Divorce: Things lost, but not forever

Gorging yourself on pulled pork and pierogies is expected when you visit a local arts fest. This, after I tried on 45 rings and my sweetie bought me a gorgeous handmade necklace. As we walked along, checking out booths full of stuff, I saw a bunch of Christmas ornaments. My sweetie asked a question. I didn’t answer. Instead, I just kept walking with a lump in my throat. I knew if I answered I would cry. So I just whispered something about not having my Christmas tree. I told him I was trying not to cry. So, we just walked while I let the moment of grief pass. For the last three years or so, I’ve had a lot of those moments. Odd moments that come at the oddest of times.

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This angel has been on top of my tree since the early 1990s.

December of ’92: I lived in Omaha, Nebraska and my first baby girl was six-months old. It was time to go tree shopping. I’d grown up with a fake tree and had such warm and loving feelings about it. That tree was stored in a big-ass box and was a pain-in-the-ass to put together. It had wired branches that went into a long-battered wood pole. It had colored lights with night-light sized bulbs, glass ball ornaments, garland (not tinsel), and a nativity set. I used to stare at it for hours. That tree paired with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV made me feel sheer joy as a kid. Even now, a decorated tree and Charlie Brown means warmth, safety, and love.

So 1992 was my year to recreate the same thing for my new family. My baby daughter and I got into our Ford Festiva with tires the size of donuts and headed into the wilderness of big-box stores to find our tree destiny. And there it was. Six feet of plastic beauty. Sixty-bucks later it was loaded into the Festiva: back seat down, rear gate of the car flipped open, rear-facing car seat illegally strapped into the front seat, and new mother convinced she’d go to “shitty mother” jail.

For 23 years that tree was my tree. It became the family tree because soon enough there were three kids and a dog. Year after year it stood. And it was always the same; white lights, gold garland, and ornaments. It stood, bearing all those ornaments; those Hallmark series ornaments purchased for each kid beginning with the year of their birth, the Barney ornament that moves, the naked Santa ornament from cousin Betty Jean, the leg lamp ornament that talks, and all the goofy school pics ornaments the kids made. The tree was a beauty.

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A beauty to behold

Well, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One year, after I got the lights on the tree, one of the strands went out. In frustration, I drove to the store to get a new strand. All they had left were LEDs. Onto the tree they went. The result was ridiculous, as you can see. The incandescents glowed yellow. The LEDs glowed blue. How unsightly! And it was on display out the front window! Did I give a shit? Well, obviously not. I thought Martha Stewart. Bite me. I had a leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story in my front window the rest of the year. My front window was a freak show.

A few years after the lighting incident I got divorced for the second time. I was forced to downsize and sell the house I’d been living in with my kids for 11 years. For years after our split, my first husband and I worked together to make sure the kids never had to move. No such luck with husband number two. I don’t feel like wasting any breath on that turd, so instead I’ll chat about my stuff – that really isn’t just stuff.

I had to sell my house and move in a short period of time. I had to get rid of stuff in a frenzy. I am not a materialistic person, but some days I felt like I was dying. Getting rid of sixty-percent of my stuff felt like death. Perhaps I am sentimental? One day I sat in the garage sorting screws. And I was crying. Ex-husband #1 walked by carrying a box as he was helping me move and probably thought I was batshit crazy. I thought Oh my God. Will I need screws in a townhouse? I won’t have a garage, but will I need a screw at any point in my future?

Sure, I took loads of stuff to Goodwill. Multiple car loads of stuff. But there were certain things that meant something to me that I had to get rid of – like my kitchen table. Yes, the table my kids and I sat around year after year. It wouldn’t fit in the townhouse I was moving into, but there was no way in hell I was giving it to Goodwill so it could sit there with some garish price tag on it. So I decided to list a bunch of stuff on Craigslist under Free to see what happened. Now the table lives in Boalsburg. Ex-husband #1 and I delivered it to a young couple who needed it for a growing family.

Next, my house plants. My beloved house plants. Some of them came from funerals; my dad’s funeral, my former mother-in-law’s funeral. From my first day on-the-job in 1993 in Omaha. From here and there and everywhere. These plants had moved with me from Nebraska to Missouri to Pennsylvania. Two female friends came and loaded them into the back and front seats of their cars. They are still alive, I think. The plants – and the friends.

Artwork. I had Impressionism prints on my walls. For years, Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro brightened our space. One morning, a guy literally came and took them off my walls. He said he was opening some sort of business and would use them there.

Holiday decorations. Ouch. I loved decorating for the holidays and I had a big house. I was going to a very small townhouse and bins of stuff had to go. For example, lots of the stuff was for Halloween. I took pictures of my beloved ghouls and goblins, posted them online, and asked people to take them home. People were kind enough to tell me what they were going to do with them; my skeleton bride was going to grace a haunted hayride – or maybe she was going to a local neighborhood. Either way, she was going to a nice place.

Christmas. I don’t really remember many of the decorations I got rid of, except my tree. There was no place at the townhouse for a six-foot, fake tree. So she had to go. I saw visions of her standing all alone in the back lot at Goodwill. No fucking way. I would sob. No. Hell no. So her picture went online with the rest of the decorations. As far as I can remember, she went with someone who had a Christmas-themed business.

That time is still a daze for me. Even now, I don’t know where some of my stuff ended up. I just remembered I used to have a reindeer in a rocking chair that rocked and sang Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Where the hell is that? I still regret giving some of it away. At one point I drove a car-full of antiques to an antique mall and some sleazy guy gave me $60 for all of it. The wedding dress from wedding #2 was part of the deal. He told me the dress would end up at a flea market. I didn’t give a shit where it ended up.

