I passed the first apartment we shared I slowed down to see our old balcony Two lifetimes ago I barely remember the young bride Fresh off the boat from the great white north Who called that place home Whatever happened to her? Now it feels foreign, like it was all a dream
But things keep passing through this world
And then there’s hospice The immense sadness seeps into its walls A constant reminder that death is unfair The process is unfair The tsunami of emotion Left wallowing in the unfillable hole it leaves in its wake Is also unfair An essay said our culture doesn’t acknowledge death for what it is: A part of life We view it as a complete failure of medical intervention My medical training causes me to struggle with this Nothing is spared from death Even the hopes for the future dashed against the jagged rocks of reality
Death and grief come passing through in many forms
“I have some bad news,” he said. “She died and it was suicide” It took awhile register There wasn’t a dry eye when it was announced We commiserated through tears The fallout hit swiftly
And so, we sit in grief It’s uncomfortable to us Americans We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps And manifest destiny our way through the wearying times “Because Jesus, you guys!” And somehow We’re suppose to smile through our tears and give glory to God Avoiding the uncomfortable bit that is processing our loss Because it gets ugly It is completely burdensome Without any order And logic? There is none It Instagrams terribly A direct hit to the happy, clappy Christendom we built here Where they want to look past your pain because it is uncomfortable It clashes with their happy, clappy way of life As if being healthy, wealthy, and wise were fruits of the Spirit
But grieving is needed So needed To heal mind, body, and soul In its own time In its own way In its own place
I grieved for two years I did not know what I was experiencing was grief Until a therapist told me that’s what it was
The scar tissue will form Someday In its own time
Grief, like death Is just passing through It is not the final say, yet it remains
But grieve Grieve Until your heart falls out Your Father in Heaven will catch it with His loving hands.
2005 was a major turning point in my life. A year out of college, I was still batting the same battles I was at school: Take #4 of getting back together with the college sweetheart failed spectacularly, yet I should have seen that one coming. My friend with benefits probably wasn’t going to magically show up with an orchestra and profess his undying love for me, but I held out hope. My anxiety and depression ruled over me, keeping me from enjoying and experiencing life. I was carving out a career in the middle of no where and I was miserable. I had a pretty good idea of who I was and what I wanted, yet I was still very much a work in progress. Sick of waiting for “the right time,” which never actually came, a mental breakdown in late 2004 spurred me on: 2005 was going to be different because I was going to make it different. The cycle was breaking now.
And it broke.
I began with getting back to God: despite my church attendance, I was really slacking in the spiritual department. I woke up early and had tea with sugar, a candle burning, and I read through the Bible; another thing I hadn’t done before. This rhythm became a daily event that helped center me and give me pause to reflect through the lens of Him.
I sought medical treatment for my anxiety and depression in the form of medication. I had a false start with some bad side effects but eventually found something that worked for me. I could finally heal.
I decided the college boyfriend wasn’t worth a 5th chance and cut him off entirely. A weekend at a fancy hotel was the epilogue of my friend with benefits. I decided if he wanted to call me and make this romance official, I was game. He didn’t call me and I didn’t call him for two months. He wasn’t interested in a real relationship with me.
I did date a guy I met on match.com and we were completely wrong for each other overall and there was only one thing positive about the relationship that’s too stupid and shallow to even write here, let alone build a partnership on. We lasted four months before he broke it off and I was completely okay with it.
I went to Europe with friends and while the trip was challenging, it gave me the courage to leave Illinois and I interviewed for a gig that eventually allowed me to move to North Carolina at the beginning of 2006.
It was a year of refining change that was desperately needed.
And with 2020 nearly here, I find myself in the same place.
The front has changed, but I’m fighting the same battles I was fighting in 2015 and I am tired, so very tired. Spiritually, I feel I need more rubber on the road; a technical writing church project will keep me busy around Christmas. And while I profess to follow Jesus, am I really living out His mission in my daily life? What would that look like? My husband and I keep hitting potholes and it’s apparent I need a wheel alignment, but I’m more interested in getting the road fixed, although my tires are wearing unevenly. Unlike 2005, I don’t have a clear path forward. I’m not sure how to adjust the sliders and knobs to get better sound quality; the mics feeding back have frayed my last nerve.
