The River, Part Two

In 2017, I wrote a post called The River, which told the story of me running away from the source of my heart aching. I wasn’t really looking for anything at all, but- as history unveils- these are usually the times we find exactly what we had been missing. You feel like you know yourself or your partner well enough, but the truth is, it takes a hell of a lot longer than a year or two to get to know very important truths about any one individual. I’ve been in relationships that last three months, tops, and- being completely convinced I’ve figured out this person isn’t for me- made my escape in some form or fashion. But when I met my guy, the situation was different.

I met him at work. I remember it like it just happened. I was brand new- my first day- sitting at a long table, folding and bagging baby onesies. His tall, lanky ass came bouncing through from the printer room and my supervisor stopped him.

“Hey JJ!”

He came to an abrupt halt, turned on a dime and threw up his arms like Bruce Lee. “HA!”

My supervisor pointed across the table, “This is Ashley, she’s new.”

He dropped his arms to the front and back of his waist and bent halfway, bowing his head. “I’m JJ.”

I smiled- “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t know then how nice it really would become, or that our rollercoaster relationship would suffer peaks and valleys, prompting a lot of hateful thoughts, harshly spoken words and painful, burning tears. A lot of break-ups and reunions. I didn’t know then that it would take almost five years to get a full understanding of how nice it actually is.

At that time, he was with another girl and I was with another boy and neither relationship was working to our advantage. He was being used and I was feeling uncertain. He was one year into his relationship and I was two years into mine, and while both of us were making attempts to build our futures with these people, both plans fell completely through. My then boyfriend was living, working, and gigging in Birmingham and his then girlfriend was making plans to move to Mississippi to live close to family. A few months passed and both relationships dissolved. By that time, JJ and I were coworkers who were comfortable enough with each other that we would hide and scare each other, or upon meeting one another, would start swing dancing together. He was a goofball, and so much fun. I loved that we were able to be total idiots together when nobody was looking. It was just about the only thing that made that terrible work environment somewhat tolerable. We helped get each other through our days. Fast forward through hell and back, that’s where we are now- only our bodies are slower and we have since moved on to MUCH BETTER job situations.

When you are bipolar and on the autistic spectrum, you feel things intensely. Although it was a slow, gradual process, when I fell for JJ, I fell really, really hard. I had thoughts like we are meant to be together and everything I’ve been through led me to you, etc. He, on the other hand, has ADHD. Do you know how difficult it is to maintain a happy, cohesive, responsible relationship when two people battle these things daily?

It’s not possible! Or… maybe with a lot of time and training and patience… it is.

It took four years for me to feel secure and confident that JJ really loves me. He would get distracted regularly or interrupt me or look at other women or say inappropriate things, etc. etc. that led me to feel insecure, not only with our relationship, but with myself. The events detailed in The River was my response in feeling completely lost and simply finding myself again. And I really did. But even after that, and up to as recently as this year, I have had to take cleansing breaks from the seemingly impossible love affair, regardless of how much I truly love this guy, for the sake of my own sanity.

Out of all the popular love affairs I could compare our chemistry to, Benny and Joon sticks out the most. When you love someone so deeply, and share an other worldly chemistry with another human, shit happens. A lot of shit. A lot of wonderful, magical, unbelievable shit.

I wonder where we will be five years from right now…

Conversations with Myself

Working and living in an area of non-stop small talk, often times the most intimate conversations I have are with myself. I think constantly. My brain is thinking about multiple things, beginning around the hour I become conscious, to the moments leading up to me quickly shutting down my brain to RELAX.

Anyway, conversations with myself- self talk as the Providers describe it- can do two things:

  1. Cause total chaos, leaving you exhausted and disheveled
  2. Cause total bliss, leaving you weightless and satisfied

Oh, you aren’t exactly like me?

I guess I forgot.

There are days when I feel euphoric- something I would compare to an acid trip. Maybe it’s the season, the weather, or nerve damage? I couldn’t say. What I can say is that some days feel like the polar opposite, and these are the days I would like to focus on right now. Because we always start with bad news. And when I say we, I actually refer to my two vastly polar opposite personalities. One is happy and excited. One is tired and annoyed.

A little, somewhat popular, album was released when I was fifteen years old. It recently turned twenty years of age and I thought, you know what? I really would like to discuss how this particular piece of timeless art shaped me in my most vulnerable and bitterly angry years, when I was attempting to break the rules and figure out who the hell I really am.

