In the check-out line at the grocery store yesterday a teenage girl with long black hair decorated with lemon-lime green barretes and skull and crossbones studs in her ears rang up my order. There was a pin pinned on to her work vest above her name tag that read: “Zombies ate my brain.” I did not expect there would be any awkward or forced small talk with her until she broke a solid sixty-seconds of silence with a question: have any plans for Father’s Day? She asked as she dragged a bag of small red apples over the scanner. I looked at her in surprise. I wasn’t prepared for this. “No, I do not have any plans. I don’t celebrate Father’s Day” I answered with as little emotion as possible, as if reading the words off of a flashcard in the distance. The girl looked at me with a confused, put-off expression and simply replied “oh.”
I don’t celebrate Father’s Day. Did I really just say that? I asked myself after the words had already slipped from my lips. I was humiliated for two reasons: I knew my answer sounded bitter and also — I’m 25 years old and still have a hard time knowing what to say, or what is socially the most easy and acceptable when it comes to addressing the topic of dads.
If I could have publicly reprimanded myself for spitting out such a debased and unintentionally terse response, I would have. But that might have only made matters worse with the young girl wearing barrettes and black eye make-up who was likely already terrified of me. I fished around my purse for my phone as fast as I could for the distraction and deviation from the topic. “Oh good, I remembered to get paper towels…” I said out loud as I pretended to scroll through the “grocery list” on my phone. The girl read me my total as I swiped my card and swiftly punched in my pin so I could haul my butt out of there and go home.
“Definitely don’t want to forget paper towels…” she said as she handed me my receipt and half-smiled. I faked a chuckle and pushed my metal cart with my loot out of the store.
The anniversary of the day my dad died is tomorrow, the day after Father’s Day. The actual day of his death was the Saturday before Father’s Day two decades ago, ironically enough. This fact can sometimes feel like a cruel, sick joke, only making the sting of the loss feel that much more painful and undeserved. And also making the observance of Father’s Day not something I particularly enjoy. Or like to be reminded of. But a part of the human experience is learning how to handle the nonsensical and sardonic blows of love and loss and being brave enough to let the wounds they leave behind bleed and breathe and with time, heal. Bravery is necessary I think because to feel the fullness of the grief and the heart-ache that follows such a loss requires a brand of courage not commonly tapped into in our day-to-day lives. It requires the courage to feel our emotions without judging ourselves as crazy, and the courage to cry and talk about real feelings in a culture that begs us instead to suppress, self-medicate, or project our pain onto something or someone else.
I have not found this courage. Not entirely. I still feel crazy and chronically defective when the tears come and I miss my dad. I get angry that he was taken before he could see his little girl grow up and that he never stopped using for the sake of our family. That is what claimed his life at 27, and a part of my family’s narrative that sounds too ugly and broken and sad to have been real, that is that my dad used and dealt drugs for most of his life. And that is not an easy truth to grapple with as a child or as an adult — especially on a day that celebrates and honors good and loving fathers — the kind that my negative self wants me to believe I never had and must not have deserved.
Last Summer my 92-year-old Grandmother passed and while sorting through her things my mother found some letters that my dad wrote to my brothers and I while he was in rehab for heroin, cocaine, and alcohol abuse. I was four years old at the time. Reading those letters stirred up a lot of previously unseen emotions that had settled in the deep of my heart, like a saucepan of soup that sits for days on a stovetop, untouched, with all it’s contents settled at the bottom until stirred or mixed back in with the broth with a spoon. It is this kind of stirring that requires us to be brave. Because the feelings that come to the surface have the power to break and destroy us unless we are willing to fight. Fight to accept and embrace them, to validate and understand, or to cope well and come out on the other side of them stronger.
