Since You’ve Been Gone

Since you’ve been gone, my dad died. He had cancer and it only took a few months for the best man I’ve ever known to waste away and go home.

And he made jokes almost every time I visited him.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve watched Gilmore Girls constantly. I stop at the end of season 5, but that’s still 109 episodes that I’ve seen 6 times each.

Too much, I know.

Since you’ve been gone, I am not in daily pain. My sister forced me to change my health, and it changed my whole life. I am social now. I can eat now. I have bad days, but those days are just a part of my life, instead of the whole.

I might even join a rock climbing gym. Ha.

Since you’ve been gone, I started making films again.  I swear, I’m in a contest right now. I just wish PJ was still here to see my name on some credits again.

Since you’ve been gone, I still recycle. Thanks for teaching me that.

Since you’ve been gone, I have no idea what is true in politics or the environment or most various info stored in my brain. That’s the problem with lying about the important things, suddenly you saying the sky is blue is called into question.

Since you’ve been gone, I discovered some beautiful people. People who sacrificed time, money and space to love on me. You were wrong, real love does make sacrifices.

When you truly love someone, you are willing to make them laugh even as you are dying.

Since you’ve been gone, my dog ran away. Poor baby just wanted her mom back. I’m sorry PJ, she missed you too much.

Since you’ve been gone, I bought my dream car, caught it on fire, had it repaired, and am now buzzing around again like I always dreamed.

Since you’ve been gone, my bro and his wife had a baby. And his name is Zwingli. I’m not kidding.

Since you’ve been gone, a lot of friends left too. Sometimes people aren’t meant to stay.

That’s ok.

Since you’ve been gone, I lived on my own for a year and never once starved or missed a rent payment or died. Isn’t that cool? I sure think so, especially the starving part.

Since you’ve been gone, I discovered that I’m broken. That I mess up and I’m messed up. But that I am also valuable and loved.

Being messed up and messing up is ok. It’s normal.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve spent so much more time with my family. They’re really fun people. They make me laugh. They build me up.

And even though I do most of the time, they don’t consider me a great disappointment.

In fact, my daily life has gotten exponentially better since you’ve been gone.

So you were right about one thing.

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Sometimes Pain is Not Your Fault, It’s Just Pain

Pain is not socially acceptable. Pain is a downer. Pain is a great conversation killer.

Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain, American culture doesn’t like to directly chat about it. Outside of music, pain is best kept inside, as ghostly as petrichor, smelled but not seen, felt but not heard.

“This is my new song,” my little sister texted to me a few years ago.

I clicked on the link and let Imagine Dragons croon the deepest words of my soul…

First things first
I’ma say all the words inside my head
I’m fired up and tired of the way that things have been, oh ooh
The way that things have been, oh ooh
Second thing second
Don’t you tell me what you think that I can be
I’m the one at the sail, I’m the master of my sea, oh ooh
The master of my sea, oh ooh

I was broken from a young age
Taking my sulking to the masses
Write down my poems for the few
That looked at me, took to me, shook to me, feeling me
Singing from heartache from the pain
Taking my message from the veins
Speaking my lesson from the brain
Seeing the beauty through the

You made me a, you made me a believer, believer
(Pain, pain)
You break me down, you build me up, believer, believer
(Pain)
Oh let the bullets fly, oh let them rain
My life, my love, my drive, it came from
(Pain)
You made me a, you made me a believer, believer

We were both in the midst of crisis. We were both in a massive amount of physical pain due to health issues. I was in a very bad place in every way — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

My pain was too much, so I said nothing. It was my own fault. I had made choices. My choices led to my pain (the non-physical pain, anyway). I felt bad, so bad.

And it was all my fault.

“How are you doing?” my cousin would ask.

“I’m alright,” I would say.

What else could I say? I cry every day? I want to jump off of a building? I feel trapped and sad all the time? I’m confused and alone and scared? The person I am supposed to trust the most is a liar and a cheater and he can’t stand me and nothing I do is ever good enough and I should’ve known better?

I should’ve known better.

No.

Stop right there, kid. Stop right there.

My dad’s voice comes to me in that moment. He is wounded and so sad when I hear him in my head.

“It is not your fault.”

