We were in Ms. Bell’s sixth hour health class when Liz leaned over from the table next to me. She stared as I slid pencil over paper.
“Wait,” she said. “Let me see that.”
“See what?” I stopped writing, clicked my mechanical pencil and looked around me.
Long gray tables surrounded us in rows. Two chairs to one table: each seat assigned like nests for us teenage birds needing a place to call home. The bell hadn’t rung yet. Our flock was flapping and squawking, getting our rowdy out before we had to land and learn something.
Liz continued to stare at my notes like she was deciphering a code.
Her name was Elizabeth but everyone called her Liz. I respected her—not just because she was the older, wiser sophomore—but because she called it like she saw it. She had small glasses and dark hair and a sharp tongue that didn’t coat her words in sugar.
"Huh,” Liz finally said, lifting her eyebrows. Confusion clouded her face.
“What?” I asked.
“I just didn’t picture you writing like that,” she said, her tone tinged in disbelief. Not mean-spirited. Matter-of-fact.
“Like, you know. That.” She gestured toward my notebook.
Oh. That. I laughed because I knew what she meant.
My gaze followed hers as I saw my handwriting through her eyes. Not quite chicken scratch, exactly. Less painful than that. Chicken marks, maybe. Chicken trails. Chicken tracks.
“What, you pictured all bubbly and cursive and girly?” I asked.
Ms. Bell was at the front of the classroom now, trying to turn our volume and hormones down so we could discuss the digestive system. If anyone could wrangle our class of misfit toys, it was Ms. Bell.
Liz smiled at me. “Exactly.”
I returned her smile, then shrugged. Class started. I continued taking notes.
Nearly 20 years later, and my handwriting is the same. Usually legible, sometimes questionable. More blurs than bubbles. A mix of slants and straight that combine to create a penmanship that doesn’t exactly sail.
I wouldn’t change it, though. The way we write is as individual as our voices, our fingerprints, our blood types. The font that chooses us.
This Christmas, I collected memories from friends, family and coworkers to create a keepsake book for my mom. People typed loving stories stuffed with nostalgia and gratitude. They sent them to me via email and Facebook.
All except one.
“Do you want to contribute to Mom’s Christmas book?” I asked my dad on the phone. I had explained the gift idea to him a week earlier.
“Um,” he said, taking a breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I will. I’ll get you something.”
I wasn’t sure how this getting of somethings would go. My dad’s not a big computer user, nor one to willingly drill a written well that overflows with emotion.
The day before I planned to send the book to the printer, Dad stopped by my house. In the doorway, he adjusted his U of M hat, reached into the back pocket of his faded blue jeans and pulled out a thin white envelope.
“Here,” he said, handing me the envelope.
“Oh, wow, great.” I felt the paper between my fingers. He wrote it out. “Thanks Dad.” I put the envelope in the top drawer of my nightstand.
Later that night after my dad left, I sat on my bed with the envelope in my lap. I opened the flap and unfolded the sheet of notebook paper. My heart caught in my throat as I recognized my father’s familiar longhand: short, blocky capital letters. The same scrawl once found on folded pieces of lined paper in my lunchbox.
Now I read his words written in black ink. A mix of surprise and tears filled my eyes as I soaked in his sentiments. The end, though. The end was my favorite.
“You are the love of my life,” my dad signed.
He had never expressed that sentiment so boldly before—not with my eyes or ears knowing, anyway. He showed his love through the fixing: flat tires, clogged drains, broken engines. Or the doing: mowing the lawn, picking up my mom’s favorite peanut butter candies, hanging bird feeders outside of her window. But here he was, navigating a new language of love. Words.
I sat on my bed in silence, reading it once, twice, three times. No matter your age, it’s reassuring to know the ones who love you love each other, too. Seeing this written declaration in my dad’s own penmanship was as special as him shouting the words across the city. Maybe even more so. These words were permanent. Able to be read over and over again.
As we all lean into texts and emails, the handwritten can become more special because of its rarity and significance. All it takes is willingness and ink. A signature can mark the start of a job, the end of a marriage, the adoption of a child. Turn a bill into a law. A building into a business.