In addition to my contemplative prayer app, starting in December, I decided to read a book of the bible every month, and spend the entire month in that book. I want to savor verses. I want to read over passages that make me roll my eyes, shake my head, question, and really push through them. I want to use verses as a prayer, like a hard candy melting in my mouth.
I don’t know what 2020 and the decade ahead holds, but all I know is it can’t be a second verse to this song that’s been on repeat.
Growing up Catholic, I hated Advent. I was an Ordinary Time kinda of girl and this Christmas stuff into January really annoyed me. When I joined a Southern Baptist church, they looked confused as they explained Advent was not in the Bible, it was a man-made event they didn’t acknowledge. They only hung the greenery at a Wednesday night service. I was elated: I had finally found my people.
Since coming over to the Protestant side, I hadn’t given Advent much thought, since I associate it with Catholicism. I attend a Methodist type worship now, and they casually celebrate Advent: acknowledged, but not a part of our service.
I’ve spent the past couple of years listening to devotionals on the Pray as You Go App, a Catholic outfit. Before each devotional, they announce where they are in the liturgical year; it’s how I knew I had stumbled into the first week of Advent, which meant Christmas was closer than I thought it was.
The more I read about Contemplative Prayer, the more I begin to understand the liturgical year as a rhythm. Just like the rhythms in gardening (pruning, planting, growing, conditioning soil), finding a rhythm in spiritual matters has become more important as I’ve gotten older in the faith.
I’m not sure how I would have survived the stressful seasons without praying The Offices – making room for prayer in morning, afternoon, evening, and night – just like the monks do.
Life has been heavy as of late and my spiritual life feels stale as we steam into the Christmas season. Pray as You Go has a beautiful Advent meditation retreat that emphasizes new beginnings, and it is like a salve to my soul. Each week, I’m tuning in with a silent house and the Christmas tree lights, basking in the glow of Scripture and examining my own thoughts while resting deeply in love of Christ.
I was smiling as I merged onto the interstate, on my way to the crown jewel of the road trip. I didn’t need the GPS, this route was engraved in my brain long before the age of cellphones. This time, cornfields appeared scenic rather than adding to the dullness of the drive.
Naturally, I hit construction. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I crept along and ended up turning on the GPS to see where I was. The markers I once had were lost to time. I was closer than I thought.
I would see him soon.
Cue for tachycardia.
He was my companion all those years I called McLean County home – good times, bad times, he was there through it all; he was the only thing that never waivered in those years of gross uncertainty. It had been ages since we reconnected. I even got a hotel room nearby so I could spend every moment possible with him.
And then I saw the sign: Bloomington-Normal Next 3 Interchanges.
Go for tachycardia!
Just like the old days, I could feel my pulse quicken with shallowed breathing. I instinctively turned off Exit 164, heading south towards campus. I made a left on Raab Road to the free parking lot there – an oasis in a town that would tow a car stopped at a red light. I saw him standing at the far end of the lot, looking as he always did. I wanted to burst I was so happy. He looked the same but with better signage; just like me. I jumped out of the car and glided into his embrace.
His name was Constitution Trail, a nineteenth century railroad track turned running trail.
I threw my headphones in and took off at full speed, heading north. I had to see my old silos. In my day, the trail went straight, as the steam locomotives once did. Now, there was a giant curve that rerouted the trail under I-55, along Linden Street, before it swung back west to the original trail.
I, too, have had my trail rerouted under the interstate. I don’t follow the same path that I used to either. I’ve blazed my own way, too.
I had no idea how I far I had gone, as too much adrenaline was pumping for me to care. The silos at Herrick, my old endpoint, had disappeared! In its place was a cellphone tower. This was peak 2019 for me. I noticed the trail extended past its previous end and I had no choice but to follow it. Where did it lead? I figured if I hit Hudson, I went too far. Spoiler alert: the trail ended in a cornfield. I-39 loomed off to my left with a backdrop of wind turbines that never used to be there. I didn’t recognize Ziebarth Road, but I should have, as that was part of the short cut to my internship. Like Constitution, I have also been extended from where I was 20 years ago. My silos have disappeared as well.