Why am I so angry? Please explain this to me in song, Maynard James Keenan.

Lateralus was released May 15, 2001 and it was the spring, then summer of Tool, which then became the following twenty years of more Tool which involved digging into and appreciating and supporting more side projects. Hell, a winery was birthed out of Tool. And a farm. Life.

Come to think of it, even… my child.

Hooked on everything that these people involved with these projects produced, I felt like I had found this secret garden of information that a handful of other local, angry teenagers and I clung to for emotional support and strength on the days when we had ZILCH internally. The local music scene thrived- not because of Tool, but thanks to this similar angst that Tool had seamlessly tapped into, harnessed with leather straps, and made their bitch. It was an inspiring time for angry artists, and holy shit- was I angry.

I met my child’s father the summer a drunk man decided to get behind the wheel of a heavy automobile, which he half ass managed to operate until he ran my friends and I off the highway around a curve just in front of my friend’s house. We hit the embankment, flew in the air, and nose dived into the ditch, while the dumb, intoxicated redneck sped away, leaving three good looking teenage girls in a smoking vehicle to die a horrible, untimely death. My friend’s mom heard the crash and sprinted down her driveway, spraining her ankle. I was stuck in the backseat, unable to get my seatbelt unclicked, while a motorist who had stopped was screaming to get out because the car was on fire.

Oh cool, this is it. I’m gonna die in front of Britney’s house.

Self talk.

I didn’t actually want to die. I enjoy living and being happy. But those are the words I said to myself, in such a sarcastic “gee, this is such a surprise” kind of way. After brushing my hilarious sarcasm aside, I got serious and worked harder to unbuckle, and with a fractured L4, got out of the car that was definitely not on fire, and ran however many yards, crunching glass and gravel, collapsing upon meeting my friend Britney and her mother- who were sobbing and gasping upon realizing it was me. “Yeah, another accident.” (I believe this would have been the sixth.)

My dad and sister pulled up. Just one week prior to this, my sister had major scoliosis surgery. She was recovering with stitches still holding her fragile halves together. I saw her crying and I felt so terrible that she was upset because I knew she was in so much pain herself. The ambulance arrived. I was strapped tightly to a hard board to stabilize my spine (gravel and glass cutting into my back), where I would remain for the next six to eight hours. I drifted in and out of consciousness but remember drinking the absolutely horrid MRI juice, VoLumen (short for Liquid Voldemort), and hurling barf upon meeting my Doctor, who replied with “Oh dear”.

Oh dear, indeed.

I recovered that summer in a back brace, with orders not to drive. The summer all of my friends were graduating without me and I couldn’t even celebrate. So, I spent my time writing. A lot. Whether in notebooks or LiveJournal, I was getting my thoughts out of my head. I was sharing. A lot. I was visiting chat rooms and sharing there, too. And this is how I connected to my child’s father, Ricky. Another Tool fan.

-Something cool I said about my favorite band

-Something he said in agreement

-More words exchanged

He then looks at my profile and sees that I am female.

-Holy shit, I thought you were a dude.

-Ha, no.

Then we continued talking about our favorite band Tool for four hours.

Then we continued talking about the reasons we admire the band Tool.

Then we continued talking about the various things that we have been through that led to the mindset which allowed for appreciation of the band Tool.

Then we moved in together.

Then we made a baby.

Self talk is important. Sometimes self talk can seem like something that produces filth and you suffer for it. Often, those around you suffer as a result, too. But every so often, when you’re lucky, you get a diamond in the rough.

Twenty years later, and he and I still maintain. He is the person who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. “When you talk shit to yourself, add something nice.” We can communicate. I know the pieces fit. He appreciates that I have been on top of all the responsibilities in raising our child, and I appreciate that he hasn’t laid one finger on her. Be patient.

I talk to myself daily. And yeah- you do, too. Whatever you tell yourself, never forget- add something nice.

Miracles

A few years ago, I read C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. I later found it received a lot of criticism and negative reviews, but I found the book in of itself a miracle to me at the time, because it contained powerful lessons I needed at the exact moment I opened it.

Lately, I’ve been anxious, worried about the future concerning recent events regarding my grandfather, my boyfriend, and my dog. I have also been praying. A lot. Here’s a story about that-

Last week, my dog Marley stopped eating his food. He began vomiting. He was given medicine to treat ulcers. Marley continued avoiding his food bowl, continued vomiting, continued losing muscle mass, continued being lethargic and pitiful. Finally, our Vet told us yesterday afternoon to bring Marley in to the office first thing the following morning for surgery. This would make it the second incision from his chest to his lower abdomen to investigate his condition. We hated the thought, but we also wanted answers, because this little boy wasn’t getting any better.