A pen in hand can move mountains. But handwriting shows as much as it tells: the things we want to see, and the things we don’t.
I was 8-years-old when my Grandma’s breast cancer bombarded her body to the point of harassment. Separated by my innocent ignorance and the miles between Michigan and Minnesota, I didn’t understand how serious her illness had become.
Still, she mustered the energy to write me a birthday card. She wrote in the same regal cursive as familiar to me as her brown eyes. But now the writing was…different. Shaky. These letters were woven with uncertainty, as if cancer had cosigned the card. That’s when I knew that my grandma wasn’t just sick. She was Really Sick.
Maybe that’s why we save the cards. Get the autographs. Write the love letters. Handwriting gives us proof that this person, this situation, this event, existed in our world…even if for a moment.
They were here. See. Look. It’s handwritten.
I still have the birthday card my grandma sent me on my eighth birthday. Sometimes I open it and re-read her words. I trace my fingers along the loops and swirls and feel as if she’s still here. She can’t write these words now, but she did once. Death took her that year, but I still have this piece of her today.
When you love someone, you want to keep every scrap of them you can—especially when they’re gone. How they cross their T’s can become as important as how they crossed our paths. Their handwriting is our artifact. We can hold onto this part of them, even if it's a small stamp on a long timeline.
They were here. See. Look. It’s handwritten.
And somehow, that becomes enough.
I like to ask my Grandma Marilyn questions.
She’s nearly 90 and has a memory like an elephant. This works well for me: the curious granddaughter who sorts through the past like an archaeologist. Searching for bones buried beneath sand.
Whenever I start with my inquisitions, Grandma is hesitant.
“Now why are you askin’ me that?” she pushes back.
But then I’ll get her going, and we’re off to the races. It helps if she’s had a beer or two.
“So, listen to this…” she’ll start. I settle into my role as a sponge, sopping up her stories like sudsy water.
Marilyn is more sass than sweet. A broad-shouldered beauty who dyes her hair blonde from a Clairol box and makes the best chocolate chip cookies this side of the Mississippi. She wears oversized sunglasses and cream-colored leggings. She loves Sonic Drive-In.
“Their hot dogs are delicious; you ever try one?” she asked me on Christmas.
She almost lost it when Minnesota football was postponed due to the pandemic.
“What am I going to do?” she moaned. “Don’t you dare bury me during football season.” I can see her wearing a purple Vikings sweatshirt in her mauve-coated living room, her eyebrows knitted with needles of concern.
I envision being a grandma like her one day.
Maybe my granddaughter will ask me questions about this past year.
“What was it like?” she’ll wonder. “To have everything shut down?”
I’ll answer the only way I know how: “Nothing was at it once seemed.”
I’ll tell her that our normal routines became a rabbit hole of random. We were all Alice, falling down into a weird wonderland where everything was topsy-turvy.
Places that were open were now closed.
People that were healthy turned sick.
Classrooms were empty. Movie theatres were barren. Restaurants resembled ghost towns. Playgrounds were wrapped in yellow caution tape like a crime scene.
The everyday sounds of life no longer served as a steady soundtrack of busy, bustling, packed. It was silent. Still. Quiet.
But not the hospitals.
Emergency rooms became alarm clocks, waking us all to life’s fragility. Like a loud beeping that disturbs our life slumbers, the ER screamed, “THIS IS WHAT MATTERS. THIS IS WHO MATTERS. LOOK. YOU MIGHT LOSE IT. SEE?”
The alarm clock of the emergency room blared for me this winter. It was cold. There was no snow on the ground. My mom was sick. She couldn’t breathe. Her doctor used scary words of suspicion, like “blood clots” and “pulmonary embolism.”
That's when I learned that the ER can force you to face the thoughts you don't want to think. Regrets rise to the surface like a buoy in the ocean. Real friends and support systems become clear. They’re the names you text when you’re worried that your world is going to fall apart.
