Evidenciary Support v. Cheesus Quesadilla

Hello again, my friends. Tonight I sit doing one of my favorite “meditations” – propping myself in bed listening to Pandora and writing in the dark.

Today’s inspiration comes from one of my (many) guilty pleasures: Pinterest. Okay, so technically this is from the Bible, but I saw it quoted on Pinterest.

Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In terms of majestic possibilities and enigmatic beauty, this is a gorgeous statement. I love the idea of fate, kismet, magic, and beautiful things that exist unseen – things that are true simply because they are and not because they can be discerned with any of our five senses but instead with that mysterious sixth sense for which we’re all mythically supposed to have some capacity to exercise.

There are rumors of siblings (twins usually, I think) who can feel when the other one is in pain, mothers feel panic from afar when their child is in imminent danger, lovers who will think of their other half and suddenly they call, someone suddenly waking up in the middle of the night at the exact moment a loved one dies, strangers who fall in love at first sight, and Jesus appearing on a tortilla. Well, that last one can be seen with the naked eye (and perhaps tasted?), but it’s just as fantastical to assume a Cheesus quesadilla could have holy power as it is to believe cosmic “true love” is evidenced by a coincidence such as receiving a phone call or text message in the moment that you’re thinking of that person.

I genuinely want these things to be true. Oh, how I want it.

The idea that there is some cosmic force or universal order by which these things happen is, perhaps shamefully, so heartbreakingly lovely that it hurts to believe that they don’t exist. Yet I have no choice but to believe they don’t.

Let’s take the idea of the lovers who magically call each other at the exact moment one thinks of the other. First, isn’t part of love always thinking of the object of said love? It certainly is for me. Perhaps I’m a bit obsessive, but I do think of the one I love in any moment where my mind is not occupied with something else. And don’t you want to talk to the one you love when you can? I think yes. Being in love means you want to be together and communicate with one another. Therefore, the phone call/text would have come at the moment you’re thinking of them no matter what because Lover A wants to talk to Lover B often, and Lover B is consistently thinking of Lover A. There’s no fate in that – there’s not even coincidence in that. That is just natural urges and desires acting out in a logical progression.

As to the twins, the mother, the strangers-turned-soul mates…well…this obviously doesn’t happen to everyone, and for those to whom it does happen, there’s no way to debunk the myths. People want to believe they are connected to others, to the universe, in some way, and so – I believe – they take the opportunity presented by coincidence, or they shape the “facts” they want in such a way that it fits their desired version of the way things unfold in their own minds. Having a sleepless night and checking clock around 1:00 AM becomes, “I suddenly woke at 1:12 AM with a sense of dread. I found out later that it was the moment my ____ to their last breath.”

It’s comforting and exhilarating to believe, to have faith in things. Perhaps I’m too practical. Perhaps I’m boring or broken. Or perhaps I’ve grown tired of giving my faith freely and wholly, loyally holding onto hope only to have the practical, logical, proven world – the world where repeatable results are possible and there exists undeniable link between action and consequence – remind me that either A) a Cheesus quesadilla has no deeper meaning than a cure for midnight munchies, or B) the deeper meaning it has does not exist for me, either because I can’t perceive it or because I don’t deserve it.

I would really love for someone to change my mind. Any takers?

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Hurts So Good

Tattoo:
A cover-up of a truly heinous Celtic knot I got in my early twenties.

A cover-up of a truly heinous Celtic knot I got in my early twenties.

  • an evening drum or bugle signal recalling soldiers to their quarters
  • an entertainment consisting of music, marching, and the performance of displays and exercises by military personnel
  • a rhythmic tapping or drumming
  • mark (a person or a part of the body) with an indelible design by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin
  • make (an indelible design) on a part of the body by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin

There are different definitions for the word “tattoo,” and of course there are a host of different meanings for any tattoo a person chooses to have permanently etched into their dermis. And however personal, or not, the decision to ink is, I find that it can be a fairly polarizing topic. As can piercings, or anything some might see as not the norm, can be. In fact, not too long ago, my boss asked me, “Can I ask you a personal question? What’s with the tongue thing?” (I have a pierced tongue, and I also just so happen to be an intelligent, successful, functioning member of society.)

So today I’m going to dive into the way I look at tattoos, and I’m hoping those of you who scoff at tattoos and piercings and/or are judgey little fucks will get all the way to the end of this piece and perhaps rethink your position. Or at least have the grace to shut the hell up the next time you think your opinion on someone’s choice of bodywork simply cannot be lived without.

I like to have meaning – to tattoos, clothing, shared birthdays, coincidences, the names of my pets… Everything on me means something.

Sometimes it’s the art – words, symbols, images, classic art, pinup girls, random “nonsense” (I say it in  quotes because just because it appears to be nonsense to you and me doesn’t mean that it actually is), or American Classic designs from the bygone era of famous artists like Lyle Tuttle (Google it). Sometimes the meaning is in the act itself, the decision to get a tattoo – rebellion, fearlessness, a rite of passage, maybe a drunk night with buddies that you now get to remember forever whether you like it or not. (I have a male friend with a tramp stamp of that variety, or so he tells me.) Hey, it happens…

Extended my cover up and got a koy fish as a sort of memorial after my dad's passing. I call him Joe.

Extended my cover up and got a koy fish as a sort of memorial after my dad’s passing. I call him Joe.

And sometimes it’s the need for the physical release that comes from the riot of sensations only achieved by the tattoo experience: immersing yourself in the smell of ink, Vaseline, anti-bacterial soap; meditating among the white-noise buzzing of artists and their guns; and of course losing yourself in the unique pain of having your skin engraved by rhythmically vibrating needles, followed by the sweet ecstasy that is your artist gently (if you’re known to tip appropriately then it’s gentle, if you don’t then you’re a dick and deserve to get roughed up) wiping away excess ink – and maybe a little blood – with a cool paper towel made moist by whatever concoction said artist prefers. (I also personally enjoy the story telling and cursing of the artists – makes me feel less like I have “trucker mouth.”)

At this point there are likely a few of you who, once again, assume I’m bat-shit crazy (totally understandable, BTW), others who may be preparing to vomit, others who are intrigued enough to keep reading, and still others who totally get what I’m saying.

Keep going – I’ll start to get to my point, you’ll see. 😉

Got this one in Oak Harbor on my last visit to dad's house before he died.

Got this one in Oak Harbor on my last visit to dad’s house before he died.