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Me and one of my daughters at the Met

About two years ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with one of my daughters. We walked into a room filled with Impressionism. Even though I’d seen it there before, seeing it again hit me hard; the Monet that was no longer in my life. I got tears in my eyes. The memory of what was.

I’ve had many odd moments since giving away my stuff. I missed that skeleton bride at Halloween. So, I found the exact one from the 1990s on eBay recently. It was odd to be so happy about finding her. This past Halloween she graced the living room of my boyfriend’s house. I think his kids named her Mrs. Bones.

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Mrs. Bones

My townhouse is absolutely lovely now. It’s home. I remodeled it after I moved in and my friend Sarah was nice enough to give me a few ceramic, lighted Christmas trees to replace my fake tree. And after that day at the arts festival, my boyfriend said we’d get a tree this year at his house. He and his girls picked out a real tree. That’s a first for me.

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The real tree – my stuff and his stuff

I sorted through the boxes of ornaments, lights and garland I managed to keep. Three years after the loss of my tree, my ornaments are back up. And so is that strand of blue-white lights. My boyfriend had ornaments and lights too, so we have a dual-family tree with lights of different sizes. I hung my craft show ornaments and he hung his shiny red balls. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

When I am at my boyfriend’s house, I will sit in the living room and look at the tree, just like I did when I was a little girl. Just as I did when I was a new mom, just as I did when I had toddlers and teenagers. I still feel serene around a tree that I decorated. My nativity scene is set up too and the angel that’s been on top of my tree for decades is back on top. She’s just in a new place.

* This is just one story of loss due to divorce. If you are divorced you know the losses are many; friendships, family members, material items, plans for the future, companionship, love, and others. But over time, these losses can certainly turn into new paths of friendship, love, family and plans for the future. Believe it.

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Open Letter on my Anniversay: Letting Go of Fear

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One year ago today, I went on a Match.com date with a guy I call Jimmy Jailbait. You may have read the story; I peed myself cause I waited too long to head to the bathroom. Tonight I’ll head to his house after I work-out. Then I’ll cook dinner while he’s at a “back to school night” with his ex-wife and kids. But tonight, instead of pee, it will be tears. Like many other days this year, I’ll just cry.

I’ll cry because I’m happy. I’m learning to let go of fear. I’m returning to that sweet, bright, happy person I used to be. To the core of myself that loves people. To the one who wasn’t cheated on by really important people in her life. To the one who wasn’t surprised by lies. I’m making a return to the one who knows people are worthy of trust.

It’s been a rough year. I can’t count the times in the past year I’ve driven to work in tears. I can’t count the times I’ve cried through sessions with my counselor. And how many times have I cried with my friends? I’m supposed to be in love. Why am I crying?

I already know. It’s because I feel like I’m “walking the plank” with Jimmy. Because I am. I have been so vulnerable. I’ve revealed so much to him. Lame things. Insecure things. Horrible thoughts. Things like “I can’t go to see the Wonder Woman movie with you because she’s beautiful. I will feel like a nothing sitting in the seat next to you because I know you’ll think she’s hot. I’ve never been insecure about my looks before. And now I’m not sure what is happening to me. Aging? Being cheated on numerous times? I’m not sure what it is.”

And Jimmy is there. He hears all of my stupid-ass shit. He lets me cry. He lets me be funny. He lets me be strong. He lets me be weak. He lets me be damaged. And sad. And smart. And powerful. And goofy.

He has let me in too. He has been vulnerable. And honest. And caring. And I can see that he really listens. I feel really loved.

I see how he treats his kids. I see how he treats my kids. I see how he treats his ex-wife. And I see how he treats his peers – and the server at the restaurant. And I’m in.

He gives me a lot of his time. He shares a lot of his thoughts. I do feel very loved. Maybe that’s what scares me. I have felt loved before. And then…

The thought of facing the pain I’ve felt in the past makes me cry. I’m crying as I write this. But I’ve never been one to shy away from living. So here I am. Living.

I can trust myself. And I can trust him. I just need to keep breathing.

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* Over this past year, I’ve been to lots of counseling, read lots of books, and I love listening to Dr. Laura Berman’s podcasts. In January, my friend Debbie and I will launch a divorce support group called “Rebuilders.”  Stay tuned.

That Marriage: The Big Lies

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Recently, I was on-air getting ready to chat about something: The Blake Shelton concert coming to the area, why coffee is good for you, or maybe some big news about flip flops. A FB Messenger “message request” popped up. I didn’t recognize the woman’s name. The line that caught my eye just as I opened the mic was “I’m fairly certain we were sleeping with him at the same time.”  The messages continued until we got to this screenshot.

Some divorces are easier than others. The one I am writing about now was devastating. For the past few years, I’ve regarded my ex as a person in deep pain. No matter how much I’ve wanted to lash out at him, I’ve stopped myself. It felt like kicking a dog when he’s down or pouring salt in a wound – whatever cliche you prefer. Mind you, not lashing out has probably been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My plan is not to lash out now, but to share part of the story – about how I dealt with rage. With anger.

It’s hard to know where to start, so let me say I married a person I didn’t really know. The marriage was full of jealousy, lies, and insecurity. He thought I was a liar. When I “liked” FB posts from a former boyfriend I was “disrespectful.” When I had meet and greet pics taken with country music singers, I was “celebrity humping.” When I went out with groups of male and female friends, I wasn’t “acting the way a wife should.” And when I wrote a memoir about a very difficult time in my life, he was horrified. I shouldn’t have gone public with that sort of info.

