friendship

I Hope 30 Loves You as Much as I Do

In the fall of my sophomore year of high school, I showed up to the annual softball tryouts as a “returner.” Having made the team as a freshman, my spot was already reserved, so I was just there to volunteer my time, meet prospective players, and, along with my teammates, be the butt of the playful jokes the coaches made to lighten the mood.

I was far more relaxed than I’d been the previous year, but I was still very quiet and shy. I was the most teenager. With awkward style, awkward body awareness and a tendency to blush at even the slightest bit of attention. But I was friendly and polite, and excited to meet the new girls.

Among those girls, was Allison Roecker.

As quickly as I met Allison, she was my friend. One day we’d never heard of each other, and the next we were chatting daily on AIM. Then we were texting, sleeping over at each other’s houses, sending longwinded personal emails, writing notes during class, and staying up late talking about things like death, love and the future. Soon enough I wasn’t calling her Allison, but Alleeson (because I wanted her to have double e’s like me) and Alfred von Roecker for reasons lost to history.

High school, for me, was tough. It was scary, and there was a lot happening behind the scenes. To compensate, I dove into schticks. I let myself be defined by foods I liked, jokes I told, and characteristics that I played up and hid behind in the hopes that no one would see how lost and confused I was. How scared and vulnerable and sad. And a lot of people leaned in to those schticks. They believed they were me, they took and/or got what they wanted off the surface and didn’t take the time to dig deeper. But not Allison.

From day one, Allison created a safe place for me to be me. Whoever that might be at the time. And 15 years later, that safe place still exists and is stronger than ever.

Sometimes, when we get together for drinks or dinner or just an evening spent talking on the couch, I catch myself sharing and sharing, talking about myself as if I haven’t told anyone anything in days or months or years. I bring up questions and worries and I let them settle in the room, where they don’t feel intrusive or burdening, but safe and accepted. And I always walk away feeling lighter, more understood, more seen and heard than I do almost anywhere and with anyone else.

We bring it up often. How it would seem that we were destined for each other. Our friendship has scaled great distances, multiple moves, heartbreak, tragedy, success, failure and absolute joy. But as far as our friendship dates back, I can’t for the life of me remember how exactly it started.

I often wonder what we said to each other in the moment that we met. Did we shake hands, hug, or smile politely as we stood in a circle stretching during warm up? What did we do to begin a friendship that would withstand time, distance and the chaos of growing up? How casually did we introduce ourselves, not knowing that we’d help each other get to know ourselves in the years to come?

However it went down, I’m just glad it did. Because I don’t know where I’d be without her.

Tomorrow, Allison turns 30, joining me in a club that at times feels weird to be a part of.

In a way, it feels like we were just on that softball field, passing inside jokes back and forth in the outfield, laughing so hard it hurt at 2 o’clock in the morning, and singing our hearts out on the highway after I got my driver’s license. But then I think of everything we’ve been through, everything we’ve learned, everything we’ve tried and failed and everything we’ve achieved, and I think, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

So, Allison, while 30 might seem scary (though it’s not too bad, I promise!) just know that you have nothing to worry about. Because I met you when you were only halfway to 30, and you changed my life forever. So I can only imagine where you’ll go, where we’ll go, from here.

Happy birthday! I love you!

O-Hi It’s My Trauma

Midway through February I was sitting at my desk, looking up at my Wanderlust calendar, wanting to go somewhere. The vaccine had just started circulating and I wanted to put something on the calendar that might help expedite our wait for the new normal.

Three months later, my sister, my best friend Allison, and I were in the car on our way to Ojai, at last fulfilling that calendar entry, all three of us now vaccinated, restrictions being lifted or laxed quickly, and an undeniable hope that we might actually see the other side of all of this starting to spread.

We had no real plan for the weekend. We were driving up Saturday afternoon and I’d made a reservation at the Topa Mountain Winery for 5:00pm, but we’d left everything else up in the air—as we tend to do.

After checking into our hotel at 3:00pm, we went to the store to pick up some snacks and drinks to have in the hotel room—feeling confident we would want late night salt and sugar—and then fancied up a little before heading out. 

