I paused before I walked into the gymnasium. The sun had flipped its switch on today, and the warm May afternoon had put a spring in my step. The bouquet of flowers I held inhaled the sunshine. I did, too.
My eyes adjusted to the dim as I stepped inside. I kept my gaze on my dad’s dark blue Ford hat bobbing above me, then looked down at my little brother Ryan next to me. They were my anchors. I didn’t want to get swept into the tidal wave of people.
At 10-years-old, I had never been to a college before, let alone a commencement. Today, Saginaw Valley State University was a sight to see. Like the sun outside, the volume inside was turned up and on. The hallways were a hive as people buzzed with excitement.
Everything was big here. Big and red.
The ceilings. The stage. The curtains. The carnations. This university took their colors seriously, and the alternating splashes of red and white felt positively peppermint. My mom’s cap and gown were black, though. Shiny. Special.
While raising two kids, working full-time and helping guide the construction on our new home, my mom earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. My dad, my brother and I would watch her graduate with honors today.
That is, if we could find a seat.
Our trio walked into the barrel of the tidal wave. People crashed around me on all sides. They held flowers and cameras and camcorders. They shouted “Over here!” and “Karen, look!” and “Where’s the bathroom?”
Lines of empty seats filled the floor for the hundreds of graduates that would soon enter the arena. Rows and rows of people’s people wrapped above and around the seats like the edges of a seashell.
“Where do we go?” I asked my dad. I adjusted the flowers in my arms, the cellophane wrapper rubbing against me. The petals’ scent filled my nostrils.
“Stay close,” Dad said, his eyes scanning the bleachers. “We need to find a seat here real quick.” He started walking toward a set of stairs. I followed his black Nikes.
Ryan and I followed behind him like ducklings. We weren’t late, but we weren’t exactly early. I hadn’t seen my mom yet. She arrived ahead of us to meet with classmates and get instructions for the ceremony.
I felt unsettled without my mom by our sides. Like a table missing a leg, or a clock missing its face, we technically worked, but everything felt off.
We looked up and down the rows of bleachers. Faces stared back at us, all someones to somebodies but simply strangers to me.
Dad craned his neck, his eyes climbing higher and higher, searching for empty seats.
“Ah, there, come on you guys,” he said as he took a step on the metal stair in front of us. My brother and I followed suit, my eyes glued to my Keds as we stepped up, up and away from the floor. Finally, Dad stopped in front of a small section of seats tucked in the farthest right corner of the highest row. The nosebleeds.
We squeezed our way next to others stacked like sardines. I felt like I could touch the ceiling.
Soon after we sat down, the commencement began. After welcomes and pleasantries, a formal man in a formal robe with a formal voice started calling names in a microphone. It all felt exciting until it wasn’t.
In the beginning, everyone clapped. The earliest graduates received the loudest of applauses, everyone drunk on pomp and circumstance. I joined in at first, my fingers red and itchy from the friction as I applauded Linda Keuvac and Karen Osworth and Brian Epstein and whoever, whoever, whoever. Finally, I gave up, too.
By the time it got to my mom’s row, people’s passion for applause had depleted. But it didn’t matter when the man with his formal voice finally said the name. The name we were here to hear. JEANNE. MARIE. HENRY.
On cue, my dad, my brother and I stood up and clapped as hard as we could clap. I realized how quiet we sounded. How easily the noise faded from our seats into the open air. I thought, “There’s no way she can hear us. There’s no way she can see us.”
But maybe that wasn’t the point.
“Why don’t people clap for Mom?” I asked Dad after we watched my mom get her diploma and walk off stage.
“Because they don’t know her,” he answered.
While my mom was just another name to everyone else in that room, she was the entire reason we were there. In the sea of people, we made small waves for the one who mattered most to us. And an ocean isn’t an ocean without waves.
Mom shed salty tears when we reunited outside on SVSU’s lawn after the ceremony was over. We gave her hugs and flowers. We showed her that she has people that are proud of her.
We are blessed when we have people that make waves for us.
They are our home team.
When something happens—good, bad, something, anything—they’re the first faces that flash across our minds. They’re the ones we want to tell, want to text, want to call… because it just feels better, or funnier, or easier, or more real when they know, and it doesn’t quite count until they know. Because they get it. They get you.
Our home team looks for our names in the dance recital program, the school play, the concert line-up. They pick us up at the airport.
They hug us at the finish line. They carry the couch, the boxes, the table, the chairs, into the new house. They’re the hands that light our birthday candles.
The number we call when we need to vent, or worry out loud, or cry, or laugh.
They’re our people. Again and again and again. Not just on Valentine’s Day, or on a birthday, or graduation. They’re there for the court dates and chemo treatments. The job losses and the game wins. The wedding reception and the funeral showing.
They don’t just know us. They understand us.
They aren’t just here for us. They show up for us.
They answer the call. They read the text. They walk through the door.
When the boxer of life hits us with a left jab to the right cheek—and it will because it’s a brawler like that—it’s easy to drown in the disappointment. A situation can sink us in an ocean of sadness…or frustration…or anger…or confusion.
So we call. We vent. Our people help us through it because they aren’t going to let us sink. While situations can be an anchor that keeps us stuck, our people are the lighthouses guiding us home.
Home isn’t home without a team to share in it all. And maybe that’s the whole point. Not to stare at the scoreboard, but to look around at the ones who are who wearing the same jersey.
Situations are hard. But people are tough. And thank God for our people.
Hands are meant to be held.
Phones are meant to ring.
Oceans are meant to have waves.
Life is meant to be shared.
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and Daisy is mad at me.
She’s on a mission to make her disappointment known. It’s in every sigh that falls with a hefty clank of her exhale.
Every tinny whine in her throat.
The side eye stare.
The paws crossed with contempt.
The lifeless tail that refuses to thump-thump-thump with joy.
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and my chocolate lab is mad at me…because I have the actual nerve to leave the house without her.
It’s my fault, really. I made her this way.
One of my priorities as a new puppy parent was to make sure she liked riding in the car. I’m often on the go. My dad planned to have Daisy as a sidekick for his pheasant hunting excursions in Iowa or North Dakota. It was crucial that my dog did not have a problem riding in a vehicle.
I prepped Daisy from day 1. I’d never leave the house without looking to her first.
“Daisy,” I’d start, my voice solemn and serious, “do you want to go for a RIDE?!” My tone would rise with enthusiasm.
She'd stare at me, her puppy belly folded underneath her like a chubby accordion.
“A RIDE!” I’d repeat. “Let’s go for a RIDE!” I wanted her to associate the word with fun and excitement and positivity. Then we'd go in the car and I'd take her somewhere she liked: A park. A trail. A pond.
And, well…it worked.
It didn’t take long for her to wiggle and wag her way out the door when I'd ask about a ride. She hopped with fervor into the backseat. As I drove, her tongue lolled out of her mouth as the wind blew her ears back while she faced the world wide-eyed out the window. She learned to love parking lot cart chasers and stop light lane neighbors and free “puppachinos” from Starbucks.
