Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bliss.

There were tears, smiles, and the longest hug known to man.

Losing all ability to string words together, I just kept mumbling “You’re home…you’re home” in disbelief as I clung to his {massively muscled} shoulder. Ironically, he’s not “home.” We don’t really have a true home, as we’re both living out of suitcases in other peoples’ homes. But in that moment, as the people milled around us, the clunk of suitcases hitting the ground and the din of the rolling conveyor belts became our song, and we were home. We were together, and for those long, elastic minutes, nothing else mattered. For the next six days, nothing else does, and I feel like I’ve {temporarily} learned how to live in the present.

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Fonder.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

Long-distance relationship; reuniting at airport

Twenty-four hours from now, my husband will be power-walking through the rainbow tunnel at O’Hare airport, busting through the silver double doors, and searching through the crowd for me. He won’t have to look very hard, because my guess is that I will be running towards him, probably as I break into ugly sobs.

It has been 40 days since I’ve last seen my husband in-person, and to say I can’t wait for tomorrow is an understatement of epic proportions. I think the hardest element of being apart has just been the lack of companionship. When something great happens in my day, or it’s been a catastrophe, I can’t wait to get home and talk to him, tell him about it, complain or celebrate. But he’s not home. And by the time we talk, the moment has passed, the emotion is cold, there’s no need to rehash the drama.

How was your day? Oh you know, the usual.

Anything new happen today? Not really.

The longer we spend time apart, the less we feel compelled to share the minute details of our days, and instead, our conversation turns to the big stuff, the heavy stuff, the my gosh, I miss you so much I can’t believe it stuff. Conversations have quickly turned from “How was practice?” to “How soon do you think you can move out here?”, from “Well, work was crazy today…” to “So I looked at a few more apartments…”.

Being apart does crazy things to your psyche. I read an article yesterday about the proposed closing of a “supermax” prison in our home state, one whose signature is 23 hours a day in continuous solitary confinement. The article termed it “smothering isolation.” The former inmate that they interviewed, now a successful paralegal, says he developed coping mechanisms such as obsessive counting. By no means am I saying my life is that horrific, or my problems are anything near what these prisoners, deserved or not, are subjected to. But I very much connected to the story on a superficial level, knowing how the loss of companionship can drive you to think crazy thoughts.

Those who know me are aware that I make plans, and despite my efforts to the contrary, I can get very high-strung when things go awry {as they often do.} But the “smothering isolation” of being away from my partner in crime of nine years has led me to develop coping mechanisms of my own, mostly in the form of whining and researching get rich quick schemes so I can move to California faster {I kid, I kid. But it would be awfully nice to win the lottery!}. The unpleasantness of having a bad day and not having my husband here to offer a hug or an uninterrupted ear really drills down into my core. I can’t speak for him, but from the amount of whining he’s doing, I imagine he’s feeling the same way. It’s enough to make me consider abandoning all of my possessions and carefully plotted plans to hop on the next blue jet leaving Chicago.

But for the next seven glorious days, we don’t have to worry about a time difference, or California, or work…just he and I, and all that we hold dear in life: family, friends, and heavy lifts.

Good luck to you at Nationals, my dear husband, and may our hearts continue to grow to fill the distance between us.

PS: See you tomorrow! If you don’t remember what I look like, I’ll be the one sobbing outside the baggage claim area.

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Skydiving.

Fearlessness is an emotion, or as some believe, a personality trait, that I admire most in people. It’s something I’ve always longed for, pushed myself to have, yet failed miserably at demonstrating it.

I am what my financial advisor calls risk-averse. I don’t like jumping out of planes, making risky investments, or moving across the country without knowing a soul {ahem.}. Much to the chagrin of my staunchly religious parents, I’ll admit that sometimes I do the right thing because I’m afraid of getting caught, not really because I have a stellar code of morals. {Sorry, Mom.} I am terrified of “stretching the truth” when I do my taxes, frightened at the possibility of getting sued {for anything, guilty or not}, and I nearly threw up when I received a red-light ticket.

