Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Doesn't Kill You (really does) Make You Sronger

Today’s blog challenge: What was a difficult time in your life?

I have to pick just one?
One of the key things I learned from my therapist was that truly, everything does happen for a reason, and that my experiences in life have been necessary for me to learn the valuable lessons I need to learn. Did I need to be abused by a boyfriend? Of course not. But I walked away with so much knowledge and so much power, that I can accept the experience. Did I need to have a high school friend commit suicide when I was only 16, and another die of brain cancer within 6 months of graduation? God no. But I learned a very important lesson from those losses to always appreciate the people I have close to me. I also didn’t need to lose both of my grandparents in the same year and my aunt the next, nor did I need to experience the unexpected loss of my friend Tia. And having a boyfriend killed in a car crash was not something I would say I needed. But through those losses, I learned that nothing is as important as the relationships in your life, and to not let petty shit get in the way of that.

I bring all of these incidents up not to be depressing or to play any woe-is-me card, but rather to express just how difficult and fragile life truly can be, and to explain that through challenging times, comes a better future.

Some of these things I have talked about in previous blogs, so if I’m repeating myself…well, too bad, this is my blog. It really is challenging for me to try and pick out one single most difficult time in my life, because everything happened at a specific time in my life. I could argue that my buddy’s suicide was the worst because I was only 16 and completely ill-equipped to handle tragedy. That said, I could also argue that losing Tia just last year was the worst because I had let myself lose touch with her, so while I was better equipped to handle loss, I was less ready for the regret. The thing about it is, nothing in my life has qualified as the absolute very worst moment in time. It just doesn’t work like that.

After school got out for summer vacation between 10th and 11th grade, my friend James killed himself. The first day of summer vacation, specifically. And I handled it as you would expect any teenager to handle something like that – not well at all. I was a wreck all summer long, as were most of my friends. I remember everything about the day I found out; in fact, the best piece of writing I have ever submitted in a class, I wrote in college about the emotion surrounding that day. It is still a vivid memory that I could describe in perfect detail, the way people remember what they were doing on 9-11. My world was, for what was probably the first time as a somewhat sorta adult person, flipped completely upside down.

Outside of the grief that I experienced over the summer and the school year that followed, I learned to be more forthcoming with people. I also experienced something that I didn’t even see at the time but definitely recognize looking back on it. The “popular” circle and the “not so popular” circle began to intersect in our junior year. James was someone who was friends with everyone; he was on the soccer team so he was popular, but he was smart and did well in school, so he fit in with the more responsible students as well. After he died, I think our class showed some blurred lines between cliques, which looking back on it was pretty healthy and mature of a bunch of pain in the ass teenagers. But he was friends with everyone, and we all shared that grief. Shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is half sorrow…my Aunt Carmen told me that once.

My senior year, I transferred to Milwaukie high school and pretty much lost touch with most of my classmates from La Salle (we didn’t have Facebook or MySpace then, I have caught up with many of them in the last couple years), and after graduation I learned that my friend Zach had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. We were 18…in fact, on the first day of college at CCC, my math teacher was taking roll (they apparently still take roll in college) and called Zach’s name. He was supposed to have been in my class, I hadn’t seen him in a year, and since I last signed his yearbook and promised to keep in touch from my new school, he had gotten a cancer diagnosis and had died.

I attended Zach’s funeral with my friend Michelle, who had been my absolute best friend in high school. I was nervous because I hadn’t seen anyone since June of our junior year, and here we were, reuniting at the worst possible scene. At the service, they showed a slide show full of photos of Zach and his friends, and that’s the only thing I remember, other than afterwards, I had to go into work. I was a hostess at Spaghetti Factory at the time, and they had been unwilling to give me the day off. Heartless bastards. Worst job ever, seriously. Ironically I also remember exactly what I was wearing. Probably because of how nervous I was to see everyone. I think this loss really drilled in to all of us that our social status, our clique, our level of popularity, was so incredibly irrelevant and we needed to get over it. We were out of high school. It didn’t matter. Zach was the definition of your class clown – outspoken, goofy, warm, loved by everyone. He didn’t sit in assigned seats and he never quit talking. From him, and from losing him, I learned that I can be friendly to anyone, whether they play sports or they read, whether they are prom queen or in drama or choir. It didn’t matter anymore, we were just all there, sad, together.
My experience with Kalib was a whole different kind of lesson. Through the deaths of my friends, I learned that you can let anyone in and give anyone a chance, that your social status according to Hot or Not (remember that awful website?) really didn’t matter. From dating and living with a man who emotionally and physically abused me, I learned that I am a stronger woman than I ever knew.

I don’t need to rehash the whole back story, as anyone reading this has already heard it, but long story short, Kalib and I met at work, started dating right away, moved in together way too soon after I met his daughter way too soon, and then we continued to everything way too soon. When my non-therapy repaired brain looks at the timeline, I think, Jesus you idiot, why didn’t you slow down and go at a regular person pace?! But then I step back and step into my therapy repaired self and remember that those are the things that manipulators make you believe is a good idea. Would I ever move in with someone after 3 months again? No. Would I ever meet someone’s child after only a month or so? No. But then again, would I ever fall for this manipulative bull shit out of someone again? No.

