that being said, you know the “me” who is a talker. The me who posts a Facebook status or a blog post every time a thought enters my mind. The me who is a performer, a writer, an extrovert in every sense of the word.

But there was a time before all of this. A time before Facebook. A time before the writing and the sharing and the openness.

A time between performances. An intermission, so to speak.

I was involved in a bad relationship. Now, don’t take that as my saying I was in a relationship with a bad man. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I was in a bad relationship. A really bad one. And what made it so bad was this: I was with someone who didn’t like me.

It’s true. I spent almost five years involved with a man who didn’t like me. Oh, he loved me, I suppose. But he didn’t like me. There’s a difference, ya know. He didn’t like who I was.

For example, he didn’t like when I told people things. Anything. Because, of course, I could have been telling them our problems and those things needed to remain private. So, I stopped telling people anything, good or bad, in person or on social media. I just stopped reaching out; kept to myself.

He didn’t like my writing because I might make him the subject of it and, again, that needed to remain private. My views were so outlandish anyway, no one would ever possibly identify with anything I had to say. I should just be quiet and save myself the embarrassment.

So I stopped writing.

intermissionHe didn’t like my acting. After being involved with community theatres for as long as I could remember, I let the curtain fall on those aspirations. Theatre took time and time was something I didn’t have. I needed to be with him, not out doing God knows what with God knows who for all of those hours. A woman belonged with her family, not on a stage. What was wrong with me?

So I stopped acting.

For someone as bold and blunt and hardheaded as I am, I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe this when I tell you. How could this have happened? How could someone like me become someone like that? But folks, I’m here to tell you – it happened. I wore my hair the way he required. (He once refused to look at me for an entire day because I straightened it and he wanted the natural curls.) I dressed the way he required. I obeyed the way he required.  (Until the time I didn’t – but that’s a story for another day.)

I became so entranced with trying to please him and be what he wanted that I lost me. I had no idea who I was anymore. I became depressed. I slept for hours at a time. I gained weight. In short, I was miserable.

Why does this matter now? Why am I writing about it all these years later?

A few reasons.

First, I posted a blog earlier this week that wasn’t popular with a few people. (Okay, a lot of people.) My viewpoint didn’t jive with some others…including that of my own brother. I don’t like disagreeing with people I love, and for a moment, I did what I used to do. I stopped talking. I got off of the internet for a few hours and didn’t say a word. I didn’t stand my ground, I didn’t argue my point. I ran.

In other words, I shut up.

But then a few hours later, with a sudden jolt, I immediately realized what I was doing. I was once again allowing the sound of me to disappear because someone didn’t like what they heard.

Second reason I’m telling this story: I saw something a week or so ago that I can’t seem to shake from my mind. There was a news story going around about a woman whose husband was being prosecuted because of forcing her to have sex with many men over a period of years. While the story itself was atrocious, the comments that followed the posting of the story were almost worse. I saw so many people saying, “she obviously wanted it or she wouldn’t have participated” and “why doesn’t she go to jail too? She is the one who did it.” Etc. etc. I saw the woman called every unsavory name under the sun, followed ironically by the question of, “Why didn’t she leave?”

Ah, yes. The “why didn’t she leave?” stance. My favorite.

Sigh. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with people today? Why are we so full of ourselves that we think we know everything? Why do we feel like we know the true story of something that happens behind closed doors that we’ve never even peeked around? Why do we feel that we know the obvious answer when this poor victim didn’t? Do we think we are that much better than her? That much smarter? That much wiser?

I don’t know, guys. I really don’t know.

But I do know this.

I am now someone who tries to recognize the ones who are between performances. I know too well what that feels like. I try hard not to judge. I try hard to remember that I don’t know what happened that put them where they are today. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know how easy it is to slip down that slippery slope of people pleasing. You want so badly to be loved…to be liked…that you find the pieces of you that they don’t like slipping away a little at a time until you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. But trust me, it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in fits and starts and the further you go down the rabbit hole, the harder it is to turn around and crawl your way out.

Back to that quote at the beginning.

Are you someone who’s between performances? Is it intermission time in your life? I’m here to tell you that I understand. I truly do. But I also want to tell you that I finally…finally…also understand what it feels like on the other side.

“Talk to the people who can hear you.”

Find your song again, friends. Find it and sing it loud. Sing your heart out. For the ones who like you, your song will be music to their ears. Your song will be the best one they’ve ever heard. To them, all other music stops when you start singing. Your voice is beautiful.

And for the ones who don’t like you? They won’t be able to hear you at all. They just won’t. And you can’t make them. It’s such a hard lesson to learn, but it is a necessary one.

Never, ever, let yourself believe what I did. Never tell yourself that the answer is to stop singing. Believe me, dear ones. There is a place for your song. A place that would be empty without it.

Find it. Okay? Promise me. Find it.

And don’t let anyone, or anything, ever shut you up again.

Intermission is over, my friends. It’s time for the second act.

