Consider This: A Letter of a Convert

I’m Taoist by practice, Christian by nurture, and Agnostic by nature.

Thanks to Pride last weekend, I’ve been born again. The good news bubbles forth, and I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.

In Tallahassee, we garnered ourselves in rainbow sunglasses and tie dyed shirts and headed downtown with our niece to the event. There were people of all sorts smiling and laughing, and strangers greeting each other like old friends when they accidentally bumped into one another on their way to the virgin pina colada stand that served up each drink in an entire pineapple. We saw community members let loose, and allies offer help with anything from health care to banking, a church or two alongside American Atheists for whatever spiritual or social gaps that need be filled.

And there were free Mom Hugs and Dad Hugs and Parent Hugs, wandering around in descriptive t-shirts, just in case you needed to hear it from someone who knows best– that you are loved just as you are, just as you came into this world.

This was the moment for me. I stepped off the path and took several deep breaths and cried as my Someone put his arm around me and my niece placed her hand on my arm, “It’s okay, Aunt Mallory.”

Here, the scales fell from my eyes. I was placed squarely inside of the church. Or, at least, what the church was supposed to be.

How very Tao, the reckoning, the balance.

It should be known, and is well documented, that upon a conversion experience, one is often met with resistance. A person cannot grow heavier or lighter with good news and not change the balance of the boat they are in. And so, at first, was the antagonizing words of strangers. Some call them trolls, and while I like the image of wide glassy eyed sexless creatures with wild florescent triangular hair on the other side of the computer screen, thinking their most unwelcome thoughts and putting them into the public sphere, I’ve also come to understand that this category isn’t always fairly attributed. Sometimes, people just can’t read the room on the internet, and it takes a little finagling to help them see where they are. As a newborn myself in the previous hours, I understood the excitement of sharing. This stranger from Nebraska finally refrained, and onward I walked in my new faith.

“I have to tell you something,” I told my Someone the next day. “I am actually the best at Christianing that I have ever been. Remember that guy on the internet? Young Christian Mallory would’ve flown off the handle. But look at me! I didn’t yell or say names or anything. I Taoed the shit out of that and my Christianing is off the charts.”

“You’re really killing it,” he said. “You’ve been born again.”

I don’t need to reclaim or reframe Christianity or Jesus, anymore. I’ve realize now, it’s always been there for me.

It all made sense now. You’re just supposed to love people.

Who knew it was that simple?

And then it isn’t simple.

My excitement grew. I told my friends. I spent long video messages bursting with the understanding, the good news. Then, I told them about the not-troll from Nebraska.

How strange, I told them, for one’s impulse to call sin what is love.

The conversation turned. My friend of many years was uncomfortable, felt pressed.

“It is sin,” she said. The conversation turned again.

“If I had to choose between my friends and Christ,” she said, “I would choose Christ. Always.”

“Yes,” I said to her, “if you had to choose, choose Christ. Because this isn’t Abraham beneath an erratic jealous God, holding a dagger above his son’s neck to prove his loyalty. This is Jesus we’re talking about. So, yes, choose Christ. Because Christ would choose me. He always chooses me.”

My friend is not talking to me, anymore. She needs space.

We ask a lot of Jesus, I think. Make us comfortable. Die for sins. Act as scapegoat to our need to take responsibility for our actions. Take the wheel. But from what I gather, mostly all he wanted was to party sometimes, spend some time in nature alone, and maybe occasionally have some conversations. To be a friend. And that message of Jesus isn’t always easy to swallow amid the laundry list of things we need from him. It doesn’t have that Fox’s Book of Martyrs material we’d always imagined as young zealots. It’s too damn ordinary.

The Word, Letter of Mallory to her Friend, Chapter 16, Verse 21-37.

Greetings to you with the warmth of Christ, the laugh of Buddha, and the brief smell of jasmine from an early morning walk!

I have seen and heard the good work of you and your sisters and brothers, and I am delighted by the news. You have cared for the sick, prayed for the hurting, and welcomed in those who need a shower. Keep it up! You’re doing great.

But there is an element that needs reckoning, and I’m afraid it will be difficult to hear, as when I heard it a long time ago– with my Christian Nationalist conditioning– I really didn’t like it. But be assured, on the other side, there is freedom in Christ, and you’ll get to party with him and everyone else at Pride. There are pineapple drinks, you def don’t want to miss it.

If someone chooses someone else to love, regardless of what gender the person is, it is not a sin. To believe it IS a sin is to harbor bigotry, and as seen by your good work already, we know that you are far too compassionate to harbor hate. It would be easy here to cry out, to say that this is an attack on your faith, but it is not. Christ did not come to comfort the oppressor, but to challenge the chains. Your belief, while isolated in a small church with like-minded people, does not remain isolated. This belief is one that seeps like a toxic gas from beneath your church doors, into the streets and the voting booths, and declares other people second class citizens. Because of this belief, they must fight for their dignity, their basic rights, and in too many cases, their lives.

I say this, not as a friend against a friend defending a faceless othered entity– the faceless entity you harbor your bigotry for are the very tangible faces of my friends and myself. I say this as a friend who is for their friend, and I would be a poor friend who allows the indignity, because it is also an indignity to you.

Consider this– your children. As you teach them this belief– that some love is a sin– you perpetuate a lie. When, inevitably, your children grow up and are out from under your carefully and best intentioned canopy, they will be confronted with this lie. It is problematic in many ways to equate the bigotry against the LGBTQIA+ community with the racial justice movement, but acknowledging the differences and that we are in fact only in the beginning of eradicating the deathly plague of racism, consider the likeness.

As we grew up, remember the textbooks we read, where we saw the movement of people fighting for their right to sit at lunch counters, vote, be alive. And remember, then, seeing the timeline and realizing that our grandparents, our parents coincided with this time. And remember having to ask the difficult question–

“Mom, Dad– what side were you on?”

I grew up in the depths of racism. I did not know a person of color, and it was kept that way with intention on my behalf. I heard words I knew instinctively were bad, before I ever heard the word racism. I have blamed my parents and their parents for the bigotry they held, and the bigotry they passed on to me. Especially in light of the clear hindsight of history. They misused the same book to justify this hatred as is now misused to call love a sin. They were wrong. I have since forgiven them, letting them suffer on their own island, breathing in their own toxicity, where still they gather like-minded people to pray for their right to hold their strangling beliefs as love and Christ and common sense pounds on the door asking them again and again to reconsider. But the more difficult task has been to forgive myself, for the perpetuation of these beliefs, for the slow unlearning, for the ways which I have acted out– knowingly and unknowingly– the prejudice I was taught.

