Whether you like it or not, we do not vote for politicians. We do not vote for parties. We do not vote for conservatives or liberals or left-wings or right-wings or donkeys or elephants or red or blue. We do not vote for good looks or smart policies or years of experience or spotless track records.
We vote for the causes that matter to us. We vote for the issues that impact our lives. That define our generations. That determine our futures.
We vote for the one thing that lights a fire in our lungs. That makes our voices quiver or shudder or shout. The one thing that brings out a passion and fervor and adamancy within ourselves that we did not even know existed.
This is an election year. And I cannot say what that one thing is for you. But I can tell you this is mine:
My dad once told me, while looking up at the tops of the Georgia pines in our front yard, that the green-on-blue combination of trees against sky is proof of God’s existence. He said it could not possibly have happened by coincidence.
It’s too thoughtful. Too beautiful. Too perfect.
Raspberries are my proof. If you’ve ever picked one off a wild bush in summertime and plucked it in your mouth, you know: something like that doesn’t just happen. It’s intended.
I’m sure my dad would agree.
From a young age, Dad raised me to experience the world around me. He showed me how to appreciate the smell of snowfall. To love the constricted feeling in my lungs when I breathe in my first blast of winter air each year. He offered me the bird names. The bird songs.
Because of him, I can tell you the difference between a blue jay and a bluebird and an indigo bunting. And what the temperature high is for Anchorage, Alaska on any given day.
As we chat on the phone during my commute, Dad asks how the jonquils he planted at my first home are doing. Have they come up yet? And he’ll make an extra call in the evening just to tell me to go outside and look at the full moon. Does it look as yellow in Charleston as it does here?
Because of him, I love the warmth of a fire. The sound of fat raindrops pounding a tool shed. The soul-cleansing that is wading chest-deep in a clear stream. The subtle sweetness of nectar from a honeysuckle flower. The intricacy and wonder of seashells.
Of his two daughters, I’m the baby. I’m the carefree spirit. I’m the keeper of the bird songs.
In my 30 years, he’s shaped the gentlest corners of my being. He’s molded me into someone who laments the passing of orchids. Someone who stops halfway through her run to take in a marsh view or a fading sunset or a grazing deer. Someone who’s thankful for every clear starry night, every low-hanging moon, every first frost, every last jonquil. Someone who can’t imagine seeing the world without her father’s eyes.
Someone who finds faith in the treetops. And raspberries fresh off the bush.
When I was a little girl—all blonde curls and elbow dirt and sugary smiles—I believed in love. I believed it was possible. I believed it would happen to me. I believed it was the greatest magic the world had ever known.
When I was a teenage girl—all nerves and self-consciousness and anxiety—I found love. A boy with a perfect smile and confident stride and eyes of two different colors. I let him kiss me. I let him claim me. I swung the doors to my soul wide open, and welcomed him inside.
When I was a college girl—all independence and self-discovery and experimentation—I found heartbreak. That boy with the perfect smile and confident stride decided he didn’t want me anymore. But he didn’t know how to let me go. And so he pushed me away with infidelity and secrets and callousness. Until I couldn’t remember what love had ever felt like. Until I closed and locked the doors to my soul. And then boarded them shut for good.
When I was just 23—all newfound freedom and confidence and charisma—I searched for love again. I found a new boy with olive skin and deep feelings and dark corners in his past. I found safety in how he adored me. And when all I wanted was to not be lied to anymore, I found honesty in his eyes. I hoped it would be enough—that he would be enough—to take down the locks and chains and boards and bolts that guarded the doors to my soul.
When I turned 29—all fire and ferocity and fabulousness—I realized that despite his efforts, the boy with the olive skin and the deep feelings never did find a way into my soul. Without meaning to, I’d kept it just out of his reach. And somewhere along the way, he stopped striving for it. He stopped caring about it. And though our hearts would beat side by side on the same bed in the same room of the same house, I felt only alone. An anchor sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea.
When I let go of him—all tears and apologies and words left too long unsaid—I found you. A man with kind eyes and a gentle spirit and a touch that sends quivers down my spine. I found the love I’d believed in as a little girl—just as magical as I’d ever dreamed it could be.
Locked in your arms, I’ve felt the chains around the doors to my soul fall softly away. Caught in your stare, I’ve sensed the boards loosen, bolts tumble to the ground. Frozen by your kiss, I’ve heard the unmistakable sound of those doors creaking slowly open.
And that’s when my heart, peering out hesitantly from inside, found the welcome mat you laid down. And you—standing behind it, flowers in hand—waiting patiently for me to open the doors.
So to you, the man with the kind eyes and gentle spirit, I would like to say, “Won’t you please come in and stay for a while?”