Now I don’t even have to say “ride.” Daisy searches for the signs.
When I go to my closet to change clothes or find earrings or switch socks, Daisy lingers near the doorway. Because Mom is probably getting ready to go for a ride.
If I say, “Daisy…?” she tilts her head and perks her ears. Because Mom is probably asking me if I’d like to go for a ride.
If I put on a coat, grab my purse, put on a pair of shoes, walk toward the door, or--
better yet— all of the above, Daisy is all,“I better get my feet tippy-tapping because we are going for a ride.”
When I go somewhere, I usually take Daisy with me. She’s my favorite co-pilot.
But not today. Today, I am heading up north on a road trip with one of my best friends. And Daisy is staying home…for now.
I stand near the front door and look toward the living room. I zip up my coat, and I see my sad, angry chocolate lab. She’s lying on the carpet like a puddle of passive aggression. Her brown eyes bore into mine as she watches me put on one boot, then another.
I can’t help but smirk.
Daisy is all side eyes and stares and sulk. She’s disappointed. She’s heartbroken. She feels stuck and trapped in the same room with the same view with no end in sight. She’s alone. She’s confused.
She doesn’t understand. All she knows is she’s missing out on the best thing she could have done today.
But little does she know, something better is coming along.
Her absolute favorite person in the whole world—my dad—is coming to get her in one hour. He’s going to take her to her favorite place—my parents’ house: a wooded wonderland where she can romp and play and chase squirrels and run free—and have a heck of a lot more fun than a quick jaunt in the back of my car.
With me, she would have gone on a ride.
With him, she’s going to go on an adventure.
All she has to do is wait one hour.
So I smirk. Because I realize: I’ve been Daisy. You’ve been Daisy. We’ve all been Daisy.
We don’t understand why.
Why did we lose this?
Why are we stuck here?
Why aren’t we getting new results? A different diagnosis?
Why can’t I go?
Why can’t they stay?
Why isn’t this changing?
We feel like we lost the best thing. House. Job. Person. Situation.
But the thing is: we only know what we know right now.
We don’t know what’s around the corner.
We don’t know what’s behind the door.
We don’t know what’s an hour away.
All we can do is wait. And waiting seems like the hardest thing in the world.
In the waiting, the questions come. The doubts. The uncertainty in the why and how. The certainty that nothing beats what it was we just lost. Or what we haven’t gained.
Like Daisy, we sit in the quiet. Stare at the walls. Feel the feelings. Sigh the sighs.
But then—then!— the door will open.
Something different—something new, something that was always meant for you but it was waiting until this moment, right here, right now—will greet you with open arms.
And maybe your feet will tippy-tap, too.
(Note: When I read this out loud to myself after writing it, Daisy heard me say the word “ride.” So guess what we had to go do?)
A hipster couple sat across from me at the coffee shop today. I moved seats so they could sit together.
When I stood up and placed my purse on the other chair, the guy and girl—both 20somethings—nodded at me with a smile. They sat down in the pair of now-open seats across from me.
“Thanks,” the guy said to me.
“No problem,” I said. I tucked my hair behind my ears, took a sip of my cinnamon tea and tried to disguise the fact that it burnt my tongue. It always burns my tongue.
An older lady in the chair next to me was knitting. She had long gray hair, a glass of espresso and a mini black backpack covered in white cartoon cats. We were quite the four-some circling the round wooden coffee table: me, the knitting lady and the hipster couple.
In between my searches for saved images of kitchen tile backsplashes, I started to people-watch.
My eyes kept falling on the hipster couple across from me.
They both wore those glasses. You know the ones. Black. Square. Not too big. Not too small. The kind that scream cool and casual but also millennial/modern. Intelligent/interesting. Etc./etc.
Glasses say a lot about a person.
As the guy sat in his yellow hoodie, his knees pointed in different directions like the corners of a square table. You could balance a checkerboard on his lap. His hair—slightly swopped to the left—combined with the glasses gave him this younger Clark Kent kind of vibe. His brownish-reddish beard looked like a frame for his mouth, or a border for his jaw.
His laptop (MacBook, of course) had a sticker on the bottom right corner. Courage, dear heart, it read in black swirly script. Interesting choice. A departure from the typical band names and brewery stickers. I liked it.
Next to him, she sat in the gray sofa chair. The seat I gave up. Her long tawny brown hair hung straight down like a curtain across her black window of a sweater. Her laptop (NOT a Mac) glowed on her lap as she touched her fingers to the keys like a piano player. The hair brushed the keys, too. She furrowed her brow as she stared at the screen.
I glanced at their left hands, my eyes finding that space between their knuckles. It’s a new habit of mine these days. I never used to care, but I notice all the time now. When you lose something, you look for it in other places.
His band was dark and thick. Hers was dainty and gold. The diamond caught the light cascading from the three globe lamps above the chairs.
I wasn’t surprised that they were married. But it wasn’t their rings that gave their status away to me. Not immediately. Neither did their matching white and black ceramic “Mr.” and “Mrs.” coffee cups.
No, it wasn’t the cups or the rings. It was their bodies.
How she turned her legs toward him, her toes one touch away from his tennis shoes.
The way his fingers found hers and tangled together while they talked.
His lean inward as he looked in her eyes when she said, “Can I ask you something?”
This,I thought. This is what love looks like.
I’ve learned love shows itself when it’s supposed to be hiding. When it has no clue others are watching. In between the lines of life.
Love doesn’t always need a grand entrance. It doesn’t require a red carpet or a spotlight or a perfect posed photo or an extravagant wedding. Love—real love—can’t help but show itself, regardless of whether there’s an audience or not.
A few days before Christmas, I was at my parents’ house. I leaned against the kitchen island as my dad came in through the laundry room.
“I got ‘em,” he said.
“Got your Mom the round pretzels she needs,” he said. “For those chocolate things she makes.”
The pretzels. Yes. They are a Christmas favorite at the Henry house. Up my alley, too, since they’re easy to make: chocolate kisses, then red & green M&Ms, are placed in the center of round pretzels, then baked and melted and hardened together. Delicious.
This year, Mom had a hurdle. She searched all over the region for round pretzels. She hit all the main grocery stores. No luck.
Apparently, my dad had been looking, too.
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“Pat’s in Freeland,” he said proudly.
I picked up the two yellow bags now on the counter. The clear plastic gave a preview to the round, brown circle pretzels it contained.
I looked at Dad. “Did Mom ask you to look for these?”
He opened a cupboard. “No,” he said casually as he put the pretzel bags away, not really considering my question. His response was more of an afterthought than a boastful moment of I FOUND THE PRETZELS, LOOK WHAT I DID, SHE DID NOT EVEN ASK ME.
It was automatic. Mom needed something, and Dad found it.
We live in a world where we like to show off. The world is our stage, and social media is the sounding board. There’s a time and a place for it, I suppose.
But in a world of show, love often tells on itself. At its best, it is not always the dancer on stage, shining and smiling and waiting for crowd to cheer. Love is the one in the audience, sitting in the dark, clapping the loudest even if the sound of their hands get drowned out by the noise of everyone else.