He never said that, actually. But if he were reading this, as he read everything else I ever blogged, he would’ve commented as much.

Sometimes pain is not your fault, it’s just pain.

And hiding that pain from everyone around you may cost you your life. And your bestfriend will lose her bestfriend. And your dad will lose one of his baby girls. And your cousin will lose her cousin.

It’s ok to be in pain and tell people about it. It does not make you weak or pathetic. How do you think Taylor Swift makes so much money? Why is it acceptable for her to be vulnerable on stage in front of thousands, but not cool for me to cry in the grocery store? Why is Imagine Dragons epic for talking about pain, but we feel stupid talking about pain with our closest friends?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this. Maybe everyone else is on another page and they already know that crap happens and sometimes bystanders pay the price.

Hurt people hurt people.

It is my goal in life to leave the hurt behind me and show kindness and long suffering to everyone I meet instead of perpetuating the cycle that I was yanked into.

I will fail, but I have a Friend who took care of that.

Just My Size

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Sunlight. Shattering on the grassy gravel and stabbing me in the face. Summer shimmered around me, and my 6-year-old self was ready for a caper.

I slowly walked into the detached garage, dodging tools, junk and detritus. My dad had left the door open and happened to be occupied elsewhere. The lure of the garage called to me, since I was not typically allowed to enter the musty cave of random things.

I eyed the workbenches and spider webs. Noise. Was that Dad’s footsteps? No, just in my head. I returned my attention to the tools lying out on the shelves.

There! A pocket knife.

I took it off of the shelf slowly, as if it might leap at me. I held the knife gingerly, reverently. This was the thing that could help me whittle like Grampa.

I wove my way out of the garage, the knife still closed and clutched in my hand.

Need to find a stick. Gotta find the best stick. Where’s a good stick?

Aha!

I grabbed one off of the ground under a tree. Now to open the knife…

Still holding the stick, I grasped the blade right at that little groove that’s supposed to help you open pocket knives. I pulled, hard. Nothing. Come on, knife!

It swung back, just a medium-sized blade in my tiny hands. I grinned. I held out my stick and got to work.

“What are you doing?” Dad’s voice broke through my thoughts.

I looked up at him in excitement.

“Look!” I said, waving my newly whittled stick. “Isn’t it cool?”

Dad inspected my stick for a brief moment. He knelt in front of me.

“What’s this?” he asked, pointing at the blood running down my left pointer finger.

“Knife bit me,” I said.

“Hmmm. Maybe we need to get you a knife more your size. This one,” he took the knife out of my hand and closed it. “is too big for you. Ok?”

I nodded, drooping my head in shame. Dad slipped the knife into his pocket, took my stick and wrapped his large hand around my good hand.

“Let’s go get a band-aid.”

We walked across the lawn into the house.

“This is cool. Grampa showed you how to do this?” Dad said as we walked.

A few days later Dad presented me with a little pocket knife, one exactly fitted to my tiny hands. And for the next 20 some years he gave me a new pocket knife at least once a year, each one different and exciting in it’s own way.

The last two knives that Dad gave me are a set. They have little sheathes and are perfect for sitting on top of my bookshelf to let people know what I’m made of.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

I promise I haven’t cut myself lately.

Thanks for all the knives that are just my size. I miss you so much.

Dear Dad

My Dad and his dad
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Dear Dad,

They’ve passed. The first two weeks of my life without you. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you are gone because we talk about you all the time.

Somebody was tailgating me last night around the round-abouts. I decided that I’d had it, and I started going slower and slower and slower. And you know what that tailgater did? They just got closer and closer until it was like we were one car.

I told Mom about it and she laughed and said, “Dad would be proud.”

But she would’ve said that whether you were here or not. So I’m wondering if we’re talking about you more because you are gone, or if I am noticing how much we talk about you because you are gone. Maybe it’s both.

I tried to call you last week, but it went straight to voicemail and it was that computer voice that doesn’t even say your name. What’s up with that, Dad? I’m gonna plug your phone in and change it, I swear.

Did you ever lose somebody like this, Dad? Did your chest hurt with the loss? Did you sit and wonder why, stupidly, it couldn’t have been someone else, someone less awesome, less important, less loved, less talented, someone expendable, why couldn’t it be someone expendable? But no one is expendable.

