Mosaic

This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.

In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.

Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)

Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:

Custom Crossed Paths Initials Bracelet

When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.

I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!

Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )

Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.

With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m not the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.

Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.

And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.

And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.

Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.

After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.

I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.

I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):

It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.

This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers

I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

I Won’t Be Silent

I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?

I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully, unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.

Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial. They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation. They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me hurt more.

Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad day, and there were plenty of bad days.

I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died, because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me out.

What happened to me was not atypical.

There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes us uncomfortable.

Well, if suicide makes you uncomfortable, it should.  Here’s why – it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s steadily increasing each year. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. That same year, in the US, there were over 1.4 million attempts. There are approximately 129 suicides per day, 22 of those are veterans. Globally, over 800,000 die by suicide annually.

We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.

People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer, we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes of getting them relief.

What we wouldn’t do:

We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were making a choice to be ill.

And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them because we understand cancer.  There is no shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.

Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect, he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy” felt like.

We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental health. We must make mental health a priority.

When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend, also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.

That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.

Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you realize how much you talk about Jay.”

I will never stop.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.

I believe in their mission.

That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.

I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.

Please help by making a donation today.

We’d also be honored to have you walk with us! Just click the link! OR consider re-posting this blog post, and tell people your story.

But no matter what you decide to do, I ask one huge favor:

Never stop talking about mental health issues. Reach out to anyone you think may be struggling (assume you’re the only person who is reaching out).

Huge thanks to those who have already signed up to walk with me, and to those who have made a donation; it means a lot, it makes a huge difference, and I appreciate each of you!

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255

P.S. Ryan

P.S.

Ryan,

I feel like I tricked you into following my blog by stating I was occasionally funny. I swear, I try not to do the above (or I guess it’s technically below on your screen) on a regular basis; however, your uncle and I were talking about communication etiquette yesterday (blame him), and we felt I had to go there. Don’t give up on me yet. I swear, one day, I’ll post something that might get a smile out of you. Also, it was great meeting you; you are just as cool as your uncle has bragged. I’m so glad to finally see you in person after hearing so much good about you over the years.

P.S.S.

To the rest of you,

The same message to you guys as well, and also – you should really meet Ern’s nephew Ryan; he’s really awesome. (Would you tell him I’m sometimes funny?)

Is This Thing On?

I wanted to take a couple of minutes to write a quick thank you to my Facebook friends and family who recently subscribed to my blog. For starters, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you’d take the time to actually read this thing, and for… ummm secondly? non-starters? for ‘nother reasons? you’re giving me a chance to take a break from Facebook.

I can now let my hair down and stop trying to be a Beth PR machine, because let’s face it, most days I’m not doing anything of FB note (like I suspect of most people) – not even taking pictures of my toes against an exotic background so you can have toe vacation envy. Look, my toes are near sand! Go toes!

The reality of my life, when I’m not staging toe photos, is that I spend a fair amount of time laying on the couch in some amorphous, barely human looking lumpy shape, surfing Netflix for my latest binge-worthy show, thinking something insanely sarcastic, and not doing whatever is on my chore “to-do” list. Trying to spin that into something glamorous can be a bit taxing, because apparently posting repeatedly, “was a lump again today” just doesn’t garner the “likes” once your followers realize you’re on a personal lump streak, and you’ve decided to regularly post about it like you’ve been elected as some universal lump ambassador.

Speaking of things that are grossly unfair, which we were speaking of, how is it there’s not even an app that gives you lump achievements like “One Month Lump Goal Achieved! Atta girl! Keep up the great lump work for lump kind!! Be the lump dream!” What kind of lazy world do we live in that some programmer is not all over this? Programmer dude, from me to you, get on that.

For the record, the lump selfies are pretty priceless.

So yeah, I’m taking a break from all the people who, after having not seen me in awhile, come up and say, “you do so many interesting things – I love catching up with you on FB.” I mean, yay, it makes me feel like I’m a great fiction writer, but actually trying to perpetuate that myth – the one that I’m actually interesting is exhausting. The rest of you, the ones who made the move over here, know better. Thanks for keeping my secret so long. Your payments are forthcoming. Honest. I’m totally trustworthy.

Of course, one of the things I will miss dearly is reading your stories – hearing what’s going on in your lives. So please, please, please, let me know what’s going on with you.