Yes, love is the fancy dinners on a Saturday night. But it’s also turning on the coffee pot on a Tuesday morning.
It’s taking the pepperoni off the pizza because she likes cheese best. It’s the dog putting her head on my feet at night. It’s a head on a shoulder. A shoveled sidewalk. A warm car. A call home. A "good morning" text.
It’s the small moments. The ones that seem so quiet and insignificant…. yet scream the loudest when they’re gone.
There’s a time for love to be loud.
But there are more times when love is quiet. And it shows up, again and again and again.
All you have to do is look.
What have you lost?
I’ve told this tale many a time. It’s integral to my story. You know. The writing story. The one I tell when people ask me when did I start writing, when did I realize I wanted to be a writer, was there a moment where it all clicked? You’ve probably heard it.
What have you lost?
That was the MEAP exam prompt. Fifth grade. My best friend Jessie wrote about her roller skates. I wrote about my grandma’s death. I was certain I answered wrong. But I didn’t. I wrote my truth then, just as I write my truth now. The truth is never wrong…even if it hurts.
It’s been over 20 years since that MEAP exam and the careful cursive writing and my mom crying after reading my words and saving the printed copy that the principal gave us. It sits in my scrapbook. Mom made the book for my graduation party.
Over 20 years. I was a little girl in fifth grade then. I’m a grown woman now. I still like lab puppies and still have the same shoulder-length haircut and still adore my grandma even though she’s been gone longer than I’ve known her.
What have you lost?
The answer has changed. But it doesn’t erase the wound of woe when Grandma died. I guess that’s the thing about losing. We collect our losses like baseball cards or tarnished coins. Loss is loss is loss is loss. Unable to be erased.
We keep the losses tucked underneath our collars. Right near the neck. Pulsing alongside the jugular, where it reminds us that the losing—whether it’s a person, a place, a job, a game, a dream—can feel as deep and deadly as a cut to the throat.
What have you lost?
I’ve learned that loss has many looks.
An empty closet with unused hangers.
Stray guitar picks on the garage floor.
Blue cereal boxes filled with some off-brand Chex squares.
Tennis shoes in the closet with clumps of grass on the bottom.
A box full of Christmas ornaments that I’m not going to hang up on the tree this year because I picked them out with you and you’re not here anymore.
Loss lingers like a forgotten puppy. You’re going about your day like normal and wham! It slams you in the head like a right-handed hook.
It’s the rap song on the radio that you listened to in the passenger seat with your fuzzy hood up because it was cold but you also wanted to look cool.
It’s my hands reaching behind my back to pull up my own zipper because Daisy has paws instead of thumbs so she can’t help me get this damn dress on.
A clear umbrella. Purple nail polish. Empty desks. Saved voicemails. Unsent manuscripts. A deflated volleyball that sits on a shelf.
What have you lost?
I get that this blog isn’t warm and fuzzy. But I’m not writing this blog to bring anyone down. I am writing to be honest. I am writing to interrupt the scrolling of successes and smiles on social media to be raw and real and say that hey, things hurt sometimes. Things aren’t perfect sometimes. Not for me. Not for you. Not for any of us.
The truth? We all lose. We do. It’s inevitable. We lose people. Babies. Plans. Jobs. Businesses. Love.
Some losses are as careless and uneventful as losing an eyelash. Others feel like your heart has been replaced with an empty hole.
What have you lost?
We lose beyond the loss…but that’s a good thing. Like dropping unwanted baggage or shedding snakeskin or unfurling from the cocoon, loss leads to growth. We lose barriers. We lose disappointments. We lose the way things were done because hey, they needed to be done differently. We lose an old perspective to make room for the new vision.
And that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? We LOSE and YET….we get back up. We set the alarm. We drive to work. We practice the shot. We catch the bouquet.
We write a blog.
We feel. We move forward. We press on. We try, try, try again. We let life happen because life doesn’t just hand us sour lemons. It gives us silver linings. Best friends. Baby snuggles. Good food. Long phone talks. Fuzzy socks. Heinz ketchup. Sea otters.
And thank God for it all.
I grew up on a dead end street in St. Charles, Michigan. Pine Street. Where the woods waved to the chocolate waters of the Bad River. The rhubarb was lush and overgrown. The rabbits munched on my mom’s marigolds.
It’s where I helped my dad string colorful Christmas lights –the large bulb ones, glowing red and orange and green and blue —along the wooden fence. When the stapler didn’t work, Dad threw it into the trees. It arced in the air like a football, propelled by pure frustration. It’s a tale that my family loves to tell: The Day Dad Got Mad at the Staple Gun.
Instead of neighbors, I had pine trees.
Instead of pavement, I had potholes.
Instead of other children to play with, I had Canadian geese, whitetail deer and my imagination.
I stood on top of our backyard picnic table in front of a large oak tree and danced with its branches, singing “Once Upon a Dream” from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I loved sequined dance costumes and Labrador puppies. I hated snakes and math.
I picked goldenrod and Black Eyed Susans. I collected frogs. I swung on a rickety metal swing set after dinner. My toes tried to interrupt the stretch of dusk blue sky as the sun went to sleep.
For my tenth birthday, we went to Wawa, Canada. I held Northern Pikes by my fingertips and unwrapped a George Strait cassette tape and too many Beanie Babies to count. My brother and I cried in the backseat as we drove home. We didn’t want to leave that paradise of tall trees and fish-filled lakes. I've never been back. I wish I could. Maybe I will.
When I got a good report card, my mom brought me home an Oreo flurry from The Freezer. The place had yellow lights that matched the curled corners of dessert pictures under the menu. Nowadays, the same photos still cling to the glass, though I've traded in my Oreo preference for cookie dough.
My dad shook sugar on my Rice Krispies cereal. My mom put green Mr. Yuk stickers on her perfume bottles. My brother and I ran through the sprinklers in the front yard. I practiced my shuffle-ball-changes in tan tap shoes on the cement driveway.
Our carpet was the color of rust.
A stuffed pheasant stood on our mantle.
The couches were plaid and the counters were white.
I read books. I wrote cursive. I played with my Barbie dolls and counted my quarters to buy an American Girl doll. I didn’t save up enough, though.
My mom ended up buying the doll—her name was Samantha—as a gift for my eighth birthday. I normally wouldn’t have received such an ostentatious present, but that was the birthday Mom had to miss, and her guilt took over… just like the cancer bombarding my grandma’s body.
Mom went to Minnesota to sit by Grandma’s side. We both became daughters that said goodbye to our mothers that week. One for a week. One for awhile.
My grandma died three days after I blew out the candles on my cake. She wrote with scrawled cursive inside my birthday card before she passed away: “I love you forever, I’ll like you for always, forever and ever, my granddaughter you’ll be.” We still have the card.
I wrote about her death during our fifth grade MEAP exam. The prompt? "Describe something you lost." It was the first time I realized writing about your feelings can help you understand them.