“You cannot die,” I begged my mom, my brown eyes boring into hers though a phone screen. Maybe I was being dramatic. But the world was topsy-turvy now. I didn’t trust it.
She wore a thin, navy hospital gown dotted in geometric shapes. She sat alone on a twin bed surrounded by machines and creamsicle-colored walls.
“You’ve got to be around to go to TJ Maxx and maybe you'll have grandchildren and we can go on trips and who knows what else, I dunno,” I begged, thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet as the death numbers on the news scanned across my mind. I wanted to give her reasons to fight for her health.
“I’ll be OK, honey,” she promised.
Still, I was frantic. My shins hurt from kicking myself for everything I took for granted. The seconds that added up to minutes, hours, days, decades I thought I’d have forever. How foolish of me.
By the grace of God, my mom got better. And I got different. My perspective, anyway.
I think about those who have already experienced that type of loss. I wish I could give them words to heal the hurt, but I imagine it’s a forever-engrained bruise. The pain is always there. It aches more if you press on it.
I picture my future granddaughter asking me what else changed as we went further down, down, down the rabbit hole.
In the Wonderland of 2020, the little things became the big things since the little things were gone. Like hugging, or sitting in a restaurant booth, or walking into a grocery store with your nostrils exposed.
We got good at reading eyes.
Schedules morphed into excuses. Busy and overbooked suddenly diminished because what was there to do, go, see? The ocean of a pandemic crashed against our shorelines and left our priorities scattered on the beach like seashells. We had time to examine them now. We could decide if we wanted to pick them up and take them home, or leave them stagnant and still and ignored.
We make time for what matters.
Friends became twinkle lights. They shined brightest during the dark times of lonely and bored, adding even more sparkle and pizzazz to the humdrum and the mundane. Connection was a life raft. Letters, cards, texts, FaceTime, Zoom, cinnamon tea in paper cups, wine bottles on the front steps, cheesecake left by the front door: it all meant the same thing: I’m here. I see you. I care.
I’d tell my granddaughter that 2020 was weird.
“Write that down,” I’d urge. “It. Was. Weird.”
As I sit on my couch tonight—back to being the inquisitive granddaughter—I look at pictures of my grandma. I trace the lines that tell tales of a past that created my future. We are separated by the miles between Minnesota and Michigan and decades of wisdom. Her life choices led to my existence.
She’s a walking history book. Her full life has become a library of lessons. She’s added the 2020 chapter to her life story.
We all have.
“You know,” my grandma once said to me, her confident voice crackling in my ear as she sat on her leather couch in the house that holds a thousand memories for me. “Since I live alone, I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. I replay the stories over and over in my mind.”
Our present is the future history. These memories of 2020 will get replayed in our minds as the years stretch beyond the here and now. May we remember it all, even the weird.
When we are nearly 90 and our grandchildren ask us questions, we can say, “So, listen to this…”
“Madelyn…” I start, my face serious.
Madelyn looks up at me with question marks in her eyes. The blue orbiting her pupils matches the color of her Elsa dress. It’s a Saturday morning, and her family—my friends—are downstairs.
My guided tour of a 3-year-old’s bedroom is nearly complete. She’s already shown me the rainbow-covered comforter, the pink pop-up tent packed with coloring books, the pictures hanging on lemon meringue walls.
Now we reached the tour highlight: The Closet.
“What is your FAVORITE dress?” I ask.
“That’s a great question,” she determines, her response soaked in encouragement. The sheer adultness of her affirmation nearly knocks me off my feet.
Madelyn’s hands—half my size—grab hold of the closet’s white double doors. She yanks them open. We stand in front of her dress collection: all pinks and florals and bright and happy.
She wraps her arms around the dress in front: a light lime green number with neon cartoonish flowers.
“This one!” she exclaims. “I just love my dresses so, so much!” Joy spread across her face as she closes her eyes, bringing the cotton close and breathing it in.
“I love that dress too,” I agree. “It’s beautiful.”
"Come on!” she gallops. “Let’s go downstairs and SING!”