Remember back in the day when we all wrote letters? Drop me an email. Tell me a story. Send me a photo. Sing me a song. Make me smile and laugh like only you can do. If you want my personal email, drop me a note in Messenger, and let me know; I’m happy to share it. Or hey, let’s do something crazy, let’s catch up in person.

Quick Aside: Or How We Can Possibly Use this Space for Good

Many of you who took the plunge to follow me away from FB are out there doing some really cool things. You’re acting, directing, singing, playing, photographing, crafting, writing, teaching – creating new and interesting things that only you can create. I’d be absolutely honored to promote what you’re doing here – to give others the opportunity to see you the way I do – as the amazingly talented folks you are. Plus, quite selfishly, I just want to be invited to be in that audience celebrating you, and cheering you on. Think of it as a charitable contribution to Beth’s spinal column – that by encouraging me to get off the couch for a few hours I’ll be briefly lump-free (lump-less?), looking more like a Beth. Heck, I may even brush my hair. I know, right? That’s how much I like you! (Unless, of course, you’re IN a Netflix series, which would be pretty fantastic as it would combine my need to be lazy with my desire to celebrate you. Really a win-win scenario by my Beth-standards (which are high despite what you’ve heard). Actually, the more I think about this, the more I like it, and need you to be in Netflix for me! DO IT! Take one for Team Couch Beth!)

Wrapping it Up

Well, it does seem like this thing is on (unless you didn’t receive a notification in your news feed or your email, and in that case, how the heck did you get here?). So, welcome! Thank you guys for making the switch (and truly, for reading this blog – I cannot possibly tell you how absolutely flattered I am that you would honor me like that).

In the words of Becca (Anna Kendrick) from Pitch Perfect, “I love you awesome nerds!” I truly do.

A Thanks and A Welcome!

A Thank You

As you know, the Out of the Darkness Walk has received a lot of my attention lately. With Jay never far from my mind (I still say “hey” everyday; I still update him on the big things) this walk was important to me.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I received a great deal of support starting with the people who volunteered to those who made donations, and of course there were so many wonderful messages.

That brings me to “The Thanks.”  In addition to showing gratitude for that overwhelming support, I want to offer up thanks to someone who has been a huge supporter of this Blog. I think of her as “my one reader whom I haven’t had to to cajole, bribe, or threaten not to show up at a family event” in order to get them to read my writing. This may speak to her questionable taste, limited reading choices, or possibly a mental condition that is really quite rude to point out in public, so you know, cup your hand over your mouths and avert your eyes, please. Who are we to judge? It also may speak to pity. I’m good with pity driving people to these pages. “Bless Beth’s heart, she does try. The least we can do is bear witness to this… this… well, you know… bless her heart, as I was saying.”

This woman is the writer behind the blog Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, and it’s truly my favorite blog. I’ve been reading her stories for several years, beginning with a wonderful piece describing the joys of the jury duty selection process – written as a metaphor. My brain took a moment to adjust to this new brightly worded light, then, as I recall, I’m pretty sure it said “whee” and proceeded to cartwheel about enthusiastically. With her writing, she masterfully creates art – reframing the ordinary in a way that transforms it into something new and extraordinary – as if you’re seeing it (whatever she’s describing) for the very first time. Her stories are told from various perspectives – from that of a tree, a bird, a painting, or even a wooden lizard. However, my personal favorite are those told by RC Cat of the Realm (the Resident Cat (RC)) – a majestic Maine Coon who bemusedly patiently suffers watches over the bumbling dotards his adoring staff since clearly they are in need of supervision.

At the end of each RC entry we, as readers, are invited to bow down graciously, leave a can of tuna at the door, and hope for a cheek pat of recognition. You never want to leave without paying proper homage to both RC or this author.

This past week she honored both Jay and myself by including the Big Blue Mess in one of her own pieces – a piece titled Between. It was absolutely beautiful, and it touched me deeply that she would honor me in such a way. When you have a moment, I ask that you go and read it – that you introduce yourself to her world.

On Saturday, she and Molly the Malamute went for their own walk in their own hometown and sent their positive energy into the world to help those who struggles with depression and mental illness. On Saturday, while in the “Between,” I stood at my window and watched those good thoughts swirl across the sky, looking for those who needed the love and courage.