My birthday is next week. As I turn the corner on another year, I reflect on the past 365 days—its tangles, its turns, its lessons, its loves, its losses—and then I dive deeper. I examine the years before this one, and the last one, and the one before that. They’re all pieces of the puzzle that has led me to this birthday, this year, this age.
I reflect on how I’ve grown up…and how growing up doesn’t always mean you feel like a grown up. We're all still kids at heart of it all: nervous to walk into the classroom or say hi on the playground or tell that person how we feel or fall off the bike. Skin your knee. Get a bruise. Break your heart.
It’s all the same feelings...just a different landscape.
It’s the board room instead of the classroom.
The party instead of the playground.
The car instead of the bicycle.
Still...we try to heal the best we can. We grow. We learn that the truth is a shapeshifter, and feelings can change their minds.
At the end of the day, I’m every piece of my past:
I’m the little girl picking goldenrod and placing it in my play stroller.
I’m the teenager tap-dancing on stage.
I’m the high school senior hitting the volleyball.
I’m the college student writing the essay.
I’m the woman wearing the black blazer, or drinking the white wine, or dancing to Taylor Swift.
I’m the girl in other people’s memories, too. The one who rolled silverware behind the counter at Bob Evans, or talked until 4 a.m. in the hallway of Beddow Hall, or cried in the emergency room, or hugged you goodbye.
The one that wanted to stay. The one that walked away. The one that said the right things, the wrong things, the things that needed to be said...maybe the things that shouldn’t have been said at all. The one who laughs loud and high fives and trips and falls and feels too much, too often.
I have my mother’s voice and brown eyes. My dad’s humor and ears. I am a sister. I’m a friend. I’m forever Lindsay with an A. I’ll always be impressed if you spell it right on the first try.
The sum is greater than the parts. Some things change. Some things don’t. And it’s all a part of our story. My story. Here. Now. Always.
The rain started in April.
It hasn’t stopped since.
I check my Weather app every morning. Select my Michigan location. See a string of gray clouds or dark blue dashes slanting to the side with a stubborn slash. If the rare yellow sun symbol is present, it’s shy. Never solo. Usually peeking out behind a cloud.
It’s as if the Sky broke up with the Sun. Refuses to let its rays get too close. Avoids bright blue. Pushes away the bouquets of white puffy clouds.
The Sky deals with the breakup by listening to Adele songs, filling herself up just to sob it all out. She sends big buckets of rain down on top of our black umbrellas, our silver cars, our empty farm fields. She drowns our good moods and muddies our sandcastles.
So we do the only thing we can do: we wait for the sun to shine again.
The endless rain started out innocently. I was a few weeks into my new job. Every morning, a gray ceiling of clouds or a curtain of rain followed me up the stairs and toward the bright red door of the office building.
I felt like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Oh bother.
A few days passed.
“Oh look, it’s raining again,” I joked with my new co-workers as I glanced out the window at the end of the hallway. The wet pavement glistened.
Another day: “Hey Lindsay,” my co-worker Julie called from her office. “Guess what? It’s raining.”
Another day: “You guys,” I said, my voice low and serious. “I don’t know if you know this but…” –I paused—“it’s raining outside.”
Weeks passed. My Weather app continued to predict forecasts full of gray clouds and cold.
“Does Mother Nature know it is JUNE?” we asked. The oak trees continued to chug the water like a college kid over a keg stand.
Despite the pattern, I was never prepared for the weather, always running from the car to the building with my hand over my head. My own personal rebellion. If I don’t bring the umbrella, the weather won’t turn to rain.
If only it were that simple.
"I just can’t do this anymore,” my co-worker Patti finally said one rainy morning, her arms and eyebrows raised in disbelief. She sat behind her angled desk. The green walls and collages of photographs wrapped her in a cocoon of color, combatting the gray outside her window. “It’s impacting my mood. When I went to Philly, it was 80 degrees and pure sun.”
“I know, I hate to be a downer, but this is getting ridiculous,” I agreed.
"If we aren't careful, it will steal our mojo," she sighed and looked out the window. “Geez, can you believe it's gray AGAIN? It’s almost comical now. I'm so tired of this weather."
Then one day, the Sky finally took a break from the sobbing. We got a nice, summer day. It was a Saturday. Pure sun and warm temps.
“Do you think we should skip this church thing?” I asked my mom the night before. She works night shift at the hospital, so our mother/daughter days are rare. We were supposed to go to a women’s craft event. “Since it’s supposed to be so nice out?”
"No, we probably should go,” Mom said.
“Yeah, I guess. We did already sign up.” Still, I felt a pang of Fear of Missing Out on the sunshine party Michigan was throwing.
The next day, the sun danced with a cloudless sky as Mom and I spent the bulk of the afternoon inside a dimly lit gymnasium. We made cards and conversation, met new people and laughed, swapped stories and spent valuable time together for once. I was glad I was there, but I made big plans in my mind to stay outside as much as possible once the event was over.
The afternoon concluded with closing speakers: a mother/daughter duo. I settled into my plastic chair around the round table and got ready to listen to lighthearted and uplifting words.
That’s not what I got.
“We want you to think of a situation that is hard and difficult that you have gone through or are going through now,” the mom of the speaker duo—Kelly—said. She had a short blonde bob, red lipstick and glasses. “Then write that word down on the cards provided on your tables. When you’ve got your word, come up and pin the card to this bulletin board behind me.”
I glanced around at the tables surrounding me. About 20 women –mostly middle-aged, some younger, some older—sat in the chairs, pens poised. I recognized many of their faces, though they wore new masks of uncertainty as they looked at their card.
One by one, the women went up to the bulletin board and pinned their card like the tail to a donkey. Darting my eyes from side to side, I kept my card close to my chest until I stood directly in front of the board. I stabbed a clear pushpin to the top of the card and pushed it into the cork. I avoided eye contact as I hurried back to my seat.
After a few minutes, the bulletin board was full.
“OK,” Chyna—the other speaker, Kelly’s 20something daughter—said. “We all are going through things.” She looked at the full board, then back at us. “And to be honest, it sucks, right? “It just”—she sighed, her breath almost a whisper—“sucks.” She paused. The quiet fell on the room like a thud. She started reading the words on the cards out loud.
“Disappointment,” Chyna read. “Punishment. Failure. Mistake. Disappointment. Out of control. Depressed. Disappointment. Another disappointment.”
I looked in disbelief at the other women at the round tables. It never occurred to me that they might feel the rainy days of life, too. Most of these women were older than me. I figured they’d have it all figured out: this adulting, growing up, life in general puzzle.
But we can’t prevent the weather, no matter how many rainy days we’ve lived through.
Hard things are happening. Right now. In this past week alone, I’ve heard from friends about difficult scenarios that add to the weight that we constantly carry. Miscarriages and misunderstandings. Illnesses and death. Mold in the house. Surgery in the hospital.
I keep waiting for the day that it all will go away. Like clouds parting, the dark news will make way for clear blue skies. Everything will be 100% perfect.
