When One Door Closes

heart

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?”

 

Image Source: DelSolFineArt via Etsy

To My Sister, With Thanks

“A sister is loved for many things. For friendship most of all.”

2015-07-17 14.59.16

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.

impatiently waiting

He waited for an hour, a painful hour. And during that painful hour, he reread the note in his mind 227 times. Two hundred and twenty-seven!

Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite—school supplies aisle.

He agonized over it. Maybe he should have made it sound more like a question. Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite? Maybe he should have said Target instead. Margret Ann’s family probably shops at Target.

He paced among the back-to-school clearance leftovers, willing her to show up. Margret Ann may not have said “yes” exactly, but she hadn’t said “no” either.

When he finally saw her bouncy red curls and eight-year-old swagger turn the corner by the spiral notebooks, he shoved the pink gel pens behind his back. Waiting until her red Converse with the rainbow laces were just inches from his flip flops, he presented them like a bouquet of fresh carnations.

These are for you.

 

Eight Years Later

He waited for an hour, a lingering hour. Because that’s how long it takes high school girls to get ready.

So even though she said Pick me up at 7:00, he sat with her parents through Wheel of Fortune AND Jeopardy.

Margret Ann’s parents weren’t quite sure what to make of sixteen-year-old Toby Malarky, frozen on their couch with the best posture they’d ever seen. His favorite shirt ironed crisp and tucked into his “nice” blue jeans. Hair slicked to one side, school-picture-day style. Cologne overdosed by about two and half pumps.

When Margret Ann finally came down the stairs, pink lips the color of those gel pens in his memory, all the air Toby held inside his whole body seemed to get vacuumed out in an instant.

 

(Still) Eight Years Later

He waited for an hour, an indecisive hour. Before texting her after that first date.

He’d heard his buddies say, Don’t call her for at least three days, Malarky. At LEAST three days.

But they didn’t say a damn thing about texting. So Toby wrote, revised, erased, and rewrote texts for 60 fat minutes before settling on one identical to his first draft.

2night was perfect.

U r perfect.

<3 Tobes

Margret Ann danced around her pink bedroom before flinging herself on the bed, giggling with glee.

Ur perfect 2. xoxo -MA

 

Two Years Later

He waited for an hour, a panicked hour.

Sweat ran down his face like condensation on a Coke bottle. He wiped it away with the cloth napkin every chance she looked away, but she wasn’t looking away enough. She hardly ever looked away.

Margret Ann prattled on about Yale or Georgetown or even NYU. Five acceptance letters had arrived just that week. Her freshly-painted pink fingernails flew through the air with every animated word.

Toby couldn’t focus on her excitement. He nodded and smiled and munched on the most expensive meal he hoped he’d ever have to pay for. But all he could think about was the ring in his pocket, the question on the tip of his tongue.

After one hour and four courses he cut her off mid-sentence and blurted it out.

Margret Ann, marry me.

Immediately, he wished he’d made it sound more like a question.

 

One Year Later

He waited for an hour, a terrifying hour. Smack-dab in the middle of First Presbyterian. Standing by the altar with two best friends by his side, Toby’s insides bubbled like a pot about to boil over.

At first they said she was just running late, but as minutes swelled into half-hours, he knew it was something else. He saw concern and pity beginning to fill the eyes of the guests.

Staring up at the rafters of that old sanctuary, Toby willed her once again to appear. With his mind racing and face growing hot and pink, Toby pulled his phone from his jacket pocket. His fingers flew over the keys; he knew what she needed to hear.

Margret Ann, you don’t have to do this if you’re not ready just yet.

I’ll wait for you as long as it takes.

<3 Tobes

Minutes passed. You could hear a pink gel pen drop in that airy church.

And then you could hear the soft buzz of a phone vibrating. Toby took a deep breath and looked at the text.

On my way! Sry I alwys keep u waiting. xoxo -MA

Toby just shook his head smiling.

No need to be sorry, he thought. I love every horrible minute I spend waiting on you.

 

before you have a baby

I’m not a parent. And I have no plans of ever becoming one. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the concept.

And I have one question for those considering bringing another living, breathing, tiny human into this world: Will you love it?

You could have a boy. Or you could have a girl. He could be short. She could be tall. Attractive or homely. Smart or slow. Quick-tempered or easy-going. You could have a child who’s mentally handicapped. Who suffers from anxiety. Or multiple personalities. You could have a child who is blind. Or deaf. Your child could be gifted. A prodigy. A genius. You could have a boy who likes boys. A girl who likes girls. A boy who wants to be a girl. You could have a child born with no clear gender at all. You could have a child born with extra toes. Or one eye. Or no hair. Or terrible, incurable diseases. You could have a great athlete. A talented artist. A beauty queen. Your child could be perfect in your eyes.

Or they could be anything but.

And you have to think for a moment before creating that new person: Will you love it?