 

 

So what’s the purpose behind the pain? (See? Point coming.)

Maybe it’s the sweet pain of a memorial tattoo that helps you grieve, or the sharpness of covering up a former SO’s name (Tip: it’s always a mistake to tattoo names of non-family or even spouses – kiss of death for any relationship!) and processing bitterness, sometimes it helps release anger or rage, and others experience the pain that comes with a gladly endured physical sacrifice when having something of deep meaning put inside of you forever.

Or, hell, maybe it’s just me that feels this way because, as anyone who really knows me will tell you, I don’t do so well with the emotions and the feels and such. And this is how I process. I find something I can deal with.

 

Some people journal (or blog!), some people see therapists, some people medicate (prescription or otherwise), some people talk to their friends and family, some people cut themselves, and I’m sure some people are just fully formed, operational adults who have mastered the ability to identify and productively deal with the veritable smorgasbord of human emotion to which we are all subjected. I don’t know who these people are, but I imagine they exist. (Kind of like Big Foot or men who can hit the hamper with their dirty clothes.)

Some people (me) avoid, squash, deny, ignore, get busy (at work, you perv, get your mind out of the gutter), get angry, get obsessed, or sometimes…get tattoos.

I never really recognized this phenomenon until my dad got sick. And then again when he died.

Slowly.

Horribly.

Humiliatingly.

As anyone who’s read my previous blogs, the grief just overtook me. All the way to the core. With every agonizing step, every guilt-ridden breath, every pissed off, desperate beat of my heart. Tears weren’t enough. Telling my Aunt and Grandmother how unfair it all was wasn’t enough. Laughing and joking and trying to make it all somehow morbidly funny, like it wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened, wasn’t enough. Driving too fast in the dark, listening to loud music, attending his memorial (potluck style and held at a bar, of course), socializing, isolating, sleeping in his bed, wearing his Cornhusker and Seahawks hoodies, talking to him even when he was gone…nothing was enough. Not enough to put the grief back in the bottle. Not enough to make me feel like I wasn’t alone.

In fact, some days, it’s still not enough.

Because the funny thing about losing someone you love (funny weird, not funny haha – obviously) is that the grief never goes away. We humans, we fragile funny little life forms, are so infuriatingly adaptable that the grief doesn’t leave and it doesn’t actually kill us. It lurks inside and is just there. And you still have to get up every day, and put clothes on, and do things, and talk to people. And you have to keep doing it. Every. Single. Day. Until one day, without meaning to, you’ve regrown yourself around the grief. So now it (the grief, the loss, the bad, the dad-shaped hole in your heart) has a nice, cozy little place inside your reformed being, and it stops poking at you so much. It goes to sleep.

And you can breath again.

And each step doesn’t drag a ten ton ball and chain along with it.

And your heart beats without the feeling of a vice grip squeezing the blood in and out of the chambers.

And then one day you laugh without starting to cry.

But it’s still there.Otter in Progress

And every now and then, something wakes it up and it pokes at you. There’s a lot of things that wake up my grief, even after two years, so I won’t get into that. The point is that it wakes up, and it pokes me. I’m a successful, productive member of society who has to function at a high level each day, so the usual vices don’t work for me – no drugs, no booze, no smokes, no sleeping around, no gambling, no fighting. Not my style. But I need something else to hurt more and less than the grief and all that comes with it.

That’s what made me recognize this particular addiction of mine, but there are other things that make me want the sensation. Things like getting older (and fatter…) make us all a little uncomfortable and need to reinvent every now and then. If my body is my temple, why not decorate the walls, yeah? Other times I come to a deep revelation of some sort that I don’t want to forget, and what better way to remember than to store it in your skin and carry it with you always? And at the moment, I want to add to my otter and make it a sort of memorial tattoo; I also want to find something to get with my best girlfriends; and I’m constantly on a path to self improvement and recently found an Ernest Hemingway quote I love; and my koi fish is a little lonely – he will need some company; plus the Monet on my left thigh leaves my right one seeming a little bare…

discovered layers of the onion that is the human experience, and losses I need somethingone which can only be translated by those who choose to look at it through a different lens.

I need something. So…

I need a tattoo.

tattoo quote

Feel Unpretty Too

I’ve been on a little bit of a journey recently. Okay, longer than that, but if I get into all the details of my journey it will end up being a How I Met Your Mother 10-season situation, and ain’t nobody got time for that. So we’ll call it recently, as in like the last two months.

It started when I signed up for a six week “fitness transformation” competition. After spending the months of June-October physically, mentally, and emotionally abusing myself at work (my job is…complicated…), taking a break over the holidays, and then subsequently finding myself in a near-cataclysmic-depression at the thought of returning to work, I decided I needed to take some kind of action – no matter how small.

So for five weeks now I’ve been eating green smoothies for breakfast, sticking with lean proteins and veggies for the rest of my meals, and participating in a cross-fit-like group workout three times a week. And let me tell you, I LOVE it. Minimal weight-loss, no visible differences (that I can see), but it just feels good, dammit. It’s made me feel a little more confident and happy about taking care of myself.

But, inevitably, the typical life stuff has continued to occur around this, and in the last two weeks I’ve really found myself giving into insecurities. This is pretty typical for us all, right? Right. So why did it take my husband saying, “How is it possible that one person/event/comment do this to you?” to get me to really recognize just how stupid that is?

What he meant was that I seem to be this larger-than-life badass, seeking and achieving success, impressing (some) people at work, making friends, leading a humble but incredible life, always up for adventure, and fairly consistently emerging as the natural leader in any group. I go to my workouts and beast through them like a champ, stick to my nutrition plans, start loving myself enough to get a little selfie-obsessed, start receiving tons of compliments, and then… A single person, an off-hand comment, a minor event (that of course I obsess over and ultimately overthink into a much bigger deal than it is until it starts festering and chews me up from the inside out) sends me into a tailspin.

Loving my job, my life, my appearance, the person I’m becoming is suddenly turned into feeling incompetent, second-guessing my career, believing I’ve been consistently lucky and not deserving, wanting botox & a boob job, and shaming myself for eating dessert because my cellulite-encrusted fat ass does not deserve chocolate cake! What am I? A pizza-faced 14-year-old? Have I developed adult-onset bipolar disorder?

This is frustrating to me because, as we all know, I value logic. If you weigh the hard facts, there’s no reason for me to be so insecure as to allow a few individuals or minor stressors to tear down the very fabric of my self-worth. So I did what I do when I get obsessed (and, yes, this is the third time in one blog I’ve used a variable of the word “obsess” – I’m obsessive; you’ll get used to it) and I took to Google to research.