My cheeks hurt from smiling. Kids do that sometimes. They inspire you to shove away your adultness. They help you to forget to remember for a while.
I watch Madelyn go downstairs. That’s when it hits me.
Here’s this little human being—this sweet, spunky girl with opinions and preferences and thoughts—and yet I remember hearing about her before her toes had even touched this earth.
Madelyn’s parents, Mike and Laura, are two of my best friends. Now they are a mom and dad to two sweet girls. We are the adults in the room. How did that happen? I listen for the beating of time’s wings as it flies over our heads.
When I first met Laura, we were college juniors interning at the same corporation. Laura had a penchant for pencil skirts and Express shirts. I had a too-short haircut that I could never figure out how to style. We couldn’t legally drink, we were too loud for our own good, and we tried our best to masquerade around the maze of cubicles and corporate jargon.
We had no idea what we were doing.
“You want to come to my house?” Laura asked me during Week 1 of our internship. “I don’t live far.”
There were no babies, or marriages, or dogs, or houses. There was just me, and Laura, and Full House on the TV during our lunch hour.
Laura introduced me to her boyfriend Mike, who worked at the baseball stadium in town. Later that summer, Laura called me to tell me Mike was no longer her boyfriend. He had gotten down on one knee on a dock in Lake City. I stood in their wedding the next fall.
Twelve years later, she’s still got Mike. And she’s still got me.
Funny how that works. You know. Friendship.
With dating, you ask yourself the deep questions early on. Could I see myself with this person? Could they meet my friends? Could I introduce them to my dad?
With friends, it’s the opposite. It’s often a casual start that begins over the simplest of things. You’re colleagues, or classmates, or roommates, or teammates.
Then time goes by. The strands of life wrap around each other, interweaving into a braid that builds a bond.
A dress, a class, a beer, a boy turns into a house, a career, a wedding.
A life, a love, a loss.
A diagnosis, a disease, a death.
Inside jokes and outward appearances.
Target runs and long walks.
Break-ups, make-ups, check-ins, take-out.
Laughing and crying and hugging and high fiving and celebrating and hurting and all of it…
All of it.
You’re sharing your lives. Together. Because you’re friends. And that’s how this thing works, when it’s at its best. They say marriage is growing old together. But so is friendship.
There is no formal ceremony. No signed contract. No swapping of names. No one gets down on bended knee to propose. There’s no need. At the core, friendship centers on action. Showing up in a billion big and small ways that knit together to create a tapestry of trust.
When Laura and I watched DJ Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler while munching on chips and salsa in 2008, did I picture talking to her 3-year-old in 2020 about her favorite dresses in her closet?
No. No, I did not.
But that’s the beauty of friendship. You grow up together: whether that's from the alphabet carpet to adulthood or college student to parenthood or a million other transitions and transformations along the way. Seedlings of friendship turn into mighty oaks where you bend and sway together in the storms. There’s something special about shared history. Someone who’s roots are tangled with yours. It’s a unique type of metamorphosis: you’re both caterpillars that cover yourselves in cocoons. Then you grow wings. You watch yourselves fly, fall, and fly again. Over and over and over. Season after season. Changing, growing, morphing, flying, falling.
To be friends is its own type of commitment. The vows aren't spoken, but the actions are there. To have and to hold. In sickness and in health. It’s a blessing and a privilege: To grow up and not apart.
I go downstairs. I see Laura holding their newborn, Lydia. I hear Mike singing Frozen songs with Madelyn. This is a new season of our friendship. I soak it all in before I step into the living room, grab Madelyn’s hands and twirl.
The flowers sat on my front porch. Right in the center of my doormat from Target. The one that says HOME. There’s a red heart where the “O” should be.
When I opened the door, my inhale was as sharp as a knife. I knew they were coming, but that still didn’t prepare me for this Arrival of the Fittest. A pretty pink package of petals.
I’ve always been a sucker for hydrangeas.
I bent down and picked up the box of my new flower babies, stumbling at their weight.
