And I tried all my days.

Each October hits me with the surprise and delight of a new crush:  golden and perfect and positively teeming with promise.  It’s strange, I know—a time of year that signifies the slow wilting and quieting of nature is the very time of year I find most invigorating and new.

Because, somehow, annually, with the beginning of October, change starts scattering about my feet like the leaves skittering down the streets of this old town.  I feel it rustling about in my bones—that inevitable and exciting tilt of life.

It comes in jobs, friends, babies, exercise, interests, relationships, expectations, and hopes, and heartaches.  It comes in e-mails and phone calls, and sometimes, it comes in the lack of communication, in the silence.  It comes with the sudden and raw chill of the darkening mornings.  You realize change is at work.

This year, I am so ready for it.

I recently experienced what’s turned out to be a more-than-usual eye-opening yoga class that got me thinking about all this impending change even before October hit.  I was mindfully moving my sore, tired body through a rigorous and sticky class, and as we shifted into triangle, my teacher came up alongside me, placed her hands on my hips, and gently pushed me deeper into the pose.

“First, you need stability,” she began, talking out over my bent form to the class.

“And from stability,” she continued, her hands moving to the flat span of back between my shoulder blades, pressing them apart, “comes flexibility.”  My muscles shook, and my bones pressed tightly against my skin, and yet my teacher’s hands somehow stretched me further.

She then moved to stand in front of me as we flowed through high and low plank and upward dog, landing in downward facing dog.  I was turning her words over in my head when she placed her two palms to my lower back, sending my hips high and my heels down and my heart deep into my chest, and announced, loudly, clearly, “And from flexibility, comes the strength to change.”

In the weeks since that class, I have shared this idea with everyone from coworkers to dear friends:  First, you need stability; then, you can explore flexibility; and then, when you’re stable and agile, you’re brave and confident enough in your grounding, your strength, to make your own change.

My conversations have really just been efforts to test and validate this theory.  Because I think it’s a theory that’s a perfect frame to my life’s picture these days.

I come from a family that thrives on stability.  In our formative years, me and my sister’s lives played out smoothly and predictably thanks to well-worn routines, structure, traditions, rules, and schedules.  Everything then was a known and trusted certainty.  In many ways, many things still are when I step foot into that same house my parents bought nearly 40 years ago.  It’s no wonder that I feared and avoided and struggled through change for most of my young adulthood. Ironically, stability did not teach me flexibility then.  I was petrified of what I couldn’t predict, what I couldn’t fully understand.

The changes I did embrace, where I flexed a bit of my self, were all changes I actively chose:  a new job, a new city, a new friend or two, a new yoga studio. Change you can predict is easy.  You can prepare and map out back-up plans.  You can choose that precise moment when you go from stable to volatile, and you’ve already charted your course for how and when you’ll regain equilibrium.

I liked that kind of change.  That kind of change was fun.  And then life basically imploded on me back in 2011, and I spent years learning, for the first time in adulthood, how to stand still.  I learned stability is not something you are given:  it is something you build for yourself, slowly, thoughtfully, with purpose and determination.

This October, I know I’m there.  Feet firmly planted.  Eyes level.  Breath steady. Heart strong and sure and full—I am bankrupt no more.  I am home here in my seaside town.  I like where I work and what I do.  I am practicing my yoga.  I am loving those I want to love; I have said the good-byes I long needed to say.  I am giving, and I am doing a better job of taking.  I am reading provocative and engrossing books.  I am writing, steadily, even if I no longer always share it.  I am riding horses again.  I am helping to nurture and cherish children whose lives I am so proud to be a part of.

Life has measured itself generously into my palm, and I am cupping it gently, carefully.  I do not want to spill a drop.

And yet, this period of stability I’m now in is jarring.

After roughly four years of crushing change, upheaval, and disorder, I find I’m wrestling a bit with the calm reflection in my hand.  I’m find I’m very, very conscientious about and consumed with maintaining that delicate balance between restlessness and contentment, between staying on course and leaping off the edge, between satisfaction and want.

Because I can’t help but think:  so what now?  Where do I explore my flexibility further?  Where do I begin to stretch deeper and push a little bit harder?  How do I reach so that I ready myself for that next great change?