Turns out, according to Psychology Today, I’m not bipolar or regressing to my teenage-angst-phase, or even all that unusual. I’m just a narcissist.

“As humans, once our basic needs are met, much of our conscious and unconscious behaviors are meant to make us feel loved and valued. But this love and value can come from external or internal sources. Internally, the source of love and value is self-esteem. And externally, this love and value tends to take one of two forms – either the long-term reinforcement of the self that comes from good friends, family or a committed relationship, or the short-term benefits of narcissistic behaviors in which we seek attention, admiration or adoration. One is a cure, the other is a band-aid. If enough of your external validation comes from attention, it can become an addiction – a dependence on the affirmations of others in order to feel a sense of worth.”

Ouch.

I may not go out “seeking” attention (I’m actually something of a crowd-avoiding introvert. Unless alcohol’s involved. And, c’mon, who can’t say the same thing when alcohol’s involved?), but I definitely seem to let the external forces dictate much about how I feel about myself.

Ugh. You’ll have to pardon me – I’m a little grossed out by myself at the moment.

If this was one of my girlfriends talking to me I’d be inclined to slap the shit out of her (I’m sort of a tough lover) and then hug her and stroke her hair and tell her how amazing and kind and beautiful she is (because I’m also pretty sympathetic and nurturing at the same time). We are ALL beautiful – really! I actually believe that. I love to watch people – maybe it’s that introvert in me; I tend to be an avid observer. And I have been fortunate enough to observe beauty – real beauty, not the airbrushed, over-pornographied version of beauty that suffocate magazine stands and music videos – in many forms.

I remember vividly a moment in high school when a senior guy was walking toward me and spotted his girlfriend. His face lit up, and when he hugged her he really hugged her. He wrapped his arms around her, closed his eyes and inhaled her sent, and smiled this amazingly contented smile that I didn’t think teenaged boys were capable of. That was beautiful.

I’ve seen the wide brown eyes of a curious little Iraqi girl who couldn’t speak to me but wanted to know everything about me; I’ve been in a roomful of friends and strangers singing Don’t Stop Believing on karaoke night; I’ve been lost in the contrast of icy blue eyes in the ivory face of a boy with dark hair; appreciated the luscious curves of a full-figured woman with tattoos; adored the strawberries-and-cream complexion of my niece when she was just a baby sleeping on my chest; longed for the intimacy and lasting love of an eighty-year-old couple still holding hands as they walk down the sidewalk together; seen the kindness of a good heart behind the eyes of a horribly scarred woman in the checkout line at the grocery store.

This and so much more I’ve experienced, and still – for me – I can’t simply have a good heart, or do good work, or be in an amazing relationship with the sweetest, most attentive man on earth. I have to do all that AND have the unanimous approval of everyone else around me, no matter how much or how little they mean to my life.

And that. Is. RIDICULOUS.

So what to do?

Well…I haven’t decided yet.

But it feels like it’s time for an experiment. One based on sound logic and factual information that will recondition my brain to stop being such a needy little bitch and start auto-reinforcing the badassedness that makes up the woman I want to be.

Stay tuned.

Hell is for Real: Part 3 of 3

Yes, my friends, finally we’ve come to Part 3 of 3 in this the most depressing series of posts I ever hope to blog. What a bunch of troopers the remaining two of you are for continuing down this morbid little path of mine. 😉 You’ve heard how it started (sick dad), you’ve heard where it went (dead dad, and possibly some form of silent psychotic break on my part), and now I’ll finish up with how it ended. Or, rather, how it’s ending.

After my dad died, I did what I do best and disappeared into myself a little bit. Together with my family I did the business of cleaning up dad’s “estate” (a truck, a boat, some clothes, pictures and knick knacks, his huge collection of books from which I scored October Sky and Winnie the Pooh, some truly fabulous Playboys – which I signed “Love Tone-man” and gave out at what passed for a memorial service, and seven empty Patron bottles which now house my dry goods in kitchen). Image

I slogged through the memorial service held at his favorite hang-out in town, saw a few old faces (some I happily embraced, others I fantasized about punching in the throat), wished for a few others, and sort of said goodbye to my dad and the life I lived on the island. Because, after all, what’s there for me now but memories? And a life I can never reclaim.

And after that, when there was no more work to be done and nothing to keep me busy and distracted, I fought with myself and my restlessness. I fabricated reasons to get out of the house and drive, I sat in parking lots alone, I got lost in the ocean, and I thought about why and – possibly more importantly – what now?

I was never raised to be particularly religious. I went to church for a while so I could be in the choir, and I had a step-dad for a while that was your typical hypocritical bible-thumper. God seemed like a good idea for a while, especially overseas where there are no atheists in foxholes. And I’m definitely no theologian. I’ve not studied the bible. I studied world religions (topically), I’ve talked to people, I’ve read parts of the book, I’ve listened a lot, I’ve even read the Left Behind series and got into it at one point, and I like the principles of love, acceptance, compassion, kindness, etc. But very few of the religious types I see actually practice the good parts of the bible.

So the way I hear it – and, yes, I’m still working this out – there’s a Heaven (fluffy clouds, white light, and robes?) and a Hell (I think of everything from Dante’s Inferno to Adam Sandler’s version where Hitler wears a French maid’s uniform and has a pineapple shoved up his ass every day), and the “believers” go to Heaven and the “non-believers” go to Hell to suffer in torment and damnation for all eternity. (That’s the gist anyway.) I’m a logical person, so my dad – who I have no idea if he was a believer or not – ostensibly lived an emotionally tortured life, suffered a physically and emotionally tortured death, and now gets to spend eternity (whatever the hell – no pun intended – that is) being tortured some more because…Because…? Oh, just because. He (potentially) didn’t buy into an unproven worldview developed 3500 years ago and subsequently twisted and tortured to serve the perverse, selfish purposes and agendas of a society who, today, idolizes such magnanimous figures as Michael Vic and Miley Cyrus. Nothing says deity like a man who can throw a ball and a lost little girl who foam-fingers herself in public.

But I digress. The fall of western society and degradation of the human race as a result of the evolution of pop culture is a different blog for a different day.

Back to my dad roasting in hell.