This forgiveness for you will need to be begged from your children when the history books are inevitably written, and the vapid answer to the hard question, “What side were you on?” is “Not of love.” And then will start the long process of your children forgiving themselves, too.

This is prophecy, one we may or may not choose. But prophecy remains hypothetical, and not always as convincing as the present. So, let us lay out the present. What is there to be afraid of? Remove the statistically unfortunates of car accidents and disease. We live in a world of rising waters and ever-more limited air. We live in a world where we and our children must consider that the act of going to school or a movie or a birthday party or a church may be the last decision we make. In a world where a big yellow school bus may very well cart the ones we love more than we love ourselves to a classroom that is turned into a death trap with the rattle of gunfire echoing off of hallway walls and on to the soft, sweet bodies of our perfect creatures. We live in a world where men are making monsters of themselves. Why then– how does it benefit any of us?– to make unnecessary monsters of people just like us: people who want to marry and send their kids to school and enjoy this perfect, precious life before it is taken from them by force or by time? We live in a world full of things to be afraid of. We need not create them.

Or.

Or, we could choose love now.

I am coming to visit soon. I hope after this letter I will be accepted. I hope you know that this letter is as much to myself as it is to you. May the face of Christ shine upon you, and the dirt we all inevitably turn to when we lose our conscious selves into the Nothing and become dirt again yield you a good harvest.

The glow will fade, I’m sure of it. That’s the last step in a conversion. You go hogwild with the good news, you tell the world, you tell your friends, and then, in the ordinary, you forget. I’ve rededicated my life to Jesus and causes and to the earth enough times to know. But maybe it’s not forgetting. Rather, these are the waves of the Tao, the water that moves and is unnameable. In the ordinariness– in the quiet nothingness– that is where the imprint is found. The mark of a change that comes from seeing the Burning Bush is not the bright light specks that flicker in the eyes for the moments after. Eventually, I need to see again, so that I can take one normal step in front of the other. The next right thing. The pulling of all those logs from my eyes while I sought the specks of dust in others. Sorting righteous anger from just being a dick– something I wish the Apostle Paul’s editors would’ve considered. The cleaning and the cooking and the voting and the listening and the learning until, again, I meet in the middle of a town, dressed in rainbows, finding that mountaintop experience. That I will continue to grow in the meantime, that is faith.

37.

Last week my Someone and I took a walk around a graveyard just before the South Carolina line on I-95 while we waited for our clothes to dry at the laundromat. I spotted a familiar last name on the gravestone closest to us, and called out–

“Look, it’s Dave.”

“Oof,” said my Someone, but then he spotted another last name, and added– “…and Megan!”

And off we went, naming our very living friends while walking among the very dead. We were halfway when I thought better of it.

“Is this morbid?” I asked.

“Maybe a little,” he said.

But then we continued, calling out Laurie and Brian and Amanda and Sandra Bullock. Then I said,

“Mallory,” pointing to the lone stone with GRAHAM etched across the front.

“No,” said my Someone suddenly. I paused. “Why did you pick yourself?”

“Because,” I said without thinking, “I felt left out. I wanted to be with my friends.”

With our recent road hiccups– another major break down on a tour we’ll be lucky to break even on– and the illness that has saturated our friends’ bodies, and the emotional despair that stamped me down to almost breaking last month: the isolation was stifling. As we walked and named, I felt myself become lighter. By the time we reached the gates, it was as though we’d gone to a full party. Le Danse Macabre worked its magic, and I was leveled again with the delight of death’s equalizing force.

Today, I am 37. I am one step closer to someone calling my name above a lone stone etched with GRAHAM, and the reminder brings me an unprecedented amount of life.

I am heavy with gratitude, as texts pile in from friends I made a decade and a half ago. What a miracle it is, that in this short sprint of living– where I can barely manage to keep track of where I last set down my phone or the postcard I wrote to my niece last week that needs a stamp but now I can’t find it– that I have managed to keep anything at all, let alone people who have equally shifted and become new people each seven year stretch when their cells revitalized and their thoughts on god morphed into an abyss of more questions than answers. They lose their keys and their favorite lighters and their bad habits, but have not managed to lose me. And the work it takes to manage the keeping of one’s friends far exceeds that of keeping one’s favorite pen. How do we manage keeping even one person orbiting our atmosphere at all, let alone multiple?

I am heavier with gratitude this year than years before. I’ve formed the opinion this week that friendship doesn’t quite blossom until at least 15 years, and I am in the thick of spring in my friendships, with new seeds germinating as I watch the petals unravel on the others.

I’ve become recently obsessed with the French tune Cou Cou, the Django Reinhardt avec le Quintette du Hot Club de France version, particularly this line–

Eveillez-vous, Eveillez-vousРle monde est transform̩.

I’m very early in my learning of the language, but I was confused by this particular line. I knew reveiller to mean wake up; but this, this was spelled incorrectly. A quick google search showed that the meaning is the same– both are to wake up. But taking a look closer, the meaning is subtly changed. Reveiller is to wake up habitually– the habit of every morning when our alarm goes off or the sun shines in our eyes. But Eveiller— this isn’t your average wake up call. This is a deeper, nearly spiritual sense of waking up– this is awakening. The singer isn’t asking us to wake up to see that the world looks different, she’s asking us to awaken ourselves, our deep cellular selves, and see that the world is transformed– which inevitably means we are changed, too.

And this is the ordinary miracle: It takes years of habitual waking up– of putting in the phone calls and the texts and the happy birthdays and the showing up– to arrive at a place of awakening. There I go, reveillez-vous, reveillez-vous for days, and one time I wake up and I’m 37 and voila– I’ve awakened to a plethora of love I can recall in moments with my monthly book club meeting, or in the middle of a cemetery surrounded by my friends’ names. It is an accumulation and luck of the draw, hard work and stupid chance that I have aligned myself with friends and fellow artists and acquaintances that fill my timeline in such a way as to transform it, one waking up at a time, until we wake up no more and keep one another’s bones company as some young 36-year-old walks above us, placing their friends lives upon our own, transforming the world with their heavy, deliberate steps around and around again.

What I Wish I’d Said to the Woman in the Locker Room

What I wish I’d said to the woman in the locker room yesterday, after she caught my eye in the way people do when they feel they are bursting within themselves– when circular thinking reroutes itself from the hamster wheel and sporadically careens out the mouth to the first pair of eyes that catch. What I wish I’d said to the woman who was tugging on her purple Umbro shorts, patting the tail of her short hair cropped close on her neck, eyebrows twisted in a knot at her forehead when she began to exit, thought better of it, and found my eyes again in the mirror, asked–

“Do you think these shorts are too short?”