I’ve always been taught to pray. My dad used to have us kneel beside him with heads bowed at our bedside before we were tucked in. I never fully comprehended the power of prayer until I was much older and wiser, but I am a firm believer in it these days.

Last night, we shed our tears and mourned over the possibility that our baby would not be okay- that something would remain in his system, causing him to suffer, until the day eventually came that… well, you know… The thoughts were disparaging, and I held my baby’s stomach and paw, and whimpered while my forehead rested on his. I started to think about my recent thoughts of dealing with loss, and how I wasn’t ready to do that yet– “I am still unprepared. I don’t want this. I want him to get better and enjoy a full and happy life with us.”

So I closed my eyes with my head still bowed above his, and I silently spoke. You can call it meditation, prayer, self-talk… whatever. I pleaded with my Maker last night. And when I finished, I felt better. And I felt like He heard me. He listened. So I slept, and the following morning- this morning- Marley ate a little bit of his food. I left for work. While on my morning commute, my boyfriend called me.

-Marley just pooped probably two feet of rope. It’s shaped like his small intestine.

I was ecstatic. I felt confident about our dog making a full recovery. When I got to work, I sent a text to my boyfriend.

-I feel so much better knowing Marley did that this morning. I prayed over him so hard last night, and I thought- I just want his pain to go away… I’m relieved.

-Yes I did, too. And I’m almost 100 percent sure that was the problem…

I realize a lot of people do not believe in creation, a creator, a heaven, a hell, or the power of prayer… but sometimes, despite the skepticism and all that anxiety that comes with it, you gotta have a little faith. Because miracles, believe it or not, happen every day.

 

A Young Mother

At the time, I was eighteen years old, and my hair was emerald green. I had just moved back from Ft. Lauderdale where I attended art school for photography, and I was living in a rural community in Alabama, walking into Wal-Mart, eight months pregnant. People noticed me. They noticed my hair first, and then my round belly.

Then they scowled. Or frowned. Or quietly whispered. Or waved a hand gesture in disapproval.

It was never very difficult for me to be a mom. It still isn’t difficult. My job was easy. Still is. I’m not saying there haven’t been challenges, but I was lucky to be able to stay at home and take care of my daughter the first three years of her life. Due to that and a number of other factors, I have been blessed with a child who simply does what she needs to do and has no alarming trouble in any areas of her life. She excels in a variety of things that interest her and her talents and abilities never cease to amaze me. I could not be a prouder mom, and that is something I have always felt.

Being motherly comes very naturally to me, and I have always enjoyed playing the mom role to children. I love nurturing them and getting on their level to identify with them and help them to find their unique space where they’re comfortable and free to express themselves and do what they love to do and have fun. This has always been a part of my personality, and it comes so naturally that often while I’m in public, if I see a child, they see me, too. And they smile. And I melt

What has always been difficult, however, are the perceptions that people on the outside feel compelled to share with me, whether I like it or not. I realize that the statistics are overwhelmingly stacked against me, but I take great pride in being a young mother. I have wisdom beyond my years, and have always trusted my instincts and heart. No, not every situation goes in my favor, but my daughter and I have an unbreakable bond and it’s honest and loving and there is nothing that stands in the way of that. An open line of communication is important, and that takes trust. And we trust each other with everything we are. Bravery is also important, because again, while the odds aren’t stacked in my favor, my strength, wisdom, and brave spirit keep us safe and happy because we are always making the best of whatever situation is thrown our way.

We rely on each other often, but she knows I’m still mom.

But enough validation, I digress from the point. The point is, none of this is truly any of your business. I only share these things to hopefully bring awareness to the obvious and utter disgust that society holds in regards to young parenthood.

So with that, here are some honest questions for the college graduated, respectable career, one marriage on the books parents:

Do you enjoy people openly judging you for your level of income or your position in our society?
Do you notice others cutting their eyes at your children because they turn their noses up at kids who appear to be less fortunate?
Do you appreciate when some stranger smirks when your child rolls his or her eyes at you because you have zero authority over them?
Do you become uncomfortable when your child openly expresses his or herself in some way that you and/or society would deem inappropriate or unusual?
Do you feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone else connects to your child with ease while you have difficulty doing so?
Do you enjoy other people who could not possibly relate to you constantly giving you advice that you know would not work for your particular situation?