Here’s the deal: I’m not okay with that. I can’t reconcile the idea of a merciful, loving deity who died for the salvation of his creations who then also allows torture to be an option. If you’re God, then be God and make that shit NOT OKAY. Oh, I’m sorry, you say Lucifer made that happen? Well then where the fuck were you, and why can’t you wink him out of existence or something? Either you’re omnipotent and all-powerful or you’re not. I’ve seen some sick shit in my day, but even for the worst of the monstrous people I’ve encountered, I’d never choose to spend my life making their existence a constant agony. You don’t get to have it both ways. So the Christian version of God I’m not so hip to. Logically it does not add up. The argument is invalid.

Because if it was valid, then I’d have no choice but to spend my life figuring out how to breach the walls of Hell, fight off legions of demons, and drag my dad’s toasty ass back to earth (or somewhere better because, if I can get into Hell, then wouldn’t logic dictate there’s also an entrance to Heaven through which a mere mortal such as myself could pass?) to finish up this eternity thing we all keep hearing so much about.

And for a little over a year that’s as far as I got. But then I let myself reflect on the things I’ve seen and done, the good people I’ve met, the love I’ve experienced, the friends and family I can’t live without (shout out to my mom who hasn’t gotten a lot of play in my blog series, but hang in there, Mommy, I’m just getting started), the work I do and the people it surrounds me with, and the home that lives in my heart, the places waiting just behind my eyelids when I look for my happy place:

Image    Image   Image

So now I’m here: there’s something.

Profound, no?

There’s something bigger than all of us. The thing we’re all made of, the thing that connects us, and makes us special and different, the thing that gives us gut feelings and tugs at our heart strings, the thing that inspires a person to run into a burning building to save a stranger, or cry when they hit a deer. The thing that tortures us with hope and makes us want to believe in superheroes.

Well…it makes me want to believe in superheroes. I’m partial to Captain America.

It makes me want to believe in the good in people.

But people keep disappointing me and reminding me that the good isn’t always there. And, somehow, it breaks my heart anew every time I stumble upon this very apparent fact. I just can’t seem to harden against it, no matter how many times I re-learn the lesson.

But here’s the thing: When I was sixteen, my dad sent me a card (sadly it’s long lost in the detritus of a divorce, following a marriage that started three months after my 18th birthday) out of the blue, for no reason at all, with this quote:

“It is easy in the world to live by the world’s opinions. It is easy in solitude to live by one’s own. But the great man/woman is he/she who in the midst of a crowd can keep, with perfect sweetness, the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

And he wrote, “Never lose your attitude, Bug.” (Yes, he called me Bug. We can all have a good laugh now.)

So I guess I was born with my religion already in my DNA. My religion is to try and be the good. To act with love, kindness, and compassion. It’s not easy. I can be a real stone cold bitch (or a “pit viper” as my ex used to call me – I’m actually slightly flattered by that categorization), especially when I’m hurt or trying to avoid getting hurt. But it’s the only thing that makes sense to me anymore. My religion is what it seems it always has been – with my “attitude” dad was referring to, my stubbornness, my bullheaded approach, my tendency to shy away from yielding – it’s to live in this world and not let it change me.

So, I’m not sure about Heaven yet, but now you know why – for me – Hell is for Real. It’s not some deep pit at the center of the universe, it’s here on earth. It’s here where we get to watch loved ones die, where time marches mercilessly on and we get no second chances, where people prey on one another, where hope leads to hurt, and trust leads to pain, and where we’re all powerless to do anything about it.

Except to try and be the good.

Hell if for Real: Part 2 of (now) 3

DISCLAIMER

Anyone who knew my dad should not read this. Seriously. If you loved him, then I love you, and I need to write this – out loud – on the off chance that someone else will read it and feel…better? Not alone? Like someone else went through what they’re going through the same thing? Something. I know posting publicly something that is off limits to a certain faction of the people I care about is utterly ridiculous, but so am I. I promise I’m not going to write anything inappropriate or anything he wouldn’t want shared, but it will be honest. And painful. So, please. If you knew him, if you loved him: Stop.

DENIAL: NOT JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT

Fishing at Deception PassI know I spoiled the ending in my last piece – dad dies. In fact, as I write this very sentence, my dad will have died two years ago in precisely 3 hours and 30 minutes. I know this because I was in the hospital from February 12th – February 15th at about 1:30 AM. He died at 12:05 PST (I like to pretend he waited until February 15th so it wouldn’t taint Valentine’s Day for me) but I didn’t leave until the funeral home came and got him. But I’m getting ahead of myself. And, as they say, it’s not the destination that matters but the journey.

Trout at the lake.

Trout at the lake.

In July we – me and my husband (I have one those)  – visited dad. The third week in August on Whidbey is, I believe, the most beautiful week of the year in one of the nation’s most beautiful places. But July was a perfect time to go so I could segue between a job in Colorado Springs and a new – and fairly sizeable – promotion of sorts to a job in Denver. So we visited under the guise of having some summer fun during fishing season.  And, oh, did we fish.

CIMG0963Fishing, baseball, football, the smell of cigarettes and lumber, and nature are the things that always remind me of my dad.

He was weak and thinner than the last time I’d seen him because of his chemo regimen. He told me the nurses in the chemo area at the hospital called him “The Ghost” because he would come in, get hooked up to the chemo, and then go back out to his truck to listen to his radio and read (and smoke, I’m sure) while he got dosed. He didn’t like to be around all the “sick people.” And he likes – liked – being outside. In fact, he would sit on the deck – a beautiful thing with a ramp all built and installed by the Lions Club – to feel the air and get a tan on his poor bald head. He even lost his eyebrows. But somehow his goatee – a fashion statement accumulated sometime in the 7 years between our estrangement, my time in Iraq, and my first visit home afterwards – remained intact. Go figure.

It was hard to see him not be able to enjoy food, but it didn’t stop him from breaking into a heart-melting, mischievous grin one evening when I was going to the store for dinner and asked him if I could bring anything back. He wanted a Marie Calendar Lemon Meringue Pie. I would have bought him 100 if he could have eaten them and kept that smile on his face. It’s a smile that he has in some of his childhood pictures, and it really does just melt my heart. My dad wasn’t always happy. I think that’s why he did so much self medicating. But that smile made me think that the man I believed him to be – the man I saw through my eyes – was in there somewhere.