BR9KJP Empty movie theater

***

Romance: Confessions of a Girly Girl

“The longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when it finally arrives. The harder you have to fight for something, the more priceless it will become once you achieve it. And the more pain you have to endure on your journey, the sweeter the arrival at your destination. All good things are worth waiting for and worth fighting for.”
– Susan Gale
Okay, so I have a confession to make.

I’m a girl.

Yep, it’s true. A big ole girly girl. That’s me. Now, I try to be rational – keep my head out of the clouds and all that jazz. But deep down, I’m still a girl. I still believe in girly stuff…romance, love, heart flutters…all that silliness.

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember (though it took over 30 years for me to get up the nerve to call myself that) and I can remember being 14 years old and writing my first love song. Talk about girly…sheesh! Here are some of the lyrics:

“Love, it can stand the test of time,
It can cross over any lines
No matter what people say
They would find a way
Nothing could stop those feelings inside…”

Girly, huh? Oh, you should hear the rest of it. It’s all about two young people in love who are torn apart for whatever reason and they have all these miles and years between them and yet still they hold on to each other through it all. Then she’s dying and in he walks to hold her as she takes her last breath.

*BARF!*

It’s easy now to make fun of that little 14-year-old version of me who wrote those silly little love lyrics. But, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, a part of her still exists. A pretty big part actually.

Those of you who know me or who have read my blog regularly know that my husband and I do not have your typical love story. (Read more about that here if you want.)  We didn’t see each other across a crowded room and gaze into each other’s eyes as we realized we had found the one.  Ha!  Hardly. We met, dated, ended things. Crossed paths again, dated, ended things. Got back together, got engaged, got married. Some love story, huh?

And I’m going to be honest with you – that little 14-year-old songwriter side of me has always struggled with that a bit. Isn’t it supposed to happen like it does in the movies?  Aren’t you supposed to meet and feel this sudden fluttery feeling in your stomach and just know? Now, in all honesty, it almost happened like that with me. It didn’t take long for me to decide that Richard was what I wanted.  But Richard? Notsomuch. He struggled. He was coming out of a long-term relationship and just wasn’t sure if my redheaded, loud-mouthed, starry-eyed version of romance was what he was needing in his life at the time. It took quite a while for him to come around.

And that bothered me.

During my varied insecure moments over the years, I’ve questioned him about this. “Did you just have to convince yourself to love me?” “Did you just decide to force it because it made sense?” “How do you know it’s real?” “Do you ever wonder if you made a mistake?” Etc.  (He loves these conversations, by the way.) And every time, he just tells me in his quiet, no-nonsense way that none of that matters. He loves me now. That’s all there is to it.

But I’m a girl, darn it!  I want more than that!  I want answers!

My dear lifelong friend John Michael posted something on my Facebook wall one day that he said made him think of mine and Richard’s relationship. Here it is:

romance

I told him at the time that he couldn’t know how much that meant to me. I didn’t know why or how to put it into words, but something about that quote just really struck a chord with me. I love the phrase “tidier histories.”  A tidy history is something that Richard and I definitely do not have. It’s a mess.

But maybe that’s okay?

This morning I was riding to work listening to an audio book: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this (or haven’t seen the Netflix TV series that sprouted from it), this is a true story about the author’s one-year stint in prison. Now, you wouldn’t expect to glean a love lesson from something like that, but…leave it to me…I did.

In one part of the book, Piper’s husband had written an article for the local paper about their unconventional love story. (It was unconventional even before she went to prison.) He talked about how he didn’t know from the start that she was “the one.” He said that it took him years to decide, even after they started dating, that he might want to marry her. He said he generally takes his time to choose anything in his life – even material things – and, because of this inability to make definite decisions, he tends to keep receipts for things he buys in case he decides to take them back. Basically, it’s not that he doesn’t want these things, it’s that he’s afraid he might be making a mistake. His fear of commitment (my words, not his) masks his desire.

Hmmm.

Now I’m sure there were thousands of lessons that Piper Kerman wanted us to take from her year of incarceration, but the one I took was this one. This tiny little blip in her book about how her husband wasn’t sure he wanted to marry her from the start.  I’m sure she’d be so proud if she knew this…

Turns out, I guess some people are just careful. They take their time. They make sure something is right before they dive in. Does that mean it isn’t real? Of course not. That just means they want to know they’re making the right decision before they make it. So, should I still be offended and worried that we don’t have that “movie” kind of love? Nah. I’d say what we have is better. I wasn’t just a passing feeling of romance that overtook him instantly. I was a long, well-thought out decision that he had to make. And in the end, my careful sweetheart chose me.

Awwww.  Well, how do you like that.

Now, does this mean I’m going to stop with all those insecurity questions? Am I going to lay off for a while and give him a break and rest in the knowledge that he does indeed love me and move forward without looking back ever again?

Psssh. Heck no. As if…

Hey, I’m still a girl. 😉

merichie

 ***

“For anything worth having one must pay the price;
and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice.”

