Butterdog: On My Broken Heart.

I can’t keep anything down, and my throat hurts like there’s something stuck in it– like I can’t breathe.  I texted my friend Bryan.  I’m not unaware that these are the same symptoms she had before she passed.  But I can’t get my mind over matter.

Grief is a bitch, he wrote back.

Yeah.  Grief is a big brown 83 pound bitch named Butter.

In these days following the day that Butter died, the world became a wash of rain and clouds.  I’ve been grateful to have the world mourning with me– or at least Western Washington.  We huddled in and lit a candle we named for her.  We checked our phones for signs of her popping up in pictures and texts and phone calls.  I became used to our little camper being down to one dog, and then not used to it, then more crying, then used to it again, while not losing the feeling that she is still here.  I wrapped her collar around my arm so I wouldn’t forget for a second that she was gone– so that I wouldn’t have to remember again.  But it didn’t stop me from thinking I heard her moving around this morning on the floor, and it didn’t stop me from mistaking a sheep for her.

Anyone can handle grief except the one in it.  Shakespeare or someone said something like that.  This flashes among the sitting straight up in the night in the middle of long, twelve hour sleeps. It’s like the movies in that the symptoms are all the same– easily Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep could be playing this role.  But I am not watching myself from far away.  I am uncomfortably and inescapably inside.

I took to writing down her names.  I took to zoning out.  I took to watching movies.  I took to forgetting to eat.  I took to holding my littlest dog for long hours.  I took to sleeping.  And somehow, in just six days, this tiny home of ours became nearly bearable.  If we lit the candle in the morning and blew it out at night (Good morning, Butter.  Good night, Butter.), if we laid her blanket at the foot of the bed, if I jangled her collar when the tension was building, I could see how someone might be able to actually live through this.

I became ill two days after I realized she was really gone.

Everybody knows I have a broken heart.

Yesterday we wandered out of our tiny Butter shrine.  We needed food.  We needed fresh vegetables.  We needed air.  We went to the farmers market in Olympia like normal people whose dog didn’t just die and tried to buy things with money that means nothing to us for vegetables that we aren’t hungry for.  I cried when we saw a bin of apples (she always ate my core).  I cried at the stand that sold dog treats.  I bought two because I couldn’t stand the thought of only one, and I cried again.

And that’s when I realized how much work was still ahead of me.  If it took a week to make these small four walls only bearable, cushioning the world was impossible.  I’ll never make it.  I’ll never survive.  All these sharp edges will puncture me.  All these soft memories will suffocate me.

“I can see it now,” I told my Someone, “I can see how people say ‘No more dogs.'”

“They just can’t do it again,” my Someone echoed.

“I just can’t do it again,” I said.

I’ve made a terrible mistake in love.  It’s split me wide open– no safety net, no fall back, no plan B.  I am a cautionary tale.

All of my defenses against this grief amount to nothing but a dimly lit candle almost burnt down, and a blanket that smells less like her by the day.  I was a fool for love, and now love has made a fool of me.  Now everyone knows I have a broken heart.

And I think of this–

A little more than seven years ago, we spotted each other from across the room.  She was coming in from another failed home experiment, I was leaving from a failed attempt to find the one.  When we made eye contact, she pulled my way and I walked hers.  And then she leaned on me.  I looked her soul in the face and hugged her and whispered– You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

When I looked at my to-be-first-husband, he replied, “What choice do we have?”

And I think of this–

A little less than seven days ago, I laid my head on her gurney on the floor next to hers.  She pulled toward me, I leaned on her.  Head-to-head while the fluids dropped into her, I told her the story of how we came to be.  Of how two misfit, gawky, graceless creatures found each other and stayed together.  It’s the same story I tell her every year on her birthday.  It’s the same story I tell her after she’s been hit by a truck or gored by a javelina.  It’s the same story I tell her when we’ve become homeless or when we move into a little camper with a new Someone.  You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

And I think this–

I would do it all again.

________: On Only One Day Deep.

Tell me what it is I need to do.  Tell me which altar to kneel at, which confessional I need to be in.  Tell me which way to face when I pray five times a day and under what conditions of sunlight.  Tell me who to be good to and where to place ten percent of my income– I’ll pay them double.  Give me every inch of the sacred text with the stipulation of a pilgrimage and thirty unnecessary dietary restrictions.  I’ll study by candlelight and be silent if I have to or stand up when I know I shouldn’t if it’s asked of me.  I’ll fight through every wrung and caste with a glowing goddamn halo and never use the work goddamn again.

