10 Years

(I wrote this on September 27, 2016, and I liked it enough to share here. =3)

Ten years ago today, I woke up and decided whether or not I would play hookie from school. Yes, it was only September…yes, I was already feeling lazy about going to school. It was my senior year, give me a break. xD But even though we were going to do a bunch of lame stuff, I did want to participate in Drama class and see my boyfriend. So, I decided to go to school after all.

The sun was blazing in the sky that morning; it was a bright blood-red. I had never seen the sun be so beautiful before. I decided in that moment that if nothing else, I’d be glad I went to school and not back to sleep just because I got to see that gorgeous sunrise.

I didn’t know that this day would change my life until sometime during my morning English class, when a haggard-looking stranger whispered something to my teacher, sent her out, and closed the door. I won’t give a lot of details, but I will say two things: it was the first time in my life that I ever heard a gunshot, and later on, it was the first time that I really thought about the possibility of death.

When you’re 17, you think you’re invincible, but it was a very sobering day. I was weirdly calm through most of the day, and acutely aware that I was resigning myself to whatever would happen in the moments to come, accepting it and coming to terms with it. I did not cry a single drop thinking of my own mortality, but what I did think was “I wonder if my parents know how much I love them? I wonder if my friends know?” I regretted not sharing my feelings more. I regretted being so moody and aloof all the time like teenagers were. I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit of a douche when I was a teenager, and I thought about myself (read: agonized about myself) constantly. I rarely ever told my parents or my close friends how appreciative I was that they were in my life; I just kind of assumed that they knew it, and that I didn’t have to try very hard to remind them of that. But when I made it out of there, something profound had changed in me.

I didn’t cry at all that day–not as we waited in the ambulance in trepidation for updates on what was happening in the building nearby, not when I finally got to call my mom and have her pick me up, hearing her start to lose it as I told her what had happened (I do tear up thinking about it now though)–not until I watched the evening news and saw that Emily didn’t make it. I was at my boyfriend’s house for a little while (it seemed like he needed me the most at the time), but after that, I lost it. It was soul-crushing; it wasn’t fair. I remember that I kept repeating, “It’s not fair.” I went home and hugged my parents, and it was the first time I’d seen my dad look scared.

Even to this day, remembering those events and the ones that followed makes it feel like it just happened. For years, I avoided talking about it, mostly because my boyfriend at the time seemed more unnerved about bringing it up than I did, and I didn’t want to cause him pain. Unfortunately, this made it take a lot longer for me to actually start talking to people about it and start to move past it. To this day, I sometimes curse the side effects of this particular event–mild PTSD and anxiety (I never had panic attacks until after this happened), and occasionally I feel guilty about it. That’s right–because as tough as that experience was, I didn’t have to lose a sibling, or a best friend, or a daughter. Millions of people in this country, and millions more across the world, experience heartache and trauma on a much larger scale, and sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve for it to still affect me, ten years later.

Last year, I met a beautiful man who I shared some of this experience with, and he told me that I should never be ashamed of struggles I’ve faced or how they affect me, because good or bad, these experiences shaped me into who I am today (and according to him, I was pretty great). Most of the time, I still try not to talk about it. I feel mad at myself sometimes and ask myself why I can’t just get over it, why I can’t just talk about it without my throat tightening and my voice shaking. I remind myself again that other people (such as the one who gave me this advice) have experienced war, watched people die firsthand…but you can’t really compare things like that. We each face our own struggles, and they affect us profoundly.

And he’s right–that experience is now part of who I am; I can’t imagine what I might be like if I had decided to stay home. And there is always a silver lining; that day, I started being more open with my feelings. I watched a community reach out to each other, and strangers gave me all sorts of things–many bibles, a scarf, an envious collection of blankets, handwritten notes of well-wishes–out of the kindness of their hearts, caring about me when I had never even met most of them. And that was dumfounding to me. I began to be more empathetic to people’s situations. I didn’t make fun of people as much (in my mind I mean–I was never a bully. xD), and instead I try to imagine what they might be facing in their own lives. I try to find a good quality in everybody, even if I can’t stand them.

I have come face to face with my mortality, and I realized that life is extremely short, and it should be lived to the fullest, without fear of the future or messing up. Just go for it, do what you think is right, and always allow kindness to be in your heart.

If you made it through this whole thing, thank you for reading! I love you guys.

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Maybe Some Things Just Aren’t Meant to Be

A few years ago, I had written an entry in my journal, when I was feeling particularly sad, that I wondered what it would be like to be the kind of person that someone throws a surprise birthday party for. I always thought it seemed wonderful to have so many people truly care about you and your happiness that they would all come together, going completely out of their way to plan something for the sole purpose of making you happy and to show you that you are loved. I also wondered what kind of person you’d have to be to have something like that in your life—and without a doubt, I knew that I wasn’t the kind of person for who things like that happened.

That isn’t to say that I am not loved—I have family and friends who value and cherish me, and they show it. Sometimes I even wonder if those relationships are deeper and more valuable than the ones between people who throw surprise parties for each other, because I feel so lucky to have the people in my life that I do. But I’m different. Most of the people in my life, the ones who matter at least, are different too. And amongst us different people, things are perceived differently. We are the outliers.

I was just struck with a similar thought, which is why I decided to start writing, for the first time in weeks. I was struck with the notion, definitely not for the first time, that I might be one of those people who no one ever truly falls in love with, someone who isn’t meant to find love. And I wondered if the kind of person I’d have to be to find love is also the kind of person that I’d have to be for someone to throw me a surprise party—and if so, my fate is already sealed.