When I asked this of a dear friend of mine recently, she smiled at me lovingly.  She told me I have always been her 110% friend.  And she told me that maybe now is my time not to try so hard, so much, so all the time.  Maybe now is the time to just be, to relax, to revel in simply being here, in this space of life.

She’s right, you know.

It is October.  My favorite month has arrived.  Autumn is afire across my town and my heart.  And I am happy.


Post script

When I was a freshman in college, I experienced my first New England fall and promptly fell in love.  I was a bit in love with a boy back then, too, and I wrote him a poem that I sent across the 1,000 miles between us, a poem that isn’t all that good or grand.  But, I treasure it, even now—because I wrote it for that boy, and for the girl I was then, and for that first New England October.  It’s called October Comes.

I was listening to a lot of Counting Crows back then, too, and their new album is fantastic, particularly this gem (which, admittedly, inspired the “And I tried all my days” title).

I did it.

It was on my last walk down Topsail’s flat and bare beach that I realized I am, finally, fully, healed from the heartbreak that gutted me nearly two years ago.

This was the year that I walked—and ran—that beach for miles on end, day after day, looking out over the dunes, littered with shells of my past.  Life is not meant to be haunted, but I do not mind arriving in Topsail each summer and seeing the tides have, yet again, tossed up sea-weathered fragments of my hurts and hopes and losses from the past 20 years.  I can pick them up, rub them between my thumb and finger and remember:  the sand grating like the stubble of his chin, the crack of shell curved like your smile, the stone smooth as my nephew’s cheek, warm as my niece’s body curled into mine.

I don’t mind the past here.

Because I made it.  I did it.  I saw him, in the most unexpected time and place, and I was okay.  Merely days later, I saw everything so clearly—that we are a thing of another time, and that I will always appreciate the man he was to me then, and that I have moved forward and healed.  I am happy.

Those years, those shards of my heart that I did not glue back in, are now another collection of memories scattered along Topsail’s shore.

I left them there, with the gulls soaring overhead like kites, and my heels hitting the sand like fists hitting dough, kneading, working, and the waves breaking so relentlessly that you wonder how the sea can heal a soul at all.

And when I finally arrived home, flushed from the sun and the salt spray, I could see from where I stood on the beach that my family was awake.  I knew I’d climb the steps of the house and find the coffee brewed and the kids tumbling underfoot and the countertops sticky with peach juice and my baby niece babbling and swinging her little fists like flags, alerting us all that another good day has arrived—

—-and we are lucky, so very lucky, to spend it in one another’s shade, here, on this small, sacred island, settled against one long arm of the ocean, sun-kissed, and bathed in love.

You get three great loves in your lifetime.

The pressure on the plane was likely the only thing holding me to my seat, given every time I looked up, my eyes were in direct line with the thinning hair of the man who wrecked my heart and who I haven’t seen since we parted on a cold, icy Boston street corner nearly two years ago.

I kept thinking each time my gaze leveled with his head: “He has more grays and less waves.”

The irony is that I have thought of this man—and the countless events, pieces of gossip, longings, songs, wonderings, worries, and joys that I’ve wanted to share with him—at least 10,000 times.  (Less lately, of course, because the longer someone is out of your life, the less they know, and thus, the less painful and strange it becomes not to share every last little thing.)  I could fill whole days with the conversations I’d wished we’d had.   And there we were, at a loss for anything but pleasantries and clipped answers.

What a missed opportunity!  For years, I envisioned us airborne toward Ireland or Greece or Costa Rica or Topsail, North Carolina, whole continents and oceans passing beneath us.  Now, we’re trapped on a fully booked, four-hour flight to Dallas, with thousands of miles of time to connect, to share what’s happened and changed, to wrap ourselves tightly in the exciting pleasure of one another’s company.

Instead, we did as we’ve always done when faced with the unpleasant: ignore, avoid, separate, and opt for the safety of silence.

It’s amusing—and perplexing—to see how little changes even with the passing of such time.

In my latest imagined renditions of how we’d crash back into each other’s lives, we did not meet.  Rather, we began tentative communication via a short e-mail or text message, or, perhaps, more romantically, through a letter sent by way of the road and postmen and mailboxes.  I merely hoped for words, in print.  Rarely did I think of actually seeing him.