But it doesn’t. And it won’t. Because this is life, and we get a mix of the good and not-so-good. We have our own thunderstorms. We just don’t look out the same windows to see the lightning strike.
We don’t see each other in the counseling office.
In the doctor’s waiting room. Or the hospital hallway.
On the cold bathroom floor tile.
Underneath the pillars that once built such a strong foundation.
Alone in the car listening to that one John Mayer song that breaks your heart in two.
In the bed, staring at the ceiling fan spinning around and around and around at 2:24 a.m.
The tough stuff is what we all have in common. We all know what it feels like to get hit with the rain.
Last weekend, Adam and I got up early to plant pink and white impatiens under the two maple trees in our yard. I bought flats of dark purple petunias to fill a couple of whiskey barrels to sit on our porch. We rushed to get the roots into the dirt, trying to beat—once again—another rainstorm scheduled to arrive at our doorstep that afternoon.
The next day, I hovered over the whiskey barrel, now full of flowers. The petunias’ petals drooped downward, looking heavy and heartbroken like the sky.
“Dang it, these petunias,” I panicked, peering closely at their green stems and placing my fingers in the wet dirt. “I knew they’d die. Look at ‘em. Not even a day and they’re dying. Do you think the rain made it worse?”
Adam looked at the flowers, then at me. “Give them a break,” he said. “It’s been a day. They’re stressed. They just got planted. They aren’t dying.”
Flowers need the rain. We need the storms. But social media forgets to factor in that equation. Instagram and Facebook are like California: endless sun.
But what does constant sunshine and no rain cause?
A few days later—after a forecast full of rain clouds with patches of sun—I examined my petunias again. The petals were perky this time, their faces turned upward to look at the sky. Their stems had stretched. They weren’t just alive. They were growing.
It’s not all about reacting to the rain's existence. It’s accepting the rain's presence and respecting what it can do. The dark and dreary allow us to grow. To accept what is. To appreciate the good weather when it’s here…and learn to live --not just wait to live--when it’s not. To have both the umbrellas AND the sunglasses on hand…because we’ll need one or the other eventually.
And no matter how heartbroken the Sky may feel, she will always be the one that holds the Sun.
I never thought Stone Cold Steve Austin would get between Mom and me.
And yet, here we were.
“No,” she said. “This is not happening. No way.” She clutched the Stone Cold doll as if her life depended on it.
It really was a doll, not one of those plastic wrestler figurines, though my younger brother had those growing up, too. Back then, he had an entire bin full of the late 90s World Wrestling Federation stars: Kane. The Undertaker. Paul Bearer. X-Pac. Triple H. An eclectic mix of Good Guys and Bad Guys, complete with scowls and six packs.
Ryan’s favorite was Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose wrestling persona was all blue-collar, beer-guzzling, trash-talking. His neck would twist and turn as he stood across from his latest arch nemesis in the ring, spitting out one witty, raw, rude insult after another. But Austin was the good guy. The “face.” The hero who saved the day: one Stone Cold Stunner move at a time.
When Ryan was six or seven, he dressed up as Austin for Halloween. Mom used her Cover Girl brown eyeliner pen to draw a mustache and goatee to match the wrestler. With his new facial hair, vest and AUSTIN 3:16 hat, Ryan looked like a mini version of the Texas Rattlesnake.
Now, Mom held tightly to our doll pal Stone Cold. He stretched about a foot long. Plastic bald head and bulging arms. Soft cloth body. His black tight tee matched his black combat boots and wrestling briefs. His eyebrows were painted angry: a face that now matched my mother’s expression as she looked at me.
We faced off between my parent’s entryway and the kitchen. Brown eyes locked, hands on hips. The oak grandfather clock scolded us with its tick-tick-tick. Dad sat behind me at the kitchen table. I’d call him in for backup, though I was hoping to win this one on my own.
“You can’t,” I said. My eyes drifted to Stone Cold, lifeless in my mom’s hands. No Stunners today. “I get it, I do, but these are our memories. From childhood. Like, come on,”—I gestured toward the doll—“that was Ryan’s. He loved Stone Cold, remember? We can’t just getridof him.”
“Lindsay, you had no idea that Stone Cold was here until I brought him up from the basement,” Mom said. Her voice was as crisp as fresh linen. “We can’t keep all this STUFF.” She shook Stone Cold. He was not rattled.
“You wouldn’t want all this crap if it was in your house,” she continued. Her eyes were big now, her voice rising like a wave. “It’s all crap. Total junk.”
Oh no. I knew this tone. This tone meant rollercoaster results. Hop on board and watch Jeanne spiral.
“We are hoarders,” she stated matter-of-factly. “That’s what we are. We are a bunch of HOARDERS just like on that television show. Your dad,” she looked over my shoulder at him—“is a HOARDER.”
And here…we…go. Arms up, everybody.
I sighed. “We are not hoarders.”
“We are!” Mom argued. “We have a basement full of crap. You don’t even live here anymore and you still have a ton of stuff up in your closet.”
“I went through things.”
Mom raised her eyebrow. “Oh really? Then why do we need your old prom dresses? Where are you going to wear those?”
True. I needed to donate those.I pictured my junior year prom dress hanging in my old bedroom closet. It was pale pink: the color of cotton candy and strawberry ice cream.
“Dad,” I now said, turning around to face my father sitting in his spot at the kitchen table. “Do you hear this? Mom is getting rid of our childhood.”
Dad stood up from the table. “No, she’s not.” He walked toward my mom, still holding onto Stone Cold Steve Austin. “We aren’t getting rid of the kids’ toys, Jean.”
Mom shuddered, incredulous. “Oh OK, so they’re just going to sit in the basement, collecting dust? Why do we need to keep all of this stuff? This is ridiculous. It’s JUNK.”
Dad reached out and took Stone Cold. “No, it’s not, we aren’t hoarders, it’s fine.” He gave Stone Cold to me, opened the front door and walked out toward the backyard. That was that.
“We are hoarders,” Mom repeated as the door shut behind my dad. But her voice had quieted, the tinge of defeat softening its edges. She turned around and went upstairs. I carried Stone Cold back downstairs into the basement, his face as tough as ever. Another match won. Ring the bell.
In my own house, I tend to lean toward Mom—who wants to get rid of everything—versus Dad—who wants to get rid of nothing. Earlier this year, I hopped on the minimalism bandwagon for a hot second. The approach to life centers on the concept of getting rid of stuff/things/etc. that is not of true use or happiness. Like everyone else, I watched that show on Netflix with Marie Kondo and perused her book, “Spark Joy.” I got inspired. Took everything in my closet, threw it in the living room, organized it. Kept the items that brought me joy(that was Marie Kondo’s big requirement).Got rid of the clothes that didn’t.
It felt nice, to clear things out that I didn’t need anymore. The things that had holes, or had faded, or didn’t fit, or wasn’t quite me.
As someone who likes to keep things tidy, I was loving this minimalism thing. Goodbye purposeless items! Gimme all that joy. Only joy.
Until I came across my stuff that was more than stuff. They were time capsules. Memories stitched into the fabric. Feelings faded into the paint.