I looked and said, “No, I don’t think so. But do you think so?”

“I do,” she said.

“I think you’re great,” I said lamely, even though I did.

“I think the reason is that I don’t feel good in my body right now,” she said, “So I don’t feel good in anything.”

“Oh no!” I said, trying to assess more fully, “No, you are right, right now.”

She nodded, unconsoled, and began to leave. She thought better of it again and turned back to me.

“It’s just that I’m underweight,” she said. “I have a health issue with my metabolism. It’s all messed up.”

“Well, I think you’re fine,” I said automatically, unable to unpack any further before she sped out one last time.

What I wish I’d said to that woman is that you are exactly where you are. I wish I’d said that our bodies are not permanent things in any sense of the word– they have have no true stasis, no correct way of being. That they move around us even as our thoughts and our feelings swirl within. That your body is communicating as much as your mouth is: it’s a tell. That sometimes it tells that you are ill, and sometimes it tells that you’ve had too much pizza the night before, and sometimes it tells that you’ve been sleeping well and eating your vegetables.

We spend an inordinate amount of time hiding from others or hiding from ourselves the most honest, forthright part of ourselves. We pack around it and within it to inhibit it from blabbing to the world the immediate truth of our circumstances; and in many ways, to slow the immediate truth from penetrating our change resistent brains. We plump and we tuck and we suck in and we floof to create a semblance of stability to present these blobby, angular, gossipy borderlines of self.

But these sweet vessels, these big boats, these hided and haired fat and skin and muscle layers are all the while resisting, telling the truth on us, begging the rest of our pack to notice– notice!– that I am changing, yet again, as I pass from KETO to Paleo to Gluten Free to Who Gives a Damn, because it is not the what these bodies are leading the eye to, but the why. They are the first passage inward, the open door. Someone older than us said that the eyes are the window to the soul; but I’d bet that it’s also the crow’s feet around them and the straggly unwashed hair and the big bouncing flabby butt with the fat dimples that speak out our soul as precisely.

This isn’t a free card to assess one another’s bodies– we don’t know how to read anymore. We’ve spent too much time with our eyes on glossy pages and glowing screens, with others’ bodies and their inadequate unnecessary fixes permeating our minds. Which means we have no sense on how to read a body, only how to judge. But perhaps we could begin with reading our own. “Oh, my, look at you! Skinny as a rail– time to take you to the doctor to see what exactly my body means by this.” Or, “Would you look at this! Dark circles under my eyes– an interesting paragraph on my worry that is keeping me from sleep.” We are novels, where the plot is always thickening and resolving, with the opening line written right there on the back of our arm fat that our mother and our mother’s mother also had– a rich history lesson and short story at once.

And once we have studied– really studied– our own bodies in that way, we may learn to read others’ more appropriately, without judgment, but with true appreciation. Hot damn, what a plethora of story available to us, written all over our friends’ bodies! Look there at the belly of my best pal, the story of her most recent baby, red and barely breathing when he came into this world. Look also there, at the eyelids of my other friend, swollen and red from her days spent with too many dogs so that she can make her living. And here, look at these stretch marks on the side of my thighs, where I sprouted too quickly as a kid and only more from there– aren’t I an eager grower?

What I wish I’d said to the woman was also this– that it is incredible that we are packaged up in such an impermanent package, that each change cries out to be noticed, to be seen, to be loved. What an incredible favor our bodies act out for us, while we try in excess and no avail to shush them. And the impermanence of them is impermanent still, as I think of children with their pudgy fingers and lengthening limbs, maybe some with stretch marks beginning on their thighs from their body’s eagerness to grow, stopped short on the floor of a school in Nashville this week. Isn’t it enough to want to hold each body in your gaze, reading their story, taking your eyes from your own mirrored reflection for just a minute, where your judgment glasses are off and your reading glasses are on and to see, really see, that our bodies are precious, perfect creatures that roll like waves into time until we see them no more, and that one day others will suffer to watch them go. Won’t we wish then that we’d really appreciated every rolling body wave that came into our part of the ocean, however brief, and including our own.

But instead, I waved at this woman politely and smiled as I passed her on my way out of the gym. She had her headphones on, running on the treadmill, one leg after the other, like waves in the sea.

Mud Season & Maple Syrup

“Good afternoon,” I called to Donna, sloshing on my side of Cemetery Road. She pulled her earbuds from her head and smiled, nodding to my muck boots.

“Mud Season has begun,” she called back, rolling her eyes and smiling.

“So it has,” I said, letting my dogs pull me on and waving goodbye. It was an unwelcome holy moment, like a preacher breaking in with an Amen to silent prayers still spinning in the congregation’s head. My neighbor’s nod to the mud soaked dog paws, the ruts rising up from our dirt road, the thick wet seeping from the earth was nothing I couldn’t see, but I wasn’t ready to say it.

Mud Season be with you.

And also with you.

Amen.

Winter is over. The cool, thick blanket of endless bright and dreary days is melting down, and the close comfort of death is rotating its face over to someone else’s falling leaves.

In the last few days, I’ve felt the brush of Death– nothing harrowing or sudden. More the slow passing of someone on their way to a different meeting. I don’t know how to describe it other than this– a shoulder brush with a mumbled “Excuse me,” as she moves onward. I don’t get a chill up the spine, or a panic in my stomach. I feel quiet. Accepting. Grateful. And, understandably, a little overwhelmed. I tried to explain it to my Someone.

“But you don’t know it’s death,” he said.

“But I do,” I said, plainly.

He waited a beat, then conceded.

“I know you do,” he says.

It scares him only a little, he admits. He’s grown accustomed to my strange emotional sorcery, though he and I are both a bit unsettled by my lack of fear. I have always been afraid of Death. Though maybe it is knowing that she is not coming for me– at least not this minute– that keeps me from the usual unraveling. These last few days, I have wrapped myself in Death, like a snowy blanket, luring her in to sit comfortably between myself and living. Between myself and Mud Season. But Mud Season is upon us. The death of Death itself. I find no comfort in the petulant reemergence of life. Not this season.

photo by Aaron Doenges

In January I had the honor of visiting a friend to assist in their recovery from a brutal procedure. I accompanied them to the hospital, sitting for their appointments as they made the slow trek back from the deep whirlpool of cancer. On one visit, they told the doctor of their pain. Not the pain of the cancer, but the chronic, unruly pains that followed them. The doctor blinked once as if computing, leaned forward, and delivered frankly–

“But you have old bones. You will always have pain. Old bones have pain. It does not get better from here.”