If you can promise me in no uncertain terms– no theological possibility, but a real promise, certain as you’ve seen it with your own eyes– that I will see that damn dog again, it shall all be done.

Mystery Songs and Tactless Jokes: On Listening (For Better and Worse).

I fell in love with a song I didn’t know back in July.  It was when we found ourselves at The House on the Rock in Wisconsin– a rich man’s ploy to turn his home into a stage.  It’s packed with the largest carousel in the United States and a creepy doll museum and self playing instruments you spend your tokens to play songs from the 1920’s through the 1970’s.  It is the Disney of the underground.  The epic, disastrous playground for the lovers of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, roadside stands, and kitsch.

It took us three hours to get through– and we glided quickly through the circus section and skipped the history of flight museum entirely.  And we were euphoric.

But before our heads exploded and our senses retreated from the over-stimulation, we listened to a player piano play the loveliest song I could imagine.  We hummed it the rest of the way through the House– past the larger than life sized squid fighting a whale, through the displays of hot air balloons, past the calliope and the recreation of an early 1900’s village.  The song persisted.

We sang it that night over dinner as we sat staring into the woods, trying to process all that we’d seen that day.  We sang it the next morning when we woke up.  I took to the internet a couple weeks later when it still hadn’t left my mind.  I asked my social media for answers.  I got, in return, several pretty songs and a couple of voicemails with my Someone’s mom and another friend’s mom singing me their guess.  They were all wrong.

But it was so nice to be listening again.

With all of my flashing screens and passing highways, it had been a long time since I had been enamored.  It had been a long time since I called out a question and waited for an answer.  It had been a long time since I sat, waiting to listen.

I have been working lately to put down my flashing screens.  I have been working lately to sit still breathing while I wait for food in restaurants and for my gas to pump at gas stations.  I am failing.  But when I do remember, it’s as if a small part of my life is returned to me.  The part of my life when a radio song can make or break the ride to school.  The part of me when the sound of a V-8 engine rolling up the driveway could make my stomach rumble, because it meant that dad was home and dinner was ready.  When I can remember to listen, I remember to live.

It’s a little like praying.  Except I am not sweaty and scared of not getting an answer from whatever still-small-voice everyone else hears.  The sound of the gas pump clicking off is answer enough or a plate clinking down on the table is answer enough.

The first problem with listening, though, is that it also causes me to fall in love.  Like when I am stirring a sweet-and-sour sauce on the stove before our show, and the whisk rushes around the bottom of the pot.  I am willing myself to not touch my phone.  I am willing myself to not look out the window for my Someone.  I am willing myself to only stir.  And then, the thin swirling sound suddenly changes.  I look at the sauce, and it is amazing.  The whisk is resisting.  The sound becomes deeper.  The sauce thickens.  And that is when I fall in love.  By merely staying still and listening, I have heard transformation.  I have heard ingredients become sustenance.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this miracle?  How does the sound of a whisk in a thickening sauce pot not push out a hundred other sonic memories?  And all this before dinner.

It tasted pretty good, too.

I had been calling House on the Rock for months, getting voicemails once a week from Jenny, who had the list of the songs the piano played, who just needed to get in touch with me to give them to me so we could be done with this ordeal.  But then Jenny was out sick.  Then I was in a show.  Then the phone lines weren’t really working.  Then dozens of flashing screen reminders to call.  Then frustration.  Then almost giving up.

Here is the other problem with listening.  It leads you to a lifestyle of persistence.  Once you let that song in, you also let in the sound of the trains going by at night that suddenly feel like they are about to drive right through your camper.  You also let in the joke that didn’t feel like a joke by your Someone.  And then, you let in the small talk of a cashier in Boise, who is taking your exact change for four postcards.

“Actually, I don’t need a bag,” I said, pulling out a penny to complete the transaction, “Or a receipt.”

“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, “but you’re easy.”

