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December Haze

One minute I was absentmindedly hauling my recycling to the curb, proud of my eco-friendly self for remembering to do it this week. The next I was pacing my driveway, racking my brain, and crying because I can’t remember my last Christmas with my dad. Did we stay home or visit our Texas relatives? What terrible present did I give him–because he always and only asked for terrible presents like weed eater spool? Did we leave him/Santa the traditional cookies and beer? Santa always loved a good Guinness ’round our neck of the woods.

But…nothing. No memory whatsoever. And it’s taken me over a decade to realize and grieve this.

These moments come out nowhere in the emotional minefield that is December. I thought I was largely immune to them by now and could navigate the month smoothly enough with a haze of busyness, a thin veneer of pep, and copious amounts of egg nog. But sadness has a way of seeping out of the cracks of a brief unguarded silence.

I share the following old blog post of mine most holiday seasons in hopes it finds its way to someone who could use it, someone who feels that this is anything but the most wonderful time of the year. I understand and will be here with egg nog in hand if you need a friend.

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The Ghosts of Christmas Past

2013: My grandmother died on Christmas Eve. Within hours, I came down with an unidentified plague and infected multiple family members, rendering them unable to attend her funeral. My stocking that year was filled with heaping guilt along with the requisite apple, walnuts, and one dollar bill.

2014: The boy who was occupying all of my emotional real estate thought it was a good idea to tell me that it was Very Much Not Happening Between Us. Six days before Christmas. At a deathly quiet coffee shop where all the patrons could overhear the shattering of my heart that’s rumored to be Grinch-sized.

2015: My family abandoned me for a South American cruise that I was not invited to go on. It’s important to note the complete lack of bitterness in that statement. Yes siree. While they were sunning themselves and drinking fruity concoctions whipped up by Cabana Boy, I was risking my life driving through Winter Storm Goliath for the promise of cheesecake with a sort-of-ex and his new girlfriend and thinking there’s no more fittingly bizarre way for me to shuffle off this mortal coil. Sugar and social anxiety. My specialities.

2016: The plague came back. Pretty sure my communion wine for Christmas services was actually codeine-laced Gatorade. I then improved my situation immeasurably by jumping into three ice cold pools on New Year’s Day like the Rhodes Scholar I am and spending the remainder of this “fresh new start” sprawled on my floor feverishly praying for the Lord’s return. Tarry no longer, O Gracious Father.

2017: YOU OWE ME BIG TIME. Like, giant-red-bow-on-a-Lexus-in-my-driveway/a-non-fictional-Jim-Halpert-realizes-his-eternal-love-for-me-and-proposes-by-sneaking-a-ring-into-my-vat-of-shells-and-cheese/Trump-gets-impeached-and-replaced-by-Lin-Manuel-Miranda BIG TIME. Despite all historical evidence to the contrary, a gal can still hope for a Festivus miracle!

 

Jury Duty Diary

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And just like that, my jury service is over. No one wanted me for their dodgeball team. Actually, it’s more like they didn’t even invite me to the try-outs and sent me to the basement with the Audiovisual Club instead.

Pros:

No accidentally saying, “All rise” when the judge walks in out of sheer habit.

No getting bounced out on my ear and told “And STAY out!” after saying I’m a bailiff in another county. No chance to say it, even.

Cons:

No getting sequestered at the Mayo hotel and living on their rooftop bar with a government-funded Long Island Iced Tea for a nightcap.

No Starbucks selfies with Al Sharpton. (One of my fellow jurors said, “Who?” when I told her that he would be in town. Remember that, should you ever find yourself on the wrong side of Johnny Law and want your case tried before a jury of your peers. Your peers are kinda dumb.)

But to balance out those big fat bummers…no death threats, glory be! That was my biggest fear should I have been called for the Shelby trial.

Instead, I got called for a child abuse case wherein the insanity defense is claimed. We were directly across the hall from the Shelby trial, so, y’know, close enough for any ricocheting bullets to do some damage.

I really liked the judge, former Tulsa mayor Bill LaFortune, especially after Wikipedia kindly informed me that he’s current Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum’s uncle. This may have led to a bit of fangirling that I can neither confirm nor deny.

The judge added nice moments of levity throughout voir dire, like when the defense attorney asked a juror, in an attempt to discern any bias toward people in positions of power, whether the juror thinks that a judge is automatically more credible than your average defense attorney.

“ABSOLUTELY!” Judge LaFortune piped up. I love it. And hope his court reporter doesn’t blot it from the record.

I’ll miss giving you fine folks the Facebook play-by-play of the excruciating yet comical minutiae that is jury duty. If you want to hear the comical minutiae of my regular (ha!) job, we’d best discuss it over a chai latte. With any luck, the good Rev. Sharpton will photobomb our selfie.

It wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. last night that I finally decided to run the Lake McMurtry 25k trail race today and face the infamous LEAP O’ DOOM. (Spoiler alert: I lived to tell the tale!)

 

My life is currently a swirling vortex of chaos with Very Boring Adult Responsibilities beckoning at every turn and a WWF SmackDown on the horizon with the IRS.

Here are the two main reasons I’m so glad I chucked the responsibilities right out the window and told them I don’t wanna see their ugly mugs no more.

(1) I got to watch my friend Chrissy win first overall female in the 50k! Might I add, this came at the conclusion of her racing well over two hundred miles total in four consecutive weekends. She is an overcomer in every possible sense of the word and oozes joy out of her pores when most of the rest of us are just gushing sweat. You can’t be around her long without noticing that she is always quick to give credit to God and share the spiritual lessons He is teaching her during her many, many, MANY miles. I couldn’t be prouder of this amazing beast of a woman!

 

 

(2) In the last week, I’ve developed an utter fixation and fascination with the Barkley Marathons. If that doesn’t ring a bell with you, it’s regarded as one of the toughest races in the world (100+ miles of unmarked terrain, no aid stations, and elevation equal to climbing Mt. Everest twice) with a paltry 15 finishers in its three-decade history. Not only is it crazy hard, but it’s chock full of crazypants quirks, like an uber-secretive admission process, an unknown start time (you get a one-hour warning via conch shell), a requirement to bring a license plate from your home state and Camel cigarettes (which the race founder lights to signal the race’s beginning), and rules about finding books hidden along the trail and tearing out the page that corresponds with your bib number. What glorious madness.

Well, today I got to meet Lynn, a two-time Barkley runner! What are the odds?! Not good, I’ll tell ya, since there are only 40 participants per year. We had a long, lovely chat as I held him hostage and grilled him about the inside scoop from this bizarre little subculture. He even offered to let me in on the elusive process of how I could go about trying to get accepted to Barkley, which is the most hilarious thing ever. I can hardly find my way home from my back yard much less navigate over 100 miles with nothing but a compass, a map, and a prayer. BUT Barkley does accept one “sacrificial lamb” every year who has no right to be there and zero shot of finishing. 100% chance of failure? Shoot, I WAS BORN FOR THIS! Let me at my destiny!

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I can’t tell you how much it thrills my weary soul to cheer my friends on, make new friends, and learn the stories of my fellow runners’ personal triumphs and inspiring perseverance. It’s worth every 5:00 a.m. Saturday wake-up, every Black Toenail of Doom (current tally: seven), and yes, I daresay, the total pummeling I’ll shortly be receiving in that IRS SmackDown.

Thomas Wolfe was wrong.

 

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It’s a strange feeling to ring the doorbell of the house you feel is your own, though you last set foot in it during the Bush presidency. Stranger still to ask permission to take something even the toughest prosecutor in town wouldn’t bust you for stealing.

Word spread to me that the latest owners of the house I grew up in were chopping down the beautiful, sprawling oak tree in the front yard. The best climbing tree that the world has ever seen, with limbs forming a perfect makeshift spiral staircase. The tree I spent untold lazy hours in, playing with my friends and hiding from my parents and the silly but larger-than-life cares of an Overly Sensitive Introvert Kid. The tree gave shade, sanctuary, and solace. Nothing else could touch me when I settled into the branches’ firm embrace. Except the occasional vile insect that sent me scrambling to the ground in hopes I didn’t break my neck on the long journey downward.

The lady of the house greeted me with a curious but amicable, “Can I help you?” I told her my name and that I lived in that house from birth until after college. I told her I was hoping to take some pictures and a few remains–ugh, so morbid–of the tree. I resisted the urge to tell her she had just destroyed my childhood via a few strokes of the chainsaw.

I wanted to hate her. Really, I did. I wanted her to be like Margo of Todd and Margo from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But she was kind and accommodating, even apologetic about the fate of the tree. We talked about the house we had in common, which room had been my bedroom, and the few neighbors we both knew.

It warmed my heart that one neighbor from my era had taken parts of the tree to transform into wooden bowls, she said. Someone else was doing something else charitable with various bits and pieces–by this point, my head was swirling with nostalgia and unable to hold onto her words. Facebook had caught wind of the goings-on; my brother, our childhood friends, and past and present residents of South Lakewood Avenue took a momentary respite from cat memes to relish the good ol’ days gone by. Though we’re scattered throughout the land now, the tree brought us all together one last time.

I loaded up the back of my car with a few remnants of once-towering majesty and drove off, casting a childlike farewell behind me. “Goodbye, sweet tree. I love you.”

They say you can’t go home again. But sometimes, to preserve the very memories of home, you have to.

Then and Now

To appease the Facebook gods and for personal catharsis, here we go. Senior year, 1998, and one of my favorite running pictures from 2015. Because inner transformations are more interesting than those on the outside, I offer you the following backstory.