And that’s when I realized that things aren’t always just things. The ordinary, everyday items can also be special and symbolic.
Things can serve as an extension of a friend you don’t talk to anymore, or a time that you can’t get back. A tangible memory that provides proof that your brain and your heart are not playing tricks on you. Yes, that really happened. See, look: Here’s the movie stub. Here’s that sweatshirt. The burnt CD with the words he scribbled in Sharpie. The faded Pistons shirt, the scuffed tap shoes, the tarnished trophy.
It happened. It did. You did. We did.
Here. Look. Remember.
Things mean memories. Memories that may seem insignificant, or forgotten, or lost. Until you rub the dress’s taffeta fabric in between your fingers, or pop in the Tim McGraw CD, or hug the brown teddy bear with the hole in it’s neck.
Our symbols—our things—are different for all of us. The memory assigns the meaning. Suddenly, something ordinary isn’t so ordinary anymore.
You see a maize and blue Michigan snapback hat or a cherry red Ford F150 truck and think nothing of it. I see my dad. I will always see my dad.
You see a cream-colored lace dress and think, “Oh, that’s pretty.” I see my and my friend Cassie’s Halloween costume, when dressing up as “dead dolls” brightened our day during a dark time.
My list goes on and on:
A mustard-colored sweater. Fuzzy socks.
A Dreamland baby doll. A tie-dyed Girls on the Run T-Shirt.
Fuschia Fusion eye shadow. Silver and blue track spikes. A wooden piggy bank.
A George Strait cassette tape. A Bob Evans name tag. Pink ballet slippers.
Like archeologists uncovering forgotten bones, the simple act of spring cleaning can stir up memories and ghosts.
That’s why some people keep things: to remember.
And that’s why people get rid of things: to forget.
We get to choose what we take, and what we let go.
Today, Stone Cold remains at my parents’ house. Ryan now has his own beard; he doesn’t need Mom to draw it on with eyeliner. But the wrestling doll represents a time in our lives that once was. A season that we remember. Despite all the space things take up, sometimes the memory is worth more than the space.
I picture the scene often.
It’s not that hard, really.
“The defense would like to call the next witness to the stand…”
I see me standing. I adjust my black blazer.
I do not smile.
I do not blink.
I raise my right hand, palms out. I show the lines traced into my skin, the same tributaries deciphered by palm readers at the Renaissance Festival. Left hand goes on the Bible.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”
It’s almost as if it’s real, you know? I mean, I’ve never actually been inside an actual court room, but in my head, the scenario feels real. There’s cherry paneled walls that make the room seem older and darker and, I dunno, more legal.
Is that a thing? More legal?
There’s the wooden rows for the wooden jurors that sit with wooden faces. Their eyebrows are chiseled into consternation. Their mouths are sculpted sullen. Seriousness is carved into their set jawlines, their stares, their sideburns.
The presiding judge is Judge Judy.
I get my court room inspiration from the shows and movies I’ve watched, like Miracle on 34th Street, but the remake, with the same girl that acted in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. The courtroom in Making a Murderer stands out, too. And that OJ Simpson drama. You know that one, right? The show they recently made, with that guy that now plays Randall in This Is Us. It was good.
The questions begin.
Can you tell the jury what you saw….?
I mean, it’s not just me that saw these things. I can’t sit here on this stand with everyone staring and pretend to be special. Being a witness isn’t unique. We’ve all seen these scenes play out in other people’s lives. But we don’t always know what we’re seeing until it’s over, when the mess has been made and we’re trying to help pick up the pieces of a broken mirror. The shards sting. The cracks show. We bend down and try to put it all back together again.
But maybe it’s irreparable. The pieces of broken glass lay shattered on the ground, reflecting the truth right back at you as you look down.
Lindsay, did you see it happen…?
It depends on what we’re talking about here. Because there's a lot of bad things that happened to a lot of good people over the years.
Can you rephrase the question?
You mean, did I see my friend’s heartbreak coming? Did I see the sadness?
Did I picture the space widening?
Did I see it all ending?
Did I see the pictures taken down from the office? The vacant leather chair? The faded smell from their house, their perfume, their car air freshener? The lights turned off. The closed door.
Did I see the signs? The loss? The mental illnesses that robbed joy and stole happiness without a second thought? The idle hands, the broken ties, the empty bottles, the missed calls?
The accident? The flashing lights? The vehicle crumpled like an accordion?
Did I see onesies that went unworn, fuzzy gray sonograms shoved into drawers, back with the hopes that no longer get to see the light of day?
Did I see dashed dreams and empty beds?
Did I see black suits and tear-soaked faces and memorial flowers—circles of lilies and vases of roses— that sit in a church as alone and forgotten as the family members now feel?
Did I see the texts? The silent phone sitting on the nightstand? The frequent phone numbers, sitting stagnant in the Contacts? It hurts too much to delete the name.
...No. No, I did not.
And what did you do next?
It depends. But usually?
Wine. Words. Worry.
When you’re a witness, you don’t know what to say in times like these. You want to say so much right without saying all of the wrong. But you aren’t sure what counts as Right and what constitutes as Wrong.
So you stay silent. You awkwardly joke. You wonder if you should hug, or talk, or keep cover under the concealment of Maybe They Need Space.
You watch. You see. At work, at home, in the grocery story, on the sidewalk.
And you wonder.
And you worry.
And you wish that you could step into their shoes. You wish you could take away their pain by taking it on instead.
But you can’t. So you won’t.
But you wish you could.
You look up at the stars. You blow out birthday candles. You close your eyes as the clock reads 11:11. And you wish, you wish, you wish, you wish.
Have you thought about doing physical damage?
I mean…what are we talking here? To the people who hurt my people? Well.
Like a slap to the face? A key to the car door? Not enough to cause significant pain, but enough to cause slight damage?
I plead the fifth.
BUT let the record show….
Aren’t we all witnesses to something? We are witnesses to our loved one’s pain, and suffering, and loss. Yes, we kick ourselves for not seeing enough, or not predicting what would have happened, or not responding right.
The hardest realization is often understanding that you can’t always do something to eliminate the situation. I don’t want to just see. I don’t want to simply stand by. We live in a world where we need to take action, so the hardest thing is to stand back, and just watch it unfold.
But being a witness isn’t about what we can do.
It’s about what we see.
Amongst the pain, I see strength. Immeasurable grit. Steps forward. I see people gathering around their people. I see pranks on co-workers, and giggles from a baby, and lunches with parents.
I see Wizard of Oz costumes on Halloween, and rap music on the radio, and hunting camouflage in the woods.
I see growth. I see love.
I see silver linings.
I see my favorite people, hurting and loving and living. I dust off my shoulder. I stand by their sides, forever hoping it helps.
You may step down from the stand.
It’s 6:43 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I’m half-awake and hazy as I walk into class.
I didn’t want to come here today. My bed was warm. My pajamas were soft.
But Trisha is saving me a bike. I don’t want to leave her hanging.
So here I am.