Things to think about next time you judge a hard working single parent who has been dealing with countless obstacles since her teenage years. And here are some pieces of advice I would like to share with those who might be able to relate (or not):

If you do what is right and treat others with dignity and respect, your child will notice.
If you take good care of yourself, your home, and other things around you, your child will notice.
If you express yourself freely without fear of judgement, and stay true to your morals, your child will notice.
If you take care of your responsibilities, but still make time for fun and activities that engage the participants and help strengthen bonds, your child will notice.
If you maintain a positive attitude through troubling, challenging, or difficult times, your child will notice.
If you make an effort to reach out to those in need even when you yourself are in need, your child will notice.
If you smile at strangers, go out of your way to pick up a piece of trash, or stop what you’re doing to actively listen, your child will notice.
If you create art, laugh loud, skateboard, write poetry, and continue learning even as an adult, your child will notice.

I could go on… but I’m leaving this here with you now:

Being a parent is always a learning experience. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made, how many degrees you’ve earned, or how many years you’ve lived on this earth. What matters is where your heart resides. How much effort, time, care and dedication are you putting into your parental duties? Are you willing to admit to your mistakes and learn from them? Are you being a good example by the choices you make and the way you treat yourself and others? Are you a patient and kind teacher? Are you capable of connecting and communicating effectively with your child? Are you able to stick to your guns and enforce your rules fairly? Are you giving as much respect as what you demand? Are you able to have fun while maintaining a secure environment?

When people meet my daughter, or see her accomplishments, they are amazed, almost to the point of disbelief. I used to question my abilities as a parent because I sometimes felt self-conscious about being so young, “uneducated” and poor while raising a daughter on my own. Now, I get it. But I also get that despite these higher standards of self accomplishment prior to bringing another human into the world, I am a proud mom to a daughter who is also proud to have me as her mother. I couldn’t have asked for a greater accomplishment personally, and our society couldn’t have expected a greater contribution from me. So, in short, you’re welcome.

 

First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5

 

 

Marley Jones and Barney Miller

Marley Jones

Never saw the movie Marley and Me, but I know it’s about a dog that people loved, and I believe the story involves the dog dying. I heard it was sad and I heard that nobody should ever name a dog Marley again.

Well our dog’s name is Marley. He is a pit terrier mix and we suspect he has some catahoula somewhere in that mix due to his coat colors and patterns. His “spots” are in the shape of hearts, and he is devastatingly handsome. His pupils are very strange, unlike any I’ve ever encountered. His eyes are marbled with bright light blue and dark brown. He is water and earth. His demeanor revolves around love, and he is playful, protective, and often chill, but overly excited when Mama walks through the door. He especially loves when his oldest sister Echo- my human daughter- plays with him. And his master, his best companion, my human mate, is his numero uno. He watches him and follows his lead curiously, always learning, always wagging.

Marley has had stomach issues for months now. We have placed him in our Vet’s care on numerous occasions, with no real solid leads as to what might be causing his sensitivity to food. He often experiences vomiting or diarrhea for no apparent reason. He underwent a surgery a couple of months ago when he stopped eating for days and couldn’t keep the fluids from his IV down. He hasn’t been back to “normal” since the surgery, and we still had no real inkling as to what the underlying issue might be.

My boyfriend took Marley to the Vet for another check-up yesterday (day two in a row) since he hasn’t eaten his food in a few days, and is still sick with an upset stomach. Yesterday we learned that kidney disease is the likely cause. Marley is still not eating, he is still lethargic, and still vomiting and having diarrhea.

I love my dog. And my dog loves me.

Loss is something I’ve always experienced, unwillingly. Loss is something I try with my might to avoid. Loss is something I will always have to deal with, and prepare myself for… The older I get, the more I realize that it’s coming, ready or not. I’m never ready to lose someone or something I love. But I understand that this is the cycle of life.

Barney Miller

I also learned yesterday that the mightiest and most invincible man in the world has lung cancer and will have to go through another biopsy procedure to determine if the cancer is malignant or benign.

My papa has always been a real hero to me. A Korean War vet, a member of the Georgia Country Music Hall of Fame, a deep-sea fisherman, an AC repair man, a guitar builder and instructor, a cameo role player in My Cousin Vinny and Lawless, a metal worker, a husband who flirts with his wife (still- in his upper 80’s), a father of five, a grandfather of eight, and a great-grandfather of four.