“Daisy, look what we got,” I sing-songed as I shut the door. I set the flowers on the table. Daisy yawned. I looked down at the plants. “They’re beautiful.”
There were four in total. I ordered them online through Kayla. Her family owns the local greenhouse, and they were having an Easter sale. She sent me a message after I commented on her Facebook status.
“So funny story I posted that picture of the hydrangeas on my page and I seriously said to myself Lindsay Henry is going to buy these I know it!! And then you commented!”
“Omg you get me, haha”
“Totally!! If you wanna place an order with me, I’d be happy to drop them off to you. I’m delivery for FREE!”
It was the beginning of April. The world was quarantined, limited by our liabilities to make each other sick. Like many people stuck in the middle of the pandemic, I beat the blues by honing in on home improvement projects.
A week before, I glanced at the ground from my living room windows. The grass and dirt were as patchy as a middle-age man’s head. Cars whizzed by, the bass bumping in my chest. An empty farm field sat still, waiting for someone to tell it what would take root this year.
I looked closer at the yard. Barren and boring.
“Hydrangeas,” I said as my eyes scanned the space next to the house. “That’s what needs to go here.” I loved all the other houses that had healthy hydrangea bushes: all big and blooming and thriving.
I could do that, I thought. I could raise some hydrangeas to grow to be big. And blooming. And thriving.
I mean, I never had done it before. But I could try.
I looked down at my thumbs. They weren’t green. Eh. I picked at a stray hangnail.
Then Kayla posted the photo of hydrangeas for sale. And here we were.
Like people, each plant had their own identity: some pinker than others, blushing with embarrassment by their beauty. Some tips were tinged with lime, as if the petals were painted with watercolor. Certain bloom clusters hid behind leaves. Others stared up at me.
For a few weeks, the family of four sat in a parallel line on my dining room table. I felt fancy with these fresh florals as I passed by each morning. Like I was always prepared for some special brunch that would have eggs benedict and fresh berries and buttered toast. Lots of buttered toast.
I also felt worried. These suckers needed to live, or else my outdoor plan of Big, Blooming, Thriving was a bust.
So I took my glass measuring cup because it was the only thing I had with a spout, and I watered the hydrangeas. I checked their petals. Placed my fingertips in their soil. Examined the leaves. Kept them alive.
As the weather got warmer, I picked a weekend to make the Big Move.
I bought mulch and weed barrier.
I measured and marked where each plant would take hold and grow.
I dug circular holes for the hydrangeas’ new homes.
I brushed dirt off my knees and washed soil-soaked hands with Thousand Wishes-scented hand soap.
One by one, I brought each plant out from underneath the ceiling and placed them in the ground to breath the open air. I stood back and took pictures of the progress. I smiled at the pink, replacing dismal and drab with life and color.
I loved them.
Two days later, I went out to the side of my house to check on my happy, pretty plants.
They were not happy and pretty.
The flowers were no longer pink, but a sick, sad shade of brown. The leaves were crunchy. They were shriveled and wrinkled, zapped of everything it once had: life, growth, vibrancy.
I called my mom.
“My hydrangeas are dead,” I told her. “Or, dying, anyway.” I snapped the ponytail holder against my wrist.
“Give them time? Water them?” she suggested. “Maybe the flowers will die but the stems will remain and re-grow once they get used to the new environment.”
“Maybe,” I said. I doubted. I think she did, too. We were looking for the bright side, but it was covered in shadows.
Later, my dad called.
“It’s supposed to get cold tonight,” he said. “I’m not sure if those flowers of yours are going to be OK or not. You better put somethin’ over ‘em.”
I hurried to my garage and glanced around at its contents. No buckets. I didn’t think of bedsheets. I was as green to gardening as my plants were brown.
“Um,” I said, my eyebrows furrowing into a V as I looked around. “This.” I grabbed my two large garbage cans and an old copier paper box from Staples. As I covered my sick plants, I hoped that the containers carried magic that would bring them back to life. Abracadabra.