I barnstormed back south into Uptown Normal, the biggest change I encountered yet. Normal and I both got a roundabout. Traffic flows better and the greenspace reminded me of London. I, too, no longer have a four way stop. My life is much more organic and go with the flow than when I was raising the red and white banner. I’ve grown into my own.
I walked towards my old apartment, as a lump formed in my throat. I brushed a tear away as I turned around to head back to my car, quite a distance away. I needed to check into the hotel and clean myself up for dinner. It was a long slog back to the car.
The next morning, after my standing order at The Coffeehouse (toasted plain bagel and iced mocha), Constitution and I ran the south part of the trail. The excitement had faded into utter joy. I was in my element under the canopy of trees, a perfect summer day for a run – basking in the nostalgia and the beauty of the day. I wanted to bottle up that moment to relive it later. This part of the trail hadn’t changed a bit, it was as if I was a college senior again.
There are parts of me that are the same and will never change: my crazy sense of adventure is one of them.
I always turned around at Atwood Station, but I knew this time I was going further – I eventually hit the end of the trail and then off-roaded through a neighborhood on Bunn Drive before turning around just before I hit Veteran’s Parkway. I would have taken the spur along GE Road if I had another day. My hips were at their breaking point with nearly 20 miles under my feet in under 24 hours.
I’m not 22 anymore. The scenery of campus and my weary body were stark reminders that time had moved on. There’s only one person left from this era who knows my heart in real time. A couple of them will occasionally pop up in my inbox or text, but it has been awhile. I thought about reaching out to ones lost to time, but I didn’t want to submarine anyone – appearing out of no where without context.
I was hesitant to leave. Like parting lovers, I wanted just a few more hours, days, weeks with my Constitution. I would have grabbed lunch downtown Bloomington on my way south, but I couldn’t remember where anything was and the city center seemed stoic and uninviting. Before I knew it, BloNo was in my rearview mirror.
It warmed my heart so much to be back in McLean County. I’ve decided this will be a retreat – when I need a place to write, I’m coming here. The days of the birds are gone and they’re not coming back. Perhaps I can make another footprint here with words. My entire left atrium is dedicated to this place. Despite the distance, it is never far from me.
I basically knew what expect. I’ve done this before.
I’m always thrown off by the white noise machines, I forget they’re a part of this. I don’t use them in my daily life, so it’s always a bit jarring to my techie soul with the strong urge to adjust the volume slider and turn down the trim knob on a soundboard. But here, they’re welcomed.
I noticed the room was ordered, yet minimalistic when I walked in. Their decorating style was eclectic chic and it worked. The randomness was oddly calming. I couldn’t tell you what half the knick knacks were, their shapes too difficult to describe, yet their solid colors appeared to belong in the room. The large white oversized couch didn’t overwhelm the small room, but reminded me of my friend’s couch – the kind that you sink into, like a big hug. The corner room was lit by the sun with big floor to ceiling windows that reminded me of a boutique hotel I stayed at in Berlin. The room was surrounded by my two favorite trees: crepe myrtles and little gems – a dwarf version of the magnolia. A small secret garden of sorts, secluded by HIPPA and plants that don’t grow up north. A cup of tea and a good book would have been the icing on the cake, but that wasn’t on the menu today.
It was then I realized I saw this all in a dream awhile ago.
In some very rare instances, things I’ve dreamt have been played out on the stage of real life. It usually was about boys of the past and I can’t remember the last time this happened.
Since the attacks, outside of its anniversary date, I hadn’t dwelled on it much. I didn’t arrive in New York City until 2014; this place was unfamiliar to me until then.
In a tradition I started, when a niece turns 16, we go on a trip together. When my niece Aimee said she wanted to go to NYC, I was completely on board. My historic and nerdy soul wanted to drag this poor jock to all the museums, but I let her choose what she wanted to do.
She wanted to hit all the main touristy places, which was fine. And then she added, “I want to go to the 9/11 Museum.”
The what? I did a double take.