The weather in Ojai left a little heat to be desired, with temperatures staying in the 50s and 60s and the sun only making a brief appearance. But once we settled in at the winery, we didn’t really mind. We each ordered a wine flight, and then decided to split a carafe of the Pixie Cooler (a mix of pixie tangerine juice & sparkling wine, I believe), as well as a box of crackers, which were listed as “palette cleansers”, but we ordered for the sole purpose of snacks. 

When our flights arrived, we raised our first glass—a Rosé—and then rated it based on the scales provided. We chatted. We each had a few crackers. We took a sip of our water. And then we moved on to the next one. A white blend. And so the routine continued.

But then, somewhere between the red blend and the Syrah we started…crying.

Somewhere between the red blend and the Syrah, we were waist deep in conversations we’d never had. Admitting things and sharing stories we’d never told. First putting our sunglasses on to hide the tears, and then putting hands on each other’s shoulders to invite them to fall.  The crackers were finished. The water was emptied. The flights were finished. And then the pixie cooler was brought out and sipped slowly as the stories kept coming, the sun started setting, and the tables around us cleared out.

Before we knew it, we were three of only six people left at the winery and we took a picture to both commemorate the conversations, and laugh at the fact that we’d come to look cute and drink wine, and we’d ended up spending two hours smudging our mascara and unpacking emotional baggage that had long been sealed shut.

From the winery, we went to dinner, where looked at the menu, unable to explain what had just happened. We laughed and talked about what greasy goodness was going to soak up all of our emotions…before we dove right back in.

And then we were there again.

Let me tell you, it is something special to put all your secrets on the table, at a place called The Deer Lodge, while binge eating sweet potato fries and forgetting that absolutely anyone else exists.

I’ve often whispered secrets, desperate for no one else to hear. I’ve emailed or texted them, written them down in a journal, hidden them in blog posts or fictional stories, and buried them as deep as they can go. But it’s quite a thing to hear them out loud. To watch them lose their power right before your eyes, or to hear yourself say things that remind you you’re stronger and smarter than you once were. To hear you stand up for yourself, and to let your friends poke holes in the lies you’ve long believed. To just let go of the weight you’ve been carrying around, convinced you had to bear it all on your own.

The next day we woke up and went out to breakfast, the conversation lighter, but not awkward, strained or regretful. We walked to a popular bookstore (Bart’s Books) and popped in and out of local shops, all while knowing that something had changed. That we were lucky. That in all the craziness that has been this year, last year, and all the years before, we’d stuck together, and we’d arrived together, here, this weekend, to let each other be heard and known and understood and undeniably accepted for who we are and where we’ve come from.

All those months ago, we wanted a weekend getaway. But we got so much more than that.

It Had Been a While

I’ve been to quite a few weddings. I’ve also been in quite a few weddings. And while they are all unique in their own wonderful ways, they are also very similar—running through the same routines, the same schedule of events and the same (at least in my case) excited yet patient wait at your table for your free dessert to arrive.

That being said, I love weddings. I love the fancy dresses, I love the dancing, I love the love, and this past weekend I was reminded of all of this when I went to a wedding where COVID played a (big and chaotic) part in the planning—but failed to ruin the magic.

It had been a little while since I’d been in a wedding. Since I’d gotten all dolled up beside a bride, talking, laughing and watching as her hands shook in excitement. It had been a while since I’d stood up at the front of the ceremony, watching the groom watch the bride, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening to ruin my makeup. It had been a while since I’d been able to just stop—to forget about everything else going on in the world and watch two people promise to love each other for better or for worse, and then wave my bouquet in the air, cheering, as a minister said, “you may kiss the bride!” It had been a while since I sat and listened to heartfelt speeches from a best man and maid of honor, that make you laugh and make you cry, and then ask you to raise your glass and celebrate something wonderful life has done.  It had been a while since I felt that hope. That little spark of optimism that surfaces when you see love so obviously in front of you, in the teary eyes of the couple, dancing together for the first time, in the proud smiles of the parents, thankful to see their children so happy, and in the giddy, excited laughs of the bridal party, cheering and chanting from their seats.

It had been a while.

But it felt good to be back.

31 Good Things that Happened in March

Well, hello there.

It seems things are a bit different since the last time I made one of these posts.