I wish there was a switch I could turn on to become more carefree, to ditch the worries and the dread that I’m perpetually saddled with; a class I could take: How to Be More Adventurous Without Wanting to Pee in Your Pants. I’d pay for that class.

At times, the thought of leaving Chicago terrifies me, and without exaggeration, makes me want to vomit. Yet at others, I find myself sending desperate messages to my husband: “Is it May yet?” or “Oh my gosh, I can not wait to get out of this state.” It’s doubtful I’m bi-polar. In reality, I think so much of me really is ready to shed the worrisome, fearful version of myself and become the stereotypical laid back Californian. But breaking a pattern, leaving your worried roots is hard.

I can’t really ever think of a time when I wasn’t overthinking or worrying about something. I can’t really even think of what triggered this in me…I had a relatively quiet childhood where I was well-provided for and deeply loved. It’s exhausting to live this way, though. I find myself combatting every thought and idea with a worst-case scenario, playing out courtroom trials a la Atticus Finch in my head or picturing myself living in a cardboard box near the Golden Gate Bridge. And yet, I identify as an optimist. I’m hopeful for situations, but fear the worst. I long for moments of joy, happiness and wealth, yet plan for sadness, sorrow, and struggles.

This move really is proving to be the perfect microcosm of my life. I want to approach it with fearlessness and bravery, but find myself pulled back by the heavy bands of worry. I want to jump and take the leap of faith that I’ve always desperately wanted to take, yet my feet feel heavy with dread.

What if it doesn’t work out?

What if I am absolutely miserable when I get there?

Is this the stupidest decision of my life?

Some days, I really don’t know the answer to these questions. I doubt my intuition, which has been slowly pushing me to pack my bags and sell my possessions. Today is one of those days. Today I’m finding myself calculating the risk, sliding the beads to the other side of the abacus, hoping that I can find some logical reason to call the whole thing off. I won’t, of course. Deep in my soul resides the knowledge that this is where I’m meant to be, that this path has been set for me and I need to conquer it, enjoying and exploring every square inch.

But still, there are days like today when I stumble upon a list of goals, filled with big dreams and deadlines, that I know I’ll never hit. And it scares me. I couldn’t bear to delete it, to erase that former hopeful list from my life. I’m abandoning those goals, those sweet nuggets of hope that I clung to not even six months ago. But scared or not, I forge onward, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and hoping that one of these days I will find myself leaping before looking, jumping from the proverbial plane with my arms outstretched and a smile on my face.

Horseshoes.

Aren’t you lucky?

My, what good luck you’re having.

Boy, you are so lucky!

I love cataloguing the reactions I’m receiving from so many when I share our latest endeavor. So many exclaim, “My, aren’t you two lucky?”

To a certain extent, absolutely, we are. I firmly believe that an elaborate, delicate sequence of events had to occur in order for us to be where we are now. It’s exhausting to trace back the catalyst for this chain reaction, but here’s an over-simplified journey.

My husband experienced a very, very nasty injury at track practice in college, requiring an ambulance, emergency surgery, and months of extensive rehab. As a part of rehab, his athletic trainer and good friend suggested he join a fringe sport, Highland Games {the big guys in the skirts kilts who throw telephone poles cabers}. He did, and he fell in love with the community, the sport, the potential. There, he met an athlete who had just returned from competing as a professional weightlifter {sound familiar yet?} who was opening a personal training studio in the city where my husband already worked, and was looking for more trainers. A few months later her coach called, seeking leads on any young men who had a throwing background, the ability to personal train, and most importantly, the physical and mental attributes of a professional weightlifter. Did she know anyone who fit that description? You bet she did.

Sure, this opportunity could have found him a different way, but who knows? Without the injury, would he have focused on improving his overall strength and not relying on his {broken} legs? Maybe. Would he have honed and sharpened his mental edge, enabling him to compete successfully on a national level? Possibly.