She was in the womb when the towers fell. Why on earth would she want to see that when she had no experience with that dark, dark day? Then I realized that she had never lived in a pre-9/11 world. She didn’t know anything prior to that, like I had never known a world without microwave ovens. Her entire life was lived in this shadow of the falling towers.
She was insistent about it, and so we went.
It was the last stop on our trip, after a French breakfast in the financial district, we got in the long line. I had no idea what to expect.
It was like a tomb, because it was. Everyone talked in hushed voices, if they talked at all. Every so often you’d pass someone sobbing quietly. We walked down the staircase that so many survivors did. It looked like it was hit by a bomb. We paused at the blue memorial wall – behind it was the final resting place of the many victims and first responders. That was difficult to take in.
We sat in a room that projected pictures of people who died in the tragedy, with a bit of their life story. We sat there awhile, my niece completely spellbound – drawn in by these ordinary folks, caught up in history. It was personal.
We walked through the main exhibit, where it walks you through the day, phone calls played, news broadcasts, shows, what happened at all the specific times – it was that horrible day all over again. There was a walled off section where you could watch the more sensitive footage from that day. I’m an empath, already overwhelmed by the exhibit and my memories of the day, so I didn’t go. My niece went in and I didn’t stop her. She walked out of the alcove and gulped. “That was…. yeah…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to finish her sentence. I knew.
We left heavier than when we arrived. “That was really intense,” I said. “Yeah, it was,” she replied. I shared my story with her, what I was doing, where I was, how I felt. The whole train ride home carried the heaviness of our experience.
“I’m glad that’s the last thing we did,” I said. “I need time to process all that.”
As a member of the Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college, Tuesdays were the only day I didn’t have to line up in formation at 0600 on the other side of campus for PT (Physical Training) – or Physical Torture, as I called it. It was basically an hour long gym class from hell.
I slept in.
I awoke around 0930, central time, in my dorm and turned the local rock station on the radio. Sometimes their morning show DJ got a little raunchy. This morning, the main guy was going off about something, I was only half listening. And then I caught, “….yeah, and then planes flying into the World Trade Center, man. I mean, wow, the devastation and <insert odd giggling here> ….this is….I’m so….people are dying, man.”
I strode across the room and turned it off. That was a new low for this radio station. Joking about planes flying into the World Trade Center in New York? Wow. That was beyond diabolical and had no business being on the air. I was disgusted. How could you even joke about something like that?
My roommate had already gone to class, as I stood there. I was in the middle of Illinois. It seemed really odd to me that they would be joking about something so specific, so far away. I wondered for a moment if there was any shred of truth to this. I turned on CNN to check.
And the breath got caught in my throat. The second tower had just fallen.
Like the rest of America, I sat glued to my television screen. That odd giggling of the DJ was not disrespect: that was the utter disbelief of what was happening in real time and the rule of no silence during a radio broadcast. My boyfriend lived down the hall (I was on a co-ed floor) and I ran to his room, trying to make sense of it. We then heard the Pentagon was hit – his mom worked near there. We tried to call her but the lines were busy all day. We were on eggshells, waiting for her to call. We learned later she was safely evacuated.
I called my dad at work. After everything I said, he answered with, “I don’t know, Simonne. I don’t know.” This was new territory for all of us.
I walked to my human biology class in a daze. The large lecture hall only had a smattering of students, all of us dazed. Our prof walked in with tear streaked mascara and shouted at us, “What are you doing here? Go back home, just go back! Class is cancelled.” She grabbed her stuff and sobbed as she walked out.
I walked like a zombie back to my dorm, not sure of what was suppose to happen next. I had never been to New York. I never knew anyone from New York. Yet in this moment, I felt like New York was home. It was a very strange juxtaposition that only made sense in the wake of the tragedy.
PT resumed the next day and I couldn’t wait to hear what my Lieutenant Colonel, the highest ranking officer on campus, had to say about all this. Right before our run, he huddled us up and spoke about the terrorist attack. “We got this, they’re not going to win, we will respond. Don’t worry. We got this.”
Hoowah! America would come out swinging and win, just as we always had.