That marriage almost consumed me – with his alcoholism. Luckily I discovered Al Anon. As I mentioned, the marriage was full of lies. The alcoholism sort of lies. What I did not know, until that FB message, was that our marriage was also full of the cheating sort of lies. His. Not mine. I can honestly say, I never saw that one coming.

After about 18 months of marriage, “Richard,” I’ll call him “Dick” and I agreed that I’d quit my part-time job. I’d been teaching part-time at a university and I wanted to go back to freelance copywriting. On my last day at the university, he left. It was the third time he’d left. The first time was for one night. The second time was for a few weeks. The third time, it was for good. He was convinced I was a lying, disrespectful wife.

Then I lost my house. It’s impossible to pay a mortgage with no job. I had to get rid of most of my belongings as I moved into a tiny townhouse. My kids lost their family home. So I faced the loss of my marriage, my job and my house – all at once.

Dick cheated on his first wife. I found out about one of his indiscretions accidentally after we were married. At various times, my friends had asked me, “Do you think Dick cheated on you too?” And my reply was always the same, “Oh no. He really loved me. I felt it. I can’t even imagine that.”

Idiot. Fool. During the marriage, I was so obsessed with trying to manage his drinking that I never gave a second thought to his ex-fiance. At the beginning of our relationship he described her as a loon. He talked about her for about a month into our relationship – about how she wouldn’t leave him alone via text and email so he had to block her. I’d had some nutty exes too, so I trusted him to work it out. As far as I knew, his last contact with her was when she picked up the rest of her stuff from his garage.

So, there I was, on-air, messaging Dick’s ex-fiance. And she was telling the truth. She knew things. The kinds of things that only Dick could have told her. It was clear they had been communicating since we started dating – and throughout our engagement and marriage. Dick had remained a cheater. The ex-fiance put it this way: “He was a world-traveler who did as he pleased.” Apparently, Dick would give me a kiss good-bye before he left for a two-week, work trip; only to stop by her place en route to the airport. He’d promise to bring both of us the same London hoodie as a souvenir.

Prior to finding out about the cheating, I knew he’d lied about lots of things. I housed that information under the umbrella called “addiction.” So, this betrayal was new. And I was shocked. Throughout our marriage and after he left, he accused me. Questioned me. His emails and texts were vicious.

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Now, I realize his behavior was simply an example of projection – a basic concept you’d learn in a psych class. He was the guilty party. He lied – so I did too? It all made sense. The hypocrisy was more than I could bear. For almost three years I “held onto myself.”  I didn’t give in to rage and anger – but at some point the dam will burst. And the dam was about to burst.

Within a day or two it hit: absolute anger and spitting rage. I had fantasies of collecting dog shit in gallon milk jugs –  so I could add water, then drive to his house and pour the shit all over his precious car. I was especially excited about the idea of pouring it down his windshield so chunks of shit would get caught in the wipers. And the driver’s side window would be good too – maybe the shit would seep down into the door. Pouring liquid dog shit all over his car seemed apropos.

But of course, I’d get caught. Plus, I’m a goody-goody. I had to stand in the corner once in grade school. I still remember the shame. So end up in the newspaper for a crime because of this douche canoe? No thanks.

But I had to do something. Send him a screenshot of the messages between me and his ex-fiance? Put posters up in his neighborhood with his face and words like “cheater” and “fucktard?” Egg his car? I had to do something.

Eggs. Fine. Yes. I wouldn’t have to get out of my car. I could throw and flee. Less chance of getting caught. So I got a dozen and drove to his house. Would he be home? I hadn’t kept up with his whereabouts for years so your guess would have been as good as mine.

He wasn’t home. No cars. I figured I could egg his house. He’d come home to broken eggs on the porch and all over the yard. So I sat there for a while. Then I drove away. Then I drove back and sat. And pondered. No. I can’t do it. He’s an ass. You my dear, are not. Drive home. This too, shall pass.

Perhaps you are thinking I’m a pansy. That eggs are really no big deal. A childish prank perhaps. You may be right. But for me, throwing them would have been unleashing hatred and anger. So non-Zen. So childish. So low. So middle-school. So 7-deadly sins like. Wrath?

Instead I just talked to my boyfriend, my counselor, my friends, and my family. In a few weeks I felt a lot better. The anger passed.

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The eggs in question. A reminder that I didn’t throw them. I probably shouldn’t eat them either. 

I understand that beneath anger is often, hurt. And the news of the betrayal was very painful. I was blown away. I was absolutely joyful on the day of our wedding. And I could have sworn he was too. How did I not know he was cheating? What signs did I miss? Can I trust my own judgement now? Are all men cheaters?

It took me a year to start dating after the end of that marriage – and being in a relationship now has its own travails. There’s fallout after you’ve been lied to and cheated on. It’s rough. And it’s not as if men my age come without their own failed marriage and issues. Luckily, my boyfriend, Jimmy Jailbait and I, talk. A lot. About subjects you wouldn’t believe. (see First Date: The Big Lie)

On the positive side, I have found somebody who trusts me. I think this is a sign that I can trust him. But it’s still hard. But I think I’m doing well. I’m trying to be brave.

There is a lot more I will write about. This is just some background information and a slice of how I dealt with one bit of anger. I will write about what I’ve learned in counseling, divorce support groups, and through books I’m reading. At this point I don’t even know if anyone wants to read this crap.