I must have misunderstood her. Then she followed up.

“You must find a way to deal with this fact.”

I will always have pain. Each day I am ever nearer to my end, as near to it as I have ever been. The murky, slothful propulsion is inevitable, and this winter, it has worn me down. Fact: I will die. Fact: I can do nothing for it. Question: How will I deal with it? The answer these days is to settle in and wait for its consummation. To endure its passing me by another day with gratitude, with watchfulness, with a big sigh of relief and a rattle of feelings.

This is new for me. So far, I’ve dealt with Death by denying it, by fighting it, by negotiating with God or the Unconscious, praying myself to be the anomaly, the only one who will never need to confront their Old Bones. This new method of wrapping myself in its snowy blanket, cooling my heart beat to a shiver: it’s refreshing.

But it is also a distraction. Because even Death has a season. I cannot stay there forever, or my acceptance transforms from a healthy seasonal reckoning to a moping over Old Bones. So the ugliness of reemergence into the land of the living. So, Mud Season.

And with Mud Season comes a healthy fear of Death.

And so with the fear of Death comes the sap of life.

photo by Aaron Doenges

Laurie called on Monday, bubbling with the news.

The sap was running up the maples– I should bring my friends. We crossed the Connecticut River to the fertile side of Vermont and climbed our car up the mountain to Rowe & Laurie’s place. Their house shines as a bright barn red on top of a hillside they’ve cultivated to include the perfect sledding hill in the winter, and an illustrious garden in the summer. Behind the patch of birches, a row of maples stood in a line with galvanized steel buckets attached, popping a silver light against the mud. We visited each tree with a large white five gallon bucket, collecting the watery offering.

photo by Bryan Currie

But before we’d move on, Laurie would hush us and lean close to the sap bucket. The small plink of the first new drop hitting the now empty vessel was our signal to continue. A small celebration.

Laurie loves her maple syrup in a way that practically makes her radiate. Rowe jokes that her epitaph will read “Did you put maple syrup on that?” As we continued through the process of separating the sap from the water, straining the bugs and leaves, and watching it boil in the small alter they’d build in their barn, I understood the spirit of it. We were gleaning first life, first nutrients of the season, boiling it down and letting its steam waft over us, revitalizing our chapped faces after the long season of Death.

Rowe continued to keep watch over the sap-and-future-syrup Monday night and all day Tuesday, and Laurie promised to call us when it was ready for finishing. Like awaiting a child from labor, we kept our boots lined up and our ears to the ground. We got the call Tuesday evening, and scurried over with snacks and local cider and the thrill of watching the blood of a tree turn into a small taste of sugar. This was a party. We crowded into a steamy kitchen that had notes of marshmallow and graham cracker and vanilla and watched as Laurie dipped the hydrometer in again and again until– so soon and so long at once– it was time. Rowe & Laurie scrambled to turn off the heat and strain the syrup for one last filter. As we watched, spoons in hand, Laurie waved us over to the sink.

“Go ahead!” she said, “Get your spoons under there.”

photo by Aaron Doenges

And that was my first taste of new life. Oh, Death, where is your sting? I can endure anything. Even Mud Season.

The syrup was placed in four jars, two large and two small, screwed tight, and turned upside down. We retired to the living room where the woodstove burned so warm Laurie had to crack a window, and we pattered conversationally while snow glittered on the windows outside. Just as we waited for the plink of the first sap drop, we waited now for the plink of the jars, indicating that they are sealed and ready. The ding of the metal announced itself in a stagger, and Laurie delivered a small jar to me, still warm. This is what the living do, I thought.

photo by Aaron Doenges

But also, this. The previous day, when we’d first carried our large bucket to collect the sap, we passed several large maples in the front of the house. Rowe had noted that, no, they don’t tap those trees anymore. Laurie smiled sheepishly and said,

“I like to let my trees retire,” she patted one on its trunk as we passed. “I just think at a certain point they should get to rest.”

There near where she patted was a small scar from an old tap. They certainly could produce an abundance of maple syrup, but Laurie wouldn’t have it. She listened, and when she sensed a tree was done, she let it go. They had old bones. Let old bones do what old bones do. These trees, the retired lot, were the ones who shaded the front of the house all summer and speckled the lawn with brilliant fall colors. A stunning way of coping with old bones, of reckoning with the closeness of death– simply: living.

I am ready for Mud Season, now. Though, truthfully, we are missing it this year. We’re skipping right into spring, packing our camper this week and launching it to Florida, where spring is already underway without a road rut in sight.

But before we could set sail, I had another brush with Death. A snow storm blew in on Wednesday night, and I awoke to another thick cold coat of white. The trees are weighed down heavy with the stuff, and I can hear it sliding in clumps from my metal roof. So my Someone and I did what we always do on snow days. We ate pancakes.

And we topped them with a rationed pour of our new maple syrup.

I begrudge the snow a little, at the taste of the sweet candied syrup while I squint at the brightness through my window. But the Death outside, I remember, is a great mercy to my life. Sure enough, it has come in to save the day, freezing the ground well enough that we can safely pull out our old rig and begin moving again without sliding or getting stuck on the way.

It’s the only way to really appreciate the two– life and death– as they press toward each other on to our old bones: together. Like the taste of two day old maple syrup on a bleak, snowy winter morning.

A Little Lighter on the Path

For Christmas, my mother sent me the photograph, professionally framed. It took me a second– no more– to realize the effort of it, the sweetness, the singular ray that stretched from my path to hers. There is a light I’ve been awkwardly dismissing between us– I was too skittish. On Christmas morning, I gave in.

It began with my Aunt Tammy’s death. After over two years of silence, my mother called me. But it wasn’t complete. I was grateful, of course– it was my only request since I’d pulled the plug in her kitchen, crying in a huddled mess, begging her and my father to see me– to just call me every once and while. They declined. Until August of 2021, when bad news opened the line. I was suspicious of the circumstances, and asked to work slowly. I thanked her for the call. I agreed to move forward. She agreed, too.

Since then, it’s been a delicate walk– a smattering of phone calls, but mostly we text. Or we email. Or, occasionally, we send a note in the mail. I don’t dread seeing her name pop up on my phone, anymore, and I count it as a win.

The thing about it is, I became my own mother in the last few years. So what I thought I needed from her, I no longer need. What I thought I needed was for her to be someone she isn’t– someone more like me. But she’s not that. Except.