I remember the morning of the accident as if it was yesterday. Senior year, and I was surprisingly awake and in attendance at an 8 am class. Two missed phone calls from his mother? Something’s wrong. I knew it without even listening to the voicemail. My stomach plummeted to my feet and I could feel my breakfast churning. I don’t remember a single inch of that 200 mile drive, but god bless my friend for having the instincts to go with me. I’m still in disbelief I wasn’t pulled over anywhere along I-88, my car edging close to 90 miles per hour when I remembered that boy lying underneath a scalpel. I arrived just as he was wheeled back from surgery, a total success, the doctor had remarked. I remember holding his gym shoe, bloody and sliced open from the paramedic’s scissors, sitting right in front of his bed for us all to gawk at. In the twilight of anesthesia, he was more upset about his shoe than he was at almost losing a body part.

We laid in that hospital bed and cried, my salty tears falling onto his hospital gown, his falling into my hair. We cried for what was lost, for the terror we felt that morning, for the fear of the unknown. What would the future bring? Would he ever run again, or was the doctor wrong? Would he ever get those All-Americans he had worked so hard for? Did he really have to say farewell to football, his first athletic love?

Who knew that one day that ambulance ride would bring him to the edge of the Olympics? That an eight-inch scar would introduce him to those five gloriously interlocked rings?

Lucky, indeed.

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Laboring.

When I set out to write, whether it’s here on this blog, in the novels I’ve written {but not finished, so no, you can’t read them. Yet.}, or at my fancy-dancy corporate copywriting job, it’s very rare that I know what I’m going to write. It’s always amazed me how differently my brain functions when talking versus writing; even thinking versus typing. Some people have commented on my “gift” or “talent,” and it’s funny, because I’ve never quite thought of myself as a gifted or talented writer.

Instead, I’ve found solace in putting words to a page, extracting my thoughts and placing them where I can see them, rearrange them, decode their hidden meanings. To me, writing isn’t a hobby or a job, it’s just something that makes sense. Writing sends me back to the days when I could play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with my eyes shut, my fingers gliding over the ivory and black keys, the music surging through my hands, my wrists, up my arms, and into my chest. The notes would flow through me and back out, pulling my body and soul with it, my shoulders and head swaying and slumping as crescendos rose and fell.

Words fall from my fingertips, dripping with honeyed profundity, a collection of thoughts I could never eloquently express with my voice. While my brain tries to think of the next sentence, my index finger instinctively reaches for a key, the others following in suit. Another sentence born, birthed with love and instinct. I imagine that this is what a session with a therapist feels like: emotions and words tumbling with reckless abandon, a stream of conscious monologue where neither the patient nor the expert knows the destination. Hazy recollections and blurry snapshots come into focus, seemingly unrelated to the acute pain attempting to be assuaged. Slowly the visuals and stories begin to line up, strung together with a common thread, adorned with crystal realizations and metallic insight. And even though a catharsis has been reached, dusty emotions have been stirred and refuse to settle. More thoughts, more memories, more words that need to be delivered.

For me, writing begets writing. The black and white of my words is addictive, the high prolonged and relived as I reread every sentence. I close the computer, more words flash in my brain. I turn the lights off, another spark ignites, illuminating another truth that needs to be written. Nagging thoughts win the war against physical exhaustion, often compelling me to pull the computer back into my lap and give into the urge, the craving to let my fingers fly across the flat keys.

Thank you for indulging these cravings; for embracing my words, my thoughts, and the wild adventure I’m beginning. I am beyond flattered by everyone’s encouragement and compliments, and hope that my fingertips continue to lead me towards observations that resonate throughout us all.

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Sometime.

The connections we make in life are amazing.

Some people come into your life briefly, while others remain a steadfast presence. And when we lose one of these connections, we feel as if we’ve been punched in the gut.