And as I’d mentioned, I was on the air when the messages between me and the ex-fiance were going back and forth. So if you ever hear or see an on-air person being a little “off,” say a prayer for them. You never know what shit may have just hit the fan.

It was a sign. (heart attack story)

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Me telling this story, about 10 years after it happened – State Theater (Oct. 2016)

I was naked from the waist up with a man I didn’t even know. He was putting little wires and pads on my chest. I figured he normally did this to old guys with similarly saggy boobs.  All I could think to say was “Can you tell they’re fake?” He laughed.Sorta. Inappropriate things fly out of my mouth all the time, especially when my chesticles are hanging out.  After the devastating four months I’d had I thought I might as well keep things light.  My heart had been obliterated. And I was at the hospital to see if I was having a heart attack. At age 42. It was a sign: God hates me.

I knew getting divorced was not supposed to be fun. But I thought finding Mr. Right would be, like, totally fun. And easy.  I had a sign, on my head, “Hot to trot divorcee looking for true love after a shitball of a marriage.   

Well, I met him innocently enough through one of my kids’ activities. It was such an exciting time. Our kids got along, he was smart, good looking, and seemed to be damaged just enough by his evil ex-wives.  And he talked.  He revealed.  He told me things that made me feel special; you know, it was a sign – he liked me. I was special.

I liked that things were going slowly. We spent a few months hanging out. At the start I thought we were taking things slowly because of his history; two divorces. But months of soul bearing and fancy glances led to nothing but lingering hugs. He still hadn’t stuck his tongue down my throat. Was it a sign? Bad breath? Didn’t he like my butt? 

After months of wondering, one night I gathered my courage and said “I’ve decided I can’t ever kiss you.” He replied, “Oh yeah?” So I said – “Yeah, cause if I do I’ll want to strip you, lick you, and ride you like a mechanical bull.”

His reply: He kissed me…. on the cheek. Looking back, it WAS a sign. I never heard from him again.

I can only explain the four months after he quit coming around as annihilating. I felt sick to my stomach which meant I couldn’t eat. I lost weight. I looked nasty. I also cried constantly. I cried. And I cried.  And I cried. It was a sign – something was coming. The loss I felt was the first thing that hit me when I woke up and it sat on me all day. Why did he leave?

I managed to hold it together when I had to, which is, most of the time – but I used to sit through doctor’s appointments and just cry to the nurses. I also cried through sessions with a counselor once a week. I didn’t care about anything.  Nothing made me happy. I went on with life, but only because I had to. I had three kids and I had to keep going to grad school classes.

So, four months of crying later, it was the end of the semester – early December.  I was going out to jog.  Well, jog is a strong word.  Flounder around with legs in motion like Olive Oyl is more like it. I started my jog and noticed my left arm and hand hurt. I thought it was weird, so I just quit jogging and walked.  The pain stopped. I jogged again. The pain came back. It was a sign!

I walked for a few miles then went home and stretched.  My son got off the school bus and I got on my computer to finish writing a big paper that was due the next day.  One of my girlfriends called and I noticed the pain was back. So, I told my friend, Heidi, I was probably having a heart attack. Great.  Fucking great. Next thing you know it’s two housefraus in a minivan headed to Mt. Nittany medical center.

So fast forward to the pads and wires on my chest. Not long after that, a nice, female ER doc came in very casually so I could give her the blow-by-blow. Fast forward to the lifeflight helicopter that was already on its way to haul me out of there. Before she came in she’d read the EKG – it was a sign! This chick is screwed! 

One lifeflight, an angioplasty, and two stents later, I was in a hospital about an hour from home.  I stayed for two nights, had the worst migraine of my life, and managed to scare the living shit out of my ex.  Even though we weren’t together, we are still family.  The best part of being a 42-year-old cardiac patient was the odd looks from doctors.  I was in shape, had low cholesterol, a low resting pulse, and normal blood pressure.  It always seemed to make them feel better when I told them my dad died at 57 from heart disease and that I used to smoke. “Good good good! Makes sense…thanks.”

But wait.  I didn’t have a heart attack because of family history or prior smoking.  No.  I had a heart attack because some fucktard broke it.  Crying every day for four months is not normal.  Neither is not sleeping and not eating.  Stupid fuck bag.  But I couldn’t tell the doctors any of that.  I already felt like an idiot.  And they were all men.  They would roll their eyes.  Poor girl with a broken heart.  Boo frickin’ hoo. They would’ve put me on anti-depressants; I already knew they didn’t help. They would’ve told me to see a different counselor for my delusions. How do you fall for someone after two months of no kissing? Idiot! It was a sign – I was a nincompoop! 

Six days after the heart attack I was back in class.  What else was there to do?  Plus, I had a semester to finish.

About two months after the heart attack I got a call from the cardiologist’s office. They asked if I would talk about my ordeal for something called “Go Red for Women” day.  Apparently, it’s a heart health awareness thing that comes around once a year.  I said I would, so I went to a couple of radio stations and talked about my heart attack. A few days later one of the stations offered me a job on a morning show.  I even ended up on a country music morning show. Words cannot tell you how much I hated country music. It was a sign – God still hates me!

But – it was a sign! I ended up writing my Master’s thesis about country music and advertising. And now – 10 years later, I still happily and joyfully work in country music radio. I even taught at Penn State for a few years and I used to brutalize my students by teaching with country music lyrics.