“A sister is loved for many things. For friendship most of all.”
If Facebook existed when my sister and I were growing up, we wouldn’t have been friends. Two years older than me, Blevin frowned upon my bouncy enthusiasm and exuberant nature. She often complained that I behaved like I was on a sitcom. And so we avoided each other except when asking permission to borrow articles of clothing.
The holiday season was a rare and welcome exception to our otherwise cold relationship. The two of us considered “Thanksgiving” a code word for Christmas kick-off. After making and eating the big meal, Blevin and I teamed up to harass our parents about decorating the house for the holidays.
Some years my dad reluctantly donned his headlamp to rummage underneath the stairs for boxes of decorations. Some years we gave up before our parents caved in. Either way, we were in it together.
After I moved to Charleston and Blevin moved to New York, our Thanksgiving traditions evolved alongside our relationship. We fought less but didn’t speak much more. We called by necessity only: to discuss boyfriend drama, to lament the demise of our parents’ marriage, to complain about the men my mom found online and dated.
That first year away from home, as I struggled through a post-break-up funk, Blevin suggested we run the Thanksgiving Day half marathon together in Atlanta.
Having completed a dedicated training regimen, I arrived to my first-ever 13.1-mile race feeling confident and prepared. To my dismay, Blevin had only ran once to train. And that “once” was one mile.
She also insisted we stick together.
Although irritated with her for slowing me down, I felt grateful that Blevin had given me the challenge to begin with—and by doing so, pulled me out of my personal doldrums and reminded me how much I love to run.
By our mid-twenties—with our mom and dad divorced and living in separate states—the holidays morphed from relaxing vacations home to travel marathons with a strict no-parent-left-unvisited policy.
One Thanksgiving, my sister, my mom, and I rented a cabin in rural Tennessee. As the casseroles browned in the oven, we slipped into a hot tub on the back deck. The hot waters soothed our travel-logged bodies until the wafting scent from a neighboring chicken processing plant chased us back inside.
To the relief of our wounded nostrils, we enjoyed our meal inside by the fire, thankful above all else for our time together.
Two years ago my sister spent a fall semester studying abroad in Berlin. When I visited her the week before Thanksgiving, we strolled from one German town to another on a tour of holiday markets—drinking glühwein and eating fresh-baked pretzels and hunting for the perfect hand-crafted ornaments. We watched Christmas parades with the same giddy, wide-eyed looks we had when unpacking the decoration boxes as kids.
When we lost our mother the Christmas after that trip, I began calling Blevin in the moments when I would have normally called Mom. Blevin started reading my writing and giving me feedback—something only Mom used to do. When she could hear the stress and trepidation in my voice, Blevin booked a last-minute flight to Charleston to help me move into my first house last summer. I needed more than a long-distance sister in that moment—and she found a way to be that for me.
This Thanksgiving, I’m traveling to Arizona to meet my boyfriend’s family. Blevin is staying in Brooklyn with her fiancé. And even though it’s my first year without her to direct me in the kitchen or make me ache with laughter over a glass of red wine, she is at the top of my list of gratitudes.
I’m thankful that time and tragedy brought us together. I’m thankful we’re allies for more than just one month of the year. And I’m thankful to have someone who understands me like a sister and also loves me like a friend.
I was 22 years old when I totaled my Mustang while parking.
That cherry-red ’96 sported a perpetually lit check engine light on her dashboard and a colorful lei from Party City on her rear-view mirror. What I remember most about driving Ol’ Red is how stinkin’ cute I felt behind the wheel.
What I did not remember that fateful Friday morning—as I swung coolly into an open parking space en route to my internship at a Charleston ad agency—was which pedal controlled the gas and which controlled the brake.
And just like that, I drove my baby straight into a wall.
Both airbags deployed on impact. The doors jammed, trapping me inside, shaky hands still gripping the wheel. A 20-something Asian woman looked on with horror but did nothing; asked no questions, offered no assistance.
I wish I could say some awesome song on the radio diverted my attention that morning. That I had been applying mascara or sending a text message at the time of the crash.
Truthfully, the only thing I was doing was driving. And even then, I wasn’t paying attention.
As that hot, smoky airbag exploded in my face, I saw my days zipping by like mile markers and me, an absent passenger cruising through life without living it.
Nearly a year and half later, I met a guy online through a shared connection on Facebook. David lived five hours away, near my hometown in Georgia. Our social media flirts evolved to text messages. Our text messages grew to late-night phone calls until one Friday in early November, when he drove the 300-mile trek to meet me in person.
I fell for his honesty. His earnestness. His eagerness. We said “I love you” after a few weeks. And after a year of falling asleep over Facetime, he moved to my Holy City, and we got an apartment together.