You did all the things, Dad. I still remember when we took down the shed in the back yard with a sledge hammer. One minute I’m thinking, “my dad couldn’t get any cooler” and the next moment you’re swinging that sledge hammer at the wall and I was like, “I take it back.” That shed didn’t stand a chance against you.

And props to you for dealing with the weird kid who had to have a knife all the time just in case she needed to whittle some sticks. Those were some ugly sticks, I tell ya. Props to you for spending several early morning hours combing a field for that tiny, finger-sized flashlight that I lost in the dark when I was 9. You even found me a belt hook for it so I wouldn’t lose it again. Almost 20 years later, Dad, and I still have it.

I took a fancy flashlight from your office last week. Mom said it was okay. It’s like the best flashlight ever. A snob flashlight, dude. Ain’t nobody touching that flashlight but me from here on out, you hear me?

Everybody keeps asking me how I am. Dad, I don’t know what to say. What would you say if your Dad died? I know you talked to him like every day.

I had a really good weekend, Dad. Better than I’ve had in so long I can’t remember. I was the cinematographer for a short film. Mom was in it as part of the crowd. She was so happy to be a crowd person and hold a stupid sign for 2 hours. Mom was happy so I was happy and maybe she was happy because I was happy, I don’t know.

It’s getting easier, the other grief, Dad. I know you would say, “Good.” There finally seems to be light in my life, again. I wish you were here for this.

I’m gonna go boarding now. I promise if I get hurt that I won’t call Mom all hysterical. I’ll call D instead and she’ll be my paramedic for you.

I miss you.

Love,

Jessie

My Dad Loved Movies

My Dad passed away early in the morning last Monday. The following is what I read at my dad’s memorial service this past week.

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My dad loved movies. He loved movies before I ever loved movies. The main reason my siblings and I quote movies all the time is because of him.

There is a quote from the movie Inception that goes like this,

“I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all of your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.”

I couldn’t think of anything that would fully encapsulate my dad, so I’m just going to share some highlights.

I was in an antique store a number of years ago and I found a set of tiny dolls from Mexico. They looked like a variation of Worry Dolls except they were all different. So I told my mom, “I’m going to buy these and hide them around the house and let dad find them.”

We got the dolls and went home and I proceeded to hide these things all over the house – in his medicine cabinet, in his office, by his bed, on the counter, everywhere. Then we waited for dad to get home. When he got home we said hi and let him do his normal thing. As he walked around he house he would pause.

Finally, I heard a shout from the bathroom – “there little people everywhere?!”

And we all laughed, dad included.

Around that same time dad found a Halloween hand at a garage sale. It was one of those rubber things that’s slightly hideous and creepy. So I took that hand and I stuck it in his medicine cabinet.

“What is this?” he said.

But he got his revenge. He hid it in MY bathroom later. And so the war began – me hiding the hand in his truck or his office or his drawers and him responding in kind. He was far better at coming up with hiding spots – sometimes it took weeks for me to find the hand.

He knew how to laugh.

He watched every single one of my films. He wasn’t always positive about them. He told me his likes and dislikes. He told me his true opinions. I trusted that his reactions were real, and when he said he loved a film or that it made him laugh I knew it was true.

My parents often helped with my movie making chaos. They offered their house, food, errands, feedback and even themselves when they fit the role. In 2013 I produced and directed my first 48 hour film – which is a competition that requires you to complete a new film in 48 hours. My parents both delivered several items and offered their house for editors to sleep at. At the end of the filming first day, both my parents told me, “I am so proud of you.”

It didn’t matter that the film wasn’t finished being edited, it didn’t matter that we went on to win absolutely no awards, it didn’t matter that the film was pretty nonsensical – they were proud. I looked back at some of my blog posts over the past year and you can still find my dad’s comments saying, “I am so proud of you.”

Dad, I never thought I did anything worth you saying that, but you did so many things that made me proud. You were a paramedic who was kind to people, even when they hit you. You were infinitely patient with your grand children even when they were being nuts. You went back to school twice. You stayed faithful and kind and loving toward my mom. I knew if I needed anything that you would come as soon as I called, and you often did.

Dad I’m so proud of you.

