They warned me that winter is different here.
It’s true. More or less.
More snow. Less drifts.
But after a while, it all feels the same.
I pull the collar of my navy puffy jacket closer to my neck. My mom got the coat for me for Christmas. A knit orange Carhartt hat—another Christmas gift, from my brother a year or two ago—covers my head and ears. It’s too bright. Neon, really. I wear it because I don’t want cars to hit me. Or rather, I want them to see me.
Whichever perspective you prefer.
The wind pinches my cheeks like an Italian grandmother. I turn my gaze downward. Patches of ice mix with snow on the sidewalk, hardening into a slick safety hazard for my feet.
I keep walking.
I forgot my ear buds so I’m looking at the houses, distracting myself from the cold. They are all the same. Two stories. Narrow. Wide windows and small yards. Close together. Similar builds. Like a group of girls in a cafeteria, or hockey players on the ice. They are viewed as one until you take the time to look closer. That’s when you see they aren’t really the same at all.
I like the houses that hang twinkle lights on their porches.
Now Daisy pulls at the leash —a long yellow thing that looks bungee but acts umbilical—and I hold on for dear life.
Umbilical makes me think of belly buttons. Wouldn’t it be funny if dogs had belly buttons?
Daisy loves the squirrels. Hates the neighbor dogs. We now have different scenery and a different zip code in a different city in a different state, but Daisy still turns walks into sessions of make-believe like she did back in Michigan.
She pretends she’s a husky mushing across a tundra. I pretend my arm getting tugged out of its socket is fun.
We weave and wind around houses and beneath the glow of streetlamps. When we stand like a person-puppy popsicle frozen to the curb, speeding cars slam on their breaks to give all six legs of us a chance to safely cross.
“You stop traffic,” I tilt my chin down and tell Daisy, my eyebrows raised after a city bus halts to let us cross. “Nice.”
She stares at me with eyes a shade lighter than her dark brown fur, then shakes her new sky-blue collar with a daisy pattern (of course).
“Well, don’t go and get a big head about it,” I add, touching her chocolate ears. Daisy shakes her head again. Her metal name tag jingles, making a tinny sound.
Now, Daisy turns to the left and hops on top of a snowbank. The temperatures have hardened the pile into a platform of grey and white ice-slush-snow, so thick and heavy that it holds all 75ish pounds of Labrador Retriever.
I wonder if the harsh temperatures harden us, too. Maybe.
Daisy is uncertain of her steps, but forges ahead on the snow platform anyway. Soon, her right paw finds a weak spot in the snow. Her leg falls deeper. The snow is up to her chest. She is wading in cold.
I loosen my grip on the leash and give Daisy room to decide.
She pulls the paw up and keeps walking ahead.
That’s how I feel here most days. Like Daisy on a snowbank. Uncertain but sure. Moving forward regardless.
My worlds collide in Minnesota. Like where the sea kisses the sand, or the sun holds hands with the moon at dusk. While my birth certificate says Saginaw, Michigan, the origins of my immediate family tree began with seeds planted in Saint Paul soil.
My parents met at an Arby’s in East Saint Paul. They were teenagers working to make extra money. My mom walked to work and my dad drove a car. He often offered her a ride. She often declined. Then she caved.
A ring and a wedding and a move to Michigan later, they had two kids and a long-distance phone bill to keep in touch with family. Our rust-colored rotary phone in the kitchen stretched across state lines and landed in the mauve-filled living room of my grandma on Battle Creek Court.
Last year—when the leaves hadn’t fallen but change was in the air— I moved here, undoing the move my parents did.
Minnesota holds my parents’ past. And now, my future. I’ve drawn a line to make a full circle.
Six months later, and this state and I are still acquaintances. I’ve got to date her before I marry her, which means putting in the time and effort to build a relationship.
I drove by the Arby’s where my parents met a few months ago. I parked in the lot and tried to picture the younger versions of my mom and dad walking in the front door. I stare at the red letters, the lobby windows, the cars lining in the drive-thru.
This, I think. This is the beginnings of my parents’ story. So it’s my start, too, I suppose.
The cause to my effect: Roast beef.
Now Daisy and I keep walking. I stop and stare at my reflection in Corsica parked next to the sidewalk.
I look into my brown eyes. Which are the color of my mother’s eyes. Which are the color of her mother’s eyes.
She gave them to me, and now I’ve taken her hometown and claim it as my own. I hope she knows a piece of home will always be where she is, too.
I miss my mom. There’s no expiration date on missing your mom.