I am in that fight every single day. And some days, it just doesn’t feel fair. Days like Father’s Day and the anniversary of his death feel anything but fair. I wish I could say that I will spend these occasions in reflection of his memory and celebration of his life in the sort of way some people cope and move past the trauma of losing a loved one, but I won’t play pretend like that. I am not a fan of gimmicks and games and flowery facades of felicity when it comes to the hard facts about my life — that is the muck and mire — the stuff we don’t like to talk about and are told to keep locked up in the vault of suppression and dealt with quietly if we so choose to deal with them at all. And for me, growing up without a dad remains one of those hard facts that is not easy to talk about it or make sense of — a fact that I locked up in my vault for most of my life.
Here I am now at 25 and I’ve barely begun to understand how his death has shaped me. All that I seem to know sometimes is that I am angry and sad and bitter that he’s dead and even angrier and more bitter with God for letting it happen. I am not an expert about the experience of grief but from what I do know and from what I have read and seen, this seems like a normal part of the process. Which helps.
It is not easy to not have a dad around. The hurt and the scars it leaves on the heart and mind will likely take a lifetime to treat and tend to in order for healing to happen. And that’s exactly where I would like to think I am. Tending to and trying to treat the wounds that I sometimes forget are even there, settled at the bottom of the saucepan where they sit until stirred and moved to the surface. Often times when and how we least expect it. Like at a grocery store check-out on a Saturday when the teenage cashier wearing neon green barrettes and a pin that reads “Zombies ate my brain,” asks you what you are doing for Father’s Day.
As much as it sucks, I’m glad that happened. Being forced to confront the feelings is a part of the process of finding the courage it takes to continue to cope and understand and ultimately, heal. For Father’s Day this year and likely many more to come, that is what I will celebrate. In honor of my dad, and the resilience it took and still takes, to deal with his loss. So this is for him. And for me.
Happy Father’s Day.
Last Tuesday I decided that I was not on speaking terms with God.
This week, I decided that I was.
Sound childish and silly? It probably does because it is. I can see that now but couldn’t so much a few days ago. Last week dealt me a few unforeseen punches and succeeded in taking it’s fist and knocking all winds of peace and reason right out of me. Work, family, finances, health, and the pull of my own disillusionment in regards to people and relationships took me under and dragged me out deep with it’s current — far beyond where I feel safe or equipped to swim. And I freaked out. I was scared and angry and bitter as I paddled myself back to shore, weak and weary from the exhaustion of believing I could be strong enough to handle it all on my own.
Finally though, I reached solid ground and could stand. But instead of celebrating the stability, I balled up my hand and shook it at God. I was angry that He let me get dragged out with the current. I was angry that He got to sit up there in His sparkly gold room in heaven eating chocolate tortes and truffles while I suffocated under the sea. I was angry that He watched and did nothing to help because He must have just been too busy delving out blessings and rewards to other more pious and pretty and polished people with hearts less selfish and sick with pride than the one that beats in this girl’s chest. All the good people who act, talk, pray, and love better than I do get all of the attention while I flail and fight for oxygen and curse at my every failed attempt to get just enough air in my lungs to see the light. There were many moments last week where hope and help and daylight were all I wanted, but the darkness that had tackled me down seemed to be all that I got. And it was all God’s fault. So I pitched a fit and stonewalled. That would surely show Him not to ignore me and not bless me like everyone else.The six-year-old who can’t have ice cream before dinner — that’s who I became in my head. Because that is what my depravity has the capability to turn me into. I’m not proud of it. But I’m learning to be more honest about it because the truth is — no mater how old we get, there will always be something crappy in life that will seem to stunt our growth or make us want to straight-up throw a tantrum and chuck our toys at the wall in anger.
“Why would you make me go through this?!” I spit out into the sunset as I could see it from behind the wheel of my car last week after work. I turned up “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel, a song that has always seemed to understand me well and repeated myself, this time a bit more ornery and raw and unrelenting: Why would You make me go through this?!
Those were the only words I remember really praying last week. Because those were the only words I could articulate each time that I tried.
One thing I am sure about in terms of my faith and spirituality is that when it comes to consistency and discipline and patience with God, I’m 100%, certifiably, and completely hosed. I am just not good at it. I suck at being a “faithful believer” a lot of the time and know there are enough people out there to fake it and play pretend that I don’t want to be one of them. (Even though 65% of the time I am).