I know that meeting a person’s kid is a very big deal. And I will forever tread very carefully here. Dating someone who has a kid is both growing far more likely since I am old now, and also something that scares me very much. But I try to remember that I now have the tools to be smart about it. If I don’t see myself with a guy forever, I do not need to meet his kid. Period. I unfortunately had to learn this lesson by meeting Rylie and falling in love with her, and then having to walk away from her, knowing that her dad doesn’t treat her well. Leaving Kalib was easy. Well no. Leaving Kalib was easy once I was ready to leave Kalib. We all know it took a long time to be ready. More than once, we’d fight, I’d leave, I’d cry on Stacey’s couch for a few days, I’d go home. But once I was strong enough to make that decision to fucking go, it was easy. I was gone, physically and emotionally separated completely. Leaving Rylie, on the other hand, was very painful and really sad. I knew Kalib wasn’t a good parent, and at the time I didn’t know Sabrena well enough at all to know anything. And outside of what I was leaving her with parent-wise, I had developed a relationship with Rylie over 2+ years, and I loved her. If you look through photos of my relationship with Kalib (and by that, I mean, he has been deleted but the photos of Rylie are still on my mom’s computer), you can see that for those 2 years, it was me and her, not me and him, not him and her. I was her sole emotional provider in our house, Kalib fed her fast food and bought her things, I took care of her. I did her homework, I practiced her reading and her flash cards, I took her to the pumpkin patch, carved pumpkins with her. I did her Christmas shopping, wrapping, bought her birthday gifts, took her school shopping. Kalib was a completely absentee parent on the emotional level. Only responded to negative behaviors, never supported her ideas or told her how smart she was. So for me, leaving her behind without the love and attention she was getting from me, was (and still is) very sad.

I have shared before all of the positive I have taken away from being in that relationship, but to reiterate, I have learned to be stronger and to listen 100% to my gut. If something feels wrong, it is wrong. I have learned to trust myself on a much deeper level. I have severed ties with people for no reason other than because it felt weird being around them. And I haven’t been wrong. I am more honest about what I want and less likely to settle or compromise on those things. When we bought that house, I got steamrolled. There was nothing about it that I liked. In fact, I hated it. I hate ranch style houses, and I knew that Kalib was too fucking lazy (and unable) to make the repairs that house needed. I was bulldozed into that house much like I was bulldozed through almost 3 years of being with him. And now, I know what I want and I won’t accept less than that. I can appreciate that strength that came out of that relationship, and I continue to grow from the experiences I suffered while being with him.

I should add, I also learned that if ever I am in a fight with a girl, there is a way to pull hair that wins every time.

On the opposite end of the boyfriend spectrum was Zach, the most fun guy on Earth, who I dated just before I met Kalib, and who was killed in a car accident last year. Ironically, the accident happened in Bakersfield, where my cousin Robert was living and working as a news reporter. Robert responded to the accident, but fortunately I had already heard about it before Rob called me to ask if I knew the guy. I remember telling Robert, not only did I know him, I’d been his girlfriend, and that Robert had in fact met him at a family thing a few years prior. Hearing that Zach had died really took a toll on me. I have blogged about our relationship in the past, but I’ve never had as much fun with a guy than I did with him. When I was with him, I was laughing. Always. He was funny, sweet, compassionate, and charismatic. He shared my sense of adventure, my drive to get up and go, to find something awesome to do instead of watching movies or going to dinner. We hiked, camped, went to concerts, played catch in the park. He was an amazing spirit and I still miss him deeply. My relationship with Zach while were together taught me to take things less seriously and to let myself let go. You only live once, why waste it being unhappy? The man had his issues, but no one can say he didn’t show them a great time.
Zach & Eric at my Ramona Quimby birthday party
When Zach died, I initially didn’t have much of an emotional response. It came several days later, very suddenly, and it sent me reeling from there. I attended his funeral with some coworkers from Wild Wings, where we’d met, and afterwards the 4 of us got drunk and talked about how much Zach and I loved each other for an entire afternoon at McMenamins. We talked about how Zach would walk me to my car after work and we’d spend 30 minutes just kissing and laughing before I drove off and he went back inside…and how everyone knew what we were doing even though we thought we were so sneaky. We talked about how losing a man like Zach would change each of us, would teach all of us that life is too short to not embrace it head on. I am yet to meet a man with the sense of adventure that Zach had, but that’s what I’m after. And from losing him, I have learned that I won’t settle for anyone who tries to dial me down a notch. I am who I am – free and loud and fun – and I won’t try to put that fire out in myself, nor will I try to squash it out of anyone else. Life’s too short, live it loud and proud.
At the park, after playing catch with Emilie
At Brenda's wedding
At Brenda's wedding
Life is full of make it or break it moments. I am so grateful to have been able to face some truly devastating moments with the skillset to move past them, to learn from them, and to allow myself to grow out of them. Losing a friend, losing a boyfriend, being controlled or abused…even a sad breakup, disconnecting from someone you care about…there will always be difficult times out there. Something will happen that will temporarily break me. But I am strong enough to cope and to learn from these experiences, and I can find the lessons necessary to move forward in a healthy way.

My 21st Birthday at the Brew: me, Renee, Tia, Yimmy and Kim

Colorado hiking with Tia

At the Denver Zoo