But I also know I’m where I’m supposed to be. With who I’m supposed to be. Growing into who I want to be.
My parents’ roots have wrapped and morphed into my wings, helping me leave the mitten state’s nest and fly towards cityscapes and extended family and love.
And me. A new life chapter for me.
They warned me the winter is different here.
Maybe a person can have both roots and wings. Maybe that’s why birds sit in the tops of trees. So they are close to the sky, but connected to the earth beneath them, too.
Still. Birds must fly the nest. I just went the opposite way. I flew north for the winter.
Daisy continues to tug on her leash. I follow her lead and turn towards our house. The one that has twinkle lights hanging on the porch.
I call out to Daisy, “Let’s go home.”
The Kentucky sun shines down on me as I sit on the edge of the pool. I push my sunglasses up the bridge of my nose.
“Auntie Lindsay, watch!” Annelyse grins, her blue eyes matching the sky.
I’ve known her parents—Alie and Andy—for over 15 years. It strikes me now how much Annelyse looks like a mix of the two.
“I’m watching!” I reassure Annelyse. She kicks and paddles with fervor, her feet glug-glugging underwater. Her small arms scoop up the sunshine and water.
“Good job!” I encourage. She smiles, then swims back to the other side of the pool towards her sisters and brother.
My friends LaRaesha and Alie are stretched out in lawn chairs across from me. Their families are in the pool. Eight bodies total, all creating a cacophony of splashes and screeches, like birds bathing.
We’re killing time waiting for the fireworks to begin. The smell of chlorine and grass fill the air.
Now THIS is summer, I think.
It’s our tradition to reunite for America’s birthday. This year was our largest. LaRaesha brought her family, I brought me, and we met Alie’s family in Lexington. Our group has grown up and out, adding little toes and loud voices and moments to make memories.
Now we wait for the sun to melt into an evening of Fourth of July fireworks and s’mores. We have the neighborhood pool to ourselves. I glance towards the shallow end.
The littles are all goggled eyes and gulping mouths, bobbing up and down like hungry trout. Kamden – LaRaesha and Damen’s youngest— walks around the perimeter, his face painted like Spiderman. The red is smeared, but the black and white spider web pattern remains.
“Auntie Lindsay!” The sweet but determined voice finds my ear again. I look down.
Annelyse has broken away from her sibling squad again.
“What’s up, Annelyse?” I lean down closer to her face. Her hair sticks to her cheeks and hangs in a wet curtain right below her chin. It used to be longer, until she got a hold of a pair of scissors and chopped it off.
“Do you want to watch me swim ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM to get my bracelet?” she asks.
She grabs the edge of the pool with one hand and holds up her other wrist to show me. The rainbow beaded-bracelet gleams in the sunlight, water droplets falling off the plastic.
“I would love to,” I nod. Annelyse smiles, satisfied with my answer.
She pulls the bracelet off her wrist and drops it in the water without hesitation. We are silent, giving the bracelet the respect it deserves as it sinks to the bottom. I can’t see where it settles under a ceiling of water.
“Ready?” Annelyse’s excitement is tangible.
“I’m ready.” I force my face to get serious to match her determination.
“Here I go!” she says. She stares at the water’s surface. After a beat, down she goes. And up the memories bubble in my brain.
I remember. I remember what it’s like to ask to be seen. To acknowledge that burning desire for someone you love to witness you do something spectacular, like go down a slide, or land a cartwheel, or find a bracelet at the bottom of the pool.
Watch me. Watch this. It only counts if you see. Or it counts more, anyway.
When I first arrived at Alie and Andy’s house at the start of the weekend, Annelyse gave me a hug that was wrapped in so much sweetness I felt like I was hugging a sugar cube. She wore a pink cape.
Three days later, Annelyse still had that pink cape tied around her neck.
“I really don’t know where she came from,” said Damen, LaRaesha’s husband, one afternoon after lunch.
“What?” I asked him.
“Where she came from,” he repeated. A smile of amusement and confusion slid across his face as Annelyse walked by, the pink cape billowing behind her. “She is definitely on her own level.”
I smiled back because I know what he means.
In the Buckley family pack of five, Annelyse is number four. She shares her siblings’ blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s about it. The family members are their own unique selves, of course. Yet Annelyse bears a brand of creativity and whimsy that we have come to describe as very…Annelyse.
“She’s our hippie child,” Alie often laughs.