Thank you, Phil! Thank you for the soft cheek pats that are your words.

A Welcome

Please welcome my new Editor-in-Chief, David! I’m leaving his last name off and allowing him to decide whether he’d like to add that in – hey, he does have those editorial privileges now, and we’ll let him decide whether he wants you to stalk him across the web. David is an English professor in Japan and has kindly (possibly “foolishly”) offered to help clean the mess that is my writing in this Big Blue muddled Mess.

David is also a long time friend – one who helped me find my tribe oh so many years ago in high school. He helped learn to proudly embrace the things I still love and enjoy to this day. I wouldn’t quite be the me you know without this person.

Thank you, David for taking on this thankless task.

(Also, David hasn’t proofread this yet.)

[Editorial Comments: Hi, everybody! Thanks for the intro, Beth, and also for a post that, at least on first read-through, didn’t need any editing whatsoever! Go you! But I’ll add that I’m David Farnell, a name that might be familiar to a few whose friendships with Beth go all the way back to high school. Beth found me again on Facebook a few years ago, despite my move to the far side of the world, and it’s been great being back in contact with her. Now, I shall go back to being invisible.]

What’s Next

Well, I’ve taken a few trips since the last time I really sat down to spin you a tale. I enjoyed a few more adventures, and I’m currently planning a Reverse Quinceañera/Bollywood birthday party (what do you mean it’s only four and a half weeks away?!?!?!). This can only mean one thing – more stories! So throw on your prom dress, your tiara, your chanclas, then grab a margarita and sit back.

I leave you with a song that’s been in my head since the cruise, re-appeared at Saturday’s walk, and just got added to my birthday party playlist. Stand up and dance with me!

A Great Day for a Walk

Out of the Darkness Walk 2018 – For Jay

Yesterday, 19 people – friends and family – walked in memory of Jay. Yesterday, our team joined 186 other teams in promoting the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to “save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.  [They] create a culture that’s smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies:

  • Funding scientific research
  • Educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention
  • Advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention
  • Supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide in our mission”

To learn more about them, please follow the link provided above.

I want to take this moment to thank those who of you who sent their positive energy into the world yesterday in support of us and this cause. I want to thank those who volunteered your time and energy to be out with us on a cold Texas day. (To my friends living in the Northeast, it was cold!!! You don’t know! It was practically an arctic wasteland! Freezing. I’m sure I turned blue. I also”may” have worn four layers. Though, I suppose in all fairness, I did only plan for three, which is a perfectly reasonable amount when the temperature drops below, you know, 50 – heretofore be known as “FACT!”)

I want to thank my team who worked so hard to raise donations for this cause, and who many also contributed. We got 80 donations!! WOW!

When we started, I thought $500 would be a long shot, but I was hopeful. When we went over $3000, I was incredibly blown away and touched by everyone’s generosity.  You guys are helping to raise awareness, to fund research, and to help remove the stigmas that surround seeking help for mental illness. As we know, asking for help is never a weakness; it takes great strength.

That brings me to you guys – our donors. THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done this without your support. Several of you were kind enough to give multiple times, to multiple team members, and it all is going to such a worthy cause.

I am truly humbled by every one of you who participated.

I know over the past two years, several of you outside of my core group of family and friends have worried about me – about where I’m at in this journey, and you’ve wondered how I remained strong (sometimes, not “strong” so much as how I was able to continue to keep my head above water on the bad days, and there have been many), and to you I say look at the picture above. Look at those faces and know those are only a few of the people who have stood by me through all of the hard times. That’s my village – the people I love. They represent the ones who, when I was at my lowest moment – July 9, 2016 – stopped everything, turned their cars around, and walked through my door to create a protective shell.  We wrapped our arms around each other that day, because I wasn’t the only one who lost someone that day – Jay was a youngest son, a baby brother, an uncle, and a friend. We’re the ones left behind, and we’re the ones who stood strong yesterday as a group to honor him, and to remember that Jay was not one event on a horrible day in July; he quick witted, funny, and absolutely beautiful.

I love you guys!