The other woman behind the counter laughed.  I looked down.  What’s confusing is that, once you start listening, you start listening to all of it.  You listen to the man behind the counter, you listen to his smirk, you listen to his unnecessary qualifier, and you listen to the pulse of blood that sounds like embarrassment come to your ears.  You stop laughing at the jokes that didn’t need to be jokes because you listened to the jokes– and they are an echo of a long line of jokes made to make someone else laugh at the expense of pointing out something about you that may not be true.  You listen to all the laughs that happened in your whole 31 years about your sexuality.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this heartache?  How does the sound of an tactless joke not conglomerate with the hundred others and swallow you up into a burping, sloppy mass of despair?

I decided I was done listening for a while.

But then this.

Jenny called.  I called her back.  She gave me the list– the list!– of all of the songs.  Some of them were already familiar.  But I put them all in my own list, downloaded on my flashing screen device, and kept them there for a couple of weeks.  The mystery was nearly over.

We left Boise.  We drove for a few hours to Oregon.  I looked at my flashing screen instead of the sunset.  I closed my eyes instead of opening my ears.  I holed up in the misery that listening makes.  Forty minutes outside of Pendleton, my Someone asked for music to keep his own eyes open.  I put on the list– the list!– and sat back.  I wasn’t really listening.

“I don’t think it’s on here,” I told my Someone vaguely.  “I think she gave me the list from the wrong player piano.”

“Yeah,” my Someone said.  We were mostly through the list, and the rest looked mostly familiar.  I closed my ears further.  I watched the dark mountain range get taller.  I sunk lower.

“What?” I said, not really listening.

“The song!” my Someone said.

“What?” I couldn’t remember what we had been talking about.  So I sat up.  I opened my ears again.  I saw the light of the town come into view from the top of the bypass.  And I heard Gladys Knight croon out the fluttering second verse of the Song.  I had nearly missed it!

“It’s my Song!” I said.

“It’s your Song!” he said.

We listened to The Song.  We listened to a second version of The Song.  We kept listening in disbelief that we had finally, after nearly four months, found The Song.

It was over.  The search was over.  The mystery was done.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this happy and sad?  How do we keep on living when every memory has to, at every new memory, be pushed and carried to another place to make room?

“Help Me Make it Through the Night.”  That’s the name of the song.

Like Riding a Bike: On the Second Time Around.

I used to know how to ride a bike.  I didn’t just used to know how, it was actually all I would do after school and throughout the summer.

I’m not sure when it happened that I forgot, but it happened.  Not in a wobbly-starting-out-but-even-out-by-the-tenth-pedal sort of way, either.  Somewhere in the seven years between my senior year of high school and my first year of marriage, I was falling-down-every-five-or-six-feet-in-the-street sort of forgotten how to ride a bike.

Everyone says you never forget.

Everyone says it’s just like riding a bike.

Seven years ago today, I was on my way to my honeymoon suite with my first husband, where we would fall asleep, and I would wake up with a swollen ankle from dancing too hard at my reception.  I would also wake up with a panic, realizing I had made the biggest of mistakes.

Three years after that, I would forget how to love.

A few months after that, I would fall in love again.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.  It’s just like riding a bike.

If I Can See It: On Doing It.

“I wish I was an artist,” I told my Someone.  We were admiring the graffiti in Laramie, Wyoming.  We are always taken by graffiti.

“You are,” he said.

“But, you know, like a real artist.”

“Like a painting kind of artist?”

“Yeah,” I said, “like a real, pull out a canvas and make something visual artist.  Like a real painter.”

“Then maybe you should start painting.”

Staging Grief: On Anger (again and again and again).

We are already picking apart our little camper, already finding the ways in which it has been insufficient.  We are already pointing our fingers at the lack of extra battery we’ve done fine with, and the low water pressure shower head that’s done us well, and the lack of space to walk around in which we’ve figured out a nearly flawless system of sitting down and standing up to avoid stepping on dog ears.  We are working on our anger so that we can let it go.  We are trying to get angry at our imperfectly perfect home because we just learned about a four season camper that will be even better.  And the only way one can truly believe it will be better is to gather a little amnesia and a lot of hostility toward the thing that is sitting right in front of us.  Or rather, the thing we are sitting inside of.

And anger always does the trick.

“You know,” I said to my Someone, “when I am dead, you are going to be so mad at me.  You’re going to be so mad, you are going to forget that I was actually great.”

“I know,” my Someone said. “But who says you are dying first?  How do you know I won’t die and you’ll be mad at me?”