Except sometimes, I think, in her quieter moments.

Like last summer, when she sent me a photo she captured in the woods. She had lately taken up morning hikes in the thick hills of Western Pennsylvania, walking the trails on the family’s 80 acres of blackberry brambles and huckleberry shrubs, messy pines and straightbacked beeches, of fox dens hidden at the edge of the clearing and a bear cave piled high with heavy, mossy rocks on the top of the hill. These are the woods where my childhood imagination conjured evil spirits by the old oil well that still popped in the evenings and ancient secrets whispered from the stream where I built my fort. I clomped and ran and hid most weekends in those mountains, chewing on birch bark and squeezing teaberries between my fingers and teeth for the radiating warmth and mild sweetness.

The photo she sent, taken herself on that morning, flooded me with home.

I imagined her walking alone in those woods, duck boots crashing through the light leafy debris of the path, and looking up to see the sunlight coming through the trees in honest-to-god rays. Rays like in cartoons or those funny, primitive pictures a kid would draw, with triangles long and thin casting out from the light white circle of the sun, the trees achingly still sides of a prism shaping those strange, geometric light swatches to the ground. I imagine her to stop then, taking a breath before grabbing her phone, slowly at first, as though a movement could knock the light right out of the sky, but then more quickly as she remembers the inevitability of the Western PA skies clouding this perfect moment in mere seconds. When she snaps that picture of her solitude, I imagine her feeling close to someone– to god, to her dad– not recognizing the beacon is herself, shining back.

But whoever she was thinking of, she sent it to me. Maybe she shared it with everyone in her church group, and maybe that doesn’t matter. Because she did share it with me, too. I wrote back with enthusiasm. It wasn’t feigned– it’s such a lovely photo. I thought, we are the same, Mom. We are so alone and together and the same.

Since then, our phone calls have dwindled, but our connection has not. Maybe I’m a fool to see it that way. Broken down to its specifics, this relationship looks not so different than before our split. Texts, emails, and empty invites to see one another someday, down the road, when things calm down a bit.

This December, leading up to Christmas, I chose to see the light on the path. My first real home, and I was ready to shed the heartache of the homes I’d been captured in before. But I could not deny the direct line of cookies from my mother’s oven to my heart. I asked her for her recipes– all of them, every Christmas cookie I could remember from my childhood.

Western Pennsylvania is known for its cookies, and not just at Christmas time. At weddings, in addition to cake, there is an entire cookie table set up for friends and family members to bring their best recipe and drop a platter. At the end of the reception, boxes are handed out to every guest, and they take a haul home of their favorites– lady locks, filled Pizzelles, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Thumbprints, Snickerdoodles, Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, Italian Peach Cookies, Cannoli. But at Christmas, it was a full time job. My mother would designate two weeks ahead of Christmas to bake, nearly 9-5, inviting friends over to make batches of their favorites, swapping by the dozen at the end of the day. Pizzelles, Russian Tea Cakes, Caramel Tassies, Gingerbread, Peanut Butter, Ginger Snaps, Sugar Cookies, White Chocolate Macadamia, Buckeyes. The recipes would be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and then cooled down the center of our small kitchen table, occasionally overflowing to the table in the dining room, too. Then, the frumpy old tupperware would be brought up from the basement and, after they cooled, the cookies would be lidded with their respective kind and placed on the back porch. Winter in Western PA was cold enough then to sustain them– should they not get eaten sooner– til almost February. When we had guests, one of the kids was instructed with a large plate to go on to the porch and make a full sampler platter of cookies, bringing them in an hour before so they had time to thaw by the time the guests arrived.

They tasted just as good cold, before they ever hit the plate.

Since the photo my mother had sent me early in the year had split open my home reservations, I wanted to welcome a piece of it into my own home. She sent the recipes in batches, and I baked as I received them.

“I am bonding with my mom,” I told my Someone. “But she doesn’t know it.”

“Sounds good to me,” he said, sneaking his fourth Caramel Tassie from the plate.

And I was. I was welcoming her into my kitchen, into my home, each time I pulled a new sheet from the oven. I texted her photos, or emailed her with questions like “But how much sugar in the Pizzelles? It doesn’t say,” or “Are you sure it’s regular sugar and not powdered sugar for that icing?” I navigated her vague recipes, crawling inside her head to figure out proper measurements.

I told my Someone that maybe it was unfair to do it this way– to create a connection with someone through cookies, not letting her interject the reality of herself into my attempts at becoming closer. I was, clearly, sugarcoating our relationship.

But I have a hard time believing that’s true. Maybe the elements are the same, I cannot deny the way our efforts cut through– the geometric rays that are nearly tangible in their light. Maybe it’s a trick of the mind– a trick of the light– but the path this way is much easier because of it. It’s hard won. I haven’t thoughtlessly foregone my boundaries or changed my mind or given up. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve opened wide to a new friend who, somehow, while we seem nothing alike, are deeply connected by a sharp shard of light that casts its way on both of our paths. Maybe that’s what forgiveness looks like. Or love. Or acceptance. I only know it, now, as lightness.

On Christmas morning, with the taste of my mother’s Gingersnaps and coffee still on my tongue, I opened the photograph, professionally framed. Yes, I knew for certain. Things have definitely changed. I can see it. I can taste it.

Brownie is Dead.

My niece went to school yesterday, in spite of the bad news.

Her guinea pig is dead.

She took it well enough, and vowed to turn her sorrow into art–
Taking the corpse’s paws into her pink fingers,
Squishing ink from paw to page.
One didn’t turn out so well.
He was already in rigor mortis.

My grief is less purely exorcised.

I bought a String of Tears hanging plant
This morning from the Hannaford’s.

“For Brownie,” I say.

I throw my plastic card at the automatic machine.
Money covers bases.

It occurs to me on the drive home that
I have imprisoned myself to the day of the guinea pig’s death
So long as the plant lives.

“For Brownie,” I say again.
One pustule pod is rattled by the truck
On a back road to home in New Hampshire,
And it falls onto the floor.

Later in the afternoon
On my walk,
the thick stench of sweet apples,
The smell is red & fermented.

“For Brownie,” I think.
I know it is a farce.
Brownie is also dead.

So the dead are only for me.

I pick up a piece of birch bark in the cemetery,
But I don’t offer it.

“Redundant,” I think.
Dead trees for dead beings,
And I am the only one living between.

In the woods before home,
I consider a poem.
I consider a 10-year-old girl
Drawing tiny pawprints
On her notebook in school.