The Anger Room

Christmas. Anyone who knows anything about me, knows Christmas is my thing. Not in a decorate-y way – you don’t walk into my house and find a year long celebration (well… there may be a few lights here and there, I suppose – blame laziness or a love of twinkly lights more than anything else). I rarely have a tree up (too many memories with each ornament).  And it’s not like I dress up, though I do now have a Santa hat.  But for those who don’t know me – who only know me as this Big Blue Mess occasional why-can’t-she-write-more bloggerette, you have to trust me; it’s my holiday. And my friends always go out of their way to make it memorable. (In fact, I still owe you a blog from my last birthday. Oh, you thought we were talking about Christmas? We are. This was another great one where my friends and family gave me a small piece of themselves – from New Zealand pop music to vintage posters, to a fantastic original reindeer painting, to pistachio KitKats from Japan. Everything was absolutely wonderful (and some tasty), and each gift was so very them – the person who shared themselves.)

Among the many great gifts was a Choose Your Birthday Adventure. This is something my friend April, whom you may remember as the person who is on a mission to kill me, started doing a few years back. She presents me with three options for adventures we can take around the state (likely dangerous and fraught with peril, as I’m not sure she’s quit her murderess mission). From museums offering a selection of quilts, or toilet seats, or trains, to old Czech settlements, meadery visits, or trips to see scaled-down replicas of Stonehenge and the Easter Island moais. It’s always so hard to choose, because it’s always a slice of Texas I didn’t realize I wanted to see, and now can’t imagine never seeing it.

This year my choices were titled:

  • Adventures 1: Olives!!! (and other stuff but mostly olives)
  • Adventure 2: Art & Soul
  • Adventure 3: Painted Churches

After much deliberation, I chose “Adventure 2,” which was tough because OLIVES!!! and I know I’d love painted churches, but this one promised a trip to both the Kimbell Art Museum and The Modern – two museums I’d never been to see. Apparently, there isn’t a “do all the adventures” option. (I’ll miss you, olive farm.)

Well, life delayed us a bit – between jobs, the cruise, and all of those other little things, we found ourselves in June without a firmed up plan. Then, a funny thing happened at the end of June. I had a tiny little meltdown where I was mad or sad or neither or both – sometimes within minutes of each other, and well, you got to hear about it. You see, losing Jay, my best friend, takes its toll nearly every waking moment; it’s just a matter of degrees. My reprieves can really only be found at the gym, or in activities that insist I’m hyper-present in the moment. In truth, the intensity of my sorrow lessons as I move further away from July, and then swells again in the Spring. I still cry. I still rage.

So clearly, this was a sign that Adventure 2 needed a slight tweak, and thus a visit to The Anger Room in Dallas became part of the plans. I mean this was the “Art & Soul”  adventure, and both of our souls were saying they needed to smash some things and see some lovely art. Souls can be rather mecurial at times.

Let me just say it was a great choice, and one of the most completely cathartic experiences I’ve had in a long time. I was in a safe place and given permission to destroy things. I personally never let myself go in this way; I think, “How will you feel when you’re calm, and you realize you’ve broken this thing? You’ll be pretty upset. Why don’t we scream into a pillow instead? That’s good, too. Right??” I will barely slam a door, because I think about how the door doesn’t have it coming. (Aside: We will not discuss any recent door kicking, nor the time the Naval special forces combat medic was consulted, nor the time the door sought revenge and unceremoniously (because ceremony should be involved?) popped me in the lip, and I went around with an unnoticeable bump on my lip that I kept insisting was there. It was there, people!!! None of these things are on the table for discussion!)

When we got there, the woman at the facility explained, “you will have 20 minutes, and while it hardly seems like much time, you will get tired. If you need to come out and take a break, please do.” I’m here to report: 20 minutes is actually a SHORT time, and we didn’t need any breaks. In fact, we needed about 20 more minutes.  We chose our weapons of destruction, and in my case that was a crowbar and a baseball bat. I discovered I’m a crowbar girl. I had no idea. It’s like learning I’m “Joffrey” on a Game of Thrones Buzzfeed quiz. (I was actually hoping I’d turn out to be more of an Ygritte. Now I live in fear of  Tyrion’s wrath. Please don’t let me become a viral meme people use to lift themselves up on a bad day. In fact, #1 on my bucket list reads: 1) Don’t die a meme. Seems like a reasonable thing for which to ask, but I digress.)