“Because you wouldn’t dare.  My anger would be so fierce it would raise you from the dead just so I could kill you again, I’d be so mad at you.”

He laughed.  I laughed.  Likely because we didn’t think it was true.  We couldn’t imagine being angry with each other when the other was gone, because being angry would mean we were trying to move on.  And I am not so certain I ever would.

I used to believe that anger was something that came from a distinct moment in my childhood.  Something suppressed, something wild that hadn’t had the chance to be fully expressed.  In my early twenties, I kept digging back and back to find the one thing.  For the last decade, I was able to be justifiably angry at my parents and my old friends, my high school and my ex boyfriends, my dead dogs and my dead grandparents.  But I am coming to realize that with every little thing we lose, there is anger.  And we are always losing.  It now looks like a miracle that for all that we lose every day, every moment, that we are not perpetually in a state of anger.

Or maybe we all are.

There is a songwriter who lives in North Carolina who is one of the last overtly Christian artists I can stand to listen to.  And when she sings songs about coming to the table and being baptized, my insides moan and wail with the nostalgia.  By the end of the record, I am simultaneously soothed… and then angry.

“It seems so unfair,” I told my Someone.  We were parked in a lot in Minnesota, and finished listening to her record again before dinner.  “It seems so unfair that she still gets to go home.”

And that was when I saw it there, laying in the bottom of my emotional cup.  The last wriggle of anger drying up.  The last pitiful eye roll.  My years of being angry at God (and the years that may still be coming) weren’t wasted.  They were a coping mechanism.  I wasn’t angry that there was a God, or if there was a God.  I wasn’t angry that he did or didn’t love me.  I wasn’t even angry if he did or didn’t step in to save or ruin my life.  I was angry that for all my own praying, for all my songwriting, for all my seeking, I found that the robe didn’t fit.  It was too small.

I started to cry.

And my Someone cried, too.  And then I cried for my childhood bedroom– the one that’s been painted over. The one I was angry with when I would return home from college.  The one that I was only angry with because I knew that I couldn’t ever really go back to it– not just because my parents told me I couldn’t, but because I just. couldn’t.  I had moved on.  I was a grown up.  And the 101 Dalmatians theme didn’t fit me, anymore.

This didn’t mean I would never have a room again.  It just meant I couldn’t have that room.  It was time for someone else to occupy it.  And the anger propelled me healthily into adulthood.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll never have a God again.  I just can’t have that one.  And my anger has propelled me healthily along.  I wouldn’t be happy squeezing into that robe.  White just isn’t my color.  Even with a few altered dalmatian spots.  And now, I can be happy for the person occupying what I just can’t, anymore.

In the last couple of months, we have been angry with our ex Best Friend.  We have chosen to remember the irks and the aches that he caused, instead of the things that kept him our friend for ten years.  In this way, we have been learning to move on.  In this way, the anger has moved us on.  What is difficult to see in this scenario is whether the anger is showing us who he truly is, or if it is only muting who we know he truly is.  Either way, I am a bit grateful to the anger for its rapid healing process– its steady trajectory toward new friends, new late night phone calls, and even a new home for our hearts.  The startling openness that anger creates in its wildfire blazes, not another path, but every path.  And we have looked out on the charred field with steady heads and heavy hearts.

When it all grows back, it’ll be a different place.  Some of it may be the same, but most of it all new.  And that is when the amnesia begins.  The wonderful, welcome forgetting of what it was like to be burned.  All this, all this could not be possible without the cleansing– without the clearing of the landscape.  Baptism by fire.

Miracle Whip: On Living the Dream, Instead.

“Today, I do not want to live the dream,” I told my Someone.  We were in Grand Rapids, taking our usual walk when we stay in Grand Rapids, about to have our usual coffee at our usual coffeeshop.  Our usual truck was in the shop, and we were unusually worried about it.  It needed to be fixed so we could move to Minnesota by Saturday.  It was Thursday.  We were losing time.  We are usually told at least once a night that we are living the dream.  That moving from one place to the next, walking sidewalks we don’t pay taxes on, having destination coffeeshops and farmers markets that span the entire country that regularly fall into one calendar year is all a fantasy that only a few of us are in on.

Usually, I am in love with this.

This day, I don’t want to live the dream.