We fished, we cruised, we visited Friday Harbor, we got tattoos (Victor and I, that is. My dad would never do – have done – that.), and we enjoyed being together. And the day came when we had to leave, and I hugged him tight for the last time. I was still in denial, thinking he was such a fighter and that he would just never let this thing conquer him. So I hugged him, only vaguely thinking it could be the last time but not believing it, and I said I loved him and we’d talk soon. And, once again, I walked away – head high, back straight, emotions repressed.

SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW

My life after this trip got a bit taxing. I was driving 1 1/2 hours one way to work (and back!) 5 days a week, cleaning up after a mess that was left for me in my new position, recovering from having my house broken into and demolished, being on call, and trying to live a life. I sang a lot in the car going back and forth from Colorado Springs to Denver. (I do that. A lot.) And sometimes I sang to him, event though he wasn’t there to hear it. One song in particular always made me think of him in the most convoluted way. It’s the song “Somewhere Only We Know.” It was used in the recent adaptation of a Winnie the Pooh movie. It reminded me of him because when I was a teenager my dad took me and some of my girlfriends for dinner and there was a musician playing the guitar. Dad knew the guy and his band, and he requested he play the Kenny Loggins song about Christopher Robin, Pooh’s best friend. (See? Convoluted. But this is how my mind works.) My dad and I always had kind of a special connection I can’t totally understand, even today. We weren’t always great to each other, including but not limited to the period of about three years where we didn’t speak. But he was my dad, and I guess blood and genes and having the same nose mean something sometimes. I’m told he felt I was his greatest treasure. He never said it to me, but he said it to other people, and that makes me believe it’s true. And who can resist being loved that much?

Dad quietly snickering at my less-than-stellar fishing acumen.

Dad quietly snickering at my less-than-stellar fishing acumen.

I had a few conversations with my dad throughout the months and we chatted about all kinds of different things. Eventually there were a few times when he didn’t pick up the phone, and the calls became less frequent – mostly my fault, and then I got the one call I’d dreaded my whole life: the call from my Aunt telling me to get to the island because my dad was in the hospital in Anacortes. My plan was to go, evaluate, join my mom in Arizona to help her move my other grandmother from Yuma to California, and then either return to the island or go home.

This is where the story gets really unclear for me. We left people behind to tell us when things got bad. And they didn’t. They didn’t call until it was way, way, way more than bad. They called when my dad was so incapacitated that he couldn’t fight them to stop them from calling us. Or putting him in the hospital. I don’t know the series of events leading up to that with any degree of confidence.

I was fortunate in a sense because I had two employees at work who had lost loved ones – a father and a wife – to cancer. I remember telling them on evening, tearfully I’m ashamed to admit, that I didn’t know how to have the goodbye conversation. And neither of them really knew either, but they told me I’d know when I knew. One of them, Nathan, took me out the night before I left for a quick happy hour. Totally casual, but looking back I think he was trying to be there for me. I don’t really know what that looks like in people who aren’t really close to me. But he’s a noble guy, and he does stuff like that. He’s a pretty steadfast dude that way. He doesn’t work for me anymore, because I’m a huge pain in the ass to work for, but we still connect from time to time.

I called my dad at the hospital the night before I left. His nurse, Laura (who was the kindest person I’d ever spoken to, and turned out to be a total babe – which is why my dad loved her, I’m sure) was thrilled to hear from me and said dad had been waiting for my call. He picked up in his room and was a little gorked out on meds, but he was able to converse with me. I told him I was coming for a visit, and he said he wished I wouldn’t. He wanted to wait until he was out of the hospital so we could have some time, just the two of us. And the song “Somewhere Only We Know” popped into my  head.

That’s what he kept saying – time with just the two of us. I promised him I’d make sure we had some time together, and that I’d come back again when he was at home. I said I loved him and I’d see him tomorrow.

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN

The trip to the hospital was both stressful and invigorating. I was going home – yay! To see my dad – yay again! Who was sick on the hospital – booooo.

But any time I go to the island, though I haven’t lived there or visited regularly in nearly fifteen years and don’t really know anyone there anymore, my heart rejoices and I feel like a piece of my soul I forgot was missing is being reattached to the rest. I can’t live there, but I love it. It’s home in a way nothing else can be.

I landed under predictably overcast skies and rented a car. It was supposed to be a little economy car with luggage space, but there was a free upgrade – to a white Dodge Charger. Oh. Baby.

I love to drive fast to loud music, I love the freedom and feeling of controlling your own destiny that comes with the growl of powerful engine wrapped in muscle and metal. What could possibly go wrong?

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I had to keep it under control, but I won’t say I never tested the limits of the speedometer.

The drive helped me relax, and the joy of being home and close to the people and places I love lifted my heart, but arriving at the hospital put the weight back on me. I ran upstairs, heart pounding in my ears – a woman on a mission – and damn near bowled over my dad’s best friend, Pat. The look on his face when he recognized me was enough to tell me that I was about to see all my worst nightmares realized. I hugged him, asked how bad it was – stupid, I know, but I like to be prepared – and thanked him.

And then I crept into my dad hospital room feeling like an voyeur intruding into his worst moment. He was a skeleton slumped in a hospital bed, high on morphine – thank God and all those kooky opium farmers – and barely able to articulate. I was afraid to hug him, to look directly at him. But my Aunt encouraged me and I kissed him and said hello. We talked for a while with someone telling us about hospice home care – soooo not an option, but we listened and planned anyway. And after a while it was just us.

Most of the time was a fog – I only remember a few key moments. I remember sitting facing my dad while we tried to have a conversation. I don’t even really remember what all we talked about. He asked about my husband (by the wrong name, but I got the point), he asked about work and school (I had just achieved my BS – insert all the obvious jokes here), and because I work in non-profit we somehow got onto the topic of helping people. The one thing I remember vividly is him telling me he wished he had a lot of money so he could help everyone he wanted to, because it must feel so good to do be able to help people. And once again, just like his mischievous smile, I felt like I was seeing into his true heart, into the man only a few people knew or believed he was.

I remember him being in so much pain he couldn’t cope with not being more or less sedated on morphine and whatever other cocktail they hooked him up to. I remember him screaming and moaning in pain. I remember him getting to a point where he wasn’t awake anymore, and he stopped drinking and couldn’t take oral meds. I remember my Aunt nearly coming unglued when some other nurse, not our lovely Laura, who we dubbed “Nurse Ratchet” came in during the night to try and force him to take oral medication, disturbing his rest and ultimately getting him to the point where it took hours and many doses of medication to make him comfortable again.