While it was fairly perfect, my only wish would be that they’d had more fresh things to break instead of merely a couple of new things (a printer, and a DVD player), and the opportunity to whale on things that had been previously destroyed. In fact, I would have paid a little extra for fresh glasses from the Walmart collection, because the one cheap wine glass, while momentarily satisfying, just wasn’t enough. Don’t get me started on the one plate. Well… because April got to smash that one. I couldn’t hog all the easily smashables. That would be rude!

At the end, the anger concierge handed us markers and invited us to, “write whatever you want on these walls; it doesn’t matter – let it out.” And I wrote the ugliest thing from the darkest part of my heart – the thing that raced around my mind as I beat the DVD player into coughing out its motherboard, the words radiating off of my skin, and my anger went away… (at least for now).

It was absolutely brilliant!

Posture neither my mother nor countless orchestra conductors would be proud of, but the day wasn’t about my perfect posture. 🙂

(For those who have asked: No, I will not share what I wrote with you. Much like you’ll never know what I put in the Wishing Stump, what I’d send to PostSecret, nor what I’d ask for in a prayer; the words are not for you.)

The Cruise: Final Installment

I suppose I’ve dragged this out long enough. This declaration has nothing to do with me running out of story ideas. Nosirree. Well, maybe… So, let me start where we started – the part where I decided I wasn’t a cruise girl, and the why behind it, picking up after some Galveston gal named Ginger tried to do me in with her obnoxious love of Scentsy, and questionable food recommendations. (Next time, we’re going to Gaido’s. I want zero arguments on this front.)

Any of my friends will tell you I’ve always wanted to travel, and they’ll probably follow that statement up with the fact that I’m exceptionally great at coming up with excuses for not travelling. Refusing to travel because of these excuses, and therefore, having never traveled, I have learned to live rather vicariously through my friend’s adventures as they regale me with tales of the distant songs of African tribesmen approaching their lodges, of fellow German tourists incensing Chinese chefs to the point said chef felt compelled to throw a cleaver into the middle of their table, to sneaking into the Forbidden City, to their private tours of the Roman baths in Malta, to “that one time in Spain…” and to drooling over every single photo my ex-pat friend takes on her hikes around New Zealand. On separate occasions, two friends have come back from Edinburgh, and not realizing the other had said it, expressed with absolute certainty that I needed to go and would love it. Each had gone on a particular tour, they knew I would completely dig beyond reason, and they’re right. Instead, on my one trip out of the country, I went to Montreal, which was lovely but… (No offense Irina. If I’d only known you and Ben then… Well, we would have had to have received your parent’s permission to hang out with us. Is the couch still open for visits/living if I become an ex-pat myself?)

A few months before Jay passed away, I got a passport. We were going places, I was excited, we would explore the world together, and then one day in July we weren’t. And then I blew out my knee, and then Sam passed away, and all the excuses piled back up along with a firm understanding that I would always have these unrealized dreams. Forget that I have a place to stay in Japan. Forget I have a friend to hang out with in New Zealand. I wasn’t going, but I would do my best to enjoy the postcards I’d receive, and sing praises about the posted photos from friends’ trips.

So, there I was on a cruise heading to three separate ports: Cozumel, Belize City, and Roatan (off the cost of Honduras). We had excursions planned for the first two, and a relaxing day on the beach planned for the other.

In Cozumel we did a Tastes of Mexico tour where we sampled tequila, made chocolate, and enjoyed some tacos.  The tour was solid, and my take away was: I like tequila in many things, but sipping tequila, swishing it around my mouth, and holding it there doesn’t make it any better – it just kind of burns the whole inside of your mouth instead of the back of your throat, which is right and proper despite what our guide was saying. And while I appreciate that our guide’s grandmother did this daily and lived to be 200, she is tougher than I am, and she likely has no taste buds. (And also may have questionable taste – no offense.) Also, you can dress Jose Cuervo up, call it the 1800 series, and it’s still not that great (unless in a drink). I also learned I love pineapple margaritas, and have now learned how to make them. Swing by my house; I’m ready to serve! I even have the chili/salt mix to rim the glass – so much better than plain salt. We also learned that everyone at that location would like a tip, and by the time we reached the fourth tip jar, we were kind of done, which was right at the taco server’s station, and I’m pretty sure she wanted to throw tacos at our heads.