When one of these people, who without knowing it helped to shape your life, even in the most minor of ways, disappears permanently, shock is met with pain, an ache that is sharp and dull, existent but invisible, raw and unrefined. The memories, distant and slowly fading, start to reappear one by one. Her laugh in the hallway outside of Mrs. Cunningham’s chemistry room. The glittery eyeshadow that she wore for performances, that just never seemed to disappear completely from her eyelids. The speed in which she zoomed through the high school hallways, even when we weren’t in a rush for class. Celebrating my 16th birthday after finishing our last final sophomore year, complete with cake in the chem lab.

“Wow, I didn’t know you lived so close. Let’s meet for coffee.”

“Congratulations on getting married! When you’re free, we should get together.”

“How do you like the local dog park? Maybe we should bring the pups and meet up sometime.”

And now sometime is gone, buried in the past among our pictures in the yearbooks and the lab reports we could never quite keep clean.

Rest in peace, Kristyn. I hope you knew how many people would miss you. My thoughts and prayers are with your husband, your family, and your friends.

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Body Armor.

Fear is such a funny emotion. It can ebb and flow, it can surge suddenly, or it can build slowly, creeping up on you like ivy, quietly choking you off before you realize what is happening. Fear can motivate or paralyze, it can spur anger or kindness, it can masquerade as happiness, love, worry or denial.

Whether it’s provoked from the jarring 2 am phone call or sudden heavy footsteps behind you in the dark, fear cloaks you, physiologically manifesting in your veins before your brain can begin to process and decode the danger.

Last night, fear found me. I don’t like to poke at these demons, because I know that despite valiant efforts, I can’t outrun the worry that befriends danger. I was doing a pretty good job camouflaging myself, wrapped up in a quilt, insulated and protected from the chill in the air. Then the words found me…”I blacked out during practice, holding 400 lbs.” His good nature and decidedly positive outlook helped me battle the fear for twelve hours, offering me respite in the sweet shelter of denial.

And then I saw the video.

And I watched it again. And again. And again.

After staring for the fifth time as 400 lbs pressed up against his windpipe, my throat hurt. As he fell backwards onto his elbows, mine burned. My stomach absorbed those 400 lbs, feeling heavy with worry and fear.

“It’s not a big deal. It happens occasionally.”

The knowledgable and respected veterans agreed, enjoying the video like they would any good episode of Jackass. But the wife? The wife worried. Yes, the wife is green and raw, new to the experience and disrespectful of the process. But the wife is also powerless and ripe for a revolution, ready to declare Martial Law. {Martial/Marital – not a coincidence!}

“If it happens again, you’re going to the doctor.”

I watched it again. I watched his body sway, the five feet, eleven and three-quarters inches looking like a twenty story skyscraper. His head tilts back, his eyes, I imagine, are rolling the same direction. The loss of grip comes next and the bar slides down his massive arms. Arms that could deadlift 700 lbs now look like limp noodles as they fall to his side. One last awkward, unconscious attempt to brace for impact is made by his elbows before the camera cuts.

“I told you, it’s not a big deal. My coach says…”

I replay it again. Quick, powerful…cheers from the crowd encouraging his feat of strength. And then I’m taken by surprise again when he starts to sway. I watch it intently, mesmerized as the iron giant’s tight form slackens and falls. The onlookers’ shouts turn to bellows as they rush towards him, the image going black again.

“I don’t care if God himself told you it was fine. One more time and I will fly to California and personally escort you to the hospital.”

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Probably.

Has it happened to others in the sport before, and will it happen again? I’m sure of it.

But there is something so terrifying about watching the video that it makes me want to hop on a plane, grab his sweaty, chalky hand and bring him home with me. No, you can’t play with that toy anymore, it’s dangerous.

I am not his mother, I am not his god, I am not him. I cannot tell him what to do any more than I can tell him what to wear, who to be friends with, or how to drive {though I do try on that last one!}. Tucked away in the wrinkles of my brain is the recognition that he knows it IS a big deal, and he would probably be at the doctor without my goading if a repeat episode happens. But I need to feel the power behind delivering a rule. I need the safety net of his promise, the assurance that his common sense wasn’t knocked out when his head hit the wall.