And yet—before I went to stand in line at the gate and wound up standing directly in front of where he was sitting, I did think I’d glimpsed him earlier, as I waited for my coffee and stared off down the airport terminal, eyes burning and limbs shaking with exhaustion.  I caught sight of a tall man, wiry like him, dark-haired like him, loose-limbed and yet stiffly awkward like him.  I thought his name.  And then I turned my head and went back to waiting.

It was always like this, though: me seeing him, wanting him, imagining him from far away, and waiting.

I still remember the first time we saw one another: I rounded the corner into a hallway, headed down to an office for a last interview at the organization that eventually turned him and me into coworkers, and there he stood, hands on either side of a doorway, lanky and lit by the afternoon sun streaming through the windows facing M Street.  Our eyes met from a distance.  My heart knocked against my ribs.  The light crackled across his face.  I accepted the job 30 minutes later.

Our evolution from coworker to friend to the undefinable thing we ended up as was like many other evolutions: natural yet deliberate, complicated, and surprising.  Of course, from the get-go, I wanted to leap into every corner of his life and sit cross-legged there, witness to and participant in the daily doings of his existence.  But, we took our time.  He wisely stayed at a distance, at least at first.  In the lower recesses of my self, in that quiet and kept place, I always knew I’d love him, and he must have known that, too.   Over the years, we both moved, we both changed jobs, we both lost and gained friends, we traveled, we hurt the other, we aged.  We prioritized time together; we bared fears and unhappiness; we had a few random but great adventures; we made each other laugh, and we gave each other grounding amid the growing instability around us.  All that passed between us deepened, richened, grew big and heavy.

At our peak, we loved hard and messily, entangled in a destructive adoration and need.  We pushed boundaries, we tested one another’s patience, we asked for too much.  We took—and then took more.

We did this, for years.

I gathered and saved every word, every touch, every morsel of hope thrown my way, and I hoarded it, knowing the inevitable end drew only nearer and nearer.

And the inevitable end did come.  After a fateful weekend spent in Montreal, we met at a loud bar in Boston, had our first truly honest, cut-to-the-core conversation, and there, my heart broke, cleanly, predictably.

I spent the better part of 18 months content with my bankrupt heart, sorting through the promises worth keeping, refusing advances, and considering new contracts worth exploring.  Recovery is a very private, very personal exercise that one must keep at, day after day after day.

I think I did my mother proud.  I have stayed her strong and brave and true daughter.  I have tried very hard not to doubt my decisions.

But, there he sat, a mere two feet away from me, and I felt nothing but sickness and elation and confusion.  I wanted to say so many things.  I wanted to tell him how I have missed him, how I have hated him, how I have yearned for his advice and companionship.  I wanted to tell him he’s a coward.  I wanted to ask him if he’s happy, if he thinks of me, too.  I wanted us to laugh, say, “What are the fucking odds!” and then agree to stay in touch, even if that’s a terrible idea, even if I swore I’d never establish contact with him ever again and have kept that promise all this time.

Mostly, simply, I wanted to hold his hand.

We are fools to believe that we can ever completely rid ourselves of the ones who we loved best, who bore so deep and so completely into the very seed of our being and our understanding of self.  I shed him from my life, yes.  But, from me?  From my heart?  The past is the past, but the past is also the make-up of who you are.  Should you take scissors to it?  How do you cut out the very experiences that helped shape you?  Can I truly cut him out of me completely?  Upon seeing him, I wonder if I ever will.

We are older, sure.  Wiser?  I’d like to think so.  And yet, as we sat on the tarmac, before we had even taken flight, my heart thundering and his hands running uneasily across the back of his neck, he turned and said, with a grin, “I don’t normally imbibe on these early flights, but…I don’t know about you—I could really use a drink right now.”  We laughed.  He turned away.  The wheels screeched as we rose off the ground and into the sky, the sun sharp and bright through the windows.  All I could think was whether it would be totally insane to book a hotel room, change my flight, and not fly out until tomorrow, just so I could suggest we go get that drink and catch up.  Just so I could rest within his company, for at least a little while.

Yes, of course it would be.

Love is its own form of insanity, is it not?