And as far as the “sign” I got – the heart attack – the sign that God hates me? Well, that actually saved me. I found out months later that Mr. Wonderful was actually Mr. Massive Piece of Shit – he did this and this and this and I was saved from him. And the heart attack got me off the track of thinking about him. I had to re-focus and worry about recovery. God Bless my cardiologists and country music.

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My three kids  🙂

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Florida Georgia Line in the early days (as if they’ve been around forever)

A Loss of Innocence by Kerry D.

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            “Stop!” I screamed as I ran up the stairs, “You don’t understand, just shut up”. My older sister Lizz had just walked in the door yelling at my parents because they didn’t pick her up from Youth Group that night. My outburst hardly surprised her; we were constantly fighting and bickering with each other. She didn’t know it wasn’t my typical whining until my mom walked over and sat my sister down. I watched from the top of the staircase as my mom broke the news. My sister’s eyes widen, the tears forming immediately. I wanted to comfort my sister; I wanted her to comfort me. But I was stuck, frozen on that staircase and clutching on to the banister, because in that moment it was the only stability I had left.

Two hours earlier I was sitting in my parents bedroom playing The Sims computer game when our home phone rang. I sprinted to get it, even though being the youngest I was the only one whoever answered the phone. Ten year old me loved talking on the phone; I would keep a conversation going with a random sales guy just because. It fascinated me how someone could be somewhere else, anywhere else in the world, but their voice was right next to my ear. The Caller ID showed it was my grandparent’s number, so I ecstatically answered “Hey Nana!!!! Whatsup?!” I was shocked when my normally jubilant Nana flatly requested to talk to my mom.

“Mooooooommy,” I called as I ran into her bathroom, “Nana’s on the phone and she sounds angry soo…be nice!” I sat next to my mom as she talked, being the curious kid I was, until my mom’s faced turned as serious as Nana’s voice, and she ushered for me to leave. I was offended, my mom always let me listen in, especially when it was Nana calling to talk about something crazy the neighbor’s kid had done, or the new shoes she found at TJ Maxx. My mom half closed the door, and as I peered in through the cracks, I saw her sit on the closed toilet seat and begin to cry. My mom is not a crier. I had never seen my mother cry before, and it terrified me.

My feet lead me down the staircase in a furry to find my dad. He was reclining in his chair, watching the football game with my older brother Mike, as per usual on a Sunday evening. “Mom’s crying,” I blurted, which immediately got his attention. He went up the staircase to see what was going on, and my brother and I crept behind and waited next to the stairs to listen in. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, my mom was breathing heavily and couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to grasp what she was saying, but Mike knew. He told me to walk away, that it was “too sad” for me to handle. “I can handle it Mikey,” I pleaded “I’m almost ten I’m not a little kid anymore”.

My brother and I went down into our basement to play a game of ping-pong, his way of distracting me from what was really going on. But the curious kid I was demanded an answer, “Just tell me! I won’t tell mom you told, promise.”

And then the words I never saw coming, came next. “It’s Kaitlyn” he started. Kaitlyn? I thought, our cousin? Kaitlyn was our 17-year-old cousin, and my role model in life. I idolized her; she was the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Kaitlyn was smart, and Kaitlyn was pretty. Kaitlyn played sports and Kaitlyn sang in choir. But above all Kaitlyn was the most kind-hearted individual I have ever met, even up until present day. I remembered a time at their West Virginia home the winter before, where Lizz was annoyed at me for following them around all day, but Kaitlyn let me stay, because I was “one of the girls” and she said she wanted to be with me just as much. I snapped back to the moment, my brother and I at the ping-pong table, and he continued to tell me, “There was a real bad accident with her and Aunt Rhonda, and Aunt Rhonda’s in the hospital she’s in a coma Ker, they don’t know what’s gonna happen to her, but Kaitlyn…” and he trailed off. He couldn’t finish it and we both knew what was next. I started hyperventilating.

“I have to pee” was all I could manage as I ran up the basement stairs to the bathroom. I locked the door and fell to my knees. It couldn’t be true. He must have heard wrong. Bad things don’t happen to good people, and Kaitlyn was the best person I knew. A knock came on the door so I knew I had to come out. I wiped my eyes and tried to look normal, because if I could get back to normal, maybe we all could. Maybe I could walk outside this bathroom door, and everyone would be smiling. We could go back to normal, and I could play my computer game and go back to being a kid.

But as I opened the bathroom door, my mom waited outside with arms stretched open, and I fell into them immediately. “I’m so sorry honey,” my mom cooed as she caressed my hair. “She’s in a better place, and she loved you. Kaitlyn loved you so much sweetie, you know that.” We all kinda stood there in the kitchen for a while, fumbling on words and “I just can’t believe its”. What do you say in that situation? Everything’s gonna be okay? Because it wasn’t. And I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be for a long time after.

My sister Lizz was at youth group, so my mom arranged for her to get a ride from a friend. She walked in annoyed and called out to my parents “Why couldn’t you get me? You know I hate driving with Rachel Benenson she’s so annoying you were supposed to pick me up!” Even the slightest outburst upset me, as I was still trying to decipher what was going on. I went to run to my bedroom, being dramatic as always and yelling at my sister for yelling. And when my mom told my sister what had happened, another thought hit me. My sister walked in the door, and the first thing I did was yell at her. 5 hours away in West Virginia my cousin Ryan sat in a home where his sister would never walk in again. Where something as normal as saying goodbye to your mom and sister as they leave for church, ends up being your last memory of your only sibling. And somehow I still couldn’t even get along with my own sister the first five seconds that she walks into the house.