I remember being alone for a moment in the room with him and holding his warm, calloused hand, looking at him, and telling him that I was happy, and tough, and successful, and loved, and that I was going to be okay if he had to go, that I’d be able to take care of myself and be just fine so he didn’t have anything to worry about.

I wiped my tears away with his hand.

And kept waiting.

WILD HORSES AND A BLUE VELVET RIDE

Laura came in on the last night. She shifted dad in the bed – we all left because we knew it would hurt him horribly, but he needed to be moved to avoid bed sores and stuff – and it rousted him. They got him comfortable again, but he was having a hard time breathing. He was snoring horribly – the man always snored, so we mostly ignored it, but eventually it was clear he had some kind of stuff in his throat, and I just couldn’t get it out on my own. So Laura offered to suction just at the back of his mouth to avoid being to invasive and putting him in pain again.

For two days he’d been snoring with his mouth wide open, but the second she tried to give him a hand and suction his mouth, he’s jaws snapped shut like a steel trap. We all laughed so hard we probably disturbed the whole ward.

We continued to take turns – my Aunt, my Gram, and me – sitting in the rocker or a folding chair or resting on the little couch under the window. A time lapse of those three or so days would look a lot like a game of musical chairs. We read some of my Gram’s newspaper columns she wrote when my dad and Aunt were just kids (Guess it runs in the family). His breathing came harder over the hours. His whole body started heaving with every breath. And then it came easier. And then it came not at all.

And at 12:05 PST on February, 15th, 2012, he left the room.

A big part of me waited for him to start breathing again. I thought I’d be so afraid to be in a room with a dead body, but I couldn’t stop being near him. We all stood there, crying quietly. And me – the “emotional one” on this side of the family – took as many quiet breaths as I could trying to stay composed as I sat perched at on the edge of the foot of the bed with my hands on his legs, staring hungrily at his face, knowing I’d never see it again after this night.

And then I couldn’t stay composed anymore.

I laid flat out on his lap and sobbed, keening like a wounded animal, and I told him it wasn’t fair. That his life shouldn’t have been so hard and he didn’t deserve to have it end like this. It wasn’t fair! I wasn’t fucking fair!! No one deserves this. What kind of God or universe allows this brand of suffering???

Then the nurses came in to do what they do, and I pulled myself together and sat in the chair across from my dad, tears still streaming silently down my face, feeling empty. Gram and Aunt Vicky eventually left the room, presumably doing things like notifying the funeral home and grieving in their own way. Laura and the other nurse kept telling me I could go, that they’d make sure my dad was taken care of, but this was my last act. My last show of love and devotion, and I wasn’t leaving. I’d failed so many other times, and by God I was not failing again. A herd of stampeding wild horses couldn’t have dragged me from that room.

So they went about the business of removing the needles and tubes and catheters and other medical things. I sent a text, “He’s gone, mom.” And I waited, still and quiet, trying to memorize every line of my father’s face. And trying to convince myself to forget it, and remember him in jeans and flannel shirts, carrying two full sheets of drywall alone with his bare hands instead.

But I like to punish myself, so I just stared until Joe came in.

Joe’s the funeral home guy. A kind, brown-skinned, round-faced sweetheart of a man, whose soft, assured personality suits itself perfectly for dealing with hysterical, grieving women. He introduced himself, shook my hand, consoled me, somehow knew better than to hug me (I’m actually a big hugger, just not when I’m in pain – I get a little wild), and told me what he would do with my dad. He showed up with a gurney draped in a snazzy, royal blue velvet thing, so we all had a good chuckle about dad’s Blue Velvet Ride.

So I agreed to let him take my dad.

I squeezed dad’s clammy hand, and kissed his now-cool forehead, and – again, and for the last time – I walked away. Head not-so-high, back not-so-straight, emotions completely drained and soaking my dusty-purple shirt and my dad’s hospital bed.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I drove us home in the dark in my amazing white Charger (that would now cost me about $1000 instead of the $120 because I’d be in town for two weeks and not four days – so much for that free upgrade). I wanted to let my Gram and Aunt hop out at home and just keep driving, all the way to the beach, walk into the freezing Pacific water, and let the cold and the salt scrub away the grief. I wanted to stare at the stars, and I wanted slice my flesh open. I wanted someone there, and I wanted no one there. I wanted to be held, and I wanted to beat the crap out of something until my knuckles bled, and I was too tired to hold my arms up. I wanted to get stupid, raging, make-bad-decisions-and-wreak-havoc drunk, and I wanted hold on because I know just how bad it goes when I let me lose myself.

Instead, I went inside, curled up on the overstuffed chair, and zoned out until someone – my uncle? (he’d been there all along doing all the stuff in the background that made the next few days a helluva lot easier)- told me to go to bed. I slept in my dad’s bed. It took forever to sleep, but I finally did, and I woke up the next morning to find my face smashed into a pillow wet with tears. The next night I woke up long before dawn to the smell of cigarette smoke, like when my dad would light up in the living room while he watched the fire. At first I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to keep myself asleep enough to keep the smell strong because I had to be dreaming, and then I sat bolt upright and breathed the air in deep (I work in disaster, so I figured I oughtta make sure it wasn’t an actual fire). It was smoky. And there was no fire, no crackling. It didn’t fade. So I waited…for something…

All I could see was my own silhouette in the mirror over the dresser. I looked into the darkness.

“Dad?”

And then the smoke was gone.

And I was alone again.

Hell is for Real: Part 1 of 2 (Or maybe 3…)

IN THE BEGINNING

For those of you who are joining me for this piece, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone yet. Not in two years. I won’t tell all. No one wants that. But I’ll tell you what happened, I’ll tell you what it did to me, what it made me, and I’ll tell you why I became more or less an atheist who knows hell is for real.

In May 2011 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. By the time he got around to getting it checked out it was only because he suddenly lost the use of the left half of his body. Like…the whole thing: face, arm, leg, foot, etc. It all went numb. So I guess he figured he should find out why. At some point, I don’t know how long after his diagnosis, he called my Aunt who called my Grandma, who both eventually called me. I was working an event in Colorado Springs, surrounded by hundreds of people, when I found out my dad had lung cancer that spread to his brain – hence the loss of feeling in his body. It was surreal, and I’m not sure I really understood what it meant. I just knew it wasn’t good. I wouldn’t find out how not good until about nine months later.

So I organized my team to continue the event without me, I went home, and I bought a plane ticket – despite my dad feeling, and voicing the feeling, that it was unnecessary.