I’ve been in love a handful of times. I know myself, and I know that when I fall in love with someone, I fall completely. Their happiness becomes one of the most important things to me. I’ve loved so much that I let someone go because they would never feel the same way about me, despite how much we cared about each other. Twice. I know full well that I am capable of love in all its forms, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world—even the parts that hurt. Knowing that you care about someone enough that it causes you pain reminds you that you are alive, that you feel, that you’re part of this world and everything it has to offer.

Unfortunately, nearly all of my forays into the world of romantic love have ended, with some obvious differences, in the same way.

I seem to be irresistible (I guess) at first—people fall for me quickly and easily, for whatever reason. Being attracted as I am to people with certain energies, I fall pretty quickly right back if I see that they’re falling for me. Things go on contentedly for a little while—a couple months, usually—before things start to change. Suddenly, these people start getting to know me, and upon that, they find things about me that they want to change. Suddenly, I’m not as irresistible as they thought I was; surprisingly, I’m just a flawed human, like they are and like everyone else. And once this magic wears off, various things will happen, but they all involve some sort of effort to control or change me.

In my first long-term relationship, my ex tried to control me by belittling me for the things he didn’t like about me and praising me when I did something to his standards. One time, he argued with me for an hour about why I shouldn’t get my nose pierced, telling me that I would end up getting more piercings and look “trashy” or like “someone who’s been to jail.” He was also jealous and possessive; male friends that I’d had since before I met him were treated with criticism and mistrust in an effort to isolate me from them. We were engaged after 2 ½ years because, as young as I was, I just figured that’s what you DO when you’ve been with someone for so long. By that time, I had started to feel like someone else, and I didn’t like who that someone else was. I felt dissociated from life a lot of the time; I had completely stopped writing for over a year!

My next long-term relationship came about as a result of meeting someone who I felt more like myself around and, realizing that I didn’t feel that way with my fiance, I promptly ended the relationship and dove in again with this new person. In this case, the form of control was actually that he gave me me most of the control, which is something I did not want or ask for. By giving me control, he felt justified in criticizing me and also in punishing me by withdrawing affection or kindness.

I made most of the money; he complained about how he never got to buy things he wanted to buy because I “took” his money for part of the bills. When we moved out together into our first apartment, I paid everything, while my ex sat at home in a growing pile of filth because his mom had done everything for him for most of his life, jumping at his rescue when he needed food, money, laundry done, etc. I became his new mom. When it was time to move, I picked the place, otherwise we would not have found a place to live. I arranged for the moving truck, I picked the furniture—I continued to pay most of the bills. If I had left things up to him, the bills would never have gotten paid. I was in over my head–and for all my efforts, I was told that I needed to loosen up, that maybe if I did, he’d be more loving, more appreciative, etc. “If you act the way I want you to, I’ll give you what you want me to give you.”

In my latest relationship, things felt exactly on track for the first few months. In this relationship, I had tried something new; I was single for 6 months, I had tried online dating just for fun, and I didn’t have the expectation of falling in love—it just kind of happened. Then, as soon as I felt that way, and I could tell he did too—he got scared and put on the brakes. I understood; he was less than a year out of a divorce, I was less than a year out of a 5 year relationship. We dated for almost a year, but in this time, he never told me he loved me, introduced me to friends or family, or even called me his girlfriend. He wouldn’t even add me on Facebook, and we don’t have a single picture of ourselves together to document the time that we were together. The memories I have with this man are some of the best I’ve ever experienced, and I am thankful for every one of them. But unfortunately, even with this genuinely good person, the ending came the same way.

His method of control was to use his priority for independence to avoid intimacy with me after he took his initial step back; blaming it on his admittedly hectic schedule, he had trouble making plans with me and committing to those plans in the few instances they were made, often showing up late, having to reschedule, and ending each meeting with the promise that we’d see each other again “soon.” Never knowing when I might be able to see him next, I left a lot of my schedule open “just in case,” which made me feel…lame, honestly. His favorite phrase was “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” This, coupled with his inability to help me understand my role in his life, made me frequently insecure because I didn’t know where I stood with him. This led to me becoming the pursuer when it had begun the other way around. By keeping me on my toes, he took complete control of the dynamic of our relationship.

Everyone who is romantically interested in me adores me until they get to know me better, but there’s something else, too. Every single person I’ve fallen for still wants me in their life. Every long-term relationship has ended with an apology to me. The ones who have gotten to know me end up accepting my flawed humanity and suddenly find value in my presence in their life. “Regret” is a word I’ve heard a handful of times from the mouths of people who didn’t value me when they had me. What does that say about me? That the people I’m attracted to are not capable of loving me in the way that I hope someone will? That love exists—but within people that I don’t have anything in common with, who I will never be attracted to, where I then become the one who doesn’t value what they have until it’s gone? Those both sound like the recipe for disaster that makes me wonder whether or not there exists a person in my life path who can fill the role that I thought I’d filled over and over again.

In my mind, I envision two families sitting at a Thanksgiving table and actually enjoying each other’s company. Champagne glasses are raised, turkey is carved, people are laughing…and I’m sitting among them, laughing and smiling as if I completely belong there. The atmosphere is fuzzy and warm; I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me back, and the handsome gentleman next to me grins and looks at me in a way that makes me feel like I’m the only other person on the entire planet, with the deep appreciation and wonder that accompanies being in love with someone. Really being in love with someone–with who they are, not who you wish they were.

But that life isn’t meant for me any more than I’m meant for surprise parties. Most of the time, I’m completely okay with that, because, let’s be real–my life is pretty awesome. I may not fit in, in a traditional sense, but I do fit in someplace, and that someplace is the home I’ve built within the walls of my tattoo shop, and in the creative community where people are just as weird as I am. But sometimes I still wonder what kind of person it takes to find those other kinds of things, and I wonder if it’s possible for me to still be me and maybe someday find them. Would I still even want them if I did?