I spent the next week praying. Really praying hard, to a God I wasn’t really familiar with. I was raised Catholic and I had my Baptism and Communion, but we rarely went to Church and my parents didn’t really talk about religion much. But for the next week every time my mind wandered, I prayed to God that it wasn’t real. That Kaitlyn would wake up, and we’d realize the first responders and doctors were wrong, she wasn’t dead. Every 11:11, and every eyelash I wiped away I wished that she wasn’t gone.

We drove down to West Virginia for the viewing and the funeral, and I brought my favorite American Girl Doll. It was one of the custom ones that you can choose how they look, and I had special ordered her the year before with long brown hair and brown eyes, and named her after my best friend, Kaitlyn. I clutched that doll the entire car ride there. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble accepting this tragedy. My Poppop drove from South Jersey all the way to West Virginia and forgot his suit for the funeral, and instead of renting one there, he drove all the way back home to get his suit. I was so confused at the time by this, but now it makes sense. At a time when he was about to burry his seventeen-year-old granddaughter, he needed his own suit to resemble a sense of normalcy.

I wore a pink skirt to the viewing. Everyone was dressed in black and I couldn’t handle it. Kaitlyn was the happiest girl, why she would want me to wear all black? It was my first funeral so the concept was foreign to me, but my mom liked my reasoning, and let me wear my happy skirt. Once we got there, everyone was hugging each other and couldn’t stop crying, but for the first time I couldn’t start. I saw my other cousins and relatives bawling, and I took it upon myself to try and comfort them. I’ve never been one to deal with my own problems, so I focused on helping my other cousins get through the night.

As everyone was leaving, I sat with my Uncle Pat, Kaitlyn’s father. We talked about the agenda for the next day, the details of which I can’t really remember. But I was certain it started at one time, and he thought another. He called over Ryan, his son, and Ryan agreed with me about whatever time. I laughed and was proud of myself for remembering the funeral information I had read over and over again on the car ride here. Then Uncle Pat looked at me and rubbed my back, laughing a little and said, “You’re a smart one Kerry, just like Kaitlyn was. You remind me a lot of her, you know that?” And that’s when the tears came. I excused myself to the bathroom, because if Uncle Pat could hold it together, I really couldn’t lose it in front of him. I was really impressed by him and Ryan that weekend. Aunt Rhonda was still in the hospital recovering so she couldn’t be there, but Uncle Pat and Ryan stayed strong the whole time, comforting relatives and practically the entire county that came out to remember Kaitlyn. I’m not exaggerating, literally it was packed with people from all over, and all of them told me how wonderful of a person Kaitlyn was. Whether it was classmates she sat with when no one else would, or a teammate who needed moral support, Kaitlyn was always the one helping everyone else out.

I left West Virginia with a heavy heart, but a new outlook on life. I realized it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how hard you try, because life is a fragile thing. It can be gone in an instant, everything you thought you knew can change with the blink of an eye, but you have to be ready for that. You can’t waste your time on petty matters and materialistic desires, because when you die none of that matters. I decided I wanted to live a life the way that Kaitlyn lived hers. I want people to have stories about me, and I want someone to miss me as much as I still miss her.

Regrets by O.R.

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We walked into my church and hoards of men and women occupied the seats, talking in hushed tones to the people around them. My dad and I took a seat near the back and waited until Pastor Rick started speaking. Even he struggled to get out what he wanted to say, although he was usually composed when conveying bad news. This news was different though, it was worse. Then he directed us to a video that had just started playing, and there she was.

Two years previously, I met Marly at a youth function at church. My parents were leading the lesson that week, and after the lesson we traditionally had the snack. No group of teenagers could go more than two hours without eating, at least as far as I knew. We sat down to eat, my parents always brought powdered donuts and water, and I noticed Marly’s food rolling around in her mouth, some crumbling out onto the table and her plate. Why was she eating like that? I was disgusted, and it became apparent in my face. We were fifteen, and this girl was chewing with her mouth just gaping open so everyone could see the powdered donuts being crunched and mixed with saliva and then swallowed down. I turned away and grimaced at my mom and dad. They returned my grimace with a distraught look.

After our snack, we went to play hide and seek in the church, a favorite pastime of ours because the church was so large and had so many rooms and hiding spots. Amanda was it, and as she counted to one hundred I went off to hide with Zoe. We snuck into a room that we knew we weren’t allowed in and hid under a table. Once we were settled, I turned to Zoe, confidentially whispering, “Is there something the matter with Marly? Did you notice how she eats?”

I expected for Zoe to also remark on Marly’s strange eating. I thought she’d join in and we’d banter about how disgusting it was until we waited to be found. Instead, Zoe met my eyes with the same distraught look that my parents had given me previously, and at this point I was confused. Zoe looked down at the floor, and then at me and said, “Marly has a brain tumor.”

I felt terrible. I thought back to our snack and knew how disgusted I was with her eating was completely given away by the look on my face. Had Marly noticed? She definitely had. She had limited power to control how her mouth moved and I judged her for it.

Yet my lousy facial expressions and actions didn’t stop there. We went to Impact a few months later, a weekend long event where teenagers from churches go to sing worship songs and do fun activities, and still I could not look at Marly like she was a normal human being. Instead, I acted as if she was an alien, and I completely avoided her. Her talking was garbled, so I disliked talking to her. Her eating was uncontrolled, and it was still difficult for me not to wear the same look of disgust on my face. I didn’t even want to sleep in the same bed as her.

Months passed, and Marly gradually stopped coming to youth. I later found out from Zoe that her condition had gotten worse. As time passed, I forgot about Marly’s once frequent presence around the snack table.