This man can do any damn thing. This man backed out of selling acres of his land after learning that the forest areas would have been demolished and developed. This man told stories out of this world with humor, animation, and heart. This man played the dobro unlike any other on this entire planet. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but his flaws made him all the more legendary. And his disease makes him all the more human. But despite this, he is still a seemingly god-like creature, immortal in spirit and full of life.

I am unprepared for what is surely to come. And my heart is shattered into a million pieces, it seems. But I know I have to be strong, strong like him… strong enough to fight as hard as I can, like my grandfather and my dog.

It’s important to have a shoulder to cry on, and yesterday, we cried. We snotted. We trembled. We tightly embraced. And we were okay. We knew despite everything, we would be okay.

The River

We’d had our biggest fight yet. Everything from our hearts crashed down on our heads.

I exploded.
I jerked something I’d made for you off the wall and threw it to the kitchen floor. It broke in half, ricocheting into your knee.
You exploded.
And then we broke each other. We slept in separate rooms for the very first time. I felt like this was truly the beginning of the end. Hopeless despair filled my belly and I emptied the contents into the toilet. I felt weaker than I’d ever felt in my entire life. This is it, I thought. This is the last time I pour my heart into a man. 

Oh but what a profoundly beautiful innocence that resides in this imperfect man…

It was 5:30 AM. I was unable to sleep all night, so finally, I turned to social media for distraction. I saw a friend talking about her desire to let friends go who she felt like did not make an effort to speak to her. It saddened me, because I felt like I was one of those friends who had let our bond dissolve over the past few years. I decided to send her a text message and tell her I love and miss her. I was happy to hear back from her immediately, because she and her boyfriend had experienced a similar situation, fought, and then fought for each other. I asked her for advice, just as she had asked for mine a year prior. She told me that forgiveness is a good thing, but to also be strong and stand by my conviction. I knew at that point what I needed to do.

I got out of bed. I fed our dogs. And then I opened the door, and walked outside. I walked and walked. No phone, no note, no coffee, no water, no food, no real worry in my head. I just wanted to feel the freedom I had sacrificed for so long only to feel this bleak emptiness in the end. I wanted to regain my strength, my wisdom, my self.

My body gravitated towards a river he had taken me to while he was still interested in showing me the new and spectacular wonders I had never experienced before. The place he knew, and knew I would love. I thought in my head, if he comes looking for me, I’ll try. If he doesn’t, I’ll know. A Bob Dylan song, my favorite Dylan song, popped into my head.

We never did too much talkin’ anyway, but don’t think twice, it’s alright…

You just kinda wasted my precious time, but don’t think twice, it’s alright.

I hiked. The unkempt trail had been neglected and I preferred it that way. No traffic, no worry. I took a crooked stick and wound spiderwebs in it as I walked. I never tripped, as I usually did. I was regaining my confidence, I was feeling alive. Approaching the bridge that made things easy, I decided to avoid it. So I placed the webbed stick on the ground for a spider to enjoy a future feast, and walked down to the river bank. I took my shoes off and tied the strings together and slung the shoes around my neck. I stepped onto the stone and looked around. I saw a blue heron. I saw my reflection. And I reflected for some time.

I looked around for a walking stick. I began wading through the water, carefully. I was timid at first, unsure of the creatures that might lurk below. I soon realized it was just me, the earth, and the river. The sun shewn bright and the air was crisp. The water was clear and perfect- not too hot or too cold. I could see the rock formations below, and found it rather easy to navigate downstream. Approaching a wider and deeper area, I decided to immerse myself under the water. I came up, cleansed and refreshed. Rather than crying as I surely would have before the thing that happened the night before, I smiled. I laughed then. I had forgiven myself, and followed my forgiveness with the extension of more forgiveness for him. My man.

My mate.

I never felt so strong. Despite having no sleep, no energy, no food, no fuel, and no safety net, I felt so alive. I had guessed (correctly) that a few hours had passed since I had closed the door behind me without saying a word to anyone, so I decided it was smart to make my journey home. I climbed out of the water onto the rock. I threaded myself through the briers and foliage and easily found the trail. My heart was singing, so I decided to let the song escape my lips.