As the afternoon sky shook hands with the evening hour the night before, I followed Annelyse around the trunks of trees in the backyard. Fireflies turned on and off like twinkle lights, playing a guessing game of hide and seek.
“Look!” Annelyse whispered as her fingers finally clasped around the insect. “A firefly! It’s so beautiful.”
She gently placed it in a plastic Tupperware container she brought outside. Over and over, we chased and cusped and clasped and ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Every firefly Annelyse caught felt like it was the first one. I watched her face glow like the insect’s wings.
And I remembered again.
To get here – to this night of fireflies and magic and hope and happy— there were some dark days.
Annelyse’s initial months in the world were some of the most challenging I witnessed her mom – my dear, dear friend—go through. For Alie, life post-partum wasn’t a journey. It was war.
After Annelyse was born, everyday tasks became terrifying for Alie. She was here, but she wasn’t. She transformed into a walking wound that made every interaction, every decision, every action feel intimidating and debilitating.
Alie was paralyzed with fear and sadness and every other emotion, all knotted up and tangled inside. She was a million locked doors with no keys. We all wanted to get in there and loosen the knots, unlock the doors, free her from the pain. But we couldn’t.
The hardest battles often involve only one warrior.
With the help of therapy and family and friends and God and medicine and her own strength and bravery, Alie got better. Annelyse got older, transforming from a calm baby into a creative, kind, easygoing spark of a girl that glows like the fireflies she loves to hold in her palms.
“God knew I needed her,” Alie often says.
As I sit on the edge of the pool now, Annelyse swims to the bottom, still searching for her rainbow bracelet. She comes up empty-handed.
But she doesn’t furrow a brow or shed a tear. Instead, she bobs up and down, gives a little kick, smiles at me and says, “Try again!”
At first, I’m confused. What is she telling me to try?
Down she goes.
She comes up empty-handed. “Try again!” she repeats. She fills her lungs, then submerges beneath the water. Down. Up.
“Try again!” Smile. Repeat.
She’s telling HERSELF to try again, I realize. She’s rooting for herself.
As she should. As we all should.
I wonder if she’ll keep looking for her bracelet. If she’ll give up. If she’ll be disappointed.
On her fourth attempt to find her bracelet, Annelyse breaks the water’s surface and takes a breath. She treads water, looks at me and says, “I didn’t get it.”
“Aw, it’s OK, Annelyse,” I say, trying to gauge if she’s upset or fine with the fruitless attempt. “I’m proud of you for trying.”
She holds up her fist and unfurls her fingers. The beaded bracelet is in her hand.
“Just kidding!” She grins. “Tricked ya!”
I look at the bracelet, now back on the wrist. “Annelyse!” I cheer. “You got it!”
“I knew I would,” she says. She kicks her little legs and swam away towards her siblings.
Again, I remember.
Like her daughter searching for her bracelet, Alie had to dive down deep and search blindly. When she felt like a shell of who she was, she was still inside. She kept looking. Minute by minute. Second by second.
We often have to wait. See. Try. Be our own cheerleaders, even after the failed attempts and bad days and long nights. ESPECIALLY then.
May we never give up on ourselves.
When we aren’t sure, when we fail, when we’re sad, when we don’t know when things will get better…we can sink to the bottom. We can dive down into our own depths where the light is dim.
But while we’re there, we can feel for what is lost.
If we can’t find what we are looking for, we can come up for air. Go back down again. Kick the bottom as hard as we can. Come up again. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
Even in our own solo searches, we can remember those who are sitting on the edge of our attempts: waiting, watching, encouraging, believing. They stay and see because of who we are, not what we do. Their love is shown in the seeing.
Watch me. Watch this.
We dive down. Come back up.
And we try again.
It was the day before Christmas Eve when Kristin sent me the text.
I sat cross-legged in the center of my living room. Clean piles of laundry were splayed around the floor, turning me into an island amidst an ocean of cotton. My comfy clothes needed to be prepared for the post-holiday lounge.
I folded the legs of a black pair of sweatpants and set it on top of its fellow freshly folded friends.
My cell phone dinged.
I was surprised to see Kristin’s name on the screen. We’re the type of friends that get excited to see each other, but don’t text daily. A companionship that picks up where it left off. Like a reader using a bookmark to find the page.
“Hi Lindsay! Super random question but I see on Facebook that you know Katie L. They are looking at purchasing our house! I want someone to love and care for our house when we leave. I hope it all works out!”
Huh, I thought. Small world.
I did know Katie. She and I had worked together.