Yet, we carry on, even within its mad trappings.  Somehow, we carry on.

You must know that I write this in the sparking immediacy of the moment.  In time, mere days, distance will create the necessary chill, the firm reprimand of reality.   I’ll remember why we ended and everything I have learned since.  Friends will reassure me that I have “moved on” and “let go.”  I’ll go out; I’ll have fun.  I’ll take all of this to my yoga mat and work, hard, to work him out of me again.  I’ll focus on what’s present, what’s real, instead of what I dream.

I understand now that this is one of the bittersweet benefits of true love, and of true heartbreak:  You learn your limit—and you learn your depths.

Better still, you learn your vast and tremendous reserves that, unlike him, will never leave you.

To my father, prince of the apple towns.

Childhood creates some of the greatest stories, the ones we keep retelling all our lives.  In my family, my parents still get a kick out of remembering that time we were driving down to Topsail, and we sped past a police car.  My eldest sister quickly said, “Dad, slow down, police.”  My mother chimed in with, “Yep, it’s the high sherif.”  And I, barely 9 years old, added, in solemn seriousness, “Rollers.”  Proof I had already watched The Blues Brothers with my father one too many times.

One of my favorite stories about my sister is when my aunt was babysitting one evening and kept asking Sarah silly questions, like, “Where did you get your pretty curls?  And where did you get your pretty blue eyes?  And where did you get your dimples?”  To every question, my sister sweetly answered with:  “My mommy.”  Finally, my aunt blurted out, “Well, what do you get from your daddy?!”  Sarah shrugged and said, “Lemonade and donuts.”

Yes, the makings of a great father indeed.

It is a day in which many children will call, remember, miss, and/or want to honor their father, because it’s Father’s Day.  Although my own dad always pushed me to go against the grain, to lead not to follow, and to wander down my own path, even if it diverged sharply from the road everyone else was marching down, I find myself joining the many, many daughters and sons who are penning their tributes to the first important man in their lives.

IMG_3622Because why not?  I happen to think that my father is, hands down, one of the most incredible people I know.

And because, lately, I’m noticing a lot of him in me.

Last week, on the way to school, I taught Grace a little diddy that my dad and I used to always recite.  It’s from The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, a 1940s movie, and goes: “You remind me of a man.” “What man?” “The man of power.” “What power?” “The power of hoodo.” “Who-do?” “You do.” “What?” “Remind me of a man.” “What man?” and so forth.  (If you’ve ever watched Labyrinth, then you’ll know David Bowie adapted it for the song “Magic Dance.”)

Forget talking about the months.  Now, when I see her, all Grace wants to do is practice “Who-do?” “You do.” “What?!”.  Again.  And again.

So you can imagine my relief when, the other morning, as I was making her breakfast and lunch for the day, and she was seated across from me, laughing as we finished yet another round of “You remind me of a man,” she suddenly asked me, “TT, where did you learn that story?”

“From my dad,” I answered her, smiling.  “Your grandpa.”

Grace went quiet, twirling an apple slice around on her plate.  Then, shyly, she said, “TT, do you know any other stories?”

“Do I know any other stories?!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands into the air in mock exasperation.  “Well, of course I do!”

IMG_3619I launched into the tale about a woman who goes down to the cellar to get some vinegar, and the cork popped off the jug, and the jug went, “Woo, woo, woo!”  And then I told her about the bum who knocked on an old’s woman door, asking her if she had a bite to eat in the house, and the old woman did but also had a big, tall husband coming home at 5pm, so “Be on your way now, bum!”  I also told her about “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,” which my father, being tone-deaf, recited to me as a poem rather than as a song and which was my favorite of his rhymes when I was little, because I marveled at and relished in how fantastically and dramatically he enunciated every single word.

I don’t think Grace quite knew what to make of me, much less the steady stream of seemingly nonsensical stuff I was saying.  But, every time I finished one verse or song or tale, in the same manner and rendition as my father had told them to me, she’d ask for another one.