I curl in my chair upstairs,
Under the skylight
Where a String of Tears
Dangles above me.

It’s still alive since the morning
(nothing is a guarantee).

Lucky, because the dead are not for themselves, anymore.
The dead are for the living.

I think, “For her.”

And then I think,

“For me.”

New, Knew, New

My first step in most places is to figure out all of the ways I don’t belong. Not the common ground, but the way in which I stick out, how I’m unsettled, how I’m the other. I can vouch that this is, in fact, the worst way to enter almost any situation. It is an inhibitor to any meaningful contact, and will make one look desperate because one becomes desperate.

Suddenly I’m backpedaling who I am with a plateful of mashed potatoes in a line at Friendsgiving dinner, attempting to explain myself and why I am this way, and the face of the brand new person I’ve encountered goes from average-first-meeting-face to curiosity to alarm as I flail my free arm and hit the fast forward button on my mouth to try and get their face to go back to the average-first-meeting-face before I hit the end of my now-five-page-single-run-on-sentence, which usually ends in “I’m so sorry!”

For the last almost 8 years, I’ve been a traveler, which means that I was entering new places almost daily, and was secure in the knowledge that I don’t belong because, quite decidedly, I didn’t belong. I was leaving, if not this day then the next, and there was no real reason to explain myself or try and fool anyone into thinking otherwise. I belonged everywhere because I belonged nowhere. It’s an excellent bit. But I’ve ruined that self-actualized constant. I’ve ruined it because I belong somewhere, now. And I’m freaking out.

On October 31, my Someone and I closed on a house in Haverhill, NH, a little corner of New England wherein the trees offer a welcome shroud between me and the grey sky, where the Connecticut River narrows and widens between my home and the rolling green of Vermont, where there’s an apple stand just up the street that offers at least eight different varieties at any given visit, and the varieties change by the next week. I’ve yet to encounter it in its fullness, but there will be snow, likely through March and maybe to April, and if I drive East for a few short hours I will hit the rocky Atlantic coast. I’m 79 miles from Canada, the fun French part, and most days I’ve been here are the kind of dreary that makes me light candles and turn on low lights and stack good novels next to my reading chair. That’s to say, I have a reading chair. And a kitchen where I’ve made an apple pie with apples from the apple market up the street. I have a living room where we sit close to the heater at night, and a separate bedroom where I read before sleeping, where my hamster runs on her wheel and my dog snores next to me. I have house plants who I’ve named Jones, Marge, Rippy, and Scuttlebutt.

By all accounts, I have a home. I live here. I belong. From the moment we saw the place to the closing, there have been zero barriers, no hang ups. It was fluid, like it was meant to be. Which means that I have been freaking out because I have nothing to freak out about. Where is the anxiety of decision? When is the part where a major wrench appears and I get to question my choices? In what way don’t I belong?

We’ve even lucked out in community. We were swiftly welcomed by friends of friends, and found ourselves squarely in a room full of warm and open people– poets, painters, priests, potters, play actors– over Friendsgiving in the town hall across the river. Again and again we introduced ourselves, “Hello, we’re new here,” and in return were given a tour of people, what they do, where they live, and how they love this place. A couple nights later we entered another room of strangers and left with new friends. By the end of the night, I was tired.

“I should be happy,” I said to my Someone. “We’re lucky.”

We were. New Englanders are notorious for keeping to themselves– so we’re told.

“It’s hard to meet people,” a few friends warned us.

“Don’t expect a casserole from anyone around here,” one neighbor said.

And in a way, they are right. We still haven’t met our immediate neighbors, though we’ve knocked on the door during a minor fiasco wherein my little dog went missing. We were met with silence, but eventually found our little dog, fat and sick from a turkey carcass she found in the woods. The next day another neighbor, one who looks out for us, let us know that my Someone’s face was all over Facebook as a “suspicious character” caught on a surveillance camera for “lurking around.” She helped us make it right, and we are keeping a look out our window to try and better introduce ourselves.

It’s the small drop in the bucket of not belonging in an otherwise full bucket of getting more invitations to dinner than we have stomachs for.

So the deep ache, the lowness of spirit that compounded after yet another perfect night of being welcomed “home,” I couldn’t figure it. I tried to reason it out.

“Maybe it’s because we know we’re not leaving,” I said.

“Maybe,” said my Someone.

“Maybe it’s because we don’t know our neighbors well enough,” I said.

“Maybe,” said my Someone.

“Maybe we miss being on the road?” I asked.

“Nope,” said my Someone.

He was right. Not once since we moved in have we looked out at our old, beat up home-of-the-road and wished for another night in it. Sure, there are days ahead still where we’ll pack it up and carry it across this country and back. But now we have a place to be back to. No matter where we go, now, we belong somewhere else.

We pulled into our driveway and walked toward our front door. I made sure to touch the spot on the third step up, about a third of the way from the right. Since moving in, it’s the one spot I’ve found that accidentally felt like home. Our second week here, I’d been running back from the camper with an armful of our things when I stepped on that spot and had the sensation of doing it a thousand times already and a million times in the future. That little piece of the step would know my tread, and it warmed my leg up to the top of my head in a feeling of knowing that I couldn’t deny. I’ve since pressed it for its magic each time I walk up to my porch, hoping if I stamp it enough, it’ll pool outward under the house and float upward to the loft until the house in drenched in the stuff of home. I believe it’s working, as last week I felt that wobbling magic under the skylight in my kitchen as I chopped celery on Thanksgiving eve.

We entered our house, dog tails wagging. These two animals have taken to still life easily with no identity crisis at all. I breathed in the faint smell of a local peppermint mocha candle I bought. I dropped my things in their correct places. I wandered into each room while my Someone began to chop lettuce for dinner. He yelled from the kitchen, asking if I’d like to watch a new movie. I said yes, but kept roaming from room to room. When dinner was ready, I sat down in the living room with the low patio lights and a few candles burning and looked blankly at the computer screen we prop up on the desk chair in front of the couch. My Someone hit play and I felt myself relax.

“This isn’t that new movie,” I said.

“It isn’t,” said my Someone.

The screen played a familiar opening sequence, one I’ve seen at least three times before. I don’t re-watch things much, if at all, unless it is in the spirit of sharing it with someone who is watching for the first time. I don’t like watching the same movie every year at Christmas. I don’t like reliving childhood memories around The Land Before Time, I don’t like playing Magnolia again for the director’s cut. But my Someone and I have already watched this before. The whole series. From beginning to end.

“But, you’ve already watched this,” I said.