The next day, I went out to see if the plants had been risen from the nearly-dead. I lifted the lids. Well, they didn’t look great…but wait. I knelt down closer. There, at the stems, was hope in the form of small, emerald leaves.
I took pictures of the stems and showed my co-worker Ashley: a design guru who is an expert in growing vegetable gardens and turning ordinary into pretty.
“Are these dead?” I asked. “Look! Green! They’re not dead, right? That’s a good sign. Right?”
She examined the photo. Paused. “Yeah, I think they’ll be OK,” Ashley determined. She doesn’t say things just to say them. I had hope.
Until another 12 hours passed.
I went back outside. The glimpses of green were gone. The stems were yellowed and bare.
I sighed with defeat, the failure chaining itself to my ankles and weighing me down.
Time of Death: 5:47 p.m.
I kicked myself for not researching hydrangeas enough. I couldn’t believe how quickly they declined. How fast they went from pretty and pink to dead and gone. I averted my eyes (I still do) as I drove by that side of the house. A symbol of my failure. To this day, the bare stems stick out of the ground like skeletons. I haven’t had the heart to remove them.
The hydrangeas are not a complete failure.
They didn’t die because something was wrong with them.
They died because they weren’t meant to thrive in that environment.
As much as the situation was in my hands, it was out of them, too.
The factors didn’t align for their survival: The blasts of heavy sun during the day. The nights that got too cold. The soil that was too dry. And a million different things that couldn’t change the outcome, as much as I wanted it to be different.
I wanted a lot to be different.
Nobody starts something--a job, a relationship, a friendship, a life--thinking it will end. We hope for the to-haves and to-holds…even when the same conversations circle around us like vultures sensing the inevitable.
Who wants to go out without a fight? Not me. Add this, do this, say this, this will help, and this, and this—but it still withers, withers, withers. Cover up the concerns with a different type of veil and believe it’s enough to protect it from the cold. Still, it withers, withers, withers. You make the calls. Check the clock. Ask, talk, listen, pray. Count the petals: He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.
Though the flowers don’t ask for frost, winter comes and kills anyway. No plants live without nutrients...unless they’re fake.
The signs and quotes and Pinterest boards tell us to “Bloom where you’re planted.” I used to love that saying. Not anymore. They got it backwards.
We need to plant ourselves where we bloom.
Find the places, the people, the jobs that are conducive to our growth.
The ones that make us feel alive.
The ones that help us thrive by not only giving us what we want, but the nourishment we need.
The ones that don’t just stay for the sunshine, but stand right next to you in the rain.
It’s difficult to try to exist—let alone thrive—in a spot where you are not meant to be. Yet we kick ourselves when we start to lose our petals. We strive to grow and come up short. We cover ourselves with magical boxes and hope we’ll emerge good as new.
There is no easy answer button to undo the infiltration. No magic container. No abracadabra to transform the dead into the living.
Letters are sent to houses that people don't call home anymore.
Business cards are thrown away.
Texts are left unanswered.
Photos are deleted in a fit of rage and grief, replaced with regret as you realize their face is gone forever now. Messages are replayed to get the voices out of our heads and cradled in the ear.
Songs follow you around like burglars, taking your breath away while you're picking out avocados, while you're driving through the car wash, while you're getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist.
We become haunted by the people and places that turned into ghosts and left holes as gaping as graves where flowers were supposed to grow.
But a cactus can't thrive in Michigan. An oak tree won't stretch in San Jose. Mother Nature doesn’t ask the plants to excel in every environment—so why should we ask that of ourselves?
My hydrangeas died. I tried my best, and still—my hydrangeas died.
In their death, the roots and leaves go back into the earth. And guess what makes soil more fertile for other things to grow?
I have another hydrangea bush in front of my house. The previous owner—a car salesman named Roger who owns collies with his wife and wears button downs and says “Hi Lindsay” and smiles when I see him at the gas station—planted it there before I moved in.
I don’t water it.
I don’t stress about it.
I don’t put copier paper boxes over it.
I let it be.