Until the last Sunday in January, when Pastor Rick stood at the podium in front of the church and announced that on the previous Tuesday Marly had passed away. A video memorial was to be held that night, he said into the microphone, his voice quavering. My dad looked at me and told me he’d take me that night.

The video documenting Marly’s last few months of life was made by a team of Penn State researchers who followed children’s lives through and after their time at Hershey Medical Center. This particular video featured interviews from her mom and her dad. Also present in the video was Marly.

Marly’s dad spoke first, explaining the breakdown of her disease. The initial fear, the progression of the disease, and then the acceptance of what were to come. As he spoke, I broke down. Silently sobbing, my actions toward Marly flooded back into memory. Our first encounter, the knowledge of her disease, and then how I continued to avoid her. I made thoughtless, heartless actions, yet nevertheless the actions were made and could never be taken back.

Then Marly was on the screen, completely unrecognizable. Her head was larger and covered by only a peach fuzz of hair, her eyes could barely open, and she was completely incapable of moving. Her mother stroked her hair and disclosed to the camera how she was coping with Marly’s inevitable passing away. When Marly was in incredible pain one day, she looked at her mom in the bathroom and said, “It’s okay mom. I’m ready whenever God’s ready to take me.” Mrs. Watson found comfort in the fact that she knew where Marly was going, and she’d soon see her again.

A few months ago, I was at my first THON committee meeting with my OPP group, and our captain wanted to know why we decided to participate in THON. People started to raise their hands and share their stories; heart-wrenching stories that made the whole committee choke up. I decided not to share mine because although it happened three years ago, I still felt guilty.

My memoir is about a girl who I avoided until it was too late; it involves regret, and chances lost. Now Marly can’t ever forgive me, nor should she. It’s even hard for me to forgive myself. Although the pain is still raw, and it’s hard to view my time with Marly as a learning experience, I have gained more compassion for sick people because of Marly. She taught me not to fear illness, and instead to give my time to those who are ill so that in a small way I can in ease their discomfort and troubles. The exact opposite of what I did for Marly.

Prom (by Troy Todd)

Prom.  Those four letters that get every teenager’s heart racing.  Just imagine: you and your best friend, maybe even your girlfriend going to the fanciest gala of your entire life.  Taking those priceless photos in the backyard with all of your friends dressed to the nines, and your dates in the most beautiful gowns they could find whilst carrying a bouquet of flowers that we bought just for them.  The limousine ride over: the holy grail of suburban transportation; and the anticipation just rising to burst through the doors at the hall and see all of your lifelong friends.   The people, the lights, and the music all just coming together to put the cherry on top of the four years of high school you have grown so fond of and nostalgic over.  The dancing.  The intimacy of a man and a woman moving together to the beat; feeling the innermost connection and sparking lifelong memories.  Yes, this is prom.  Well, for most people that is.  This was my fantasy, my expectation that I held for so many years.  However, I learned very quickly that the universe had other plans for me, and this one spring day changed all of that.  It changed much more than I could have ever planned.

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I kissed her. I kissed her goodbye; it was pretty standard, being another end of another school day. I probably kissed her goodbye after school hundreds of times, and this one seemed no different.  We parted ways, she drove home in her blue Acura, and I drove off in my red ford, only I was not heading home. In only 24 hours I would ask my girlfriend of nearly two and a half years to prom, to what I thought would be the best night of my life.  Instead of my home, I pulled into the flower shop and bought a bouquet of red roses to give her after I pop the question. She loved roses. I headed home bouncing with excitement.  I started gathering the other materials I would need to adequately surprise her, maybe even enchant her.  I was pleased with everything I threw together, and thought it was about time I start my homework.  It was around this moment that I read a text that would change things forever. “Hey, we need to talk.”

So, that’s probably the worst phrase in human history when talking to your significant other. We talked; we talked about how we’d been growing apart the last few months.  I had become a very involved member of the drama club, while she focused on sports and partying, something I scrutinized at the time. “We’ll maybe we have, but I still love you” I reassured her. “No” she said, “this is different.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We had only fought a handful of times in what felt like a lifetime together, but I could tell that something was wrong. I still don’t know today whether it was fate, if the universe was off-balance that day, or if my duties as a boyfriend had simply not been fulfilled, but eventually, my phone rang. It was her, crying. I had never heard her cry. My eyes welled up, and my English paper I was working on soon became soaked with tears as our relationship came to a dreary, depressing end. “I won’t give up, I love you too much to just throw this away” I pleaded. “Well, I feel like we’re just beating a dead horse here.” She sputtered between wails of sadness. “Do you hate me?” She asked. “Of course not, how could I ever hate you.  You’re my everything, no matter what happens I’ll be by your side.  You just watch.”  Soon, we hung up. I looked at the flowers I had bought several hours before and I just lost it.  The thing is, I didn’t feel terribly sad or angry or anything at this point. I was just empty, completely void of feeling; I could barely move. What do I possibly do now? Everything I’d known had just gone out the window; how do I even go about a single day on my own, I simply didn’t know how. I looked again at the flowers, and I had a moment of realization. I couldn’t let this bridge burn down. If I couldn’t go to prom with the girl I love, whether she still loves me or not, why go to prom at all? I went to bed that night cold and alone, but I could feel a small fire burning inside of me.
It was a “B” day at Marple Newtown High School the next day, and that means I had study hall the last period of the day, so I was allowed to leave an hour early. I walked out to the parking lot and put a post-it note on her car. “Come to your house for a nice surprise!” I got into my car and drove only about a mile down to her house. I turned off the car and taking a deep breath I opened my trunk.  Inside were a suit jacket, a ton of chalk, and the roses from the day before. I looked over at her driveway and noticed that her parents must not be home, which made things much easier. Having to see them would just restart the flurry of emotion I experienced the night before. I looked out across the street pavement in front of her house, and planned out how exactly I would write “PROM?” in the most prominent way possible. I knelt down and began writing my masterpiece, but as it so happens, her next door neighbor had been watching me for quite some time now. Shortly after I hit chalk to pavement she asked me “I’ve got to ask you, what exactly are you doing?” I looked up, “Oh, I’m just asking my girlfriend to prom.” And that’s when it truly hit me, the hollow feeling came back, but I wasn’t about to let my guard down. But the sentence I had badly wanted to say for years finally came out, only it wasn’t true. The woman smiled and walked back into her house. It only took about 20 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime in front of her house, the house I spent so much time in my high school years, laughing, loving, and learning so much about myself. I finally finished my presentation writing out “PROM?” with “prom” written in smaller font all around it. It was beautiful, but I had no idea what she’d think, considering the roller coaster of emotions we experienced in the past 12 hours. I sat on the curb as I waited for her to return home, trying to hold back all my emotions and memories of before, but to no avail. I had sat in this same spot with her in months past, looking at the stars, and talking about love and the rest of our lives together. Before I could have a proper flashback, she pulled in to her driveway.