I need the nightlight to protect me from the dark of fear, from the boogeyman who steals Olympic dreams and ends careers too soon.

I need to be able to add another tool to my kit, because fear will return. And it might even bring more friends. And maybe I won’t be completely prepared, but I’ll battle it anyway. Maybe I’ll use the shield of nagging again, or whip out the sword of ultimatums. It’s an ongoing battle against fear, and while I might be temporarily wounded, there’s a lot of fight left in me.

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Snakeskin.

With the advent of a personal audience, I think it’s worth noting a few things about myself, my husband, and this blog.

Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, it’s a little crazy. Yes, sometimes even I can’t believe I’ve just shared certain things with the Interwebs.

But here’s the thing: these are the thoughts that are breeding in my brain on a daily basis, and I can’t shut that off, no matter how hard I try. I pride myself on integrity and honesty. A liar, I am not. I don’t believe that I’m being dishonest by not always sharing the dark thoughts that hide in the shadows of my life. Sometimes it’s self-preservation. Sometimes it’s the fear of being judged. For the most part, I am an optimistic person. I look for the best in life, I have high expectations of myself and others, and I know that as cliché as it is, a good attitude makes a world of difference in untoward circumstances.

I really am very much looking forward to this move, and very, very much to reuniting with my husband on a permanent basis. It’s not an ideal situation, obviously, but right now, it’s what we need to do to give this experience a shot. And honestly, I’m about to say something shocking. I don’t know if it would be a good idea for us to be living together right now.

My husband and I have been a unit for almost nine years. We are always learning about each other and growing, but for the most part, we can accurately predict each other’s thoughts and reactions to any given situation. {Yes, we’re one of those annoying couples.} I know that if we were together right now, he’d be worried about how I was adjusting and not enough about himself and his training. And I’d be so worried that he wasn’t focused on training, and that he was squandering his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. {We’d be really good at the Newlyweds game.}

But now he can focus completely on training and immersing himself into the world of professional athletics. {Which, by the way, is as crazy as every sitcom and reality show makes it look.} He can rest assured knowing that despite the challenges that our living situation brings, I am home, safely, with my family and friends. And I can commit myself to a difficult situation, ultimately knowing its impermanence, because it truly is for the greater good of this opportunity. It’s not every day that your husband gets a phone call inviting him to train for the Olympics in a sport he’s never competed in before. And it’s certainly not every day that this phone call also offers a paycheck, the country’s best coach, and teammates that are the best both inside and outside the gym. It’s enough to make me consider using the word miraculous.

It’s also really, really strange. Why us? Why him? Why now? Just when we thought our life was headed due North, the road winds and we find ourselves completely turned around. After fighting through the tough economy when jobs were scarce, my husband was finally staring down three full-time offers, all in positions that he would have loved. The decision was going to come down to money and commuting time. And then the phone rang and everything changed. Three months ago, I sat in my home, the first place that we shared together. The house that was adorned with our wedding pictures, a chunk of coral from the snorkeling trip on our honeymoon, the wine collection we’ve painstakingly built from our travels. Tonight, I write from the four-poster twin bed that I used as a child, ambling about in a home where I feel as equally comfortable as uncomfortable.

It’s hard to put into words what a tailspin the last few months have been. Up feels like down, right feels like left, inside is colder than outside. And not in a bad way, not at all. We are most certainly blessed. I am lucky. He is exceptional. But we are also processing. The next few months might be ugly. We’ll be shedding our skin just like we shed almost half of our worldly possessions. And so, my words might be scary, but I write them in the hopes that I can leave them here and wriggle away into the sunshine, feeling the warmth of miracles and hard work shining upon my fresh new skin.

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Vindicated.

There is no sweeter feeling in this world, in my humble opinion, than the moment of vindication.

The moment you find the answer you’ve been searching for, even when people said you were wasting your time.

The moment you conquer the obstacle in front of you, when everyone else said it was impossible.

The moment your leap of faith pays off, even though your inner critic convinced you it was a bad idea.