I probably walk around unaware of how spiritually bankrupt I am a lot more than I realize. Because if I can pay penance with my lips and wear the title and pull out the “I’ll pray for you” card enough times when people tell me about their struggles, a part of my brain believes that that’s enough. A part of my brain believes that little to no effort in tending to my soul will satisfy me. Especially when life gets hard and there’s just “no time” for solitude and prayer and reflection. What a foolish lie to get tangled up into.
I try to be healthily aware of my spiritual deficiencies but the problem is that such awareness sometimes turns against me and triggers my pride to go into fight or flight mode and I either end up feeling like garbage for not being a better person or denying any defect altogether. It’s a pain in the butt, really.
This week though, I decided to talk to God again. Not because things shaped up or are going wonderfully but because it’s a discipline with a return that I could not afford to lose out on again for another week. When I move one inch toward the God that crafted and created me and away from the other currents of life, I find that He responds to that one inch with great favor and with moves much bigger and better than my own. And when I’m humble enough to ask, He guides me away from the undertow and helps me swim a little faster toward the safety that I crave.
Now make no mistake about it — I am not smart enough to always get this on my own. The best evidence of this would probably be the first sentence of this essay: last Tuesday I decided that I was not on speaking terms with God. So petty and so puny of me. But here I am on the other side of that, able to see how silly it was no matter how real it felt in the moment. And I’m praising Him for the reprieve — knowing full and well that next week or the week after might suck and I might stonewall and throw another toddler-style temper tantrum and refuse to speak to God again. But He’s not going anywhere. He is not a God who can be frightened away by my angry fist. If that were the case He would have cowered away and left me alone a decade ago. The fact that He didn’t only further proves why I am bankrupt and unfix-able without Him.
I love hard and I fight hard with people and with God. There’s a fiery and stubborn passion that drives me and dictates which strokes I take in the sea, or, which current I choose to drift with. Sometimes I choose the right current and swim in sync with Him. But a lot of the time, I don’t — I panic and doggy-paddle away thinking that I can manage the undertow and get to safety by my own strength. It is then that the hardest lessons are learned. And the hardest Love for me to accept — that is, the love of God — is granted upon me out of an abundance of Grace that I’ll never grasp or “get,” but will always be there, recognized or not. Even when I’m suffocating under the sea and staring into a sunset behind the wheel of my car simply asking “why?” knowing that the answer might not ever come. Perhaps that is the point and what makes all of the swimming around in this wavy and sometimes stormy sea, worth my while. And more importantly, continually worth my surrender.
The currents of the ocean will always be more powerful than me. But never more powerful than the One who fashioned them and what can happen when I move just one inch toward Him — trusting and believing that even through the nasty temper tantrums, He still loves and cares for a dinged-up, broken, and imperfect kid like me who, just like the rest of us, is swimming around the sea desperately trying to find the way to the shore.
It’s 3:58 p.m. on a ho-hum, predictable, and typical Tuesday afternoon that has left me in a borderline irritable and frustratingly restless mood. So for the remainder of the day my goals are as follows:
- Stop watching youtube videos like this:
- Or maybe, watch more youtube videos like the ones shown above because they make me laugh. A lot.
- Listen to a solid twenty minutes of the Pet Sounds album by The Beach Boys. Medicine for the soul.
- Not talk to or complain to myself in public about how expensive it is to be alive and how unfair the world is because I have no idea what to make for dinner or because I have to buy conditioner for my hair and new sponges for the kitchen sink after work. I’m an adult now. I need to get over it.
- Practice deep-breathing and progressive muscle relaxation for my anxiety if The Heat beat The Spurs in game three of the playoffs later. This would be a much healthier way to cope as opposed to… throwing magazines at the TV and saying questionable words in front of my pug, Wallace, who is still quite young and impressionable.
- Smile or be extraordinarily kind to someone who is not expecting it or who does not deserve it.
- Not verbally assault anyone from behind the wheel of my car on the commute home just because they may have slowed me down by four seconds.