“What would you like to do instead?” my Someone asked me.

“I would like to be boring,” I said.

I then proceeded to tell him about my ideal boring day– waking up in a townhouse, going to the gym to work out on the elliptical, drinking coffee before 8AM, working from home.

“What is your job?” my Someone asked.

“Selling insurance,” I said.  “Or copy editing.”

I then proceeded to lose all of my health and body conscience decisions.  I would eat lunch meat ham sandwiches with iceberg lettuce on white bread and Miracle Whip sliced diagonally.

“Whoa,” my Someone said, “Miracle Whip?”

“It’ll be the only tangy zip of my day,” I said.  In my fantasy I would have a cat and my dogs and two fish.  My Someone would come home at 5 and we would eat pasta and then walk our dogs and watch TV for two hours before reading in bed for one hour only to do it over again the next day.

“Sounds like you have it figured out,” he said.

“Yeah.  And we are saving up for a vacation to Italy.  We got a deal through our wine club.”

“‘She wanted France, I wanted Spain, so we settled on Italy!'”

“What was that?” I asked, startled for him to be engaging in my fantasy.

“That’s what we are going to tell our couple friends.  It’s our big story– that’s the punchline.”

We walked back to the street we were parked on.  We dropped the bags of dog poop in the garbage.  We stepped inside the camper.

“I want my old life back,” I said.

“The one you are living right now?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “I really hate Miracle Whip.”

My Someone, before we knew we were in love, admitted that he used to have a dream that I would be on my death bed, wracked by lung cancer, wherein he would hold vigil by my side.  Before I passed on to the Great Breathing Lung in the Sky, I would pull him to me– tubes aside, of course– and we would have our first and only kiss.  And he would be sustained a lifetime by it.

“Why was I always the one dying in your morbid dream?” I asked him.

“Seemed like the most likely scenario,” he said.

He wasn’t wrong.

“Are you disappointed that we actually have to kiss every day, now, instead of just one big one to rule them all?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “This way is definitely better.”

“Because all the machines and tubes and dying, probably.”

“Yeah.  The machines and tubes and dying would have been weird.”

We had been fighting for months back then.

“Sometimes I think you have to pretend I am dead before you can remember that you love me!” I had said.

He said nothing.

“But you are missing me right now when you do,” I said.

That is when he crossed the room to end the fight again.

It was after the bad fight in South Dakota, when we woke up early to the Black Hills, that I realized the danger of it all.  Each morning, I was a woman living the dream trying to be a woman living the dream.  I would arrange my mornings with meticulous control– the right yoga session in the well shaded spot, the perfect temperature of tea to sip on the right rock overlooking the most scenic and underpopulated view, and the most insightful thoughts to put inside my journal.  All the while, my Someone drawing his own lines in his own journal.  We were being healthy.  We were being separate.  It is just too crazy for two people to spend so much time together, we’d been told.  So we were squeezing out the separate time to its fullest– feet apart, back-to-back, pretending the other wasn’t there.  Pretending to not be interrupted.

I was concocting the wrong fantasy.

Maybe we are so unhealthy, all this time spent together.  Maybe we are codependent.  Maybe we are missing out by never missing a sunset or sunrise apart.  And I don’t expect that by eating all of this alone-ness would will me to like my life more.  Why should we wait til the pot has cooled and the dregs rise before we take the time to sit, side-by-side, looking to the Black Hills?  Why not share our first, best memories before we divvy up time as priority and people as needs?  Because with all this living as someone we think we ought to be or think we want to be, we are missing who we are.  We are missing the sharing of the first hot sip.  And how do we expect to huddle when we are old if we are too busy fighting the huddle when we are young?

I don’t even like Miracle Whip.  I think I will try making the sandwich and living the morning in the way I am right now, instead.  Right now is living the dream, after all.

Angerholics: On Best Friend Break Ups and Sober Sorries.

Anger is intoxicating, and we are all mean drunks.

I knew what it was I was supposed to do.  I could picture myself standing up from the coffee shop, walking one foot after another down the hot Mankato sidewalk, through the parking lot, opening the door to find two panting dogs and a sleeping Someone.  I would go to him– he who has been sick and who I have been fighting with and who is as cranky and distraught by the hot July heat as I am– and I would brush back his hair from his forehead and I would say,

“I’m sorry.  I love you.”

And then I started to second guess it.  It never worked out like that.  Something would happen– it wouldn’t be perfect.  The heat would get to me three steps onto the blacktop.  Or he would already be awake.  Or I would get inside and my chest would constrict and my jaw would clench and when I went to walk to him, I would be paralyzed, the circuit board of my brain lighting up with the same anger that had me wishing I wasn’t angry anymore.  If it worked out, I had to let it all go.  The strain of getting the apology through my teeth is just. too. hard.

And that’s the thing about anger.  When you’re in it, you know that sobering up from it will feel better than the slurring, drunken state you’re in.  But it is irresistible to not pour another glass when the bottomless bottle is sitting. right. there.

It’s been over three weeks since our Best Friend Fight started, and we have spiraled in and out of hazy barroom punches.  My Someone and I have taken to cleaning up our act.  We’ve been sobering for days, the withdrawal from the anger shaking our bodies as occasional memories drift through our minds unexpectedly from our blackouts.  The hangover feels endless, and the high pitched buzz at the top of our brains has us still reeling.

What happened?

We still aren’t sure.  What we do know is that we have an email in our inbox from our friend telling us that he no longer wants to be friends.  That we are breaking up.  That he wants to be angry for a while longer.

We are joining support groups.  It’s difficult to become sober around your drinking friends, and so we hope with some time and space that he will show up, too, in the middle of the bundle of hurt, but finally not venturing to take another sip.  But we are still taking unfortunate protective measures.  Getting ourselves and our things out of the way of a raging angerholic.  If he wakes up from this, we want him to find, not a trail of destruction, but a tidy note that says, “Meet us here.  10AM.”

But even if he never shows, we will continue to detox, door unlocked, passively waiting.

I have lately pictured the I’m Sorry part of living as the part that makes us human again.  It’s mostly like the scene at the end of Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell is in a heap and the audience has to clap their hands to bring her back to life again.  But in this I’m Sorry scenario, it is me in the heap on stage, and the ones I’ve hurt and the ones who could continue to be hurt are waiting, and while they wait, they are whispering–

Just say you’re sorry.  Just say you’re sorry.

And as the whispers turn into waves and wash over me, my head lifts– me, half human and half monster– and I look out and say it–

I’m sorry.

And like that, my horns retract and my teeth unsharpen and I am human– fully human– again.

I am often on that stage.  But I am finding it is also no treat to be in the audience, because as you are whispering it to the one caught as half monster there is a fear that takes over.  What if they want to be a monster?  What if they don’t wake up?

What if they never become human again?

I braved the hot sidewalk.  I stepped into the camper.  The dogs were panting.  My Someone was sleeping.  I walked to the side of the bed and sat down.  He rolled over.  I pushed his hair off of his forehead.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I love you.”

And in the reflection of his eyes, I saw my horns retract and my big paws un-fur and shrink back to my hands.  I was human again.  And that tall bottle of anger was shattered.

What a goddamn beautiful mess.

I-Told-You-So: On Committing Love into Memory.

“I just learned on a TED Talk that you can conserve paper towels by folding them in half first before drying your hands on them.  It actually works. Here, try it,” she said, handing me a folded paper towel.

I guess I had a choice in the matter.  But from what I’ve found in the past, these restroom interactions generally go quicker with smiling and agreement.  Any sure-is-cold-out or this-soap-dispenser-is-so-strange sink encounters are just a quick byway to the door to omit acknowledgment of where we meet.  In front of our own waste.  But literal hand-to-hand interaction was new.

So, even though I had already mostly dried my hands on a paper towel, I dried my hands on the paper towel she folded for me.  I guess it worked okay.  But what I said instead was, “Wow!  That really does work!”  I thought this might be suitable enough to get me out and onward, but instead, she blocked the door, looked me right in the eye and said–

“Yeah.  It does work.  And from now on, you will always remember me, every single time you go to dry your hands.”

And then she left.

She wasn’t wrong.  It’s been almost two years, and every time I use more than one paper towel, and I think– Dammit.  I should’ve folded it first.  And I picture her standing there, shaking her head in an I-told-you-so sort of way.  But for the life of me, I can’t ever remember to do it in time to not remember her.

And then there was this–

“This is going to be an amazing night,” David said, showing us where to set up.  He was throwing a party, and generously invited us to be part of it.  We would play six songs he chose from our catalog, and had enough food and drinks and invitations to rest that we were having a pretty cushy evening.  We’ve played plenty of house shows.  We love them, and couldn’t quite see how this one would be any more amazing than the rest.  Except that David kept telling us that it was going to be amazing– the most amazing.  An incredible night.  Unforgettable.

We agreed to play because we like David.  We agreed because he asked us, and is kind.  But unforgettable seemed like a tall order.  Until everyone gathered.  David told his friends and family this was going to be an amazing night.  And then, David told the group about his last year– how he had been through hell and back through medical troubles, severe depression, and even some thoughts that made him believe he didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out if he could love life again.  There, in front of some of his own darkness, he was insisting that we were connected.

“This is an amazing night,” he said.  “It’s not perfect, but it’s incredible.  Unforgettable.”  And it was contagious, this belief.  Suddenly each person seemed to glow with the realization.  It landed.  David spoke it into existence, and it really was amazing.  That each of these people gathered here, that each of them had somehow helped this man, that each of them could see him standing there in front of them because he didn’t give up.  That he knew that he was loved and in turn loved.

Amazing.  Incredible.  Unforgettable.

If David hadn’t told us all so, we may have missed it.  We may not have realized it at all.

My Someone and I are in the middle of a best friend fight with our best friend.  We are trying hard to keep from saying the sorts of things that would echo years later, while also blocking the door, trying to get him to see us again.

“You won’t forget us,” we seem to be pleading, all the while wondering if he already has.  There is only so much you can fit in before it becomes a hostage situation, and such limited time makes it difficult to recall almost ten years of who we have been while he is simply trying to get out the door.  So we have abrupt phone call endings and erratic texts.

We are very low functioning best friend fighters.  The grit-your-teeth-and-make-yourself-the-fool-for-love type.

And as much as we all may want to be angry forever, we seem ingrained in the sort of things in each other’s lives that may make it difficult to dry our hands or cook our dinners or drive through certain places without feeling the other person standing there, lurking in an I-told-you-so sort of way.

So I am considering switching my tactic.  Instead of I-told-you-so, I think I will try I-love-you-so.  And maybe also “This is going to be amazing!  Watch this– watch it– see how big our friendship is?  See how much it endures?  See how small we are but how big is love?  Incredible!”

And maybe with a little repetition and reassurance, it will make it so, turning the I-told-you-so into the I-love-you-so.

Knots in Hair: On Small Brushes with Heaven.

When we were kids, my best friend Jessica and I would sleep in the lantern light of her mom, Cindy’s, camper, parked in the middle of the Church Camp grounds.  Both of our mothers for that week of Camp would come before bed to brush the knots from our hair and wish us goodnight.  We loved the goodnights but hated the brushing.  We would squeam and squirm and complain at the tug of the brush.  Our mothers would spray in detanglers that smelled like fake apples and too-sweet pears and shush us for any melodrama.

“We don’t want you to do this anymore!” we would say.

“Someday,” Cindy said one night, “you won’t have to.  When we all get to Heaven, there will be no more knots in hair.”

Jessica and I found this to be amazing.  We took turns asking about bee stings and chicken pox and skinned knees, moving further into dead grandparents and pets.  Each of our mothers took turns denying the possibility of any bad thing being allowed in Heaven.  But even above No More Volcanoes Exploding and Melting Villages, there were No More Knots in Hair.

When Cindy passed away this last year after a hard battle with cancer, I imagined her wandering around with the stingerless bees and the volcanoes that spouted vanilla frosting instead of molten lava.  But most of all, I pictured her signature long, glossy blonde hair bouncing as she walked, completely knotless.

I am wondering if Heaven is a place I have to wait for, anymore.  I am wondering if maybe here, in the dim lantern light in my own camper parked in the middle of a parking lot, is just as good a place to start.  I am wondering about all this hardship, and this belief of God never giving you more than what you can bear.  I am out of the business of blaming God for much, anymore.  Not even at the loss of kind blonde mothers too soon taken.  Which I think may have me out of the business of believing that I have to endure what I am handed at all.

Last week, I cut off all of my hair.  Heaven seemed too far away to wait for knotless hair.  And lately, my nights have been full of goodnight wishes and no brushing at all.