Our college put together a rally on the Quad with a speaker from the Army. Classes were cancelled so everyone could attend on that sunny September Thursday at high noon. My boyfriend chose to stay in the dorm and play video games, but I was there. Everyone showed up, every group was represented. It was like a funeral, everyone was somber and quiet, yet it helped console the student body.
The Saturday following was our first home football game. I was part of the ROTC Colorguard during the national anthem. When we were out on the field, I can’t even begin to describe the silence. The stands were filled to the brim and yet when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was standing alone in the stadium. No movement, no sound, no babies crying, nothing. It was the strangest, most ethereal silence I have ever experienced. Nothing else has come close to it.
We had a Field Training Exercise where we were suppose to take Blackhawk helicopters to the location – needless to say, we took school busses instead. Five months later I got on a plane to fly out to Washington DC for a week. Friends freaked out, “How can you fly after what just happened? Aren’t you scared?” No. I also walked alone at night and refused to live in fear.
Today, 18 years later, this post-9/11 world is still unfolding.
While Matthew was a gentle and confident lover, Florence was into bondage and had a water fetish.
Should we stay or should we go? My husband I debated it like an impending divorce. My pastor who was staying in Wilmington said, “I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they say.” We decided to stay.
The day before she arrived, I brought supplies to a friend who had opened his home to the extreme poverty stricken, as many could not get into hurricane shelters without valid ID. Driving home, Wilmington reminded me of my college town in the summer: you could feel in the air that 20,000 people had left.
My experience with Florence was a lot of talk and not a lot of action. Oh, you’re making the trees bend in half and defoliated everything? Fine, whatever.
At the Dovecote, we had loads of wind and a large tree branch come down. I kept walking down the street to see if ocean front property was in my future. Thankfully, we stayed high and dry. We lost power for three days – the longest I have ever gone without electricity. There was a creepy silence in the house without any appliances humming, but lighting the house by candlelight was good for my soul. The humidity shot up to 80% inside and there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about it. I like it hot, but even I was getting uncomfortable.
For me, the craziest part came after the storm. 50+ cars in line for gas was something I had never seen before. Wilmington became an island: all the roads into town had flooded out, so trucks bringing food, gas, and other supplies were cut off until further notice.
I stopped at Food Lion to grab some things just in case the roads stayed flooded. There was a line at the door, a man with a headset stood guard. “What’s the line for?” I inquired. “To get in,” a lady said. They were only allowing five people in the store at a time. The old lady behind me was there for cigarettes, sitting on a bin because her labored breathing made it hard to stand. “Gotta git muh cigs,” she kept muttering under her breath. Most everyone was there for cigarettes. Several cars rolled by shouting, “Y’all got ice?” “No!”
Like standing in line for the club, the doorman finally let me in. Only shelf stable food remained: no frozen, no meat, no produce, no dairy. I turned into a 12 year old and grabbed random food items that made no sense, completely thrown from my usual staples. “Any idea when the trucks can make it back into town?” I asked the lady at the register. “Nope.”
We were incredibly lucky. We knew people who lost everything and their insurance just shrugged at their loss. The displacement of people, how everything bloomed again like it was spring, followed by a muted spring, kept reminding me of this terrible storm. I know people who are still without a home, a year later, still trying to rebuild what Florence destroyed.
When it was all said and done, I lost 50 hours of work. I ate all of it. That caused some serious indigestion, but my home and my family were safe, and for that, I was thankful. In the weeks to come, we helped with the clean up effort.
And I must say, I am bit more than worried about what’s coming our way in the next few days.
I knew it would happen at some point, as these things usually do. I always figured it would have happened earlier, but being a late bloomer, this wasn’t much of a surprise.
I’d heard the stories from friends and co-workers, who’d tell of the crazy times that followed their first time. “Always be prepared,” they said. “Have everything ready because when the time comes, you don’t want to run out to the store in the heat of the moment.”
It wasn’t completely innocent. I messed around with Ernesto (I wasn’t ready for any of that) right after I moved here. Irene once kept me up most of the night, but she was gone by lunchtime. Then there was Arthur – he caused lots of drama at work for no reason – and he also met my mom.
My virginity was still in tact. Whenever someone asked me if I was “experienced,” the answer was always no. I was technically still a virgin.