The studio at Sarah Fechter Fitness is bathed in red and blue lights this morning, looking more dance club than gym. Shadows blanket the silver Spin bikes. They’re gathered in a gleaming group like a herd of stallions. Pop music plays…something familiar but not exactly memorable… with a sturdy, thick beat.
I feel antsy as I anticipate the difficult and discomfort that awaits me. But that’s working out, I guess. I adjust my white cotton headband—a strategic dam for my forehead sweat—and head toward the front of the class.
People are already on their bikes, turning pedals and swigging water. Some are wearing maize and blue. Others are wearing green and white. I’m wearing neon pants and a purple tank top. The same color as Barney the Dinosaur. I got it for $5 at Old Navy a million years ago.
Oh yeah, I remember. The game is today. THE Game. Michigan vs. Michigan State. Mom has moved from slot machines to sports bets, just waiting for the day when she’s finally won her millions.
“Who would you bet on?” my mom asked my brother last week over sirloin and fried onions at Outback Steakhouse. Ryan shrugged.
“I just don’t know,” she continued. “They say Michigan is supposed to win, but then again, Michigan State always comes back, so…” She twisted her mouth to the side. Her thinking face.
Now, the soft hum of the spinning wheels fills the room. I wonder which team Mom picked to prevail.
“Hey Trisha,” I say as I walk up to the bike in the front row, one off from dead center. “This bike mine?”
“Yep, I saved it for you,” she smiled, adjusting her bike to the left of mine. She’s more hardcore than me. She’s got special cycling shoes and two water bottles.
“Thanks.” I clutch on to my water bottle from Meijer. The cheap plastic crunches beneath my grip.
I look down at the shiny wooden floor. Trisha has set down her tennis shoes on one of the studio’s black foam mats. The words “PERFORM BETTER!” are branded in white letters. The “O” in “PERFORM” is a smiley face.
I sit down on the bike and settle in. The class is full now. I turn the pedals, joining the chorus of caloric burning.
The music stops. Janelle stands in front of me on the small, square stage. Janelle’s bike sits stoic behind her, lone and looming over the room. Waiting.
“Welcome to Saturday Spin, friends!” she bellows. She’s tall and lean, her long brown hair slicked back into a sleek ponytail.
Janelle is an elementary school teacher. You can tell. She commands a room with kindness and authority, her voice ringing clear as a bell. “I’ve got to ask: Who’s cheering for Michigan?” Some cyclists cheer. “And who’s cheering for Michigan State?” More cheers. She grins.
“OK, we’ve got a great ride for you today,” she tells us as she plugs in an iPod to the outlet in the wall. Music pulses over our heads. “Great playlist, great class. Let’s get going.” She hops on the bike and begins to pedal.
Suddenly, the class takes on a focused seriousness that reminds me of church. Janelle stands tall over us like a pastor. The bikes are in line like pews. We follow her every move.
My enemy comes in the form of a small, red knob on the bike. It looks gray under the red and blue lights. The actual name of the thing is the Resistance Knob. Yeah. RESISTANCE Knob. A turn to the right adds tension by adding weight to the wheel. A turn to the left lightens the load. You determine the difficulty.
“Add,” Janelle orders. We turn our knobs. We spin our wheels. The ride gets harder, mimicking an upward climb on a hill. The song switches.
“I’m sweating like a man up here,” Janelle jokes. Um, same. The red light catches the gleam on her face.
“Now I want you to add resistance,” she coaches. “Add enough tension to stand tall.”
I turn my knob to the right. My cadence slows under the new weight. “Now stand up in the saddle,” Janelle instructs. “Don’t fly off.”
I stand up from the bike seat, my knees bouncing like bobbers in the water. My mind wanders. Enough tension to stand tall. Sweat pours down my back. I’m still bobbin’, still standin’, until Janelle tells us to sit back down.
“Take some tension off, grab a towel, get a drink.” I guzzle from my cheap water bottle, gulp oxygen into my lungs, turn that wheel with quiet desperation.
The hollowed, intergalactic sounds of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” begins.
“Okay, we are going to do a strength climb,” Janelle instructs. Her wheels are turning. “It’s going to get heavy.”
Michael wails in his high-pitched voice. “Now, add, add, add, ADD,” Janelle chants. “Now go.”
The song plays. My legs burn. The wheel slows. The mind games begin as my body wails. All it takes is one turn for me to end this misery, to ease up, to let off. To make it, you know, not so damn hard.
But then Janelle chimes in, as if she’s reading my thoughts.
“Come on,” she urges, pulling her fingers toward her palms in a “gimme more” gesture. “Don’t fall off, come with me.” She looks into our faces. I bite my lip.
“You’re uncomfortable,” she says to the class matter-of-factly, “not dead. You’re not going to die.” She continues cycling. “Mind over muscle.”
And I realize Janelle is right.
This is supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s hard as the resistance gets turned up, it’s hard as my legs turn from fire to jelly, it’s hard as the sweat seeps into my eyes and Michael Jackson keeps singing, and THIS SONG IS SERIOUSLY THE LONGEST SONG EVER. WHO THE HECK IS DIRTY DIANA ANYWAY?
It’s all hard.
But just as quickly as the difficult comes?
The song ends. The weight is lifted.
“Great job,” Janelle boasts. “Way to finish strong.”
As I wipe sweat from my eyebrow, I think about what Janelle said back at the beginning of class…how we need to add enough tension so we can stand tall. If you don’t have enough tension, you’ll lose control of the wheel. You feel like you’re going to spin right off the bike.
Maybe that’s how life works.
We need the tension in order to stand tall. To rise above. To see where we stand. To maintain control. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It’s not fun.
But it’s necessary.
Last week, I visited my friend Cassie after work. She has the cutest 8-month baby boy in the world, and he isn’t a big fan of getting ready for bed. He cries as she lovingly changes him out of his clothes and into his jammies. He shakes his head no. He wants to stay awake and take in the world.
“How do you deal with the crying?” I ask. “Like when it gets really bad?”
She shrugged. “The crying stops eventually.”
Now, Janelle slows her pedals. “Great class today,” she nods as we clap.
I turn the knob to the left. The tension is gone. I sit still. I stretch. I remember Cassie, and her son, and how lovingly she looked at him, read him a story, counted to ten and tickled his toes. He gives the biggest grin and the best giggle, cracking open us all with joy.
The crying stops eventually.
It all stops eventually.
Nothing lasts forever. Including the pain.
Especially the pain.
It’s easy to forgot that in the dark holes of life—in the drippy tears and caked sweat and dirty dishes and missed opportunities and guilt-ridden mistakes— we find who we are. We design—or redesign—our lives. We get angry, we forgive, we let go. It’s a constant turn on the Resistance Knob.
We get off the bike.
Back on again.
And move forward.
Our street is busy.
The busiest street I’ve ever lived on, anyway.
The constant whoosh of cars still sounds foreign to me. Whenever the bass of some big Buick blares by the house, I can’t help but look out the window. Daisy accompanies me.
She barks. I don’t.