The leaves are rich and green. The flowers are a nice, soft purple. It loses leaves in the fall. It grows back in the spring. It’s beautiful because it’s meant to be there. It doesn’t have to work hard to be itself. It’s getting what it needs. Right there. Exactly where it is. Being exactly what it should be, where it should be, as it should be.
It’s big. Blooming. Thriving.
I squinted in the sunshine. The rays splayed across the cracked concrete beneath my neon pink sneakers. A wide spring sky wrapped its arms around me.
I’ve walked Nelson Road a thousand times. It’s one of my favorite routes. I like the calm. The quiet.
And seeing the cows. I love the cows.
A few miles from my childhood home is Zelinko Farms. They specialize in raising Black Angus cows. I often walk to the cow pasture, soaking in the vast swaths of green that line the left side of Nelson Road.
In the spring, the fields are littered with the big-eyed beasts. The cows now have their babies by their sides: mini versions of their mamas, but peppy and curious and cute.
Wooden poles connected by four parallel wires make a necessary boundary between wild and free. The wires carry a current of electricity to keep the cows contained. From far away, the wires look more floss than fatal.
“Don’t ever touch that,” my dad would warn me. “It’ll shock you somethin’ awful.”
I filled my lungs with fresh air. My nose filtered it first: the scent mixed with one part air, one part manure, one part wildflower. The mooing echoed across the farmland. Big and bold and bellowing. I picked up my pace. It was a beautiful day.
Daisy strolled on my left side, four paw pads ahead of me because she likes to think she’s the boss. (Mistake #1).
“Daisy, wait, by me” I instructed. She halted, giving me a side eye as sassy as a supermodel. She returned to her strut.
Daisy’s bare chocolate neck shone in the sunlight. Dad had taken her purple collar off while she went swimming in their pond down the road. I left her leash in my car. It was fine, I figured. Nelson Road was lucky to see a truck or two every hour. (Mistake #2).
As the trees faded into field, I smiled as my eyes caught the first sheen of black in the pasture.
Yes. The cows were out today.
My excitement shoved common sense out of my mind. I walked faster as I approached the fence, realizing that wow—these cows were super close. The closest I’ve ever seen. There were about 30 of them, huddled in cliques like it was a high school hallway. I could reach out and touch their ears if I wanted.
I stopped to slide my phone out of the back pocket of my jeans. I wanted to take an artsy close up of the cows in their glory. (Mistake #3).
It wasn't until I watched Daisy slide underneath the electrical fence that I remembered I didn't have her leash in my hand.
Everything moved in slow motion.
I saw my dog.
I saw my dog surrounded by cows.
I saw my dog surround by 1000 pound big black cows who had a natural instinct to protect the babies by their sides. To them, Daisy was a predator.
Daisy’s fur bristled then matted back down in fear as she realized she entered an arena where she was not the big dog. Not the big dog at all.
It took one stomp of a cow’s hoof for me to shake me out of my shock.
All I could think was, “They're going to kill her."
I don't know if these cows would have actually hurt her, or if they were more scared than we were. Still, my mind created scary scenarios as speedily as an action movie.
I immediately started screaming.
“DAISY! DAISY GET OUT OF THERE!"
Everyone was operating on instinct: The cows started running toward Daisy. They wanted to protect their babies. And I wanted to protect mine.
So I went after her. Under the electrical fence.
I don’t know if I got zapped then or not. If I did, I didn’t feel it. The adrenaline was too strong.
Now I was behind Daisy, staring at a big group of very big cows with big natural instincts.
Daisy could sense something was up and began to run along the fence line. A large cow, then another, then another galloped after her. The hooves thumped on the dirt.
“DAISY!” I screamed and ran toward her. The cow clique was getting closer, with more following suit heading towards Daisy. Some mooed, sounding less like a happy children’s toy and more like a guttural moan.
This is how I’m going to watch my dog die. I didn’t know if that was true, but my fear fed me these lines and I gobbled them up as I sprinted towards Daisy. She was close to the fence now, cowering as the cows got closer. Tears of everything—fear, frustration, anger, uncertainty—welled in my eyes.