But that hasn’t stopped the world from showing unmatched kindness, compassion and love to those who need it most. This was actually one of the easiest “good things” posts to put together, which makes me so proud. Let’s keep that good coming, y’all. heavy-black-heart_2764

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1) Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren in the Star Wars films, helped save the day for Ben Affleck on his son’s birthday.

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2) The people of New York applauded first responders and health care professionals.

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3) This little girl with alopecia was thrilled to meet a bald model.

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4) This boy dressed up as his school security guard for “Dress As Your Favorite Person Day”.

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5) A malfunction at this Italian winery caused wine to leak through the towns pipes and faucets.

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6) This man brought the internet a taste of sports:

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7) As did this man:

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8) Hallmark gave away 1 million cards to help connect loved ones separated by the Coronavirus.

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9) This boy, who was bullied for his love of reading, started a book review account and got over 100,000 followers.

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10) This girl got an R2-D2 prosthetic arm and was called a hero by Luke Skywalker himself

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11) This girl’s family found a way to spend time with her even though she was in quarantine.

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12) This New York pizza company put pictures of dogs on their pizza boxes to help them get adopted.

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13) This woman launched a makeup line that is specifically designed to help those with Parkinson’s apply makeup more easily.

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14) The people of Italy sang together during quarantine.

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15) These YouTubers gave away toilet paper for free.

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16) Netflix launched “Netflix Party”, a way to stream the service with friends online.

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17) This woman found beans

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18) Meals meant for a cancelled Ohio Sports Festival were donated to tornado victims and first responders in Nashville.

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19) Animals devastated by the Australian bushfires found a new home.

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20) This girl caught a fish.

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21) This customer left an extremely generous tip to help restaurant staff during the Coronavirus shutdown .

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22) This car dealership offered a safe place for people living in their cars to sleep.

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23) Chick-fil-a began selling their sauces in stores to raise money for their employee scholarship program.

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24) Distilleries made hand sanitizer from their in-house alcohol and gave it out for free.

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25) This man donated COVID-19 test kits to 54 countries in Africa.

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26) These two friends snuggled.

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27) This woman in North Carolina—who is now working from home—started shopping for her elderly neighbors during her lunch break.

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28) This school district in Cleveland provided two free meals every day for anyone under the age of 18.

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29) This:

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30) This Italian hospital started 3D-printing respirator valves for free

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31) And John Krasinski started a news network dedicated to good news

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Wanna know the best part? There is seriously SO much I didn’t include.

Check out Good News Network and Tank’s Good News for more good stuff, and also check out Good Good Good, which not only sends email newsletters, but also “Good Newspapers” which I just opted into start receiving in the mail.

There are lots of good things happening y’all. Let’s do our part to keep them coming.

You can view the last edition of this series here.

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Submitting My Friendship Resume

To Whom it May Concern,

Seeing as we are in a strange time, one that encourages not only kindness and politeness, but undeniable kinship and unity, I have come to the conclusion that we should be friends—from afar obviously, because, well, YOU KNOW.

That being said, I’ve attached my resume for your review. If the contents appear up to par, I’d like us electronically agree, from our own homes, that we are in this thing together, and will at no point physically or emotionally harm one another in order to get the last package of toilet paper or container of oatmeal.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Attachment: KimK_ResumeforFriendship

 

Kimberlee K.

kimberleek.com

Education:

Hiking Trails in Southern California

May 2014 – Present

Various Locations

Major: Keeping a Steady Pace

Minor: Heavy Breathing

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Facts No One Should Know

August 2006 – Present

News Articles, Assorted Googling, Neighboring Conversations, Etc.

Major: “Did You Know?” anecdotes

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Limited Slang

One day in Middle school – Present

Peers, Urban Dictionary, “Kids these days”

Major: Stealth Research

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Work Experience:

Adult

Legally 2008 – Present

Various Locations

Concrete Identity Pending

  • Dresses self for a variety of formal and informal occasions.
  • Feeds self a variety of meals, both in controlled and uncontrolled portions, in order to sustain life.
  • Attempts to take on and maintain responsibilities
  • Cries periodically
  • Often says, “Thanks, I got it at Target.”

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DIY

September 1995 – Present

Usually the Floor

Project Creator & Artist (of sorts)

  • Formulates a wide variety of projects capable of being made on one’s own
  • Fails miserably during the first attempt and throws it on the ground/in trash
  • Completes second (or third or fourth) try and shrugs at result, calling it “good enough”
  • Learns to love project with whole heart
  • Creates new project and starts the cycle over again.

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Watching Movies

September 1990 – Present

Various Locations

Memorizer of Noteworthy Comedic Quotes

  • Watches a variety of movies both in theaters and on VHS/DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming services
  • Enjoys nearly all movies thoroughly
  • Chooses a number of anecdotes from the films to quote numerous times a day.

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Other Work Experience:

Instagram Stalking

July 2012-Present

Hidden on the Internet

Creep

  • Follows curious thoughts into the depths of social media, often losing one’s mind in the process.
  • Becomes extremely knowledgeable in persons and events that bear no relation to me.
  • Audibly gasps often.

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Introverting

February 2002 – Present

Various Locations, Primarily Home

People Avoider

  • Often enters state of desire to be completely and utterly alone
  • Cancels all plans and stays indoors, making little contact with the outside world
  • Has minor moments of clarity regarding the benefits of creating and maintaining meaningful friendships, then makes a meal, turns off the lights and continues to introvert.

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Awards/Achievements:

Summited Mt. Whitney

Has not broken a bone

Once made a triple decker bologna sandwich

Has vomited due to motion sickness in various major cities

Once hooked a mudsucker by the tail while fishing in the Owens River

Member of 2016 Winter League Championship bowling team: Beer & Waffles.

Has twice defeated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Hasn’t died yet*

*Note: void when dead.

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Strengths:

Sarcasm

Smiling politely

Requesting Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” at weddings

Making excel spreadsheets for every occasion

Committing to puzzles

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Weaknesses:

Mini golf

Making omelets

Overcommitting to puzzles

Forgetting to bring toothpaste on vacation

Often drops phone for no apparent reason

You Keep Following Your Dreams & I’ll Keep Following Mine

In August of 2016, me, my sister, and my best friend Allison (except I spell it Alleeson because of a whole Kimberlee double-e solidarity thing) went to dinner at Islands. As we sat laboring over which hamburger to choose from the menu, Alleeson put her hands on the table and took a deep breath.

“I have news,” she said.

I put my menu down and looked across the table at her, trying to gage whether this was good news or bad news based on the tone of her voice.

“I got a job.”

“That’s great!” I said, relieved.

“It’s for a news station in Oregon.”

Not even a month later, she was moving into a house 12 hours away and I was both heartbroken for me and unfathomably excited for her. She was nervous, I could tell. But she was also excited and curious and determined to give herself the big break she’d been waiting for.

In November of that year, I was able to visit her. She took me on a tour around her studio and showed me where they filmed the show and the things she was in charge of. I even got to watch a live taping of the evening show and witness her talent in action.

Back home, I was trying to catch some of the fire Alleeson had left behind. I was in awe of her bravery and her ability to just go for it. She made it look easy, even though I know almost no part of it was. She made me want to fight the battles that had long been easier to stay out of.

As the months went on, even though we were now hundreds of miles apart, I noticed how we still managed to mirror each other. Since we both come from creative backgrounds, we are constantly looking to do more, make more, be more, and so we both have our ups filled with confidence and our downs filled with doubt.

One night, as we were both lamenting over where we were and where we wanted to be, we made a pact. We decided that since the paths to our ultimate dreams were somewhat blurry, the best first step would be to hone in the destination.

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In the last year, I’ve seen Alleeson dive even deeper into her work. Putting in day after day, constantly pushing herself and trying new things, trying to be more. And yesterday, just as I was getting home from work, I got a message.

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She called me and I screamed into the phone. I tried to tell her how proud I was, how excited I was, how much she deserved it. Because she did. She does. She took that big risk; she’s put in all that work. She’s carving that path towards her dream no matter what anyone has to say about it.

It would be easy to be jealous, but that would be a waste of time. Instead, I’m going to take this as a reminder of what we set out to. What we intend to do, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes.

So as I celebrate this huge step she’s made, I’m going to take a few more of my own. For we started this together and always planned to kick ass side by side from there.

Congratulations Alleeson! (And good luck at the 2018 Regional Emmy’s!) Keep following your dream and I’ll keep following mine, and may we continue to follow each other’s fire.

Sometimes Friendship is Gummy Bears

About 3-4 years ago I was going through a period of my life when I genuinely believed I didn’t have very many (see: enough) friends. I considered myself a master of acquaintances, succeeding in keeping most people at arm’s length to ensure that a) I wouldn’t get hurt and b) I wouldn’t disappoint anyone. Some days I told myself I was satisfied, other days I wasn’t so convinced.

Combined with shyness and bouts of social anxiety, I struggled knowing what kind of friend I should be. I read articles and watched how other friendships worked, and though I wasn’t necessarily dissatisfied with my relationships, I constantly worried that other people were. I thought I was too boring, I thought I was too quiet. I was too this or not enough that and I drove myself crazy, making notes on what I could improve on or what I should do differently.

In time, I came to realize that these fears were all linked to the insecurities I felt as a person, rather than the weaknesses I had as a friend. I’m not saying I am or have ever been a perfect friend, however, in not accepting and loving the person I was, I was doing a disservice to both myself and to anyone I tried to start a friendship with.

These days, I consider myself very lucky to have an amazing group of friends. And while I would still consider myself a guarded person, I have a much easier time opening that door because I’m proud of the person I’m introducing on the other side. In light of this however, I still find myself having those doubtful days. With a constant stream of articles, quizzes and social media anecdotes that define what friendship should look like or feel like or sound like, sometimes I’m still left wondering if I’m a good enough/entertaining enough/honest enough/etc. friend.

For example, the other day I read an article that was titled something like, “You Can’t Consider Yourself Best Friends with Someone Unless…” and it went on to list a number of conversations and experiences the author considered defining for a friendship. I clicked on the article in hopes of finding relatable experiences I could share with my friends, however, as I read through it I didn’t recognize myself in a single thing. Does this mean all my friendships are fake? Of course not! Does it mean that we live in a world where friendships are as unique as we are and should be understood accordingly? I’d like to think so!

The way I see it, friendship is what you make it. There is no definable timeline, there are no parameters and there are no “you’re not actually friends unless…” Friendship can be big, it can be small, and it can be shown with words and actions alike.

About a week ago, after having a terrible day and coming home on the verge of tears, my roommate, Rachel, presented me with a small packet of gummy bears. It was the last packet leftover from my sister’s birthday—which featured a taco piñata full of mini alcohol and candy—thus making it precious cargo.

“I just want your day to be better,” she said as she handed them to me. And it genuinely was!

I know it sounds silly and small, but in that moment it made me feel loved and understood, which is really what friendship is all about. It’s not about being a specific this or that or talking about this or experiencing that. Sometimes it’s just someone willing to give up their gummy bears. And when you can find people like that, you stop worrying about whether you have “enough” friends, because having even one friend like that is a far greater gift.

How Your Kids Awakened the Future Mom in Me

I’m not a parent, but I used to play one in the morning. Five days a week I would drive over to a family friend’s house to pick up their 10-year-old twins and take them to school.

I didn’t do any of the hard work. When I showed up the kids were awake and dressed and fed. Their parents greeted me kindly and I did the same, well aware I wasn’t the one tired from staying up late doing homework, wishing away bad dreams, or calming down a tantrum whose root is unidentifiable. No, I was just the one who asked the kids to put their shoes on, and reminded them to grab their backpacks and a jacket, and led us on our merry way.

The car ride was short. 10-15 minutes tops. Some drives were filled with jokes and comments and stories, some were quiet, and some were a mix of both. The front seat, back seat and trunk donned different props depending on the day. Be it a science fair presentation, a flower for the teacher, a still wet art project, birthday desserts or a bag of canned goods for donation. We tried to organize them neatly so we could all be comfortable, then we worked together to give the right what to the right who, so all of it could get to the right where.

When we got to the front of the carline, the teacher said hello and the kids said goodbye and I said I’d see them tomorrow and then I drove to work.

The next morning, we’d start all over again.

As I sat at the dining room table, keeping an eye on when the clock hit 7:35—our time to leave—I smiled at the things the twins brought to show me. They walked up and took a seat, opened a book and read me a chapter or showed off a drawing that lent itself to a lazy weekend afternoon. “You have to check this out,” they’d say, and no part of me was capable of saying “no”.

At 7:30, I’d give them their warning. “Okay guys,” I’d say, trying to find a balance between serious and calm, “we’re going to leave in about five minutes.” This usually provoked some sort of response, be it a nod, a groan, or, on good days, a fully formed, “okay.” I’d pack up my purse and walk around the house switching off lights, and they’d gather their last minute needs, which ranged anywhere from a book for the car ride to a hand-knitted scarf they just realized would make the perfect accessory.

As we walked side by side to the car, the questions began. Sometimes they were simple. A basic “would you rather” or “have you ever” or “did you know?” While other times they were harder, heavier, and more complicated. On these days I’d slow my pace, hoping age and experience would take the real answer and simplify it. Purify it. Maintain its truth while avoiding as many associated evils as possible. “Well…” I’d start, and they’d go silent, waiting for an explanation.

When we got in the car, one, two, three of us were seated, and then one, two, three of us were buckled. I’d start the engine, put us in drive and pull away from the curb. The radio is a messy combination in the morning. Loose conversation threatens to spill information not suitable for young ears, so I’d fervently skim, my own ears analyzing like a central intelligence agent.

“I like this one,” I’d hear from the backseat. I’d let go of the knob, lean back in my seat and in my rearview mirror, I’d see a head begin to bob. A small high-pitched voice would fill the air of the car and I’d smile.

One winter day, I noticed one of the twins take her jacket off in the car. This puzzled me, as I was sitting far closer to the heater and yet still shivering. But even after removing her jacket, she rolled up her sleeves.

“It’s hot in here,” she said casually, then continued telling me a story about some girls from school. When we pulled into the carline, she put her jacket back on, preparing for the cold air that waited on the other side of the door. We pulled up to the curb and the woman opened the door with a smile. A breeze seeped in, sending a shiver down my spine. “See you tomorrow,” they both said, and I smiled and waved goodbye.

The next day, I decided not to turn on the heater. When we got in and got buckled, I turned on the ignition and shivered at the cold air that snuck through the vents. I pulled my sleeves down and tucked my hands inside, gripping the cold leather steering wheel through the cotton, surprised I couldn’t see my breath.

“Did I tell you about the park we went to over the weekend?” she said from the backseat. I looked in the mirror to meet her gaze and found her sitting there, comfortable. Her jacket was still buttoned and she was leaning into the window, fogging up the surface with her breath.

By the time we got to school, I was convinced my fingers must be blue. I pulled into the carline and let the teacher open the door. The kids waved to me and I waved back with a sleeved fist. Once they were inside the gate, I pulled away and immediately cranked up the heat. After a minute or so, my fingers twitched back to life and my body relaxed.

In this renewed state of comfort, I awaited the train of thought that promised I wouldn’t put myself through that again the next day. I was miserable, wasn’t I? I was freezing. I couldn’t let this happen again. I waited patiently for the survivalist game plan to formulate, but it never came. Instead, I heard their voices echoing in my head.

“Would you rather,” they said. There was a single giggle that always came before the question and then a pair that came after. “Would you rather be so cold you froze your fingers off, or so hot you melted?” A smile formed on my lips. “Both,” I thought to myself, “as long as it meant you were comfortable.”

On the last day I took them to school, we went through our usual routine. I sat at the kitchen table and rounded us up at 7:30, we buckled our seatbelts and found a good song on the radio, we asked questions and answered questions and we waved goodbye. But this time there was no “see you tomorrow.” I knew that I’d go to work that day and I’d come home and I’d officially retire from being a mom in the mornings. What I didn’t know is that I’d start to dream about the days I’d be a mom in the afternoons and the evenings too. I dreamed about the days I’d be the one tired from staying up late doing homework or wishing away a bad dream or calming down a tantrum with an unidentifiable root. I dreamed about being lucky enough to have kids like yours one day, and oh what a dream that would be.

A Late September Adventure (Day 5 & 6: Boulder, Morrison & Home Again)

Day 5

Since we had fully committed ourselves to Boulder rather than Denver at this point, Allison and I woke up Wednesday morning and didn’t even think twice about where we wanted to eat breakfast.