She got out of her car, and looked over at me.  She smiled, but all I could see was sadness in her eyes.  I looked at her; with my hands shaking uncontrollably all I could muster was a meek “Hi, Christina.” She ran over to me and gave me a hug.  This hug was something unlike I had ever felt before.  I hadn’t seen her in probably 24 hours, but it felt like long-lost friends reuniting after several years.  It was a short, but we held each other tight; filling up the hollowness within me.  We released.  She looked over at the road in front of her house with my bold proposal written all over it.  After a few moments she looked up and said “Yes” with a trembling lip and holding back tears.  I was absolutely delighted.  She could have easily said no, but she chose to be courted to senior prom by her newly acquired “best friend.” We sat on the curb shortly after that, and spoke about all of the changes that have already happened.  There was no usual visiting her at her locker.  There was no more sitting together at lunch.  There was no poking my head into her econ class just to embarrass her.  “All of my friends kept on asking me if I was okay, and I wasn’t really sure what to say” she said.  We sat there and reflected on the night before.  “In the middle of the night, I woke up crying, and I regretted everything.  I wanted to take it all back.” I took this in. “No, maybe, this will all be for the better.  You were right, things have changed, and I’ll always love you, but right now, we need to heal.” A tear rolled down her face.  I had never seen her cry before.  I had been dating her longer than I had known so many of my friends, and this was the first time she became that emotional right in front of me.  I put my arm around her.  “If we’re meant to be together, we’ll come back for each other, and we’ll be happy again.” “You’re right,” she said “we’ll just have to see what happens.” I wanted to tell her that this didn’t have to be the end.  If I could just convince her to not leave me, she wouldn’t, and we would go back to normal; perhaps stronger than before.  For some reason, I didn’t.  I let her go because something deep inside me told me that this had to happen.  We silently sat there and held each other for about fifteen minutes.  The last time I would ever hold her.  She eventually got up and told me she needed to go inside and get ready to start dinner.  I told her it was okay.  She picked up the flowers I got her, and told me “You done good kid,” and walked into her house.  I stood on her sidewalk silently tearing up for a couple minutes before finally driving away.

In the months after that day we grew apart.  We grew apart disturbingly quickly.  I became depressed, and bruised myself regularly for feeling so guilty that I didn’t do more to keep things happy between us.  We ended up going to prom together; however by this point she was already interested in another guy, one of my best friends, which ultimately ruined any chances of either us getting back together or me respecting her as a person at all.  We ended up going to senior week together where we stayed in the same house while she hooked up with my good friend Steve, which was the cause of the first time I had ever yelled at a girl.  She’s scared of me now, and it’s been about ten months now since I saw her last, and we could not be on worse terms.

Considering this, many would think this was a story of woe and tragedy, but on the contrary, this opened up a whole new world to me.

When one door closes, several new doors open.  I found myself lost, not knowing what to do, but quickly I found that this was not at all the end of the world.  I built a new relationship around my family that was nearly nonexistent before.  I starting hanging out with my brother at least some everyday, and spent so much more time with my parents whose bridges I rapidly rebuilt between us.  We went to movies and dinners together, and were able to talk about my future together in ways I never really felt comfortable talking about before.  Most importantly of all, I was able to solidify my participation with my new beautiful friend group.  Joining theater in the end of my high school career earned me a group of friends so exquisite that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and the separation between me and ex-girlfriend could not have helped more in getting me closer to these people I consider my second family.  Also, by experiencing the sadness that haunted me for quite a while, I was able to realize the true value in happiness.  I learned that I could be happy on my own, and that it is truly up to me to conjure my own happiness.  I spent the rest of the summer into my fall semester at Penn State doing whatever it took to get a smile on my face, which became easier and easier as time went on.  I was free, and I was able to really rediscover who I am.  I listened to more music, and I wrote more poetry.  In the end, it isn’t about how a person becomes enchanted, whether it be a relationship, a trip to the prom, or a summer of countless memories with friends; as long as the feeling is attained, the effort was worth it.  As for us, we’ll always have the curb.