Now I don’t mean: Will you raise it. Teach the child right from wrong. Impart your beliefs, your prejudices, your religion. Rearing up an immaculate version of yourself who thinks the way you do, makes the same choices you do, never disappoints you. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about what happens when your freckled-face 13-year-old tells you he’s known he was gay since before he knew he was supposed to be straight. I’m talking about what happens when your all-star quarterback wants to go into theater. Or your Bible-school daughter wants to pursue Islam or Buddhism or atheism.

What do you do then? Will you love them?

Will you say Go on; explore the depths of your own soul. Find what makes you feel most honest, most joyful, most true. 

Or do you call them a disgrace and declare they are no longer welcome under your roof. Do you blame them for making these “choices.” Choices like seeds planted in their souls. Choices that have been growing in them and with them and because of them. Choices that are tucked into the farthest corners of their being. Choices they have no choice in.

Will you love them?

There are no qualifiers for being a parent. But maybe there should be just this one: Unconditional love.

If you are not capable of it, I ask that you think hard before having a baby.

Because we all deserve to be loved.

No matter who we are.

 

love means never having to say you’re sorry

The summer semester before my senior year in college I took a course called Sociology in Film. That’s where I was first introduced to Love Story, a 1970s romantic drama about two college co-eds falling in love. I don’t remember many specifics from the movie, but what I do remember is a line from the closing scene. The main character tells his estranged father: “Love…love means never having to say you’re sorry!”

And that line plagued me for years. Because to me, it didn’t make any sense.

I.

Growing up I was a momma’s girl. I bonded with my mom from a young age, considered her one of my best friends throughout my adolescence and even into my 20s.

But that relationship wasn’t without turmoil. Mom suffered from depression. And when it swept up over her—all sudden and ferocious and overpowering—she’d shut herself in her room for days at a time.

In a deeply personal letter she wrote my sister and me when we were teenagers, she apologized for all those dark moments.

And I need to say I’m sorry I couldn’t be all those things that babies and toddlers’ walking falling legs desire… I’m sorry I could only be me and half the time I had no clue who that “me” even was.

That was my mother. She was the first love of my life. And this was not our only “I’m sorry.”

II.

Then there was First David. He was the boy I fell irrevocably in love with in the way only a sixteen-year-old heart knows how to do. He was the boy who promised me the world and the stars and forever. He was the boy I let have every part of me. And then he got drunk and stole those same intimate parts away from other girls on the side.

For six years First David and I bobbed and wove inside our ring of relationship. We threw punches and jabs like prizefighters—always waiting for a bell that was never going to ring. Each round ended with no victor, but plenty of apologies.

That was the second love of my life. “I’m sorry” was sewn into its seams.

III.

Later I found Second David. A quick-tempered Oklahoma transplant with a spotted past, Second David was a challenge in the same way growing a garden on a patch of earth that gets too much direct sunlight is a challenge. He was defiant and obstinate and volatile, but I loved him just the same.

Five years later, we’re still together. And more impressively, still happy. That’s not to say it’s all roses and rainbows these days. We have plenty of hunker-down, fist-shaking, voice-trembling fights. But when they’re over, we look each other in the eye and say we’re sorry.

That was the third love of my life. And “I’m sorry” helps us keep it together.

This is why the line from Love Story haunted me for so long, why it didn’t make sense through the lens of my first three loves.

IV.

But then there’s also my fourth love, my Amy.

When I was in college, I got back together with First David after one of his many infidelity escapades. Knowing none of my friends would support my decision, I lied about it. I lied about where I was going and who I was seeing and what I was doing.

After a few weeks, the buried truth bubbled its way to the surface, leaving all my poor choices and deceit fully exposed. Some of my friends shunned me; some yelled at me; some stopped talking to me.

But not Amy.

Amy had been my closest companion since middle school. We met in sixth grade but didn’t really hit it off until seventh. By the end of eighth, we were inseparable. Our friendship survived high school—even with her as a popular cheerleader and me as a reclusive nerd—, dorming together our freshman year of college, and the many years of self-discovery that followed. We never had a single fight, an argument, or even a tough moment of differing opinions.

When I tried to apologize to her for lying about reuniting with First David, she cut me off before the words could even begin to come out of my mouth.

“You don’t have to say it,” she said with empathy and kindness. “I already know.”

<3.

Looking back on it now, I realize that never having to say “I’m sorry” isn’t about not screwing up. It isn’t about loving someone so much that you never hurt them, that you never let them down. It’s about understanding someone enough, trusting someone enough, loving someone enough, that those explanations are simply not needed.

Love is real. It’s flawed. There are mess-ups and break-ups and make-ups. Some loves need apologies. And that’s okay.

But the fourth love of my life was different.  The fourth love of my life was Amy. And thanks to her, the words from Love Story finally make sense.

 

This piece was crafted as part of YeahWrite.me‘s Summer Series Silver Lounge. Thank you to three incredible bloggers (Meg of Pigspittle, Ohio, Tienne of The Silver Leaf Journal, and Rowan of Textwall) who provided invaluable feedback and pushed this post–and this blogger–to a stronger place.