– John Burroughs

Love Thy Neighbor. (Aw man, do I gotta?)

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44

Okay, honest show of hands. Who else has unfriended or un-followed people on Facebook over the past few weeks? Anyone?

Well, I sure have.  *both hands raised high*  And you know why?  Because people are ignorant and that pisses me off.

Okay, so that’s not very lady-like of me, I don’t suppose. Doesn’t exactly go with that whole “turn the other cheek” spirit we’re supposed to have. But dear Lord, I cannot shut up when people are spewing hate and ignorance towards recent current events.  Racism, gay rights…you name it, people are throwing around their opinions about it…swearing that they know all and that the confederate flag should fly high and gays should stay in the closets where they belong. It absolutely infuriates me. So, what do I do?  I jump right in there and tell them how wrong they are.  And do you know what that solves?

Nothing.

10410790_10153491412603707_6179317090721641426_nNot one flippin thing.  In fact, it probably hurts my cause more than helps it. I am doing exactly what they’re doing, just in reverse. I am infuriated at them for being so judgmental and so narrow-minded, and yet I’m being the same way in a sense. I’m exercising my own hatred, it’s just directed at a different group – the ignorant and the narrow-minded.

Now, I’d like to believe that I’m a Christian. I fully believe that Jesus was who he said he was.  I really do. But I don’t believe that we are supposed to adhere to everything the bible tells us to do. I don’t believe that a rape victim should have to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).   I don’t believe it is shameful for me to cut my hair (1 Corinthians 11:6).  I don’t believe that eating or touching a pig is forbidden by my lord (Leviticus 11:7-8). And I sure as heck fire don’t believe that  a woman is supposed to remain in quiet submission while she is in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).  Heck, just ask my husband – I don’t believe that a women should be in quiet submission anywhere. Ever.

I could go on and on and on with the things in the bible that I don’t believe are still accurate today. I believe that times have changed and that much of what was put in there was just what the writers of the time believed to be the case based on how things were done at the time they were walking the earth. I’m a writer – just about everything I write is tinged with my opinion.  (Ha! “Tinged.” Okay, maybe I need a different word there.) But still – you get the point. I think God wanted some stuff done and we were sucking at it, so I think he sent his son to explain it to us. And I think his son did a fine job of doing that when he told us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).  In fact, he made it pretty clear that no other commandment was greater than that one.

And what have I been doing?  Failing miserably. I don’t love my neighbors. I hear and see the hateful things that people are saying about people I love and I get mad. I get ANGRY. And do I feel love towards them?  No, I don’t. I think Jesus rocks – and I think he had some seriously good advice, but I’m not him. I just can’t do it. I can’t feel love towards these people who make others feel dirty and worthless, and then use the bible as their weapon in doing so. The God I believe in wouldn’t stand for that for a second, and neither do I.

A woman that I recently did a community theatre play with posted something as her Facebook status one day in the midst of the hatred, and I want to share it with you.  Take a few seconds to read this, won’t you?

I will not “UNFRIEND” those who lack empathy or those who refuse to understand. If I “UNFRIEND” them, then I allow them to retreat deeper into their closets of ignorance. If I “UNFRIEND” them, I offer them greater refuge from the reality of the world around and deprive them of the opportunity to develop sensitivity and demonstrate true love for humanity. No, I will not “UNFRIEND” them. Instead, tidbits and snippets of my life will continue to pop up in their news feeds. I will continue to allow myself to be available should curiosity get the best of them and one day, they decide to try to understand. SOMEDAY; that closet of ignorance might get lonely and they might start to crave the richness of life that comes from connecting across the differences. Don’t get me wrong- this is not a passive surrender because I REFUSE TO LIE DOWN AND ALLOW THEM TO TRAMPLE MY SPIRIT!! I WILL STAND UP AND RISE ABOVE!! I will keep living this GLORIOUS life and do it with BOLDNESS, JOY, and LOVE because that is the true children of God!!
Tiffany Christian

Oh wow. Tiffany, what I wouldn’t give to have your attitude. I try, I really do. But then I backslide all over again. Am I just made of a different caliber of material than others?  Oh, I don’t know. All I can figure is this: I’m human.

That’s it. I’m human. I’m not perfect. And neither is anyone else. None of us have all the answers. We really don’t. Are gay people going to hell?  Heck, I don’t know. Is there a hell? Is there a heaven? Did that first haircut I got back in 1983 seal my spot on the front pew in the pits of hell?  Don’t know that either. NONE OF US KNOW ANYTHING. We really truly don’t.  So why do we go around acting like we do?

Why do I go around acting like I do?

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know the answer. I really don’t. But I’m pretty sure love is the first place to start looking for it. I have to try to find a way to get this anger and hatred out of my heart because it’s not healthy. I wish we could all just love each other, but there’s nothing I can do to help anyone else with that if I don’t first start with myself.

Anyone care to join me?

It’s a work in progress, friends.  We have to start somewhere.

***

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

– Sun Tzu