You were 16 when you died. A single day older than I was. I suppose I caught up to you in the dizzy mayhem your death left behind and in the 15 years that have passed since.
Your death colored my entire existence. You jumped, all those years ago, without me. Newspapers the next day, unaware of your adolescence, declared you a man, saying you’d jumped, headfirst it seemed, after trying to drive your 1987 Honda Civic off that overpass.
I fucking hate Honda Civics. Still.
It didn’t stop me, at your funeral, from picking up bits of that car from the street. We were a hoard of teenagers, crossing that street, draped in black, pierced and broken, bits of neon sparkling from our wrists, ears and fingernails.
What I remember most about finding out about you is the floor tile I stared at, trying – at 16 – to comprehend what you had done. It’s the tissue box they sent me home with, the kind I still see at hospitals and on tv, the kind that still feels like some fucked up security blanket I clung to in the aftermath of your death. I remember tiny details about that night, the way the carpet felt on my legs in my room when I collapsed in tears, the hug the girls wrapped me up in later when “Jumper” came on mid-cleaning frenzy. I remember the weather at your funeral. The way your jacket smelled.
There’s a burden to being the last person to see you alive. I know you didn’t mean it. I know you’d take it back if you could. But I’ve tattooed your memory on my back, and you have to know that I carry you with me always, that what happened to you has shaped me.
I can’t stop the blame. I’ve tried for 15 years to let it go, for almost half my life, I’ve tried. I remember you, that afternoon, literal minutes before your death, asking if I wanted a ride the next morning and I said no, more than once, that I’d take the bus. I remember that last cigarette, bummed from my ex-boyfriend’s older brother as we walked to your car and still, I kick myself for having smoked too much of it.
I know you’d made up your mind. I know that. But I can’t help but drag myself though the what ifs, can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I’d said yes to that ride, if you’d smoked more of that cigarette, if we’d made plans to get together next week, next month, next whatever. I wonder if it would have kept you here, among the living.
Maybe it was an inevitable eventuality, your death. Maybe I could have stopped it, could have helped save you. I don’t know. I’ll never know.
I just miss you, 15 years later and all. I still miss you.
Midnight. Jan. 1. Richmond, Virginia.
There’s a hobo fire. We’re all around it when the clock hits midnight, when 2014 rolls itself out in Virginia. I’m solo this year, watching the other couples kiss, returning a squeeze around the waist received from a friend. She knows I don’t know where my husband is, don’t know what he’s doing, who he’s with. Knows that the only thing I know is that he’s not where he said he’d be. There’s a magnified silence in my brain – there’s so much to say in that minute, that first, fresh minute of the new year but no good place to start. I grasp at words – different, okay, change, go, leave – but they’re incoherent and out of step and so I just stop, smile, lie.
I’m ok. I’m good. Really.
Dinner. Feb. 14. Holbrook, Arizona.
It’s our third night on the road and we’ve already made it Arizona. We’re spending the night in a concrete wigwam, me and her and the dog, a Route 66 holdover, perfectly kitschy despite the showerhead that’s positioned at nose level. We try the diner up the street, but it’s closed, so we cross the street and head to a Mexican place, realizing we wanted tacos anyway. Maybe it’s the altitude, the beers or a cross-country road trip-induced madness, but we can’t stop giggling. The man at a table across from us – to be played by Willie Nelson in the movie about our trip – engages us intermittently, stands to leave, tells us to go to Winslow, that there’s a park where you can stand on the corner. We’re polite – smile, nod – he repeats himself, says it’s only about 25 miles up the road and in the direction we’re heading and then I burst into song, belting out The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” in a tiny Mexican restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona, giving absolutely zero fucks.
We download the song on the two-minute ride back to our wigwam, singing it loudly and probably off-key and it’s the happiest I remember feeling in months. Back in our wigwam, I stick the iPhone in the sink to amplify the song, and we sign it over and over again. We turn off the lights, turn the music off, but still, we spend our bedtime hours throwing lyrics back and forth across the room at each other.
We may lose and we may win, though we will never be here again
Morning. March 16. Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Mile 9 of the 13.1 I intend to run. I caught up to the 1:52 pacers and I’ve been with them for miles now. I’m tired. This is fast, faster than I intended on running, faster than I knew I could run, and there’s this screaming bit inside of me that just wants to slow the fuck down and enjoy the view, but I can’t. I just fucking can’t. I’m a week into 30 and three weeks into knowing a truth I fought for nearly a year to deny and at mile 9 I’m fueled almost entirely by the darkest, most angry parts of myself, the scariest bits, the violent bits. It’s hate that moves me forward, past the pacers at mile 10, as fast and as hard as I can manage. For once, I let it go, let the anger take over every part of me, let the violence overcome me and I push, hard, against the constraints of my body, all the way to the end. To 13.1.