I walked home. I pictured him flinging the door open and running down the driveway to receive me with open arms. I wanted him to embrace me and stroke my dreaded hair. I wanted him to notice my wet, dirty body- my ruggedness- first, and my newly revealed cleansed, happy soul- my gentleness- last. I wanted to say “I forgive you”, regardless of whether he had been looking for me or not. But as I approached the cemetery, I saw his truck. I stopped as I watched to see which direction he would turn at the intersection. I thought he would turn right, towards the river… towards me. But the silver Sequoia with black rims turned left. I was relieved, I wasn’t ready to see him yet. I didn’t want him to find me here, so alive among the dead. I was unearthed. But he wasn’t there as I’d pictured in my head when I returned.

You can’t always get what you want. And this is life.

She found the keys in the other Sequoia, her mauve with factory rims Sequoia. He always locked the doors to protect the preciousness that was inside, but always thoughtfully left the keys for her somewhere, and she always instinctively knew where they were hidden. And just like every single time before, she was greeted by happy, slobbery faces and wagging tails.

I loved on each of the dogs, feeling more grateful than ever before to have them. I unclothed and stepped into the steaming shower. The water opened my pores and he walked through the door. I couldn’t speak, and neither could he. We both weren’t sure where to begin, but we both knew what we wanted to say without hesitation.

I love you.

I got dressed and put on the coffee. It was 10 AM then, the latest I’d made coffee in a very long time. We sat down and sipped from our mugs and talked. Only this time, it wasn’t the usual “So what do you wanna do today?” It was deeper, like me and, yes- like you. And we knew everything would get better over time. We knew we would have to take things day by day, just as we had been. And rather than me opening up about my insecurities and my doubts, and getting the usual “It’s all good”, you listened.
You
understood.
We talked for hours that day. And that night, we held each other and slept peacefully. You dream of rainbows and I dream of tornadoes, those symbolic dreams we’ve shared with each other before, only this time mine was different. This time, I dreamed of both, and the ever lingering tornado engulfed the rainbow, and the rainbow transformed into a colorful lightning bolt, bursting with energy inside the tornado.

For the first time in a long time, I felt “It’s all good” was something actually attainable, because it was something I knew took work. Now I could see you had finally realized the same. And one day, when we get to that bridge, we’ll either make our leisurely stroll across, or we’ll make a detour and find our own way- down the river… together, just where we want to be.

Ocean in a Drop

Rumi said- You are not a single drop in the ocean, but the entire ocean in a single drop.

I am learning to reconnect with myself. I have been distant, absent, far away for seemingly a long time- perhaps for as long as a year. I’m still working in spurts on a Bob Marley painting that I cannot seem to finish. I have ideas often about books I’d like to write, or projects I’d like to start, and they go nowhere, just as quickly as they came. Sometimes my thoughts race, feelings of paranoia or hopelessness overcome my mind, and my body suffers, too. My once daily yoga practice has fallen by the wayside. I’m lucky if I even meditate or practice deep breaths once a week. This in turn depresses me, because I feel weak. I feel jaded. I feel tired.

I feel like a liberal woman living in rural Alabama.

I love Alabama, though. I love the muggy air, the old barns, the magnificent sunsets, the slang. I love the wildlife, the rivers, the caves, the neighbors, the churches, the constant reminders that I do possess something inside me that is somehow beyond me. Something infinite, something majestic, something I forever long for. I always hope for the best, but for whatever reason, I can only seem to regularly focus on the worst.

Maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s current events, maybe it’s pollution in our rivers, or unfair wages, or mute personalities surrounding me, or fear.

Or me

Why do I blame myself?

I used to feel funny, helpful, and like a light. Adults typically liked me because I was genuinely me, and excelled in academics and athletics and art. I would raise my hand when I knew the answer, and I usually did. I volunteered at the library, and church, and school. I was well rounded, but different. Rarely afraid or timid, I typically expressed myself in different ways. Hairstyles, clothing, poetry, piercings- I tried to be who I wanted to be. I tried what I wanted to try. I’ve always known I was different, but I’ve always known that about every single person, too. I just never understood why people cut others down to make themselves feel- what they thought was- better.

Growing up, and even as a child, I gravitated towards the most interesting people, and guarded myself from the popular crowd as I would observe their judgmental or condescending behaviors towards others. Typically, I was just friendly or hyper-active, trying to make those around me laugh or feel good, but I never sacrificed my personality to make anyone happy. No, I exposed my personality to try to make everyone happy.