“Yes,” said my Someone, “but it seemed like maybe you needed an old friend.”

There it was. I was homesick. I was new, new, new, in a new house with new people with new neighbors and a new peppermint mocha candle. And all I really wanted was for someone who knew, knew, knew me, longer than a day, longer than a year, longer than a decade.

And somehow, Lorelai Gilmore knew me then. Or rather, my Someone knew me well enough to know that rewatching The Gilmore Girls would be just the ticket to put my old self in its new order. We finished the episode and started another, making a bowl of popcorn and piling another blanket on, one my mother had made me the first time I got married. I was getting tired, as my ages were coming together again, presenting themselves in my one body in a new place. I picked up my phone and texted Ann, then Annie, then Jessica and Holly, too. Because to know someone a long time is to belong somewhere, no matter where your body with all of its ages is sitting.

Then, a text popped up from a new friend. We’d declined dinner for the sake of coming home to our sick, turkey filled dog. When I opened the screen, it was to a photo of a table full of new people, ones we’ve met since arriving here, ones who have made such an intention to fold us in. They were waving at us from the dinner we declined, and they were telling us that they were happy to have our new selves in their community.

The feeling, at first, was itchy. I tried to find the way that I could protest– the way to tell them I don’t belong. But it was impossible. Because belonging is one part showing up and one part acceptance and a few parts that are a mystery that I will likely be figuring out as I spend my years here. Sometimes, it is you yourself accepting your belonging. But sometimes, when you’re really lucky like I am, it is the persistent invitation to be accepted, in spite of yourself. All this agonizing over a story I’ve already watched before– I know how it goes. It’s no Stars Hollow, but it’s pretty damn close, and soon I will be replaying these early episodes in that familiar way that only someone who belongs can appreciate.

The Last Good Tomato

I am confident two weeks ago was my last tomato sandwich, so I savored it appropriately by letting it drip down the front of my overalls and placed it to rest on the plate between bites, soaking up pickle juice and seeds before the next bite. I sighed when it was finished and said, “You never know when a tomato sandwich will be your last of the summer.” Then I rinsed my plate and waited for the leaves to turn colors while it was still 90 degrees and full summer in the thumb of Michigan.

I’m not in a rush for the new season. Of course I love fall, but this year isn’t the slow drag of praying for a breeze. This year, I only want to make sure that I have appropriately noted the change rather than waking up on a cold September morning and sleepily realizing summer is gone. I am hungry not only for tomato sandwiches, but to know that this is my last tomato sandwich. And if it isn’t, then I will treat the next one as my last.

That is to say, my richest grief these days is inextricably woven with my deepest joy, and I am comfortable in the strain.

My Someone and I are in the studio this week for a new record. Nashville in September is a favorite. It’s not a roll of colors and smells, yet, but it is the small gasp that escapes from a city that’s been entrenched in a suffocating heat for months. The relief is visceral, almost audible, in spite of the nearly unchanging landscape. The thermometer will still hit 90, but the sentiment has changed– this isn’t forever.

I am in a city I called home for five years, running the risk of running into who I used to be, which I am afraid will be who I still am. It’s impossible, of course. The less afraid I am, the less likely I am to run into old me. Old me is just an amalgamation of fear– fear of who I was, fear of who everyone thought I was. A ghost of shuttered windows, hiding indoors. I, too, am gasping in the relief from the stifling heat of fear and walking comfortably– that wasn’t forever. This isn’t either. I am appropriately savoring the last bites of who I was, letting the seeds drip down the front of my memory, and rinsing my plate to prepare for the next season.

Yes, but really. I say the last bites, but this season isn’t shook yet. A pleasant surprise and a burden to savor at once, on comes another last perfect tomato of the season.

Metaphorically, at least.

Our new record is one of noting the time without rushing to meet it. These are songs from a glorious and shit year. A little more than a year ago, I lost my Aunt– suddenly, without the option to savor last moments. And so, I have been savoring my grief. My songs for her didn’t come until months after her passing. Now, I paste them to time– to a click track, no less– and I am surprised to find a new wave of grief appearing at the back of the refrigerator. I am honoring it by carefully slicing it into an arrangement of verse and chorus, letting the instruments sop up the possibility of this being the last time to feel the loss in this way. This isn’t forever. It is painfully joyful work. You never know when a wave of grief will be your very last, when you might wake up on a cold September morning and have missed the opportunity to miss someone with the perspective of time moving abundantly beneath you.

As we began to wrap our first week of recording, I found another last tomato in the bottom of the fruit bowl. Not at all metaphorically. It had miraculously made the journey from Michigan to Tennessee, nearly unbruised, and warmly fragrant. I considered making another last sandwich, but the temperature dropped earlier in the evening. It was sunny all day, but the season has changed, and I was unable to capture its precise moment. That’s the way of tomato sandwiches. Even when you are sure it is your last, you won’t know until it has passed. I refrained from reaching for the bread and mayo, and began, instead, to boil a pot of water. I cut basil, minced half a bulb of garlic, pulled the capers from the cupboard. Then, I pulled what is likely the last good tomato of the season, and I chopped it roughly into juicy cubes. When we sat down to dinner, our ears still ringing from the work of listening all day, the pasta pomodoro steamed from our bowls.

“This is the last good tomato of the season,” I told my Someone.

“Do you think so?” he said.

“Maybe,” I said. And we ate as if it really was.

What My Accordion Repairman Told Me

Yesterday, my accordion repairman in Montpelier told me–

“Everything in your dreams, even and maybe especially the nightmares, is your ally. You may not know how, yet, but they are there waiting to help you.”

I’ve been thinking about it, though, and what is within makes what is without, as my accordion repairman also quoted that reality is 90% perception, maybe more. If we believed this about ourselves, if we believed that all that is within is for us, then all that is without is for us, too. Including the man who blared his horn yelling “FUCK YOU” while he passed us on a two-lane road in Maine. Including the acquaintances with whom I have to swallow my unexpected annoyance, despite them being perfectly lovely people. Including my Someone when we are mid fight. Including my mother, which these days is less difficult to imagine. Including my father, who I can hardly imagine, even with every ounce of my creative thinking.

When my Someone and I hit the road almost 8 years ago, we were in a blur of grief, of break downs, of bad breaks. But sometimes, when the coffee was the right brew and the camper was not too hot to sleep in til almost 9:30, or when our morning walk wound us into a remarkably and unexpected place of beauty, or even when the last tow truck driver on the State Line of South Dakota and Nebraska agreed to help us after hours of waiting, stranded, we would raise our hands above our heads and declare–

“The Universe and all within it is for us! It is for us! The Universe is for us!”