And then Matthew showed up on my doorstep.
I knew I was going all the way with Matthew, there was no turning back. A mixture of excitement and fear combined like cement in my stomach. I could entertain him if he decided to stay a few days, but he was one of those who was gone by daybreak.
He came over after dark. I knew what to expect, I just wasn’t sure how it would feel, how I would react, and worried about what I would do if something went wrong or if my protection failed. And yet, when the big moment arrived, I was entranced. With the lights off, I watched him in the pale glow of the street lamps. It was all happening.
It was quite different from my other experiences. It appeared slow at first. Ha, I thought, this is nothing. And then things picked up and I was amazed at how different it was: the weird way it felt against my naked skin when I stepped into his embrace, the sights and sounds were foreign, and I wondered what would become of all this in the light of day.
Matthew was quite gentle and kind, in all honesty, and I’m glad my first time was like this; I know it’s not always the case. I’ll be forever grateful for his easy touch.
His Category 1 status took out the wax myrtle trees in the front yard, but wax myrtles are notorious for falling over if you sneeze too hard near them. There was no flooding, just a bunch of leaves everywhere, a few brown outs; it was basically a very windy storm without thunder and lightning.
Matthew, my sweet Matthew, did not prepare me for my next admirer: Florence.
“It’s not there anymore,” Phoebe had said. I was strolling through town and had planned to stop at the college bar we frequented back in the day. It was dark by the time I walked through the door. Phoebe was only half right: the bar was still there, but most of the building was a restaurant.
Then I realized she was right all along: it wasn’t there anymore.
The bar I remembered was a dimly lit unrefined establishment that drew in the early 20’s crowd. There was a large and scary looking dude manning the door, who put your ID under a video camera to document the time you arrived. His glare insured you wouldn’t start any problems. There were pool tables, a dance floor, a DJ booth, tables, and a large bar that was perpetually sticky with spilled drinks.
This bar, with the same name and location, now was lit with what can only be described as flood lights. Only two pool tables remained, but they were obviously new. The hightop tables were not only clean, but shiny brushed nickel. The bar had liquor bottles lit up on shelves and a several TV’s broadcasted ESPN. A small area was dedicated to gambling machines, a big deal in Illinois now, apparently. The bar was a fraction of the size I remembered, the dance floor gave way to the restaurant. The girl behind the bar looked like she was still in middle school with no bouncer. I was the only patron.
I ordered a peach vodka and Sprite, checked my phone, and looked around. This was not the place I left. Then again, I’m not who I was the last time I was here either.
I was here my last night as an Illinois resident. What a night that was.
Alex and Phoebe were here with me, as well as Three – the four of us played pool. Three was a co-worker. His real name was a mouthful of prestige, and he was the third generation to carry this long bulky name, so it was shorted to simply Three, which fit him better. We flirted constantly. He asked me out right after I accepted the job offer in North Carolina. Three was a good man, but he had his gaping flaws. In addition to falling asleep during the sermon when I brought him to my church, Three was banned from several bars for starting fights while drunk. Despite this, he had a good heart, kindness, and a love for hard rock. I knew he wasn’t long term boyfriend material – he was older – but to me he was a pint of beer on a hot day: probably not the best thing to be drinking, but it hit the spot.
I was two Long Island Iced Teas into my night when we left the bar. He was buzzed too, so we walked back to my empty apartment. He had been over a few times already. We worked the same weird shift and it wasn’t uncommon for him to crash at my place – we spooned.
I awoke the next morning before sunrise. The reality of everything hit me. I was leaving Illinois for good after breakfast. I really liked Three and I wondered what would have happened if our timing had been better or if I had stayed. I watched the sunrise with all of this flowing through my mind, while he slept. Once the sun was up, we hugged and kissed good-bye and that was the last I ever saw of him.
I ordered another peach vodka and Sprite as the past seeped into my consciousness. A conversation in the days to come revealed Three was married with children, still working the same gig.
I left the bar, surprisingly sober, and mulled it all over in the couple of miles walking back to Phoebe’s house. It felt like two lifetimes had passed since this ground was under my feet in different shoes.