Morning. April 18. Occoneechee State Park, Virginia.
I have to pee. But it’s cozy in the tent and I don’t feel like moving. I’m at a campsite two hours from home, alone, cell service is nonexistent and I’ve managed, for a few hours, to escape everything. It rained all fucking night but it doesn’t matter. I’m dry. The tent – that I set up myself – kept me that way. The fire I built – the first fire I’ve ever built alone – kept me warm late into the night as I read The Mists of Avalon and lit marshmallows on fire. This is a success, this solo camping endeavor. I settled into the silence, leaned back into the comfort of solitude and I’m fine.
It’s the last time I wear my wedding ring. It’s the end of it. I wear it as a precautionary measure, so I can say that my husband is on his way should I find myself afraid, as if the invocation of a man will save me from whatever trouble causes me to invoke his nonexistence.
Late Night. May 17. Richmond, Virginia.
I’m a mess. I want to stop. I don’t want to play anymore, I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to breath, I don’t want to do any of it. Fuck this life, fuck 30, fuck him, fuck me, fuck the whole fucking world. This is what the bottom feels like, crushed against my dining room wall, drunk of all the beers in my fridge, the rest of that bottle of bourbon, plus the remnants of some rum leftover from last year’s Halloween party. I’ve got my iPhone clutched in my hand, playing the saddest songs I can find on repeat, alternating between screaming the lyrics and singing them, throwing in some sobs here and there for effect. This is the bottom, kids. This is what it looks like when you reach the end of the rope, when you’re subsisting on booze, hate and heartbreak, the occasional pound of cheese, eaten out of spite more than hunger.
And here’s the scary thing about reaching the bottom: You’ve got a choice. Up or out.
10am. June 7. Nearing Charlottesville, Virginia.
My feet are kicked out in front of me and I’m comfortable in the back of a helicopter. There’s those mountains, my mountains, the mountains I was born in and I can’t help but smile when I see them. I feel good, but it’s been a busy week. A concert with Megan, the Head and the Heart, on her last night in Richmond. We sat in my car until past midnight, pouring ourselves out for one another, eating cheddar popcorn and me smoking cigarettes with the windows down. I went out with a man I’m wildly and terrifyingly attracted to. We wandered around a park, saved a toad from a walkway, brushed our hands across carvings left by lovers. And then there’s work. The 70th Anniversary of D-Day and today, an exercise with civilian partners, helicopters and me in the back, catching a ride to and from Charlottesville. Things feel different. Maybe it’s the time with Megan, a man’s attention, sleepless nights or a work schedule that won’t give me time to breathe, but I suddenly don’t feel like crying anymore.
It’s enough to sit and just be.
Noon. July 12. Richmond, Virginia.
I’m getting ready in his downstairs bathroom, door open, yelling obscenities at the other groomsmen and him – the groom – stopping in between curling chucks of my hair to take pictures of them posing with weaponry, buttoning shirts, pulling on socks, helping each other tie ties. There’s donuts and pizza and I declare, hair half-curled, that being a groomsman – or a groomslady in my case – is the best role I’ve ever played in a wedding. Fuck being a bride. Food, booze and guns is the groomsman’s game.
2pm. Aug. 11. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Sometimes you just have to put yourself inside the mouth of a dinosaur. There’s no good reason not to, really. I’m in Tulsa, for work. There’s a zoo, which I visit since I’ve got time and really, when alone at a zoo, you can do whatever you want. I spend 25 minutes next to the bears, scowling at children who bang on the glass, imagining Harry Potter skills that put those bears on this side of the glass, gobbling up snot-nosed, over-sized brats in Dora shirts, maybe growling under my breath, being that batshit single lady at the zoo and reveling in every minute of it. I curse at some penguins, catch a bit of the seal show, stick my head inside the mouth of a dinosaur, hide from some geese, eat some fries and ride a camel named Ella.
Late night. Sept. 19. Napa Valley-ish, California.
I couldn’t nap and that first leg was all uphill, but fuck it. Here I am on the second leg, a nearly 9-miler, fully immersed in a Ragnar-induced sort of crazy. Six girls in one van, nonstop togetherness and we’ve laughed so hard I can feel my abs ache with every footfall. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to drag myself to the exchange, but when the van rolls by, the girls screaming my name, I’m hauling ass down the multi-mile downhill that starts this leg and I feel like I’m being carried by magic. This is insane, I think. This is perfect.
I promise you, there’s nothing like finding yourself and some sort of god on the left shoulder of a road in Somewhere, California, hungry, tired and aching, with miles to run and drive and go until you get a shower or a bed.