- Look around and realize that a lot of people who look happy and successful and put-together are probably just as dinged up and broken and unsure of themselves as I am. It’s the people who really are happy and successful that get that. And own it.
- Spend fifteen minutes with the sunset this evening with no technology and no agenda.
- Not be perfect. Or even try.
- Do something really fun or weird for twenty minutes. Like turn up some Outkast or Daft Punk alone in my room and dance like this in front of my mirror:
- Remember these words from one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a crappy first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” – Anne Lamott
Happy Tuesday, friends.
Make whatever is left of it, worth your time.
Going by what the calender says, June 21st will be the first day of Summer this year. But for me, Summer has always felt like it really starts with other kinds of “firsts.” When I was a teenager living in Florida, there were many of these “firsts” to look forward to. The first road trip to the beach with my girlfriends with a picnic lunch and cooler of ice and soda and Publix subs we’d pick up along the way, passing around Sun Chips and gossip magazines on the drive while discussing the details of the boys we were sure we would marry at the ever-so-wise age of seventeen when any guy who could strum a guitar qualified as husband material. Digging my hand into the season’s first bag of hot boiled peanuts bought at a roadside stand from an old man in a straw hat and overalls en route to a lake or cold Spring on weekday mornings with my mom and brothers in our old minivan as a kid. The first time my tongue would turn red or blue or purple from a firecracker Popsicle. The first whiff of a citronella candle flickering on a patio at dusk on a clammy evening after a wicked rainstorm. The first slice of perfectly cold and cinnamon-y apply pie at a BBQ with friends while bathing in the glow of a late August afternoon colored with the orange and yellow heat of the sun and soft green grass and rusted back-porch grills with tendrils of hickory-scented smoke wafting through the cracks and crevices while hot dogs and burgers sizzled underneath. And of course, that first cannonball into the swimming pool on a 100 degree day, pink with sun and sticky with sweat after playing in tree-forts and swing-sets and trying to catch lizards and grasshoppers and frogs to keep as pets before I knew better.
Growing up, those were the things that marked the start of Summer. It never had anything to do with the date on the calender or what the weatherman or newswoman had to say about what time of year it was. The “firsts” of Summer that I looked forward to most as a barefoot, brown-eyed girl in the South always came right on time, ushering in a season of sweaty, sun-tanned, sweet-tasting freedom.
And then there is the music. It’s impossible for me not to equate the quintessential poolside or seaside Summer with any thing else besides what music accompanies it — or what music I hear when I think back upon it. It is how Summers are remembered. It is how they are cataloged in my memory. And in the spirit of this, I’ve got my Summer playlist ready for 2013. This year, it was my goal to select songs that specifically remind me of the “firsts” of Summer as I have experienced them, young and old. As always, there are old songs you’ve maybe heard 756 times and new songs you’ve never heard. ‘Cause that’s how I like my mixtapes — a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
So as the “official” start of Summer crawls closer, here’s a playlist for your enjoyment as you begin to experience whatever “firsts” of Summertime you look forward to most. Whether it be the first trip to the beach on a crowded Saturday or your first bite into a smoky-sweet BBQ sandwich in nothing but your swimmies and sandals — here’s a mix-tape to accommodate your every whim and fancy in the coming season of flip-flops and rocket pops.
- Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy
- Neon Indian – Polish Girl
- Joy Division – Disorder
- Kings of Leon – Taper Jean Girl
- Bon Iver – Beth/ Rest
- Phil Collins – Take Me Home
- Crosby, Stills & Nash – Teach Your Children
- Band of Horses- The Great Salt Lake.
- The Knife – Heartbeats
- The Cowsills – The Rain, The Park, and Other Things
- Beach House – Lazuli
- The Stone Poneys (feat Linda Ronstadt) – Different Drum
- Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs – Stay
- Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments
- Phosphorescent – Ride On,
- Daft Punk – Get Lucky
- Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
-Youth Lagoon – July
- Grimes – Genesis
- The Beach Boys – Barbara Ann
- Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime