The movement has started, and the stories keep coming.
A woman with glasses tweets that their stories aren't stats, and oddly enough, that's all women need.
A slice of validation.
A shared space to be heard.
Me. They stand up.
Me, too. They whisper.
But even a whisper in a tiled locker room still echoes.
Me, they say.
Blonde haired, brown haired, red. All of them.
This is my story, they start. This is what happened to me.
I was in college, dating a boy, drinking at a party, sitting on a couch, laughing at dumb jokes. A massive man sat down next to me - tattooed biceps, cut off shirt, dirty jeans, a drink in one hand, and his blonde eyelashes hitting his cheeks every time he blinked.
He tried to make conversation. But -
I wasn't interested.
I didn't know him.
He was too close to me.
He smelled like football pads and musty gym lockers.
Why do I even need an excuse?
I smiled politely and turned to my friend next to me.
He didn't understand.
Instead, he put his hand on my inner thigh like he owned it, and -
Let me just tell you a secret about me and about five billion other girls:
It doesn't matter if I know you.
If I don't.
If I'm dating you.
If I'm not.
If you have blonde hair, if you're a starting center for a college football team, or if your special talent is crushing cans on your forehead.
If you can string eloquent, intelligent sentences together about economics and politics and you know which fork is the shrimp fork and which spoon is for your tea.
Or if you can't.
If you're black.
If you're white.
If you're short.
If you're tall.
Or ... if you're not.
It doesn't matter.
If I don't want your hand on my leg.
Then it doesn't belong on my leg.
I pushed his hand away. Maybe I laughed. Maybe I shook my head. I don't remember.
And the man with the cold can in his hand and the sneer on his lips and the pierced ear.
And the man with a momma and a daddy and a little brother that came to football games on Saturdays.
And the man that I would run into time and time again on campus.
Looked at me.
Opened his dirty mouth.
And bit my arm - just below the freckle that's been there since junior high, and just beside my elbow.
Not only did it leave a bruise.
And not only did it leave a perfect indentation of teeth marks.
And not only could I tell you that his bottom teeth were crooked just by looking at my arm for more than two weeks afterwards.
Not only that.
I still carry the scar from his right incisor.
I had to rip my arm out of his mouth.
Because I pushed his hand off of my thigh.
Because I rebuffed a man whose name I can't even recall.
And because I had been drinking.
And because what do you do when someone bites you when you're out of daycare and diapers?
And because who even does that to do someone else?
I let it go.
Did I shove him away?
Did I kick him?
Did I get up and walk out?
I asked him what the hell his ever loving problem was and I turned my back to him.
When I say I let it go, I truly mean that I have let it go. I haven't thought of that story in years. Haven't given that scar a second glance in years. It doesn't shape me, define me, or cage me. It's not impressed up on my heart, and it doesn't steal grace from my well.
But it did happen.
There are a million girls behind me in line waiting to tell their own stories, and I'm almost positive they're worse than mine. Literally every woman I know has a story of being grabbed, touched, leered at, or lunged for. Or worse - "moved on" ... whatever that means.
And so it goes.
And so it goes.
I think of the men in my life a lot. They're my North. What my dad. My brother. My step-dad. My boyfriend. My papa. What they do combines into some sort of guidepost - a check list, of sorts.
I notice what they do.
I notice what they don't do.
I notice what they say.
I notice what they don't say.
And without hesitation.
I can tell you that the men in my life would never.
Grab, grope, lunge, leer, pet, or bite.
Wouldn't cat call. Wouldn't whistle.
Because that's what good, honorable, and just men do.
They do what is right.
Here's to more men like that. Here's to raising our boys with respect running through their bones, and admiration and stars in their eyes for women. Here's to raising boys that open doors and help their counterparts shine, shine, shine.
Like the radiant suns they are.
The light in the kitchen is almost too bright for your eyes. You danced in this kitchen together. Feet shuffling slowly to a beat much quicker. Socks slipping over hardwood floors. Hands clasped together - palm to palm. His nose in your ear and his lips whispering the words you knew by heart, hips swaying and your face - it was smiling.
Your living room is littered with pictures of you together. Grinning. Caught mid-sentence. Walking together. Leaves falling around you and your hair blowing across your open mouth. He’s looking at you in most of them - gazing. And sometimes when you look at them in the low light of a Wednesday evening, you can see it even then. He was going to go.
Going to go.
Going to go.
He walked away and left you in an empty house that seems like it’s too big for the matching bathroom rugs and your favorite dishes and the closets. The closets sit half empty like your bed and your toothbrush sits lonely. By itself. Your refrigerator still sits barren, useless. How do you cook for just one?
You climb the stairs at night and they creak like your tired joints. You pull yourself up using the handrail and it bends under your weight. Your feet drag and the steps moan under you. Like your somehow-still-beating-heart. It’s too quiet and the unbalanced ceiling fan in your bedroom just echoes in the silence.
It does not stop and neither did your heart when he left.
You have to brace yourself when you get into bed. Mentally prepare yourself for the weight of the covers that still smell like him and how they almost suffocate you. You prepare yourself, but the onslaught still comes. Like a hurricane. Like a breathing, living, thing - coming in the night to destroy you. Every. Single. Night. Did he say he was never going to leave you? Somehow, you can’t remember. Did his I-Love-You seem like a forced prayer from a teenager in church? You can’t remember. Did he look at you when he was on top of you? You can’t remember. You just … can’t remember.
Your heart still pumps blood.
You are still alive when the sun rises.
You are still alive.
The grief - the required mourning period for him will end. You will look up from your hurt … eventually. The searing pain will subside … eventually.
One day, you will realize that you are not bone deep tired anymore. You will not dread the sun rising, or your suffocating covers. You will not creak like the stairs. When your eyes close, memories will not play on repeat like some beloved horror film that you make yourself sit through and convince yourself that you actually enjoy.
You will realize that you were not the one for him.
He was not the one for you.
He was not the one for you.
You will lay again under that ceiling fan with another man, on those same sheets. Maybe he’s the one. Maybe he’s a lesson. He probably smells like truth and the toxic combination of loyalty and love. He probably holds your hand when you sleep and you’re probably still scared of your bright kitchen, could-be-too-quiet house, and the future maybe-happily-ever-afters.
You’ll be scared.
Scared to love too much. Scared that it’ll hurt all over again if he leaves you like The Last One. Fear and Love hold hands and they dance over that line called Faith. So, my hurt darling, put your warm fingers over your desperate-to-love heart.
Feel it under your hand.
Learn to dance to it again. Even if it’s not in your kitchen, and even if it’s not with Another. Even if your palms aren’t pressed against someone else’s warm palms, and even if your hips aren’t swaying with someone else’s. Dance anyway. Listen to the gentle, strong, steady rhythm of your heartbeats
And call that your music.
Walk forward with your last hurt tattooed across your chest as a reminder. An intimate, brazen, every day sign. A beacon - calling out to others.
Calling out to you.
You survived the devastation that was caused by The Last One, and you will love again.
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He was a collector.
But mostly of people.
I was far, far too young, and he was far, far too experienced. I was looking through applications one afternoon in an office on campus. Kinda like wolves, bears, boogie monsters, or other very scary wild things - he zeroed in on me, just as you do when you're looking for prey. His eyes calculated. They never stopped running the math.
How quickly can I wrap her up in my life?
How deeply will she fall in love?
What will make her turn those blue eyes straight at me?
It took him a year.
And then I consented. Relented. His answering smile made me smile and I thought maybe, just maybe, this might be the thing they always talk about.
Sparkles and happy and always and more.
And so began late night visits. A masterpiece I thought we were creating together. As I often am, I was all in and I don't understand how people just aren't. Sharing pictures from Christmas, and pointing out my dad. My grandma. Telling him parts of my story. Giving him little pieces of me, and building what I thought was some sort of crazy, exciting foundation.
A meteor shower late one night on a hill. Both of us sitting on top of his explorer - watching the stars fall down.
Cookies baking in his oven while the campus stood still for a snow storm.
A whispered I love you when he thought I was asleep.
His house smelled like some kind of cheap cinnamon candle and Disney movies always played on his TV. His couch smelled like he slept on it too often and I wondered what he'd look like at our family gatherings. Would he shake my dad's hand? Would he make my mom laugh?
I was at cheer practice one night. It was already dark outside. We were practicing a quarter break cheer and as I hit the first motion with the bright smile that my parents paid for, the door in front of me opened. And there he was, smiling. Looking directly at me.
To blue eyes.
I smiled even bigger back at him.
Turn of my shoulder.
I winked at him just as a girl followed him in. Long, brown curly hair and a black leather jacket and a hand that wrapped around his back. She wore heeled boots and later, I'd laugh. No one wore heeled boots in the winter where I went to college.
He paraded her through the gym with only one intention. Me.
I saw her.
I saw him.
In slow, slow motion.
And the message was received.
That wouldn't be the last time I'd see him.
See, sometimes, I think God gives us the lesson to learn until we actually learn it. Too loud, too bright, too shiny, too much - He'll give it to you, and He'll give it to you until you get it.
He just wasn't for me.
The last time I saw him, I left a sweatshirt on his kitchen table. I brought some cake to his house to share with him after we watched a movie, and it remained untouched. Instead, we stood toe to toe on cheap linoleum and lived through an ending.
There were slow words from him.
Hurried words back from me.
A defense, really.
And later? I'd learn that if you have to offer a rushed rebuttal about why your love is the best love? Then it's best to take your love to someone else.
On a Friday night -
There was just ... an end.
A shrug of his shoulders.
A cavalier brush off.
While I held an aluminum pan of chocolate cake.
Confused, I turned to go and he patted my shoulder. My cheeks heated.
An entire year? An entire year boiled down to a man patting my shoulder like I was his buddy?
I got into my car and the cake rested on my thighs as I navigated unfamiliar streets. I pointed my car home and had to pull over in some strange small town to cry.
It took me a long time to realize that no, I wasn't crying for him.
I was crying because for an entire year.
A solid 365 days of my life, I was living parallel with someone completely positive that my life was heading in the same direction as his.
And then, suddenly, the curtain was pulled back and I realized -
My heart was broken for the things we'd never be.
For the things we'd never do together.
For the moments we'd never live together.
But, just for the record.
For the purpose of the lesson.
For the purpose of the scar labeled in big, bold letters with his name.
Scrawled deeply across my (still beating, FYI) heart.
It wasn't broken because of him.
It took me a long, long time to realize that sometimes.
People collect things.
Because there is something missing deep, deep down inside.
Something that I won't be able to fix.
Something that the next girl with long, curly brown hair won't be able to fix.
And that's a sad, sad life to live.
My drum banged a little louder after that day.
I will not be a Collector of People.
I will not be a Collector of People.
I will not be like him.
I will not be like him.
For the record and all?
I ate the chocolate cake on the way home.
And it was damn good.
It was a fervent prayer, usually late at night.
Lord, I would whisper into the dark quiet. Send me a friend.
I'm not sure where the prayer originated, but it went on for years. It became a chant. Begging, really. A humble beg to God. Asking.
And in the middle of me burning down a marriage.
In the middle of me walking away from something that just wasn't for me.
There he was.
And he came to me with both of his arms wide open, his broken heart still so clearly visible in his chest. I shrugged my shoulders at him, my own arms open.
This is what I have to offer you. Rubble. Burned and broken rubble that was still smoldering.
I often think of us walking together in some kind of precarious dance. (Kinda because his leg is currently broken.) Two steps forward, one step back.
There are new things together.
Oddly satisfying joint decisions.
Even weirder times that I defer to him.
(And everyone that knows me knows that I'm not the deferring type.)
Each and every single thing - one more step. One more brick placed. One more pump of a sewn back together heart.
"You seem calmer," Mary said to me today at lunch.
And I feel it. More centered. Less pressured. Less like I have to shine as bright as I can every second of every day, so that people don't peek behind the curtain.
"You seem like you've taken a deep breath this year," she said.
And I have.
The other night, we were at a really good friend's wedding. We didn't dance, and as we left, I side-eyed the hell out of him. "Foley, you owe me a dance when we get home," I called as I got in the car. He shook his head at me.
And that night, slowly, with a man that was nursing a broken leg, we danced.
And I couldn't help but think.
As the music quietly played.
And as his warm palm held mine.
And as I whispered the words to him.
That even the broken hearted ones.
Even the broken ones.
Even after years of fervent prayer during dark nights.
He always hears us.
I did the math once and I've had over a thousand kids walk through my door. I hate math.
I carry their stories with me. And like party tricks, I toss them out to people that scoff at me when I say I teach, or to the people that scoff at me when I tell where I teach.
You wanna know what they don't seem to remember? They are still talking about kids.
They're just words.
And we preach and we preach and we preach that you don't fling words at people. You don't shove pebbly, jagged pointers in people's faces and say, "YES. This word. This one right here. This one defines you." Because they don't.
They don't define you.
There was the kid that was an alcoholic, whose mother died, whose brother died, whose dad hit him, and who scored the highest in his class on his assessments in science and math. The kid that could explain things to me backwards and forward and the kid that didn't need a damn book because he'd already read the pages of Homer. Lived the pages of the struggle. Because what kind of real life sixteen-year-old has to fight those kind of beasts? I still see him sometimes. His eyes are heavy. His life is heavy. He's carrying too much.
There was the kid struggling with authority and struggling with home life and struggling with drug life and struggling with learning a new language. And I think her mission was to break the glass out of my door when she slammed it every day and I thought a couple of times - she just might succeed. When she pushed her pencil into her paper her aggression came through her lead - deep, hard, angry. Her letters were big, edgy. A sign that read here I am and go ahead - come at me. I was terrified she was going to stop coming to school. Terrified that she'd be One of the Lost. She emails me occasionally ... she's making it. Every day is a fight for her and she carries her before with her in her back pocket like a champion carries a trophy. A reminder. A fight she's won. She can do hard things.
Another girl. Her daddy died and she had brothers and sisters and she had a momma that didn't speak or read English. She was a sophomore. She became the breadwinner of the family. As a sophomore.
A boy - illegal - one that was proud his parents could afford to pay for his work visa. Now, he can help out with rent. Utilities. Warm coats for his little brothers. And he didn't coast. No, no. This kid took the hardest classes he could. "Because," he said to me. "Creighton." And I breathed out a prayer for him. A chant, really. Please let him get in, please let him get in, please ... And he did.
Another boy - sleeping through class every day because he worked the night shift. And when I say the night shift? I don't mean the 4-9 shift that we worked when we were young. No. I mean all night long. He would get home at four a.m. and sleep and then come to school at 7:30. Because breakfast. And how does a teacher - a human being - how do you force him to stay awake?
The American Dream.
Underneath the labels. Underneath the slippery scowls of the outsiders looking in. Underneath the gritted teeth of the people that aren't in our hallways every single day with us.
Underneath the fingernails of the kids in my classroom every day.
On the edges of the shovels we're holding.
In the trenches we're digging.
When you were in junior high, you played the I love you more game and you probably won, didn't you? Your soft spirit not really quite understanding that speaking your truth and living your truth do not always mean that things always work out.
You'd find out soon enough, though. Soon enough, too soon for your fledgling heart, you'd be dropped by a careless someone whose eyes you only remember late at night and whose touch still burns inside ... somewhere. You'd fall. Hit hard on the earth and taste dirt on your lips, and then you'd think, No. No I do not really like that.
I bet you did not really like that.
You picked yourself back up and you readied yourself for another battle of love. And your armor was thicker. And your teeth suddenly started grinding in your sleep and your trust was safely hidden behind some kind of fortress built out of childhood happily-ever-after dreams and your soiled hopes. You went forth brazenly, didn't you? Shoulders thrown back almost arrogantly and your eyes on the horizon. Looking. Waiting. Watching for some sort of perceived trouble.
There will be no more dropping of me, you thought. And somewhere in time, you stopped noticing your tightened jaw at night and the makeshift fortress in your heart grew larger and harder. And you suddenly became one of One of Them. You no longer cared about how Things End Sometimes, and instead, you cared only about not being the one dropped.
You began to measure your Levels of Love and you dispersed it like some sort of Robin Hood giving alms to the beggars. You began to weigh people in your mind - deciding quicker and quicker who was worthy of your grace, your wit.
And the people deserving became less and less in number, because you were hurt once.
And you will not be the one hurt again.
You will splinter people throughout your tenure on the battlefields and your heart - unbroken and almost pristine in a dirty, dirty world continues to beat on.
My sweet warrior, you just haven't figured it out yet, have you? You do not have to carry that weight in your chest and you do not have to worry it is going to suffocate you at night. You do not have to guard your heart like some kind of aggressive beast from the fairytales your momma read you when you were small.
Unlock the chains holding the walls of your trust up inside your ribs, and listen to them clank as you drop them. Let them fall. Take deep breaths in and exhale the skepticism and the dishonesty and the waves and waves of fear. You are drowning and you cannot even make yourself call for help because you know that your armor silences the wail.
Take it off.
Set it down.
Let it go.
Throw away your Levels of Love Measuring Tool and decide deep down inside of you that giving - the sweet act of giving - is better than receiving and just -
Be the one that gives.
Rest and settle and have courage in the knowledge that maybe being dropped one day - falling and tasting the hard earth that has somehow mixed with your tears in your mouth - all of it. Every speck and atom and shrug and winks from across long rooms -
All of it.
It's worth the quiet. Your heart will still thump in your chest and the steady rhythm will rain down on you and oh my god.
You will be content.
** Another Disclaimer: Sometimes I find inspiration at Subway. This has nothing to do with my life and everything to do with the man I saw sitting alone at Subway tonight with eyes that looked right through me.
A few months ago, the Boyfriend took me out to dinner. I had "Tater Tatchos", which is apparently a real thing. We sat at the table for a solid two hours. I ate off of his plate, and he ate off of mine. And then we came home and sat in the kitchen and I looked over at him and asked him if I had anything in common with his ex-wife.
Which isn't a loaded question or anything.
You know what I like about The Boyfriend?
1) He doesn't laugh when I order something called Tater Tatchos.
2) He thinks about his answers before he speaks them.
Isn't that kind of great? He doesn't waste words.
Anyway. He mulled it over. I mulled over what exactly had just come out of my non-filtered mouth, and kind of braced myself for whatever was going to come out of his always-honest mouth. His answer was a very democratic (and uncommon for him), "Some things."
It made me laugh.
But then he did something that I also really like about him.
He asked me why I was asking.
Sometimes, it's not the question, you know? Sometimes, it's about the driving force behind the question. And the people that want to hear about why you're even asking? Those are the people to spend your days with.
And then he gave me space to think it through. To let my thoughts come to the surface. And the best part here is that he didn't want to hear my answer. He just wanted me to think about what my answer was. It wasn't a discussion. It wasn't a therapy session. It was just a, "Think about that for a second, and then let's move on, okay?"
Let's move on.
I'm writing down my story and it's all very touchy in a way that I don't really like. Tonight, I sat at the table next to The Boyfriend - and for the love of all that's holy - his name is Craig, you guys - and I kept bouncing my feet and flipping my screen back and forth between writing and messaging BFF Suzy. He was working on his job stuff and I was watching a preview to a movie that I might want to see and I was definitely not writing.
And he told me to stop bouncing my leg.
He called me by his sister's name (which is not the same as being called by his ex-wife's name, thankyouverymuch).
And then he told me that she bounces her feet all the time when she's nervous.
And then I closed my eyes and took a big, giant breath and tried to just ... settle.
Writing your story - telling the truth - it's all messy. But it's still the truth, and as Liz Gilbert said this week so famously, "The truth has legs and it'll always be standing after everything else falls down around it."
No matter what.
The truth stands.
I told him I didn't like it. Didn't like what I was writing and he chuckled over his paperwork. "Did you delete it all?" he asked.
"No." My foot bounced and then I stopped, remembering. "I don't delete things I start." The truth is that I really do like it. It's good writing - a real page turner. It's just too close. Too much.
He looked back down at his paperwork. "Then why are you writing?"
He didn't look back up. Just continued on working.
I closed my computer screen after that. If I don't know why I'm writing the story - if I have no purpose yet -
Then there is no reason to continue.
PS - Here's a recipe for Tater Tachos. You're welcome.
I'm not a very good fighter. I never have been. For me, words are almost too much. So when it comes to a battle of quick wits and throwing down and tempers and anger and volleying insults back and forth across a living room?
I'm not very good at it.
Words get sticky in my mouth. I stutter. Grind my teeth together. Bite down hard on my lip. They're paralyzed in my throat and I become some kind of caged animal. Trapped. And the argument often continues without my interruption - and it gets worse. And then, typically, I get even more mad. Because you know what? I'd rather just talk. I would rather - a MILLION TIMES RATHER - just sit on the couch and talk.
Look at the other person and say, "That hurt." Or, "Can you please, please, please not ever do that?" Or, "How do we keep that from happening again?"
I showered the other night and The Boyfriend headed to bed. As I washed my hair, I genuinely tried to remember the last time that I was truly mad at him. I can't remember a time. I'll be the first person to tell you that our relationship isn't perfect - sometimes he calls me by his ex-wife's name while he's sitting with my mom on the couch (which is also my step-momma's name, so I didn't really get it at first), and sometimes I use my teacher voice on him. (That is, of course, followed by my own widened eyes in surprise because you know what? It just slips out, you guys.). ANYWAY, I can't remember a time that he and I stood at opposite ends of the living room and yelled at each other.
I came upstairs that night, climbed into bed next to him, and stared at his profile. I tapped his face. I told him I couldn't remember. And bless his heart. He never, ever questions where my thoughts come from and he never, ever shies away from them. There is such grace in his lack of hesitation. He just put down his phone. And he turned to me and he gave me his full attention.
Because he does that, you know? He gives me his undivided attention.
And you know what? I wanted to tell him in just that single second - that turning to me, that shifting of his focus, that stare through the darkness -- that's probably one of the biggest reasons why we haven't fought. He pays attention.
Anyway. (Again.) There are a lot of reasons why we don't argue, but what I've said to him more than once -- it's exhausting. Don't you think? To yell at someone else? The physicality - sure. The tense shoulders. The pacing. The finger point and the yelling. But also the mental drain. The up and the down and (for me) the word choosing. The resentment. Man. The weight of that resentment that you carry around with you for the rest of the night, the following day, the rest of the week? It's just ... exhausting.
Not very long ago, he casually asked me if I was ever going to tell my real story. Like not just skirt around with pretty quotes or code talk or straight up avoidance. He casually asked me if I was going to own it.
Put it to bed.
Lay it out there and ...
Let it go.
I don't think I'm to that place yet where I'm prepared to let everyone see and read and speculate, but.
The thing about telling that story is that it's heavy and it's a fight and it's exhausting. And sometimes a girl just wants to rest. And rest, right now, looks like a man who gritted his teeth last night when I freaked out about something so minuscule in the great big grand scheme of things, and he just ... said ... I'm sorry.
And I had mentally prepared myself.
I had carefully chosen words in my back pocket.
I had taken in great big breaths of courage.
I was ready to hunker down in that cagey, willful, ugly resentment.
But the only thing that came was a man that gave me his attention.
And his sincerity.
And so I let it go.
Today is about a girl that loves a boy who recognizes so much more in her than just what used to be. Maybe I'll tell my old story. Maybe I never will. Maybe it doesn't even matter.
Today is about a girl that loves a boy who recognizes in her what could be.
And for me? Well.
That's just so much ... more.
The other day, The Boyfriend and I pulled into my driveway and I noticed my neighbor's garage door was open. His lawn mower was sitting out.
"I'm going to say hi to Don," I said, tossing the keys to the house over. "I'll be in right after you."
I walked through my grass and into his more lush and full lawn. He wasn't there. I followed the sidewalk around his house and looked into his side yard. He wasn't there, either. Disappointed to have missed him, I stepped into my own living room a few short seconds later.
"He wasn't outside?" The Boyfriend raised an eyebrow at me. A smirk teased the corner of his mouth.
I was sad. Summer was ending. I didn't get a chance to ask him when I should cut back my peonies or tell him to watch over my house on those nights he can tell I'm still at school. Don. My neighbor. A widower that tells me all the time that "His Evelyn" has been "at the cemetery" for twenty eight years. A former insurance salesman that lives in a tiny house he and His Evelyn bought from her dad in the seventies. A man that wears worn shirts with holes under the arms and a belt from 1988, but has five garages all over town. A man that often brings me ice cream sandwiches when I'm outside watering or mowing, and as he hands them to me, his thin, worn wedding band gleams in the soft afternoon sunlight. A man that remembers The General at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. A man that awkwardly, but lovingly, pats my shoulder in greeting.
A man that you can tell just aches to give his love.
"Old Flywheel" - his best friend Herb - visits occasionally in his beat up car, with ripped up seats and threadbare tires. Herb is a private pilot, also an old insurance salesman, and has a farm outside of town. He is the biggest flirt I've ever met in my life and that twinkle in his eye has snarled more than one woman - I'm positive. Together, they stand out in the driveway, their eyes often fixed out over the road at something, as their low voices carry across the peonies that His Evelyn planted -- the ones she brought over from her daddy's old house.
One thing I just would never forgive myself for if I screwed up.
He has never met a stranger, of that I'm sure. Every person walking by his house stops to talk to him and I'm sure he has to be a town treasure. He's restoring some kind of car from 1930 - rebuilding it from scratch. I have no idea what any of it means when he talks to me about it, but dang if I can't help but listen. Because every word out of his mouth matters. They seem to carry weight as they tumble out of his thinning lips and laugh lined jaw.
I don't know where he goes for Christmas Eve dinner, or even where he goes to church. I know that he's got two children at the cemetery next to His Evelyn, and one more down the street that he sees "sometimes". I know that he worries about me, asks about my parents ... and Tuck - my sweet little boy that is so incredibly shy - hugs his legs when we say bye. From the moment we say hello, Don doesn't stop smiling (or bouncing on his toes). And when you see someone like that? You can't help but smile, too.
It's been such a lesson for me. In the shadows of the last two years - the moving, the changing, the growing - people like Don have walked into my life - and I'm sure it's no accident. Quiet teachers that listen to me sputter about dandelions overtaking the 'hood, wasp nests in my front shrubs, a boyfriend, a toddler, or parents that live too far away. Standing in a front lawn, helping me in five minute bursts of conversation. Watchers. Comforting keepers. Evidence collectors.
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you over there. I see you trimming back those peonies. I see you meticulously cutting them into rustic bunches with your calloused fingers. Your clumsily held scissors. And I know where you're taking them. I can feel your devotion radiating off of your stooped shoulders and your velcro shoes."
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you. I see you across the street sitting on that beautiful wrap around porch practically keening after your daughter pulls away for college. Swaying back and forth on your porch swing, Dogs at your feet. Orange birkenstocks pushing you back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth. Your ache permeates the air around your house. Around our street. And I see you."
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you. I see you get in your car every morning and go to work still lost in the chasm of grief from when your momma passed away. I see your hands tremble when you get the mail, and I hear her voice in every greeting. I think about you and I see you."
These are people that say, "Yes. You were here. I saw you when you were here. You left a mark when you were here. And you will always be here. Because love."
Jesus wasn't lying in Mark when he called us to love our neighbors. He wasn't kidding when he said to love them as we love ourselves. He called on us to treasure each other, to give to each other, and to really see each other.
Turns out he knew a thing or two.
You will go out on a first date with him and you will do every thing that "they" say you should:
Let him open the door for you.
Cross your ankles.
Don't order the spaghetti.
Leave your fork and knife on your plate when you're finished.
Enjoy a cocktail.
(But not too many cocktails.)
Laugh at all of his jokes.
(But not too loudly.)
Talk about yourself openly.
(But not too much.)
Stay away from religion, money, and politics.
Stay away from garlic.
Stay away from his bed.
He will take you home and kiss you sweetly on your front stoop and you will think to yourself that perhaps you like talking to him over a white tablecloth and maybe - just maybe - you'll let him call you for another date.
And he does.
And so you go.
You tell him all of the good. You talk about making the honor roll, you share all of those compliments your momma gives you, you wear your best heels again, and you tell all of your favorite jokes. Somewhere, in between bites of grilled chicken, you think to yourself that you might invite him in for a drink.
And so you do.
And then another.
Weeks and months pass and your lives somehow begin to intertwine. You're not a hundred percent sure how, but suddenly, you know his momma's birthday and that he only drinks coffee in the winter. You buy each other birthday gifts that you actually like, and you dance this fragile, burgeoning sort of dance that you're both terrified of ... but damn if it doesn't fill you with hope.
And so you do.
You start talking about religion, politics, and money. Tentatively. You meet his family, you water his plants for him, and you do dishes together on Wednesday nights. Often, it feels like two steps forward and three steps back, but the two steps forward always feel so good that you don't mind backtracking. You talk about debt - both the monetary kind and the emotional kind, and you talk about hurts.
The big ones. The ones that still have names and still take up too much space in your heart.
The whispered, late night conversations start happening, when your pillow is cool and he's laying next to you. Again and again, they reaffirm your devotion to him. You're on the same page. Even if it's only page two. Even if you're in new territory. Even if the last time you felt any measure of anything like this, you were burned so bad that your scars are still healing.
He sees you drunk on New Year's Eve and he holds back your hair. And in the morning, he brings you water and the fragmented pieces of your dignity.
He sees your fuzzy socks, no make-up, unwashed hair days, he sees your worst days at work, and he listens to every single story about your friend's drama.
He does things for you that he doesn't really want to do, but he still shows up. He shows up. Over and over again and it startles you every single time. Without either of you even realizing it - he will become your biggest fan.
He sees you cry for the first time and like The Man He Is, he'll try to fix the problem in a thousand different ways. He'll be your white knight in the middle of the kitchen in March and then you'll start to suspect.
You love him.
You'll look deep inside your soul cupboard and pull out a perfect little piece of you ... a piece that has been unmarred by any other. And you will give it to him to hold.
Oh but it's scary, isn't it?
Because maybe you love too boldly.
Because maybe you gave him too big of a piece of yourself.
Because maybe you give it to him before he's even ready.
You will feel like he's the Road Runner, his feet treading in the dirt. He won't even be able to control it. He won't even be able to stop himself. And that's when you realize that he's just as scared as you are.
Just as scarred as you are.
Two steps forward.
Three steps back.
The constant vulnerability that you feel exhausts you and often overwhelms you, but you can't shake the feeling for goodness. Of rightness.
It's too early to tell if he is your forever and ever, or if he's just a lesson, but you will love him just the same. The effort that you expound will be just the same. The pieces of your heart that you will give him will be just the same.
Around you, life continues to happen. Christmas passes. And then summer comes again. You're planning things together now. I has now become we. And the change is so subtle that neither of you even realize it happening, but you're linked now.
Even if it doesn't even work out in the end. You are linked. For the rest of your life, this time - right now - this space - will be forever colored with his name. And even if it doesn't work out in the end, you will be glad that you invited him in for a drink on that second date.
Because he made you better. Even if it was just for a second.
PS - Let me help you start your first novel. <3