Referring to this list this time, we decided on The Buff, mostly because I was hypnotized by the Pecan Caramel Quesadilla sampler.

Spoiler alert: it was everything I hoped it would be.

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For our entrees, Allison ordered the Saddlebags which are pancakes stuffed with bacon, and I ordered the Granola Pancakes which, if I’m honest, I felt like I was expecting too much of after the crunchy granola French toast from Syrup in Denver. It’s not that they were bad, they just…weren’t the granola French toast from Syrup, you know?

Allison and I had kind of a tight schedule to fit today. Our primary reason for coming to Denver in the first place was to see two of our favorite artists, Needtobreathe and Gavin Degraw, join forces at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for what was sure to be the concert of a lifetime. We’d planned our trip around the concert, scheduling it to be somewhat of a grand finale.

The concert was at 7:00 on Wednesday night in Morrison, which was 20 minutes from our hotel, but after a recommendation from a friend we decided to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, which was north of Boulder, just under 2 hours from our hotel. As we ate our breakfast at 11:30 in Boulder, we knew we had enough time, we just didn’t have enough time for anything to go wrong.

Misleading Spoiler Alert: Nothing went wrong.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain National park around 1:00. The cost for a day’s (or hour’s) entrance was $20, but trust me when I say that it is worth EVERY PENNY.

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Allison and I pulled off the road at a couple of spots, taking pictures and making an uncontrollable amount of audible “OH MY GOSH’s.” The sky was absolutely perfect, the fields and trees were a living breathing kind of green, and every once in a while a burst of a breeze would blow right through you, forcing you to close your eyes and take a long, deep breath. It was one of those places that I don’t think you could ever feel like you spent enough time in. You become instantly attached to every inch of it, wishing there was some way you could keep it with you, to remind you how perfect the world can be at the times when it seems farthest from it.

Just before 7 o’clock, we pulled into the parking lot for the concert. We had plans of eating before we went, but ran a little short on time, so as we waited in line alongside the massive red rocks, we started brainstorming on what we hoped would be offered inside. And while it never would have crossed my mind in one million years, as is turned out, bratwurst was exactly what I was craving. Allison and I both ordered a beer and a bratwurst with cheese, chili, onions and peppers and my stomach all but applauded in thanks.

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For the concert, the opening act was The New Respects, who kind of gave me a Jackson 5 vibe. They were very upbeat and melodic and made you want to dance right alongside them. The second act was The Lone Bellow. They ended up replacing Gavin Degraw due to unforeseen circumstances and had a Lumineers/Civil Wars sound. After their first few songs, the lead singer took the mic and addressed the crowd, saying, “I was at a bar in Denver last night, and I met the most beautiful soul. He was singing at an open mic night and I’ve never seen someone exude so much light when they perform.” He said he talked to the man afterwards and learned that at the age of about 60, the man had already beat cancer twice and was currently fighting another disease. But even amongst all of his struggle, the man said that when he sang, he felt no pain.

“So I thought,” the lead singer continued, “why don’t we bring him out to sing with us?”

The man then walked on stage with a wide smile spread across his face. I, of course, instantly started crying. And as the four of them started singing “Angel from Montgomery” by Bonnie Raitt, the tears kept on coming. The lead singer had been right about the man’s ability to exude light when he sang and as I watched them all sing together, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was witnessing something really special.

Next was Needtobreathe, who is not only my favorite band, but my favorite live artist of all time. This was my 5th time seeing them and Allison’s first, which I think is what made the performance my favorite of theirs by far. We danced, we laughed, we cried, we stood speechless, and to top it all off, we did so in by far the coolest venue I’ve ever been to. If you’re ever in the Denver area, please do yourself a favor and see a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And if you’re ever in the Denver area—or anywhere else really—at the same time as Needtobreathe, please do yourself a favor and see them live. It will change your life.

Day 6

Our last day in Colorado came with an early wakeup call. It wasn’t our earliest, but it was by far our hardest. We packed our bags and gathered the last of our belongings from our hotel room. We checked out, returned our rental car and took a shuttle to the airport. There was mild conversation, but it all had an invisible weight brought on by the prospect of leaving.