Dinner. Oct. 7. Richmond, Virginia.
He doesn’t even like eating breakfast for dinner but poaching eggs is on my list so we’re making Eggs Benedict for dinner. He’s determined to help me cross things off, determined to make a memory out of each and every mark I make to the list. I poach the eggs while he hand whips the hollandaise and the feel of him beside me in the kitchen is almost more than I can handle – he’s like a dream, this guy, too perfect to be real, and if I could craft a man for me, it’d be exactly him. I’m stove-bound, poking at swirling eggs, and he’s across the kitchen, engrossed in hollandaise creation but I can’t stop looking at him, at those eyelashes, his concentration, the smile he’s got, the lines of him.
I wanted to be endlessly bitter. That was the plan. Then this guy shows up, this guy who coaxes me to egg poaching, who helps me make tortillas, endures the dog fur and the cat hisses. He’s ruined everything – my whole plan – this man who falls asleep with my hand in his.
Early morning. Nov. 10. Fort Meade, Maryland.
I’m in charge, which is fine. I’m figuring it out, learning as I go. We’ve got more than 3 miles to go until we can all stop walking. Nothing like a pre-dawn walk with a pack on your back to start off the day. I’m checking in with everyone, walking up and down, back and forth, driving them all crazy, I’m sure, asking if they’re ok, asking if they talked to their kids last night, how the wives and husbands are doing in their absence, asking if they finished the assignments due today. I’m in full Army mode at this point. I didn’t know if I’d be ready for this. It feels like a mask most of the time, the Army part of me, but when I get into it, when I’m here, leading a group of my peers on a five mile road march, it’s one of the safest, most comfortable places I’ve ever been.
I’m ready, I think later, post-ruck shower. It’s time.
Evening. Dec. 16. Richmond, Virginia.
I’ve told him over and over how much I hate Christmas, how I spent the last two, how much they hurt, how lonely they were, but he’s determined. Relentless, really. He wanted this year to be different, so we’re Christmas tree shopping. He keeps picking up trees, shaking them out, holding them out for my approval asking what sort of tree I prefer, and I don’t even know, can’t even really form thoughts because he’s amazing and gorgeous and brilliant and his sole focus right now is making me happy, giving me a different sort of Christmas memory that doesn’t involve crying alone on the couch, and it’s working. I can’t avoid getting caught up in it all with him, can’t avoid being happy when I’m next to him, can’t stop myself from falling for him a little more each and every minute I spend with him.
In the middle, I wanted to burn 2014 to the ground, bury myself in some self-constructed grave and ignore the whole damn thing. Fuck life, I thought, more than I’d like to admit. But it got better, it got way better.
So cheers to 2015, to whatever it brings, good and bad and in between. To love, to loss, to more miles ran, more photos taken, more words written and more books read.
May was the one with ALL THE THINGS. It was going places and doing things and running races and, really, ALL THE THINGS.
The best of May was running two 5ks over the course of a single Saturday. It was watching a friend set a personal record, running with friends, and completing a course I once couldn’t. It was morning runs and night runs and thinking about my next running goals.
The best was cats, like it always is, and dogs who love to snuggle. It was more days with the windows open, it was singing in the shower, in the car and on the treadmill. It was rediscovering my balcony & finding time to write. It was birthdays and bonfires. It was laughing so hard I almost cried.
The best was eating all the tacos and then all the nachos. It was cold beers, and whiskey drinks and wanting to be outside. It was blue suede heels, Bloggers in Sin City, and Vegas.
It was staring contests and frozen hot chocolate, bloody marys, breakfast and brunch. The best was happy hours and open bars and being a VIP. The best was the first hugs, the weekend stretched out before us. It was naps and pool time and nachos. It was blueberry vodka drinks, whiskey, wearing dresses, talking Army, and slumber parties. It was going out with my favorite people, looking our best. It was blogger run club and day sequins, becoming Snow White, and being my best self. It was dancing and cupcakes and talking about politics and religion. It was saying goodbye, knowing that it wasn’t the real end.
The best of May was feeling so incredibly loved, throwing myself into being me and deciding to make changes. It was planning for bigger things, and encouraging house guests. It was my 10 year Army anniversary.
It was going to Alabama to spend Memorial Day weekend with Andrew at the beach. It was hamburger and peanut butter pie and sunburn. It was tough runs and sunshine, sharing a bed and making use of the mini bar. It was Parks & Rec, and Arrested Development, and planning for the next part. It was white sand and outlet malls, food trucks and getting day drunk.