The first house I called home was a 1970s ranch where we lived during the 90s. It sat on the last leg of a dead end road. Pine Street.
My room was located at the end of the house. Last window on the right. I had a peach-colored comforter and a blue boom box with red and yellow buttons. I’d pop in my cassettes—the Space Jam soundtrack, Celine Dion, George Strait, the Spice Girls—and imagine stage-worthy scenarios with packed audiences. In front of my dresser mirror, I’d dance and lip sync while wearing my purple velvet dance leotard. The flower print one. A two piece because it showed my belly button. ‘Cause I wanted to be a little bit scandalous.
The house had a basketball hoop, and a dog kennel, and a two-car garage. Across the street, thick woods thinned toward the shore of the Bad River’s brown waters. When an unexpected car made the slow, bumpy drive down, down, down the road to our driveway, it was an Event.
“Who’s here?” my mom would ask, her eyebrows reaching the sky.
“Some car,” I’d answer.
“Oh. They’re probably just turning around.”
I’d step back from the big picture window to hide my owl eyes. The car pulled in, backed up, headed where it came from. I felt disappointed that they were leaving because it was such an occasion, to see a car. We usually saw more deer than people.
Every year on Halloween, we used an orange plastic bowl from McDonald’s…one of those free gimmies for buying a Happy Meal. It had black triangle eyes and a toothy smile to resemble a pumpkin. We filled the bowl with Neapolitan taffy and left it on the porch, just in case any stray trick-or-treaters wandered our way. We bundled up and went to a few houses to collect Kit Kats and Twix bars. When we got home, our pumpkin bowl remained untouched.
Since we didn’t have neighbors, there were no neighborly waves. No borrowed cups of sugar. No fear of noise complaints. During the warm summer nights, my little brother and I took turns riding on the back of Dad’s yellow Honda Mini Trail bike. The engine snarled as we squealed past our fence in the front yard, past the orange and yellow marigolds my dad planted, past the wild rhubarb we never picked but probably should have.
I loved when Dad steered us along the overgrown trail into the gnarled woods. I’d close my eyes and feel the wind’s fingers tangle my hair. The bushes tickled my face. The scent of Black-Eyed Susans filled my nostrils, lodging the memories into my mind. They come forward whenever I smell the wildflowers now.
Twenty years have passed since I lived on Pine Street. I can still remember the address. Can still recite the phone number.
One afternoon a few months ago, I stood across from my mom in the kitchen while she folded bath towels.
“Did you ever feel pressure from other parents?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, did you feel like you needed to send us to a certain school, or do things a certain way?”
In other words: Mom, did you feel the need to drink the juice out of the Perfect Parenting punch bowl?
Mom spread the pink towel on the counter. Folded one end in, then the other.
“Honey, you grew up on a dead end street across from the Bad River,” she answered matter-of-factly. She added the folded towel to the pile. “And I think you turned out just fine.”
Nowadays, my husband and I have neighbors. There’s traffic. We’re two minutes from the Class A high school. But we get a taste of the country, too. Behind our house, it’s all fields and tall trees. Blackbirds chatter like the old men drinking black coffee at McDonald’s.
A sugar beet field stretches along the south side of our house. A few weeks ago, a weathered farmer went back and forth with his harvester outside our window, scraping the fields clean and crop-free. He was so close to the house, we could have reached out and given him a high five.
Daisy barked. I didn’t.
Whenever I’m coming or going from Meijer or (let’s be honest) TJ Maxx, I pass the same line of houses. One house uses a projector to splash holiday-themed light designs on their brown siding. Not just for Christmas, either. This year, I’ve seen hearts for Valentine’s Day, and stars for the Fourth of July, and eggs for Easter. Another house further down is long and skinny and brown. It has a burgundy star hanging on the front. The fancy red brick two-story across the street has a perfect lawn and a stunning chandelier. It makes me think of that ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Other houses are sandwiched in between the rest, but they all blur together so they look the same. Like a boy band. I see them as The Bunch of Houses on the Left Side of the Street.
At the beginning of this summer, one house broke free from the pack.
It started with the bushes.
Normally, thick green bushes concealed this house from the road. But one day, they were gone, revealing a house that faced the road dead-on, defiant in its visibility. Like, “Yep. I’ve been here this whole time.” It was small—900 square feet? 800?—and shaped like a tissue box. White. Yellow caution tape criss-crossed the driveway. A hint and a warning.
As Adam and I made our daily drives into Saginaw to run errands or do whatever, we’d glance at the house. The once-hidden yard had turned into the Center of Hustle and Bustle. Men wearing jeans and construction boots were always there: moving drywall and carrying siding and pushing piles of dirt with a Bobcat.
We still weren’t quite sure what they were doing until they did it. In July, a huge garage-like structure stood large and looming next to the small house. It was two stories, and at least double the size of its partner.
“So do you think it’s a garage?” I said as I stared out the passenger window while Adam drove straight. “Or a new house?”
“If it’s a new house, I don’t know why they’re so hell-bent on saving that original house,” Adam glanced out the window, then back at the road. “Why make the addition bigger than the house that was already there?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “You’d think it’d be easier to just start from scratch. Build exactly what you want.”
The new house-garage was too big, the old house too small. The pair didn't line up. Like a tall, gangly girl and an awkward pre-teen boy trying to slow dance in a middle school gymnasium. It didn't make sense.
But then—then!—it did.
The changes to the house were probably gradual. Not to the owners, or the workers. But to us, it was as if it all happened overnight. Like a drastic haircut combined with fresh makeup and a new outfit, the pieces all clicked together to create The Big Noticeable Change.
That change? A hallway.
The builders had connected the small house to the huge garage with a hallway, or a breezeway. Either way, the two weren't separate anymore. Suddenly, we realized: they weren’t building a garage, or a new house. They weren’t starting over. They were adding on. It was one big house.
We saw the other changes come quickly afterwards. The gray siding. The white garage doors. The new roof. They still aren’t done. Every day, it looks more beautiful. More cohesive.
What looked like a hodge-podge of a situation is now a beautiful, updated home.
“Look how pretty that house looks,” I told Adam as we drove by once again. They have recently added a copper-colored awning to a portion of the old house.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “They’re really coming along with it. It looks so different.”
“It’s crazy,” I said, turning to face the windshield. “We thought they’d be better off starting from scratch.”
“Guess we were wrong.”
I admit it: I was skeptical at first. I didn’t see the vision. Not that the opinion of Lindsay the Nosy Neighbor matters. But all I saw was a tall square garage-house dwarfing a small tissue box house. I kept thinking, "Why salvage the old when you can start brand new?"
The little house down the road taught me something though.
Maybe we don’t need to start over by tearing down.
Maybe it’s good to keep the bones. Rebuild by adding on to the existing foundation. The original isn’t always a hurdle…it’s a starting place to create something new. Starting over can mean making something beautiful out of what others on the outside see as Not Worth It.
Maybe adding on is a way to let go.
All it takes is time, and effort…and a hallway to connect the two.
(Yes, I'm creepy and took a paparazzi-like photo of the house down the street.)