I was going to tell y’all the story about how my dad and I discovered Steve Irwin, but my brother said we only had 45 minutes up here. I will say that dad loved finding things to watch with us, and I think that we both enjoyed watching it together more than the actual show. I can’t imagine that he was a super fan of Veronica Mars, but boy did we get excited about that movie.

I don’t know how many hobbies or likes he acquired because of wanting to hang with us, but I know that I love movies because of him. All the midnight showings, repeated viewings, quote sessions – if I say something that sounds weird it’s probably a movie quote and it’s all his fault.

I haven’t seen Black Panther yet, but when I do, I’ll be thinking about how I would tell him all about it.

So here’s my last thing. Last spring was really harsh for me. I was talking to my dad about traveling, and we decided that in 2018 we were going to Vietnam. He really wanted to go there for many years. So a few weeks later he gave me a tiny package. He said, “this is for the trip.”

You know what it was? A tiny scorpion earring. Just one.

I don’t think that there are even scorpions in Vietnam.

But it was absolutely the coolest earring I’ve ever been given. Because it was from my dad.

My Year the Music Died

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Someone once said to me that “silence is the acoustic form of darkness.”

There’s been a lot of darkness lately.

There was no funeral for my husband. No one got a chance to come up to me and say nice things, to take turns giving me hugs and saying how sorry they were that he was gone forever and that I would never see him again. I didn’t get to speak about his good points to all of my friends and family. I didn’t get to post on Facebook about my loss.

Public loss is only acceptable in death.

Abuse doesn’t negate love and affection.

2017 was my year the music died. I lost a lot of people. A lot of good people. Silence is all I have from them now.

But in silence and darkness we have the opportunity to create music and light.

Many years ago I was rescued out of darkness into light. I was given a new life. Hope in Christ is not a false hope. After a year in silence, real hope is the only thing that keeps you going.

So for this year, 2018, I have made a resolution to give hope to someone else. Life is not about me.

This year I’m gonna get set up to foster in 2019. I’m going to take classes. I’m going to move into an appropriate space. I’m going to get prepared to be a mom.

My year the music died will not be the death of hope.

When I Grow Up

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“This way,” Dad said, inclining his head to the left.

I followed him up the sidewalk, him on the outside by the street. He refused to let me walk on the outside – that was his job. He was the first line of defense in case a car jumped the curb.

Cold burrowed into my neck. I always forgot to bundle up enough for these walks. The sun crept over the trees, but its slow ascent would remain the background of our walk. The dew hung in droplets off of the tired grass. Tired, because it was still green and this was October.

“I have a new business plan,” I said. “About a social network for truckers.”

“Huh,” Dad said. “What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

I smiled. He smiled too, and we segued into talking about our family and the latest problems we had run into. We walked slowly, which was hard for me to do. Old habits. It helped that the street was a good uphill terrain. The houses we passed lay quiet. Too early for chaos yet. Just wait till we got around the bend – children would be waiting for the bus, parents watching from the porches.

Always seemed too early for people that age to leave for school.

Dad listened when I talked. He asked questions. He gave insight. Sometimes he made sarcastic or funny comments. Mostly we just relaxed our speech, focused more on just spending the time.

It was Tuesday. Breakfast with Dad was on Tuesday. My 3 sisters and their kids would gather at my parent’s house for pancakes or eggs and bacon every Tuesday morning. Dad always made the food. Sometimes other people brought tasty things as well – not me though, I lived the farthest away and used the extra time before my siblings arrived to walk alone with my dad.

Alone time with my dad kept me going in a very dark time.

The summer had left me bereft of my closest friends. Due to work schedules and a nasty breakup between some of them, the entire group left me and my spouse in the dust. Accustomed to meeting once every week for 2 and a half years, I found myself lost. Introversion is a curse, not a strength. It is a terrible thing to depend on a small group that decides to fracture and leave you behind. An extrovert could make other friends or have other friends, but I didn’t have anyone really present in my life except family.

Not that family isn’t a joy and a comfort.

My family, however, was suffering. My sister was in the middle of a lengthy, aggravated and combative divorce. Despite her best efforts to peaceably separate herself and her 4 kids from her husband, he was unwilling to yield.

We were unprepared.