In a couple hours, I’d be on a flight back to California and Allison would be headed back to Oregon. We didn’t know when we’d see each other again, and we were well aware we’d be going back to a friendship that mostly exists through texts, emails and phone calls squeezed in between our very busy and very different schedules.

Our gates were right next to each other and our flights were leaving one minute apart, so once we got through security, we sat side by side in a pair of chairs directly between the two doors we’d soon be walking through. We watched the screens update our flight information and we listened to the intercom announce the arrivals and departures of surrounding planes. We fantasized about getting on a different plane. Making this vacation last a little longer. Avoiding responsibilities for even just a day or two more. But then a woman’s voice came on the speaker and announced it was time for us both to board. We stood from our seats and gave each other a hug, both of us feeling the separation anxiety starting to set in quick.

I walked up to the counter and scanned my ticket with the agent, then walked down the jet bridge alone. I waited in line behind a man with a giant carry on suitcase and then took my window seat near the back of the plane and plugged in my headphones. As the rest of the passengers continued to board, I got a text from Allison.

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I looked out the window of my plane, over at the series of windows on the neighboring plane, wondering where my best friend was sitting, feeling weird that after almost a whole week of being together 24/7, we weren’t sitting together. Then, as my eyes grazed the middle of the plane, I saw something.

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I smiled. It was moments like these that made me feel confident in the upcoming days and months we’d spend apart. Because even when things got tough, we’d always be there for each other to shine a little light and help each other out. So as my plane backed out onto the runway, I leaned back in my seat, sad this trip was over, but optimistic and excited about the many adventures to come.

Why the Internet Can Be Good (RE: Alex Rayfiel)

The other day as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a link a friend posted that caught my eye. It had a picture of a boy named Alex, who I’d gone to high school with, attached to an article whose title didn’t quite register until after I clicked it.

When the page loaded, my face went white. Alex was sick. Recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. His family had created a donation page in the hope of raising money for a radical new treatment in Israel. I read through the story his wife posted, aching for the two of them and their newly born daughter. It all sounded so completely unfair.

Now, I’d never known this guy. We’d gone to high school together for four years, and I’d seen him around from time to time, but never got to know him. In fact, I only met him once in a brief introduction from a mutual friend at our shared college. But as I read the story about the turn his life has suddenly taken, I realized I remembered him, and how, even in our lack of interaction, he’d left a mark on me.

High school is tough for everyone, often in different ways, and while I wouldn’t say I had a terrible experience, I also wouldn’t volunteer to do it all over again. I was a quiet, reserved student who stuck to what she knew and rarely felt comfortable in her own skin. That being said, Alex made me laugh.

He and his friends had participated in the talent show as the “Finger Flippers” which became legendary amongst our senior class. And during our senior luncheon, they created a video that discussed which of our classmates had celebrity lookalikes. I remember sitting at the back table, nervous as always, counting down the days until I graduated. I hadn’t been sat next to any of my friends, and I was internally apologizing to the people around me for not being more interesting. But then the lights went down and the video started, and I laughed through the whole thing. It was a genuine laugh, the kind that makes you feel lighter, and as I looked around the room at my classmates who felt the same, I felt included. Afterwards, when Alex and his friends mentioned they had plans to post the video to YouTube I took note, excited to have something positive to look back on in the future. I’d forgotten about the video over all these years, and only found it when I searched his name. When I watched it again however, it still gave me that good feeling.

So as I read through his story and then through some of the comments, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to donate, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because it felt like a way I could say thank you for giving me those moments of freedom all those years ago. And even more, allow me the opportunity to be a part of offering him the chance to experience a moment of freedom in the future. Be it through minor progress, or radical recovery.

This is the good part about the Internet. For amongst all the drama and fake personas, there also lie small bursts of goodness. There are chances to read stories of hope and resilience, chances to reconnect with old friends and family, and sometimes, chances to lend a hand to a near stranger. And so, Alex Rayfiel, while we may remain essentially strangers, I hope you know I’m praying for you, and that I’m grateful for what you gave me all those years ago, even if you had no idea. I wish you and your family all the best, and I hope the next time I find you in my Facebook feed, it will be to inform me that you’re on the road to recovery.

If you want to help Alex, you can find his donation page here.