IMG_3620On the way to school later, Grace asked me what else I learned from Grandpa. I told her, with an exaggerated gravitas that made her giggle, “The list is long, child”: He taught me the names of flowers, and he taught me how to tell when it’s going to be a good crop of corn.  He taught me how to make cranberry relish and a mean batch of cookies, and he taught me to be kind and to embrace being tall and athletic. He taught me the right way to hammer a nail, use a shovel, and drive stick-shift, and how to do laundry, and to cut up oranges just right, and to recite the entirety of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and to imagine, create, write, work hard, listen to my gut, believe in my goodness, trust and use my voice, laugh often, and know without a shadow of a doubt that I am beautiful, valued, loved, respected, cherished, most of all by him.

(Don’t worry, Mom.  You taught me quite a bit, too.)

“He taught me how to be myself,” I concluded, with a firm nod, refusing to indulge in the sudden and overwhelming urge to burst into a bout of overly sentimental tears.

I think I lost Grace sometime after the batch of cookies—she was staring out the window, humming, mind elsewhere.  Sometimes, I forget she is only four, and I tell her these things like she’ll understand.  In her own way, I hope she does.

IMG_3624This May, my father turned 68.  He still fits into pants and sweaters he’s owned for 30-plus years, and he could outpace me any day of the week, thanks to the hours upon hours he spends working in the garden, working on house projects, and chasing my nephews.  He’s still as tall and lean and dapper as I remember him from my childhood, with his long, strong arms, his tanned cheeks, his lotion-soft hands, his sparkling forget-me-not blue eyes.  He’s quieter now, and his temper has waned.  Although he’s in good, stable health, more and more I think about the uncertainty of time.  The moment I entertain the thought of him no longer being my first phone call, I am overtaken by a raw and toppling wave of sadness that I know won’t even come a fraction of an inch close to how it will feel, one day, to lose him.

But, if adulthood teaches you anything, it’s that you can never really prepare for or protect yourself from the things that will break your heart, alter your course, and, ultimately, shape your life.

I think my dad knew this.  He lost both of his parents before he was 30 years old.  Growing up, he always told us girls that he didn’t want flowers at his funeral or laid at his grave.  “Give me flowers when I’m alive, when I can see ‘em,” he’d say, as we groaned and shook our heads and told him to hush up.

IMG_0332I see his point, all these years later.  Really, my father was telling us:  live now, give now, love now, experience all you can, be all you can, now.  “You’ll be gone a lot longer than you’ll be here,” he’d say.

And because of this, because I know the hourglass has tipped, the moments I can spend with my father, and the moments in which I feel him—his lessons, his words, his mannerisms—rippling through me, carry more and more meaning and magnitude.  I want all I can have of him.

On my visit to Pennsylvania last weekend, I soaked up the hours I had with my father.  We cut and filled colanders of kale and spinach from the garden, and walked “the lower-40,” and played with the new stray cat he’s adopted.  We talked about my work.  We stayed up late the night I arrived to finish off one of my mother’s rhubarb pies, smacking our lips in satisfaction.  I helped him hang a heavy bench swing.  He bought a six-pack of my new favorite beer, and we enjoyed a few together, sitting on the back porch, the cat meowing and the day yawning to a close.  We filled and emptied our plates at my niece’s baptism party and sat outside beneath the bright table umbrellas, guzzling glasses of the peach iced tea he’d made and musing about which would come first in the Catholic Church: female priests or gay marriage.

At some point, I noticed that my father was no longer wearing the gold chain and cross that he’s worn ever since I can remember.  Usually, I am the first to notice and comment on any little change in my father:  a haircut, a five-pound weight loss, a new watch, a new wallet, new shoes.  He’s a man I have studied and admired all my life—I pride myself on being a diligent student.

To my astonishment, he explained that he’d stopped wearing it last summer, because he was worried the clasp had weakened.  On a whim, and because increasingly I find myself asking to bring home possessions my parents no longer care to keep, I asked if I could wear it for awhile.

“Neither for borrow or keep,” he said slyly.  “For taking then!” I replied, and we laughed.

On Sunday evening, just before I climbed into the car for my mother to drive me to the airport, my father handed me his necklace.  In my excitement, I fumbled with it, clumsily, desperate to loop it around my neck so he could see it on me.  My father has never worn a wedding ring; this necklace, with its bright gold chain that my mother purchased with the paycheck from a big catering job 30-odd years ago and the small Christian cross my father had custom made, is, in my mind, as intimate and weathered and valuable as their 44-year marriage.