I ended up staying at a place called the Acorn Motel which, in the 80’s and 90’s when I lived on Whidbey Island, was a sad looking sort of rent-by-the-hour kind of place. At least that’s how I remember it. But some time before 2011 it was gutted and remodeled on the inside. The small-town rumor-mill said it was because there was a meth-cooking operation working out of the place and that was the purpose for the management selling and the incoming owners remodeling. I’m sure I could look that up, but I’d prefer to live in blissful ignorance in this instance, because the place is gorgeous on the inside now and one of the only affordable places to stay on the island. And I just recommended it to my mom. 😉

My Aunt arrived first to size up the situation, and I flew in with my Gram a little later. By the time we joined my Aunt, I’m pretty sure she and my dad had just about driven each other crazy, the way siblings will do. I’m sure now that I don’t know all of the reasons why, and as curious and truth-demanding as I am, in this case I’m okay with being in the dark. I like to think it’s because my dad is a lot like me – fiercely independent, stubborn at the most inopportune times, completely uncomfortable being vulnerable, and all but incapable of dealing with emotion or asking for help.

And then there was the issue that all of that was compounded by the fact that he was dying. And he knew it. I can only imagine what that’s like. I always figured it would be best if I didn’t see my death coming, but now I’m absolutely committed to doing everything I

WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY, DAD?

My dad worked construction – drywall mostly – my whole life. He tells me that when I was a little girl he would ask me if I wanted to go to the babysitter or go with daddy, and of course I  always opted to go with daddy. And so started a long tradition of me deferring to him for the day’s entertainment. In 28 years nothing had changed, so I asked him every morning what was the plan for the day. Predictably, the loss of his left side did nothing to deter his independence. He retained the idea that he could do absolutely anything he did before – with some slight adjustments. What used to be jeans, button-up shirts (flannel in my youth, and then inexplicably a collection of Jimmy Buffet-esque types), and lace-up sneakers or boots he opted for sweats and the old school Reeboks with the Velcro straps. He called them his ‘old man shoes,” but little did he know there was an entire song out there about “the Reeboks with the straps” (T-pain/Flo-Rida). Not exactly my dad’s preferred genre, nor do I think he would appreciate Apple Bottom jeans. Or boots with the fur. But in retrospect I think maybe I should have played it for him – it might have made him laugh, and I live to make people laugh. Especially people who need to.

There was a lot of eating, because my dad would be undergoing chemo therapy, so the doctor gave him a license to eat before the treatment started in hopes that he would have enough weight to lose when the time came. I’m pretty sure I get my love of good food from my dad, too, because he took that license and used it every chance he got. But I will say, there’s nothing quite as simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious as watching “The One Armed Man” (as we started calling him…mostly out of earshot) try to eat a whole sandwich one-handed without destroying it in the process. I’m sure it pissed him off, because we have the same awful temper and it probably would have pissed me off, too. But you gotta get your levity where you can, ya know?

And don’t worry – he got back at us.

For example, we undertook three projects while I was in the island: dismantling his old wooden porch stairs (a new one with a ramp was getting put in by the Lions Club so dad could drag his dead leg around and still get into the trailer), cutting the wood scraps into firewood and kindling (the man had the fire burning all the time – I think he liked to watch the flames), and setting up a sort of mini-lean-to for his tomato plants in the back yard.

Did I mention this is a man who doesn’t like to ask for help?

When dismantling the porch stairs, I was not – I repeat NOT – allowed to wield the crow bar. I could hold the stairs, and I could occasionally swing the hammer, but there would be no crowbarring. That was dad’s job. (Is there an emoticon for eye-rolling/sighing? Because I feel as though that’s appropriate here.) Exasperation isn’t an adequate word, but I’m his little girl and would therefore do anything for him. So I held the stairs and let the One Armed Man do the heavy lifting. Eventually we got it ripped apart, and I was allowed to make kindling out of the small pieces.

But there were still some long 2X4’s, other large pieces, and random scraps laying around the yard that we then had to cut down to size for firewood.

With a circular saw.

My job? Hold the wood.

I fed it into the machine while my dad sat on an overturned 5-gallon drywall bucket while working the handle of the saw (which of course wasn’t mounted to anything – just sitting on the ground – because that’s how he rolls), dead arm dangling precariously near the saw blade, buzzing through each piece as I fed it through. You might be wondering where my Aunt and Gram were during all of this. They, knowing as I knew that resistance was futile, retired to the living room to wait and listen for the blood curdling scream that followed my dad’s left arm getting caught in the saw blade. Mind you, it would have been my blood curdling scream because of course my dad’s left arm was completely lifeless, and he likely wouldn’t have noticed until he started getting light-headed.

Thankfully, he eventually let me tuck his arm behind his back and we finished the job with all critical appendages intact.

And thus ended the most stressful 30 minutes of my life.

IT GETS BETTER.

After that, putting together a make-shift “green house” for his tomato plants was child’s play. Still devastating and hysterical, but much less blood pressure-raising. This project only involved moving around yet more 5-gallon buckets (always a favorite tool of any drywall man), a railroad tie or two, and stapling a roll of plastic from the wall of the trailer to the railroad ties opposite. This is why I say devastating and hysterical: Imagine Quazimoto or Igor – minus the use of the entire left side of their bodies – moving buckets full of dirt and plants from one area to another over grass, weeds, and uneven ground, all the while their left arm swinging wildly and left leg acting as nothing more than an unstable kickstand every other step while a helpless young woman (that would be me) looks on, well…helplessly. Even now the memory makes me laugh, cry, feel sick , smile, and bang my head against my keyboard. It’s just one of those moments that were so…HIM.

We did projects, we went on picnics, we cruised around the island (gorgeous in the summer, suicide capital of the nation the other 9 months of the year), watched TV/movies, fed his birds (parakeets inside, chickadees outside), loved on his weird little cat black cat (Boo), ate a lunch at the bar, and conducted a few doctors visits.

I didn’t remember it until just this second, but the first time we went to the hospital – I think we were hearing about his treatment plan or something; be reminded I was still being treated like a child and not like the capable adult woman I am, so I wasn’t involved in this very secret squirrel meetings – we were driving away when dad started seizing. It wasn’t the first time, and I’m sure it wasn’t his last, but it was the one I saw, and it brought home the gravity of the situation in a very real way. Even more alarming was that no one did anything. I know there was nothing the medical staff could do, but when an entire building of doctors and nurses won’t lift a finger to help it’s kind of like going to war without weapons knowing you’ll fail the mission.