Even then, I knew he wasn’t the one.
As a young man who never lived on his own, David lacked maturity and independence. His short temper flared with little notice, leaving me edgy and nervous. When I told him my love language was physical touch, he countered flatly that it wasn’t his own. He read comic books and played video games and waged wars on Twitter and waited for me to place a dinner plate in his lap.
Even as we drifted apart, I refused to stop that relationship from accelerating. I knew if we could just reach the next stop on our journey together, we would be happy. And I could finally lift my foot off the gas.
Three years into living with David and five days before Christmas, my mom died from pneumonia. Suddenly, all the next steps and finish lines and brake pedals and totaled cars and forlorn relationships vanished. As I stood by her bloated, comatose body in that buzzing hospital room, I discovered that time offers no promises except this one: there will come a time when you must let go.
After losing my mom, I became acutely aware of the ruthless and unpredictable clock ticking in my head. I scrutinized my relationship with David: the happiness it gave me and the happiness it did not. I tossed the good and the bad on the scales of emotional justice and realized our love too crashed long ago.
Once again, I was stuck inside.
This year—at the end of June–I figured out how to put that car in park and walk away.
Now I’m living alone for the first time in seven years. I read. I write. I run. I cook the foods I enjoy and drink red wine. I watch the leaves fall from the sweetgum trees in my backyard. It’s a strange and unfamiliar sensation but, for once in my life, I’m finally behind the wheel.
Occasionally, I catch myself slipping back into bad habits and just speeding through the days. In those moments, I can almost hear Mom’s voice nudging a gentle reminder of one of the greatest lessons she left behind: how to use the brake.
This post was written as part of an online blogging course with the incredible Cindy Reed. Many thanks to Cindy for her thoughtful critiques and abundant encouragement on this piece, which ended up in a significantly stronger place than it began.
Like most teenagers today, Dylan breathed in the world through carefully selected Google search results, slanted news blogs, violent video games, and ignorant Twitter rants. Knowing nothing but a web of anger, that 19-year-old boy drove to Charleston with virtual hate in his heart. And real bullets in his gun.
This piece was part of a creative writing challenge to write a complete story in 50 words or less.
When I lost her–my mother, my gypsy, my patron saint of love and kindness–the echoes first began.
“It gets better. Just wait. It’ll get better.”
I hated every person who offered me those words. For their guilty eyes and soft voices. For their pity. For filling my head with false promises of tranquility, impossible visions of peace.
How could it possibly get better?
Every day that passes I’m 24 hours more removed from the last time she held me in her arms. The last time she stroked my hair. The last time she spoke three infinitely more soothing words.
“I love you.”
Every day that passes my vision of her fades just slightly more. Her image fuzzes around the edges. Pixelates. Unnoticed from one day to the next. But combined, she’s becoming a blur.
I claw through my memories trying to find one of her laugh. One of her hum. One of her silly smiles. I feel victorious when a forgotten detail surfaces—in photograph or video or voicemail or dream.
But I know I have no ownership over those stolen moments. I know I’ll lose those details too.
Give it another day.
With each changing season, the things she’s given me age. Shirts, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, purses and more. I won’t leave the house without one of those priceless gifts. At least one thing. Maybe the Tiffany earrings she and my sister went in on together for my college graduation. Or the Tom’s sunglasses she gave me our last Christmas together.
Our last Christmas.
But those objects, those items, those physical incarnations of her love and generosity—they are not immune to the mighty arms of time either. Jewelry is lost. Shoes wear down. Sunglasses break. Every day I have less of her to weave into my wardrobe. To wear her love like a blanket on my skin.
How could it possibly get better?
My dreams—the ones where she’s still alive—they’re treasures. I experience her just as she was. I wake up surrounded in the warmth of her. And long to drift back to the place where she lives in my subconscious.
But every day that passes, I have them less and less.
It can’t ever get better.
Now as I wind through my second full year without her, I know the words I’ve hated for so long are true.
It’s getting better.
I wouldn’t call it peace, but time has given me something I didn’t know it could. As I try to balance holding on and letting go and moving forward while desperately clinging to the past, as I fight to forget nothing and even as I continuously fail, time still offers a comfort.
A new echo caressing my ears. Of “This is okay.” Of “This is what is.”
She’s not here. I’ll never not miss her. I’ll never not wish I had more time. I’ll never not want even one more day by her side. I’ll never stop trying to remember more pieces of her. I’ll never stop mourning them as they fade too far away into the darkness of my fragile, fallible, feeble human mind.
But still—even still—it’s better.
And I’m grateful to everyone who told me so.
And even more grateful that they were right.
Image Source: CurlyGirlDesign.com, maker of the best greeting cards in the whole beautiful world.