IMG_0551He entrusted it to me—his youngest, the child who climbed atop his back and galloped him, a gangly horse and ecstatic rider; the adolescent who tried daily to emulate the friendliness, confidence, and leadership that won him class president; the young woman who wrote a graduate school thesis inspired by and based largely on him; the 30-something aunt who catches his parenting in every, single interaction I have with my nieces and nephews.

And, I am so thankful.  So wholly, wonderfully thankful—for him.

I haven’t taken the necklace off since, and I don’t intend to any time soon.  Seeing the sunlight catch on its glow, touching it, feeling its warmth and weight against my skin, makes me smile, and think of my father, and think of how much I love him, how much I still, at 33 years old, want him to be as proud of me as I am of him.

IMG_1210I roll the necklace’s thinness between my thumb and forefinger, and I wonder when Grace will notice and ask me where I got it.

My daddy, I’ll say.

My papa, mi padre, Pops, Dadda.  His many names, across my many ages, but always all mine, my father.



The measures of time.

The other morning, when my niece asked me over her bowl of strawberries, how many days until Topsail, I couldn’t help but duck my chin and smile and think, “Yep, she’s a Newell alright.”

My family—we like organizing ourselves by time.  Ever since I was little, I have understood my life in increments of the calendar or the clock.  Daily, specific hours were devoted to swim practice, horse-back riding, homework, or music.  Certain days of the week were spent doing chores so that other days of the week could be enjoyed at the Boiling Springs pool or playing with friends.  Each season, particularly fall and spring, signified a different sports schedule and work schedule and level of ensuing exhaustion.  And the calendar hanging on the refrigerator always bore the important milestones, accentuated by stickers and highlighters: birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, visits, trips, and, of course, Topsail.

For the past month or so, Grace has routinely asked me how many days until her birthday, which is today, finally.  She is four years old.  Later, she’ll open up a present from me that includes a few workbooks to help her practice writing her letters and numbers as well as a ridiculous sparkly, feathered, pink princess cape that she will no doubt wear as she proudly pens her A, B, Cs.

The cape, I admit, was an impulse purchase, as was the enormous inflatable ball that I imagined her kicking down the sunlit stretch of Preston Beach.  Because when I placed all the presents I’d originally picked out on the counter, I saw a stack of items that will further usher Grace out of childhood and into the realm beyond: letter books, number books, and a crisp packet of colored pencils to hold in her small hand while mastering the lines and curves of the alphabet and numerical system.

Sure, the kid needs to learn how to write.

But, a part of me instantly worried whether, at barely four years old, I was already encouraging the common demands of adulthood: you constantly need to learn, work, practice, aim for accuracy and possibly perfection, and not give up along the way as you take on what the world expects and puts in front of you.  As my mother would say, focus on the focal point, and stay focused.

I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

I’m also my father’s daughter, and my father believed strongly in encouraging that I be a student of my surroundings as much as I was a student of books, and in cultivating my imagination, and in protecting my innocence.  My parents were firm in many ways, but most of all, they set iron-clad parameters on how we spent our time and with whom that ensured we were kids as long as possible.  Because you’re an adult the rest of your life.

Hence, the princess cape for Grace’s many hours of four-year-old make-believe fun.

Thankfully, Grace is proving herself a courageous and eager student, of the real and the imagined, and she is surrounded by equally eager teachers.

I love this, and I am proud of her.  She’s wonderfully and hysterically inquisitive.  She asks me things like, “What does gravity mean, and how does it work?” and “Why do people have to pay for things?” and, when I tried introducing her to cursive writing, “Why are there two ways to write the same letters?” and, my recent favorite, “Where are the clouds when they’re not in the sky?”

IMG_0823Just the other night, when I was putting Grace to bed and remarking on how she would be turning four in only 7 days, she looked up at me with eyes as deep and full and blue as the sea, and said, quietly, “TT, what happens when I turn four?  Where does three go?”


I spent last weekend in Washington, DC, my former stomping ground. Although only in town for 36 hours, I made it to my old, favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle.  I walked the entire Mall and visited my favorite monuments, resting on the very park bench I sat on with a beloved ex-boyfriend so many years ago.  I walked for miles, actually, rediscovering my old city and pointing out landmarks of my past life along the way.