It was a clunky chant, but it got the point across, and we were able to stitch these tattered quilt squares of hope together and make a small place of comfort on the edge of the cliff we were looking down. It echoed out and back to us again, a sonic wave that pushed us ever forward, to where things were less hard. Though when we got there, to the less hard place, we chanted it less, but maybe felt it more. Using that old quilt every day made it commonplace, but no less of a comfort.

It’s easy to find signs outside. I can believe almost anything if I’m looking for it. Turning that gaze within– when my heart is beating slower from the slog of sticky black nightmares that sit like tar on my mind the next morning; or feeling the quickened heartbeat of my Someone when he rolls over in the morning, squeezing me and saying “I thought I lost you” as he shakes off his own dark timeline dream world– those are signs more difficult to reconcile. But there it is, my childhood nightmares of losing my parents to a fire, only to lose them in my adulthood by fire of fear and estrangement. Then, there was the relief as a kid of running down my bedroom stairs to find my mother in her chair, half a cup of milky black tea and a book propped in her lap, still in her nightgown in the predawn quiet. She’d move to make me a breakfast of buttered cinnamon toast and an identical cup of milky black tea– two teaspoons of sugar– still reading as she stood. It was not so different from the relief of seeing her one month back, picking at her salad across the table, then hugging me twice when we parted, hesitating to let go. My dreams had prepared me for this– to help me know for certain when I am safe again.

My accordion repairman told me also to keep my accordion out of the car when it was this hot. The wax could melt and I’ll regret it when my reeds start to slip. Of course, I’ll listen to him. If my fixed B flat button is any indication, I can trust him on all accounts.

Happy Father’s Day, whatever that means.

My father doesn’t like Father’s Day, anyway. So I’m happy to comply in not acknowledging it, letting that silence fill in what we wouldn’t know what to talk about, letting it all go except that hereditary vibrating tendon of meanness that runs the space between and within us, no matter how much Brene Brown I read. I see him there in me, and I’ve stopped denying or outrunning it.

In later years, we’d skip church on Father’s Day Sunday. Dad hated the lectures, the railing against all the bad dads out there, the ones who were slackers, who didn’t provide, who didn’t show up for their family. He was sick of getting beat down when he was being one of the good ones. From the vantage point of 36, it looks more like a self-fulfilled prophecy. A man who hated to show up for Father’s Day because he hated to show up in a special way. He was surpassing the societal low bar we have for dads, and he wanted to keep it that way. He spoke against the dads who weren’t trying hard enough, was more vocal than anyone about how he did the hard work of being a good dad, and didn’t show up for the annual church lecture because he was the one who didn’t need it.

Then, he stopped showing up for me, too. All we oppose with ferocity, we likely already are, or will become. And as I opposed him, I stopped showing up, too.

I don’t say this with self pity, with anger, or even with regret. It’s with plain-speak, fact, and maybe a little curiosity. That’s to say, I’m in a good place with it– often, no place at all. Which is why, when my good-hearted Annie reached out Father’s Day night last Sunday and asked,

“How are you doing with all of this? With this day?”

I said, with complete honesty, “I kept forgetting it was Father’s Day! It seemed so unnotable in every way.”

We did a tiny rejoice for the mercy of forgetfulness, but something caught me after that.

I might not believe fathers exist, anymore.


Last month I finished reading my first cozy mystery, relishing the ease of being led along in the barely twists of the plot. Hardly to the first plot turn, the protagonist is hanging out with her best friend, when her friend confesses to her that her mother is worried that the two are dating. The protagonist begins to say that they are just friends, but stops. In exposition, she tells us that her friend doesn’t believe in the word “just” in “just friends,” because it implies a hierarchy of relationship, as if friendship is in some way a lower wrung than dating or marriage or even committed sexual relationship.

My throat caught, and I began to cry.

This, this, this.

As if who we choose to love in the way we choose to love them is diminished by the way our bodies touch, or the variance of blood in our little heart pumps.

I put down the book and thought of my friends. I thought of the dog pile we made in our early twenties, believing this was it— this was how we would love all of our lives. And then, we got married, and somehow were tricked into believing our Someones were more important, a higher wrung, a higher priority/calling/fulfillment than the nearly visceral space we shared within ourselves for each other.

It was an outrage. So I nixed it. Of course, I love my Someone. Of course, our responsibilities are more entangled. But all this space in here is not for a one-and-only. It’s a regular communist society of love, of sharing, of making sure that everyone gets enough.

Which is what brought me back to fathers. And mothers, for that matter.

Throughout my life, I’ve had stand-in grandparents after I lost all of mine by age ten; I’ve had stand in parents when mine were indifferent or downright mean; I’ve had stand-in sisters, brothers– you name it, I’ve replaced nearly every member of my family with the working title on someone else.

It felt like an honor to call Tom my “other dad,” when he’d help me fix things and sit and have coffee with me in the morning. He made special trips to visit me in Nashville, and he still makes sure to call me on my birthday. All those things I thought dads should do. And Ann, my stand-in mom and sister. I’d call her every Mother’s Day, celebrating the ways she filled in when my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t.

These are two examples, but I’ve been lucky to have more. There has never been a time when I have felt the despair of being emotionally orphaned that one of my Stand-ins was not on the ready to console me.

I realize now, I have done them a disservice. Half of my social media feed last Sunday was of people missing their dad, or calling him their best friend. The other half was expressing their difficult relationship with a day that celebrates someone they can’t stand.

There is no mold of what a Dad or Mom should be– there’s no pattern or structure to it. It’s not a higher calling to be in those roles. And with all things equal, I don’t need to fill in a space left void by my own. That’s compare-and-despair mentality. Rather, I remain more astounded that these friends of mine, who have no blood relation, no skin in the game, have chosen to love me in the way they saw that I needed. I’m not talking about “chosen family,” though that’s the colloquial that gets us closest.

I’m talking about my friends.

It’s an incredible honor to be loved by someone that way. Not as a father loves a child– because nobody really knows what that means. It’s different for everyone. And for some, not existent at all. But to be loved as a friend. I don’t need to extend them an honorific to distinguish that “sort of” love. Without the hierarchy, I can release expectations. I’ve stopped calling my friends on Mother’s and Father’s Day, because I am not stuffing them into that prefabricated box, anymore. I am not burdening my friends’ gift of love with a title that no one can define. In slow time, I am also letting my parents off the hook from what I thought they should be.

And in this way, love is love. I am becoming more open to it by the day.