My other older sister was carefully and diligently helping her youngest child of 3, a girl barely 1 year old, recover after a second surgery. Baby A was a miracle that almost left us the year before, but the prognosis was starting to look up after all the hospital visits and surgeries. It is strange how much you can love someone you’ve only known for such a short time.

My younger sister and her husband had serious, re-occuring health problems. His daily struggle kept him from a normal work schedule, and she was picking up the slack as best she could. The next few months ahead would see them moving out of their house for weeks in order to eradicate mold, all while dealing with special diets and multiple jobs.

My older brother had the least of the burdens, but his life wasn’t easy. At that time he was in a beautiful relationship with a lovely woman, one he wanted to marry, although I’m not sure she knew that yet. But he had been this close before, and things had gone very badly for him. Instead, he focused on his job and helping out his family as best he could.

My parents cared for my in-process divorcing sister, her 4 kids residing happily in my parents’ small home. At the time the oldest was 7, the youngest 1. Too young for their own suffering.

And I…my suffering was different. I was married to someone I loved, who apparently didn’t want to be married to me. Instead, he was quietly pushing me to unravel everything real about myself and morph into the person he thought I should be. He had moved me away from my family and my church. He was in the process of starting a very intense affair with a very young person. He constantly flirted with other women in front of me. He told me I wasn’t living up to his expectations, but he refused to tell me what those were. He shut me out of his thoughts and when he wrote future goals, none of them included me.

He asked me to marry him, but he was giving up on me.

But when I was with my dad, I felt valuable. In a sea of suffering and chaos, Dad took the time to just walk with me. Just be.

It is more than a year later. We haven’t done Tuesday breakfasts in about that amount of time. It just became too much of a hassle.

This past spring my former husband’s many affairs came to light. Instead of facing the truth about himself and his actions, he chose to give up and shut me and my family out of his life. He is not regretful. He is not sad.

In the middle of the summer I found myself displaced, but eventually, with the help of my grandparents and family, I am now in a stable living situation and moving up in a job that I love. The week I moved into my current place, I had no bed. I didn’t think I even had the money for a bed. Instead I placed my camping pad on the cement floor of my place and layered some blankets on it. It hurt my back a bit, but I was free from the constant emotional and mental prison, so who can’t deal with a little back pain?

Dad and mom insisted that I have a bed. Not only did they find me a mattress, they bought a frame and came to my house to assemble it. Mom also brought me numerous household items, as I had left my old living situation in a hurry, without any dishes and most cooking utensils.

A few weeks later, Dad came over to help mount a curtain rod in my room because the outside lights were keeping me awake most of the night. When I had a housewarming party, Dad volunteered to buy pizza when he figured I didn’t have enough food for people. There are too many other things to list.

As this past fall progressed, Dad felt worse and worse. His work back injury was taking a much harsher toll in him. His stomach was hurting all the time, and his blood pressure was suddenly off – something that had never happened to him. Finally the pain was too much, mom brought him to the ER. Several unfruitful days passed – they sent him home with no news. He went back and was committed again as his health deteriorated.

A few more days passed. My sister came over to my house to make food with me. Mom called and asked where she was. Then she said she was on her way.

I knew then.

When mom came in I was quiet.

“They have discovered that he has tumors in the lining of his stomach,” she said. As she explained the rest of the situation I just stood there, silent, controlled, watching her and wondering how long I could keep it together.

I hugged her at the end. So did my sister. As she left, she told us that she was headed to our other sister’s house, then the next. She had already called my brother, who had moved 10 hours away upon his marriage to the lovely girl.

We could fight this, still. There were home remedies. Treatments. Options.

As the options are exhausted, the home remedies rendered impossible due to increasingly complex problems, I see Dad suffering. At first all he could say or think about was all of us.

“Let me walk you out to your car,” he said to me when I was leaving his hospital room. He was attached to multiple machines and beeping up a storm. I smiled and told him I would be fine.

He bought the neighbor’s car when he found out they were getting rid of it, because “your sisters might need it.”

He talked to a guy a church and asked him to check on my car if he had time.

In one year, I have experienced the complete definition of a selfish man and a self-less man. The selfish man chose to leave and continue his him-focused life. The self-less man is suffering every day and chooses to live his self-less life for his family.

When I was 9 I told my dad that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer.

Dad, when I grow up, I want to be you.