I stumbled across my old self, too.  That young woman I was more than a decade ago when I arrived in Washington, so raw, so unprepared, so unsure, and working so damn relentlessly to find clarity and stability and happiness.  I retraced the sidewalks that young self ran in an attempt to outpace the pressure and poor decisions that chased her.  I passed her first yoga studio, where all the letting go began. I took the same Metro train that carried her to work every day for three years.  I stared at her out the window as we sped down Reno Road, and I wanted to grab her hand and tell her to stop trying to change just so she fits more comfortably into the world around her.  I wanted to tell her that she will always love hard; she will always work hard; she will always dream.

I wanted to tell her that it is the leaps, those very chances and risks she so feared then, that I’m most grateful for and proud of now.

Returning to the place where I both lost and unearthed my self was such a remarkable reminder of everything I have experienced, good and bad, in the first decade of my adulthood and how those experiences both radically altered and solidified who I am. It was a stark reminder of the gift of time—it’s passage, yes, but also it’s steady measurement of the life you’ve lived, and are living.

My darling niece turns four years old today.  A small measurement, yes, but one that stands significant all the same. In these early years, she’s grown into a girl who’s curious and sweet, stubborn and dramatic, smart, silly, adaptable, agreeable, and overwhelmingly lovable.

When I pick her up from school later, and when I hug her, and when I watch her open her presents, I know I’ll relish in her joy—what child doesn’t exude the ultimate happiness on a birthday?  And after she blows out her candles and has a piece of cake, I’ll kneel next to her and whisper that, not to worry, three is tucked safely inside of her, maybe there, scooted up underneath her ribs.

IMG_3153I’ll try to explain that when we grow, as we age with the years newly and long-ago passed, all we’ve lived stays within us.  She can’t see it, and she might not be able to feel it, but that time, those experiences, the lessons learned, and the love shared, are woven through her, roping together the net of confidence and moral code that she’ll fall back on and bounce off of for decades to come.

Someday, I will tell Grace about my years in Washington, DC.  Someday, I will explain to her that she’ll always have questions, that she should always ask more, learn more, explore the world more, because in that act of outreach, she will only pull herself closer to who she is: the incredible self she is already beginning to cultivate.

I will tell her that I’ve learned the true test of character is placing your self in the midst of the chaos of the world, having faith you’ll stay strong, brave, and true, and experiencing, fully, the result.

For now, though, for today, this balloon-filled, sugar-filled, excitement-filled turning-four celebration, I’ll offer to tie that cape around her neck and treat her like the little princess she dreams she is.

The anticipation of touch.

We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.
— Robert Ardrey

The anticipation of touch:  it is the hint of a hand, hesitating, a flit of fingers, hovering over the flush of your skin like a rainstorm bursting in spring, all lush and promising, smelling sweet, timely, rolling in with a warm, purpled breeze of lilacs and turned earth that is as dark and rich and mysterious as his eyes that last time, even though you’d sworn never again, telling yourself that you don’t have to move like the seasons, drifting for awhile but always returning, and changed, yes, but not to your own accord:  rather, by the pull of nature and memory, because you crave the known even as you hope for the revolution that will unshackle him, that will unshackle you, so that you can put this—all of this nonsense and hurt and anger not buried so deep, no, not anymore—atop that spring breeze, that strong, certain pull of the wind lifting and carrying that past, those eyes, the browned edges of your affection and his promise—

and carrying it far away, planting him in another’s unlucky arms, so that when you lay down and look up and open up and arch yourself into the cupped palm of the world, to those awaiting fingers, that eager hand, you see only blue, and white, and the whisper of a kiss.

The river flows in you. Well, all of us.

After nearly six months of storms and blizzards, below freezing temperatures, bleak skies, and a record-breaking number of weekends spent “hunkered down,” I think it’s safe to say:  we survived, and spring has arrived to greet us.

Here in New England, it was a winter that stretched long and snowy, a winter that tested and hurt and crept under our skin and filled the spaces between our ribs with an ice-white chill.  It was a winter of quiet, of isolated hibernation. Never before have I heard so many people lament about a season or ache for the rapid passing of time.