Yesterday, I prevailed in a battle I had been fighting for over a year. It’s been a long, slow battle with my health that has caused me to think I was crazy…even a hypochondriac at times. But the symptoms were there, hovering around my person and making my life a living hell. The past few months have intensified, and I became a mad woman, grasping at unknown threads of hope and pulling hard. And after countless hours in waiting rooms, endless vials of bloods, over a thousand dollars in tests…the results were in black and white on this piece of paper. I had six times the normal level of this toxic substance in my body. SIX. TIMES.

It has never felt so good to hear bad news. {And yes, now that I have a diagnosis, I shall be just fine in short order!}

In any situation, when you invest so much time and effort into a project…be that in a hobby or a job, a personal war or a private fight, that moment when the weight is lifted from your shoulders in righteous victory is unparalleled by any other feeling.

As if telekinetically linked, my husband beat his PR today, in a big way. It was an amazing moment for him, and for me {I’m lucky enough to watch his training sessions broadcasted live!}. I watched him conquer the number that had been staring him down for weeks, mocking him, pushing him, making him sweat and swear. In one swift and easy movement, he beat it. He won that battle. As I screamed at the computer screen and he grunted with ferocity, that bar went up, and the screaming and the grunting dissolved into cheers, whoops, and a victory dance.

It’s these moments of vindication, the taste of victory and power and pride, that we both live for. We fight for every battle, push for every win, and rejoice in our moments of success. And when we fail, we take a deep breath and push onward. Sometimes I worry about the physical distance between us. I wonder if 2,200 miles is enough to break even the healthiest of marriages. I don’t worry incessantly about it, but it’s a seed that has settled in my dusty brain and is taking up precious space. On long days when we’re in foul moods, or busy days when we don’t have time to talk, I can feel that seed burrow a little deeper. And on days like today, when without even exchanging words, we both feel vindication, that seed shrivels up and vanishes.

We are competitors, both of us. He proves it daily, in a very physical way, while I shroud myself in quiet strength. We never give up. We fight for love, for bragging rights, for happiness, for each other…for sweet vindication.

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Dangerous Safety Blankets.

“The true disaster is living the life in your mind and missing the one in front of you.” – Geneen Roth, Lost and Found

As I plodded along through this book, vacillating between being interested and thinking it didn’t apply to me, I read this line and quite literally gasped aloud. As I so crudely alluded to in my last post, I am always focusing so hard on the future that I fail to really see and experience the present.

When eating a meal, I don’t taste it. I’m fixated on the next bite, or the next course, or even the next meal. On a vacation, I’m always thinking about the next bullet point on the itinerary. At work, my mind is always on the next project or the next client. In life, I’m dreaming about the next day, the next month, the next year. In finances, I’m always counting on the next paycheck to help reach a financial milestone.

It’s sad, even pathetic. How can I waste so much of my life…a beautiful, glorious life with safety and love and potential, by planning my next move?

I’ve always announced to people that I’m an idea person, but that I lack follow-through. At the root, this is true, but really, it’s that I have Attention Deficit Disorder within my life. I can’t sit still and follow a project through because I’ve found a new obsession: a new diet, a new budget, a new blog, a new hobby.

How does one stop and smell the roses? Is it as simple as it sounds?

Experience tells me no. Like every other pattern, it is learned. The planner within me is part of my identity, my safety blanket when things get tough. If life throws me a curveball, there are two places you’re likely to find me: creating a spreadsheet or researching on Google. As I sat on a plane speeding back to Chicago and my husband drove to his new home in San Francisco, what did I do? Pulled out a scrap piece of paper from my purse and made a list of everything I was going to accomplish in the next 3 months we’re apart. In theory, this sounds fantastic. {Wow, she’s so self-actualized, Maslow would say.} But I fear it’s become unhealthy. It’s great to have goals, but when you continually set unrealistic expectations upon yourself and flog yourself emotionally when you fail, there’s a problem.

So there it is, interwebs. I have a problem, and it’s only taken me 400+ words to figure it out.