I ran past the cows and finally reached my dog, dropping to my knees behind her. Panic rose in my throat. My hands clasped the fur near her neck. I cursed the missing collar back home on the counter.
“Daisy, GO,” I urged. All that stood between us and safety was a fence full of electricity.
She barely budged, scared she’d get the shock she received the first time she slid under the wire.
I didn’t think. I grabbed the bottom wire of the fence and lifted the wire with my left hand, shoving Daisy—all eighty pounds of stubborn and scared—underneath with my right hand.
She went under.
She was on the other side.
Zaps of electrical current went through my palms and on top of my forearm. It buzzed and burned.
I let go of the wire, then rolled underneath to join Daisy.
We both were back by the road. Everything was quiet.
I sat up and stared at my lap. I gasped for air, exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster we just took.
The cows seemed less scary now as they stared at me from behind the fence. It all felt a bit dramatic, but it felt real. I really thought my dog was going to get stomped to death.
I looked down at the grass. My heart thumped against my chest. As the breathing slowed, I looked to Daisy sitting next to me. I placed both of my hands on either side of her brown ears.
“Don’t EVER do that to me again,” I said, kissing her forehead. “I seriously thought you were going to die. You are not a dud puppy. I get it.” She wagged her tail.
As we walked home, I replayed what just happened in my mind.
Did I really just grab an electrical fence? Did a herd of cows really chase after us?
I stared at my forearm. The red welts and burning blisters said, “Yes. Yes you did, Lindsay.”
“What happened?!” my mom asked with wide eyes as I walked inside the house. My ponytail was matted, my jeans caked in dirt and grass.
I walked to the kitchen sink. I held my forearm and fingers underneath the faucet and turned it on, letting the water run over my skin. The cold water calmed me down as I told mom the story. Activating her nurse mode, she opened a cabinet and found a small white tube of Neosporin.
“Well,” my mom smiled as she rubbed the cream over the baby blisters, “you’ll make a good mother with those natural instincts.”
The next day, I woke up and immediately looked down at my forearm. It was fine. There were small red marks that eventually turned into bruises. No burns so there wouldn't even be a scar.
I replayed the scene in my head over the next few days. I thought about the cows. The fence. Instincts. And fear. Oh, the fear.
Daisy wasn’t scared at first. She wanted to go under the fence. So she did. But the fear of uncertainty stopped Daisy from wanting to go back to safety.
I would have never grabbed the electrical wire out of fear. But something stronger—my love for my dog and keeping her safe—made me throw fear out the window.
Fear is a protector—but it’s also a deterrent.
Guarded hearts prevent broken bones…but it also stops the butterflies from fluttering in the stomach.
Fear stops the magic of feeling, and falling, and living, and loving.
We can paint red flags around the town just to prove ourselves right. “See, there they are! Knew they existed!” while we hold the brush behind our backs. But we can’t wash this blood red paint off our hands.
We can lock the doors. Throw away the keys. Keep ourselves safe. But we often wonder…and press our ears to the wood, waiting for a knock.
We can wrap our hearts in electrical wire. Keep the bad out: the fear of disappointment…the fear of dead dreams…the fear of getting left, or hurt, or ignored, or forgotten, or fired. The fear of loss. Heartbreak. The unknown.
We can keep the bad out. But I can’t help but wonder what good isn’t making it through, too.
How much of our undoing is our own doing? How thick are our walls? How high are our fences?
It’s a process to untangle the heart from the wires wrapped around its wounds. But I have to believe it’s worth it. Sometimes, it’s worth chasing after something. Getting what you want, what you love, what you need…that’s greater than the fear.
So I’ll grab the fence. I’ll absorb the shock. I’ll go after what’s meant for me, even if it means getting trampled or terrified. Burned and blistered.
’ll turn down the volume on the brain and let instinct be my guide. And if I get zapped, well…my body knows how to heal. I can throw the dirty jeans in the laundry.
I'll turn on the sink. I’ll pour cold water on the wound. I'll apply Neosporin.
There won't even be a scar.
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.