I also have never before understood fully the concept of being a “snow bird,” but after two trips to Florida in the last few months, I can safely say I get the appeal of trading Massachusetts for Miami in the dark bleakness of February.

Yes, it was a winter that we abhorred, because it felt, at times, infinite.

And yet, it is now, slowly, slipping away.  Soon, like many other things and people and events in life, it’ll be only a memory, a story of a season ago.

This past weekend, Grace and I went for a walk together.  It was just around 5 o’clock, one of my favorite hours of the day: the sun is still bright, the work is winding down, the light is golden and the shadows long, and you have all the potential of the evening ahead.  As we walked, I was talking to Grace about the seasons and about how we’re on the cusp of spring.  Can she feel that low-lying, balmy breeze in the afternoon?  Can she see those few eager buds bursting open on the trees?  Does she know how many daffodils we’ll see abloom in nana and grandpa’s garden—too many to count!  I called out, “Good-bye, winter!” and ruffled her curls.

Grace, as she always does, listened so attentively, so wonderfully curious, and then she wanted to know when winter ended.  She asked, “Where did it go?  Did you see it leave?”

And, as I always do, I paused, caught in a classic case of, “Huh.  Yep, good question.  Well.  Okay, so the mostly correct response to this one is…”

I bumbled through how, yes, we’re seeing winter leave right now, because one season fades into another, gradually, over a matter of days and weeks, and the changes are small enough that we don’t always notice them until one day, we wake up, and the world is lush and green, and the sun is hot, and we’re stripped down to shorts and sandals and craving the ocean and ice cream.

“But, where is winter when it’s spring?” Grace pressed.

And that I honestly struggled to answer.

Where does anything go, when it’s run its course?

During this winter, with its unforgiving bite, its sharp and bruising elbows, I’ve both experienced and witnessed a handful of truly sad and truly joyful life-altering changes.  The kind of monumental events that rattle every bone in your body and crack your heart into pieces, in happiness and in sorrow. Moments so big and surreal that even I, ever trying to capture the world in words, don’t know what to say or write.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about these life events.  How do you rationalize the urgings that “life is short” with the reminders to “plan for your future?”  How do you know when right now is more important than the someday you hope and prepare for ahead?  How do you stay present—and, perhaps, more importantly—push forward when the past fires a relentless attack of nostalgic “remember when”s and “what if”s?  What (and who), truly, matters most?

I’ve also thought a lot about endings, good-byes, the inevitable pain that comes with loving people. That’s the catch-22, right?  Love is the greatest gift, and yet, love exposes us to the deepest pains.  And yet, who would want to live a life without it?

There’s the argument that we are, all, ultimately alone in the end, we all lose each other, and so what’s the damn point?  (Similarly to the seasons, you never quite know when the end is, really, the end—I remember in March talking to a friend about how you never know when the last snow storm is really the last one. Because, who knows, another 10 feet could fall next Tuesday.)  But, I don’t buy this mindset.

Rather, I believe that our innate aloneness in the world is merely a footnote to the great novel of our lives, which reads rich and colorful and hilarious and heartbreaking and true, because of the courageous leaps, the craziness, the love that cements us, the clamor of experiences captured within its pages, and mostly, because of the characters, the ones we love and hold tight to, so tight, for all or as little time as we are given.

That’s the only answer I’ve come to lately, against the list of seemingly endless questions.

And so as Grace and I walked the hill toward home, I stopped and leaned down over her stroller and tapped her nose with my finger.  She giggled and squirmed.  I laid my cheek alongside hers, the sun pressing against my back with the reassurance of my father’s hand, the gentle guidance of my mother’s palm, and I whispered into her ear, “The seasons are like people, my little duck.  You won’t always see all of them at once, because they each have their own special moment in time.  And they might come and go more quickly or more slowly than you’d expect.  But, they always exist in the world; they’re always here.”

Grace smiled and sighed, contented, and I pushed the stroller on, and I felt my heart would nearly burst, from gratitude and want and conviction that I am just where I need to be.

And the first truly beautiful twilight in what feels like forever settled around us, quietly, preciously, with the pink promise of spring.


A recent obsession on repeat:  River Flows In You by Yiruma.  Close your eyes, and enjoy.