My Dad took the 1998 picture and a whole series of makeshift senior photos for me since I refused to have professional ones taken. Smiling for a stranger shoving a camera in front of my face for an hour was sooooooo not an option, as it would’ve sent me into an anxiety-induced meltdown and resulted in more Terrible Angsty Poetry in my journal.

I struggled greatly with anxiety throughout high school and college without understanding there could be more going on than my need to “Stop worrying so much.” I finally got help for it my last year of college in the form of a very nice doctor and some even nicer pink pills.

Sixteen years after getting help, I still have anxiety triggers that I either avoid or power through, but I’d say there’s about seven of them rather than an army of seventy billion lurking around every corner ready to gobble me up. It’s difficult to explain the gradual changes that took place resulting in my no longer needing those pink pills and my existing as a reasonably functional–you’re free to disagree–member of society today. 😛 But I can say with certainty that there’s nothing that has done more to increase my confidence and happiness while simultaneously stripping away my fears than running. The confidence has spilled into other areas of my life and made me take risks I never would have taken otherwise.

It was terrifying at first, to be sure. People will see me! Worse, they’ll see me jiggling and sweating buttersticks and panting like I’m in labor and flapping my arms like a chicken! They will laugh and point and throw a putrid assortment of produce my way!

Ah, well. I finally had to come to my “Screw it” moment when the weight of not trying was more oppressive than the potential sweat-soaked embarrassment. Let them see. Let them see me trying something that terrifies me and overcoming the screeching sirens of panic going off in my head. Let them see me stick with this source of dread and woe until one logic-defying day, I discover that the loathing has metamorphosed into love and that only by pushing through the fear was I able to find the very thing that would free me.

Unspoken

Several people I know are facing their first holiday season after the loss of a loved one, wading through a mess of emotions and trying to deal with the expectations placed on them by others and by themselves. As someone just a few years further down the path than they are, I feel such compassion and a responsibility to come alongside them in their sorrow and with a dose of encouragement. I dedicate this piece not only to the man described herein but also to all those whose hearts are heavy this time of year.

***

II Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

***

Before he sauntered in for his 10:30 appointment, I checked his chart to make sure that my memory was correct, my barely legible scrawl confirming,”7-29-08: Patient’s wife passed away earlier this month.” Of their life together, I knew only that they enjoyed leisurely neighborhood walks with their dog, whose eye problems necessitated the wearing of sunglasses. Based solely on that image, I could envision the rest of their story unfolding in Sunday morning banana pancakes, Scrabble quarrels that ended with a warm squeeze of the hand, a quiet love that outlived the naysaying skeptics.

As he unbundled from the wintry chill and asked about my Thanksgiving, I told him of my family’s visit, of my being relieved from baking responsibilities due to the already gluttonous overabundance of food.

“Did you do any traveling?” I asked, hand selecting each word, careful to avoid such stupidity as asking whether he had a good Thanksgiving. I wanted to tell him that I know it wasn’t good, and I’m sorry. That the first holiday season after is something to be survived, gutted out, not enjoyed. That it’s okay to want to shove a twelve pound fruitcake down the throats of all the Fa La La La La-ers to drown out their cheer. Or to long for cryogenic freezing from mid-November til the second of January.

I wanted him to unburden himself of every expectation he has — of how he should feel, of the traditions he should partake in, of the solace he should find in the lesser blessings of life, of the joy that should bubble up in doing unto the least of these. Lay all those things down. You can pick them up later, dust them off and piece together a new place of belonging for them. But for now, for right now, the shoulds can rest on someone else’s shoulders.

I wanted him to know that coming years will bring pain less raw but with a certain dull persistence best handled with whatever emotional anesthesia he prefers — a marathon of M*A*S*H episodes, poker night at a buddy’s house. He may enter into the holiday rituals again but move through them numbly with his heart in absentia — because she was the entirety of his heart.

But someday, according to a calendar of his own devising, my hope is that he’ll be picking up a bulk package of Purina at Wal-Mart and find himself absentmindedly humming carols against a backdrop of jangling Salvation Army bells. Or burning his tongue on Swiss Miss and laughing at how she always cautioned him, “You idiot, you’re gonna scald yourself!” Or simultaneously smiling and pretending not to tear up at Linus’ tender recitation of the Christmas story. He’ll be completely caught off guard, wrestling against these snatches of joy as he wonders whether it’s right to feel anything again but stone-hearted sorrow. And he’ll picture a warm squeeze of the hand coming from the other side of the solitary couch, telling him that yes, it’s okay.

But instead…

Instead of telling him all these things, I listened to his tale of a Delta Cafe Thanksgiving meal, remembering our own cafeteria turkey dinner the first Thanksgiving after, and I said, “Their sweet potato casserole sure is good.”