The best was bird friends, while they were around, sunsets and everything in bloom. It was finally doing house things after putting them off for way too long, and spending the last nights of May in comfort. It was the Greek festival, and rain storms, and so many friends. It was lazy cats, gyros, tomato plants and cats who don’t understand hiding.
With April done that means we’re a third of the way done with this already-crazy year. April is always a tough month for me, but it had its bright spots. It was busy, like this whole year has been, but I managed to stumble upon a day or two in which absolutely nothing was scheduled. There are never enough of those lazy days, and I love them, even if I always manage to fill them up by checking things off my outstanding list of shit that needs to be done yesterday.
The best was destructo-kitties, who I love even though they’re the reason we can’t have nice things. The best was the first Bell’s Oberon of the year and afternoons with the windows wide open. It was turning off the heat and turning on the ceiling fans. The best was late afternoon naps with the dogs and cats snuggled close and trees bursting into bloom.
The best was new goodnight rituals with Andrew and developing a serious smoothie habit after having a wisdom tooth removed. It was cats in laundry baskets who refused to move, no matter how much folding took place around her. It was discovering new favorite recipes, like smoked tofu fried rice, and eating lots of tacos. It was going to the range, a handful of times, and firing a handgun for the first time as an adult.
The best was the Monument Avenue 10k and Color Me Rad and the Hardywood Twilight 4 Miler. It was my first personalized bib and watching friends set personal distance records. It was day drinking and craft fairs and color explosions and falling in love with my city all over again.
It was the triumphant return of raccoon cat and all the cats, really. It was summer food, cooked on a grill, and time spent with my favorite friends. It was immersing myself in good books and spending front porch time, with wine, reading them. It was getting back into the habit of taking care of the yard and actually taking pride in a freshly mowed and edged yard.
It was going to Alabama and enjoying the drive from Atlanta to Enterprise. It was watching Andrew make his map book, complete with mustache duct tape, and the absolute best was feeling like I was part of the process, even if for only a little bit. It was watching him create tears over spicy chicken wings and drinking late-night whiskey and sitting around a fire and fancy dinner out with friends. It was finally getting him hooked on Parks & Rec and getting to watch Game of Thrones together, snuggled on the couch. It was smoothies gone wrong, and waking up next to my person.
It was sleepy dogs, dining table spreads and celebrating birthdays with cheese. It was party hats and cat naps and meeting new lady friends. It was car singing and treadmill singing and shower singing. The best was closing out the month feeling lucky.
Sometimes I don’t know where months disappear to, but March didn’t disappear. It was all MOMENTOUS OCCASIONS and shit. It was busy, busy, busy, with more weekends spent away sleeping in strange places than weekends spent in my own house. It was quick, to be sure, and I’m not a little surprised to find April already here and in bloom, but March was FULL most of all, in the best and most exhausting sort of way.
The best of March was the time I spent with my lady friends. They helped me through my first half marathon, my 29th birthday, my first mud run of the year, through a few plates of nachos, some poutine with pimento cheese on top and a couple orders of chicken wings, some beers and maybe a bottle or two of wine. With Andrew away for so long, I keep counting myself lucky to have a handful of truly incredible women in my life who can make me laugh & who are always there to support me, no matter what crazy shit I’ve gotten myself into.
The best of March was getting to visit Andrew & Alabama the weekend before my birthday. It was cheese plates & ravioli stuffed with butternut squash & a scary Alabama bar filled with aviators. The best was lazy afternoons and being able to wake up next to him, like I wish we always could. The best was birthday gifts and date night and putting on some walking music.
The best was turning 29 with nachos, ladyfriends, chicken wings, frozen yogurt & some of my favorite beers. It was my longest runs, and my first half marathon. It was a weekend in DC with some of my favorite people, including a whole fistful of Bloggers in Sin City alums. It was brunch & beers & sing-a-longs & cat attacks & snort laughs.
It was my first mud run of the year. The best was all the burpees, no matter how much I complain and hate them in the moment. The best was good beers and post-race chicken wings and documenting my race wounds. It was all the mud that fell from my pants post-run and finally getting warm again after freezing in mud and water for a handful of hours.
The best part of March was heading back to Alabama, one more time, to close out the month. It was seeing Andrew, jumping in the car and heading even further south, to Florida, to spend two days at the beach, soaking in the sun, even if it wasn’t quite warm enough to sun-sit. It was finding a good beer selection, giggling over excessive diner coffee prices and reading Storm of Swords side-by-side on the beach.
The best was going exploring and keeping our eyes open for alligators. It was a hotel room picnic of wine and cheese and meat and jalapeno bread. It was watching the season three premier of Game of Thrones together on the couch, and, better yet, it was ending March cuddled close.