JUST KIDDING

All the while, my dad was on a host of medications which eventually had steroids added to it to help shrink the tumor in his brain. And Xanax. You know, because how else do you function knowing you’re living on borrowed time?

The morning we left, just my Gram and me, my dad woke up around 3:00 AM in a pretty bad state. By the time we were ready to leave I felt like the biggest failure of a human being that ever walked the earth. I said goodbye, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time, held back the tears, and walked away. Because that’s how we Cawthra’s roll – head high, back straight, emotions repressed. I drove away in the dark, away from the house of horrors, away from the island I love, the people on it who mean so much to me, and away from dad. I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive myself for not doing what I wanted to do: turn the car around and see it through. Sure, there’s plenty of excuses not to – work, home, family, bills, obligations – but I’ll never get that time back. I’ll never get to say I was there for him when he needed me.

That was May.

By the dead of summer, my dad’s brain tumor had shrunk. He had the full use of his body again. His meds seemed to be helping him, and he was preparing for his chemo treatments. My Aunt was able to go home, having left a few friends in place to call us if things got bad. Things were really looking up, and I felt again the rising of my hero, my dad, the man in the flannel shirts that took the place of the red cape he should really be wearing. We used to joke that “hell didn’t want him, and hell was afraid he’d take over.” Looked like it was true. And I thought, “Holy shit – the son of bitch is gonna beat this thing! There’s actually a chance. He really is the toughest man on earth.”

And then he died.

See? I told you’d there’d be a Part 2.

Valentine’s Day Massacre

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According to the Chicago Tribune, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre went down as follows: “On this frigid morning, in an unheated brick garage at 2122 N. Clark St., seven men were lined up against a whitewashed wall and pumped with 90 bullets from submachine guns, shotguns and a revolver. It was the most infamous of all gangland slayings in America, and it savagely achieved its purpose–the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago.” (As a former journalism student I have to love the imagery of this lead.)

So, given the time of year, you probably read the title of this post and thought one of a few things: she’s single, she’s a wicked feminist, she’s in a neglectful or unhappy relationship, or she’s bat-shit crazy. At least three of those things are untrue. But I have, through a series of life experiences and what I like to call “growth opportunities” (AKA: shit happens and you have no choice but to cowgirl up and ride on), developed a serious distaste for Valentine’s Day. I probably don’t quite hate it just yet, but I’m working on it. I’m very persistent.

First allow me to set the stage, inspired by but not based on the imagery of the SVDM story lead above: it’s a cool but warming Friday night, I’ve just had a warm bubble bath and am now comfy in my pink/grey jammy pants on my purple-and-gray-clad squishy bed, puppies snuggled not far away, listening to the Glee Cast station on my Pandora account. I even have a pink bedazzled iphone case (my veteran status should get me back a few cool points). I’m all girl – but I have to draw the line somewhere, and Valentine’s Day is that line.

A few weeks ago I was texting with someone about this topic (whilst having a particularly craptabulous day, immediately followed up with what I’ll underwhelmingly call disappointing news). I wish I’d saved the convo because, while I’m sure I sounded a touch on the psycho-angry-uber-fem side, I think I made some sound points about the hypocritical suck-fest that is this Hallmark holiday draped in clashing  pink and red.

Here are my issues:

First, if you love me then love me every day. Don’t phone it in. Do you think one day of over-priced flowers and poor quality chocolate makes up for a year’s worth of so-so conversation or practiced sex? That kind of empty effort is just cheap – no matter how much money you spend. Do you think I believe that 364 days of giving in to my workaholic and introvert tendencies will be erased by a dinner out or a “romantic” hike through Maroon Bells? Yeah, no. A little advice from someone who admittedly has no idea what they’re talking about: Men, women want to feel wanted and beautiful and sexy all the time – and YOU have that power! Yes, YOU! (As if any man read this far…) Talk to her, listen to her, hug her when you come home, say I love you when you leave for work, kiss her good night every night, tell her when she looks pretty to you, keep the door closed when you use the bathroom (pretty sure there’s a blog somewhere in the this last piece of advice). And, Ladies, think like a man. More specifically, think like YOUR man. Make him feel confident, give him a back rub after a rough day at work, make him feel like you need him around – I’m not advocating submission or neediness here, just recommending that once in a while you might find a way to remind him that life would suck without him. And of course anything involving boobs & BJs will probably be a winner.

Second, romance can’t be forced. And V-Day is all about the forcing of “romance.” Real romance is like true love – it isn’t planned, it isn’t contrived. It’s genuine, and it’s either there or it isn’t. Romance is different for everyone I supposed, but for me? It’s there in the way he looks at me, the way he blurts out something stupid because I make him nervous, the way he makes me walk on the inside of the sidewalk away from traffic, fist-bumping in celebration when we hear screaming kids in the mall because we don’t have any, or when we have entire conversations in half a sentence or just a look. It’s kicking myself during the day because I keep thinking about him at the most inappropriate/inconvenient moments. It’s the thing that’s there when someone you love – really love – loves you back just as much.

Third, you never workout on a full stomach! (Grandma, if you’re reading this, stop right now, okay? That’s why I put this section last. I promise – it’s for your own good.)

What do I mean you don’t workout on a full stomach? Who works out on V-Day??? Here’s what I mean: This is a day where we, as a people, are expected to indulge in rich, decadent, seven-course French dinners (or whatever equivalent – I tend to prefer tapas), booze, and gorge on chocolate and sweets, and then…and THEN…it the brownchickenbrowncow. That’s right – you are obligated to have sex! Eat your heart out, bloat from the salt and alcohol, and then perform the equivalent of a few hours-worth of P90X without vomiting on your partner (I mean, unless you’re into that kind of thing – I’m not here to judge). I’m reminded of a day in basic training where we were ‘rewarded’ for a good day of training with a huge spaghetti dinner. And then promptly run outside to do front/back/goes, bear crawls, roll left/roll right, sit ups, and whatever other manner of physical torture our Drill Sgt. could come up with. Best of luck, ladies. Me? I’ll have the salad.

And then there was V-Day 2012 I spent in the hospital waiting for my dad to die. We’ll get to that later…

For now, I’ll simply challenge you to ask yourself how much you show the people you love – not just your SO (significant other), your lover, your crush, whatever – but ALL the people you love that you do, indeed, care about them and think about them every day. Did you do it? Did you ask yourself? Got an answer? Okay…now try to improve on that.