She was quiet and kind and dedicated: a once-barista and a forever-artist who once drew a perfectly accurate Taylor Swift portrait on a paper coffee cup for me. Earlier that year, she and her fiancé Andrew had to postpone their wedding due to the pandemic.
I told Kristin a shortened version of this, then asked, “You’re moving?!”
Typing dots moved across the text screen.
“I’m admittedly heartbroken leaving my house of 12 years,” Kristin replied. “I love the feel of it: the character, the sunrises and the sunsets. Howard’s [their golden retriever] home and the one we brought our babies home to. I’ve cried a lot of tears but looking forward to our next adventure.”
I had been to the farmhouse once. A couple of summers ago. Kristin had hosted a bonfire for our group of girlfriends. The house was adorable.
Two stories with yellow-cream brick.
A tan front porch with wicker chairs.
Hanging flower baskets.
The type that you could tell held history but didn’t slack with the times. Like a grandma who uses Instagram.
Kristin gave me a tour with pride. The kitchen countertops were covered with the typical Midwest summer menu: pasta salad and potato chips and coleslaw and condiments for our backyard festivities. The rooms were painted blue and burgundy and tan and green. Plants and pictures covered the corners and walls. We went upstairs, where Kristin smiled as she showed us the bedroom that had been converted into a nursery for their newborn.
We spent the evening sitting on the wide back porch, passing a guitar as quickly as the time. Stars stared down at us, our faces glowing warm from the bonfire. A perfect summer night.
It was just one memory I had in this farmhouse. I could only imagine the thousands of memories Kristin had underneath this roof.
But now the keys were potentially getting passed from one hand to another, and I knew them both.
Katie from Midland. Kristin from Saginaw.
Katie was engaged with a dog. Kristin was married with a family.
Two different lives. Two different worlds.
Their common denominator was me. And this farmhouse.
In February, I sent Kristin a text.
“Happy Galentine’s Day!” she responded. “We are spending it packing, moving and cleaning. Katie and her fiancé are getting our house!”
“Aw! I’m so glad that worked out!”
A week later, I scrolled through Facebook and saw a post from Kristin: pictures of her family standing in front of the farmhouse. It was moving day.
I switched to Instagram. There, at the top of my feed – posted mere minutes after Kristin’s post— was Katie and her fiancé standing on the exact same porch smiling in front of the front door. It was move-in day.
Katie and Kristin’s posts were minutes apart. And here I was, straddling both sides of it all. A witness to the letting go and the receiving.
I had known the whole “An ending is also a beginning” mantra, but I had never seen it play out at the exact same time, side-by-side. I felt like a fulcrum in this pivotal point of my friends’ lives.
So this is what Letting Go really looks like, I thought.
Where Katie’s post was packed with pure, singular excitement, Kristin’s post was tinged with nostalgic sadness. It made sense to me. Katie was hello. Kristin was goodbye. And goodbyes are notoriously harder than hellos, right?
No, I realized. It's not that simple.
Hellos and goodbyes are not black and white. It’s a murky gray of all emotions that are swirled with shades of uncertainty and change. The art of letting go involves a kaleidoscope of color: passionate reds, sad shades of blue and purple, hues of grateful yellow...a painting to represent the pure complexity in how this place or person or passion left a mark on our lives.
Endings and beginnings are always simultaneous.
When one door closes, another opens.
Sometimes it’s the same door for two people.
It’s our call when we need to let go. To understand that maybe this isn’t my door to unlock anymore. As much as we’d love to stay forever, there comes a point we realize this house isn’t meant to be our home...even though we wish it could be.
So we drop the keys. They change the locks. An era ends. There's a reason they call it a closing, I guess.
It's never easy, though. We want to hold on to what we know: the person, the place, the path, the plan. But something inside whispers, "It's time to go."
I texted Kristin a few weeks ago.
"I hope the new home is getting filled with new memories," I said.
"It really is!" she responded. "While I miss the things I knew I would miss about the old house, this new adventure has been a lot of fun. Has reminded me why letting go can be so good for us."
This farmhouse is the setting for a million memories and firsts for one family. Now it will serve as the backdrop for the beginnings of another. But the same address holds the same role for both Katie and Kristin: Our First Home.
Sometimes we must move in.
Sometimes we must move on.
Either way, it allows us to step forward. That step doesn't erase what once was: a crucial season of learning and loving and growing. The chapter becomes a part of our history.
And it's OK. Hard, but OK. To miss the things we know we'll miss.
But we have two hands: one to hold onto the memories.
The other to let go.
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?)