But with the commercials we see each day of the picture perfect families or seemingly idealistic situations, we begin fooling ourselves that this is what I should want. Maybe social media has created this new need of belonging to the most appealing or trendy group? We as human beings are social creatures, which is no secret. But when did we feel the need to sacrifice our true selves to please normal people who “fit in” to those pearly gates guarding a Utopian society? I’m a risk taker, damnit. I love that about myself. I don’t want to be trendy. I want to be free. And yes, I’ll say a cuss word every other sentence if I want to do so in expressing myself.

I live in rural Alabama and have almost all of my life. I appreciate every aspect of it because along with everything else, this state has shaped the person I truly am. I am a free spirited woman who has convictions, stories, jokes, advice, wisdom, pain, regret, and yes, even depression at times. I saw Dave Chappelle perform stand-up at the Alabama Theater on April 20th, witnessed the Dalai Lama speak to a crowd of people who wanted to listen and people who travelled the same tour just to protest, and with my own ears, heard Bernie Sanders speak in a park in Birmingham on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I love being 31 and having a 12-year-old daughter who I am immensely proud of and who never ceases to amaze me. I love that I have allowed myself to make countless mistakes and overcome my battles. I love that people judge me and in turn, I love them back with a smile and an offer to help.

Love your neighbors- especially the ones who don’t look like you.

Her Canon AE-1

My mother had the choice between a camera and a car for her graduation gift. She chose the camera. A Canon AE-1 model rested in her hands, and subsequently- her closet.

For two decades.

That camera was present at every significant and slightly insignificant event throughout my childhood. I can remember modeling for her in our magnolia tree, and holding my baby brother, strategically placing his face between the waxy green leaves. Those are the moments I can hold in my hand, as long as I like. That’s why I always remember them with ease. That’s what makes me smile.

Digital photography swept the globe and she followed the trend, posting photographs taken with the new wave of Canon model cameras. Slightly less nostalgic are the moments viewed via Facebook albums. Still sweet, nonetheless. But what was so vastly different between the experience of looking at a photograph taken by the same photographer? The answer: everything.

With the AE-1, you could hear the shutter open and close. The sound in my ears brings me joy. I can’t explain why. I suppose it has to do with the fact I was a child, and everything was fascinating to me then. The shutter noise on the digital camera seems boring to me… and there could be a reason for that, too. (Comment below to see if you guess right.)

Loading the film seemed like a magic trick, and winding the film back into the canister was even more magical. Riding with my mother to Wal-Mart to have the film developed was also a treat, because she always bought us an ICEE and let us ride on the “buggy” through the isles as we shopped. Yeah, we broke the rules. And we had a damn good time.

And then there was the unveiling of each printed photograph. Carefully thumbing through each image, she gave particular attention to the moment captured. Flaws, such as light noise or a finger in front of the lens, didn’t matter, as long as the moment was there. That is one thing that never changed.

Placing photographs in books was also a fun occasion, but most of our photos remained in the small paper sleeves they came packaged in from the store. They were everywhere, but we were always careful with them. They were our treasures, and it’s still always a treat to find one and revisit those moments that haven’t been touched in years.

Those moments are special. The camera that captured them was special by association. So, it was a monumental moment when I unwrapped the AE-1, gifted to me by my mother for Christmas when I was the milestone age of thirty. On the tag, she wrote- Yes, it was mine. Full circle.

I used it almost immediately. I took it hiking with my boyfriend and me. I took special photographs of my boyfriend and daughter. I took it to an event and unashamedly snapped photographs like my mother before me, loud as hell. It’s an antique, it’s supposed to be loud.

Unfortunately, I forgot to magically wind the film back into its canister before opening the back door to retrieve that film. I shut that door as quickly as possible when I realized what I had done. My heart sank. I had been so used to the immediate satisfaction of viewing my digital images on the back of my own cameras that I had missed one of the most important steps of film development. I thought, maybe I shut it so quickly that the rest of the pictures are okay. I transported the roll to Wal-Mart Supercenter. (Our small town had grown since then.) I waited a week before I received the phone call.

There were six good photographs. (Good meaning, not totally black.) Four of which had light pollution everywhere, making it nearly impossible to see the moment. A hard lesson to jot down in the books, and a disappointing first experience, but even so, it was a lesson.

I placed the camera carefully back into its bag. One day I’ll retrieve it and take great photographs and remember those moments. But for now, it rests in my closet.

For now, digital albums on Facebook will have to do.