Jose Cuervo 1800 Series – “Sipping” Tequila

In Belize we drove to Xuantunich, which I mentioned is on the border with Guatemala. Here we had an amazing guide who told us about the culture, history, politics (they just recently held an election in March), and natural features of Belize. In fact, if we pointed out an animal, he’d reach down, grab a laminated info sheet, and have us pass it around. If we pointed out a butterfly, out came the laminated butterfly info sheet. I suspect, he had a laminated sheet for everything. He was kind of the Belizean Mary Poppins with a magical bag of laminated info sheets.  We learned there were two major political parties, that a disproportionate amount of critters in Belize are deadly and murderous, and the country produces a million (exact figure) varieties of mangos – along with having no zoning laws, $10/gallon gas (approximately $5 US, but still), and howler monkeys! (Also, some rather amorous lizards who perform a happy little hoppy dance at the conclusion of their good times. High claw, iguana dude! Sorry about the voyeuristic gals taking photos. Humans. Am I right?)

In Roatan, we just looked at shops, went on a nature trail, and spent the day on the beach and in the water.

And when I first started talking about the trip, all I could say was it felt as if I never left the US thanks to the commercialization, and how everything is bent around capturing dollars from tourists – all the duty free shops, the “Made in China” goods, etc. My first trip out of the country seemed like a let down – like I hadn’t gone anywhere, and I was disappointed. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have a fine time, it just felt like I’d hit the Mercado in San Antonio and slept on a boat.

While on the ship, we’d spend the nights looking for things to do, and found ourselves at places like the piano bar with a Rod Stewart wanna be who went by the name “Roddy,” and who didn’t quite get the songs he was playing – he wins for oddest version of Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve heard to date, but let’s say that by the end of the trip I was prepared to punch anyone who started singing “Sweet Caroline.” Then there was a couple of nights listening to bad karaoke, some trivia contests, a 70’s club, and a night of 80’s Rock & Glow dancing where there was a dance-off, and I was unfazed… until I stepped away from it all, so let me recap this paragraph after having time to really think about it.

While on the ship, I danced! I had forgotten how much I missed dancing. It started in the lobby one night, then there was the night at the 70’s club while I clung to my disco ball glass that I love, and ended with all of us dancing until they closed the party down for the 80’s Rock & Glow night – where we were completely decked out in every glow stick piece of jewelry one could imagine. This was the night my beautiful cousin Kim WON the ladies dance competition, and was completely robbed when she went head-to-head against the male champion. I’m sure he cheated. 🙂 The crowd, who’d formed a circle around them, knew it was “on” when Kim kicked off her sandals.  It got real in that moment, y’all. Kim wasn’t playing! At the end of it Kim said, “if I can do that, I can do anything!” Yes, she can! She was AWESOME! and AMAZING, and BEAUTIFUL!! I may have hurt my own ears scream cheering her on. Kim had been selected from the crowd after showing us all how it was done in the Thriller dance – best ladies zombie dancer out there! I also learned I need some work on the electric slide, but I’m up for the challenge!

Dancing reinforced that my knee could take it (within reason, of course) when I really thought I would never be able to dance again.

We won not one but TWO trivia contests. The last one was 80’s music trivia where we all received medals and a golden ship. Also, I need to say here I’m embarrassed for the other participants who couldn’t identify Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” from the first two notes. Come on!! I had a good showing in the Game of Thrones trivia, but really needed someone who’d read the books on my team. Pike, are you kidding me? By the way, I kind of love it that a friend of mine found me by looking at the schedule of activities and realizing, “yep, that’s where Beth is going to be.” Also, without having ever watched GoT, she helped me answer the first question. This is the same person who knew I’d be in the gym early in the morning. My friends get me.

I swam in the ocean! I haven’t donned a bathing suit in years, and there I was bobbing away and happy as I could be. I could have stayed out there all day. The ocean was the best! I love the water!

I went to Belize! I had a two hour trip to and from the Guatemalan border learning all of these things I’d never known about Belize, and I want to go back and spend time, and eat at least a ton of the millions (actual number, as mentioned before) of mangoes. Apparently, there’s a non-stop flight from Austin to Belize City, and it turns out that I have a passport. I also climbed Mayan ruins with a banged up knee, and I didn’t get winded, AND I didn’t go tumbling down, AND I didn’t have to be part of some emergency med evac as I’d anticipated.

I did abs with Gaybor, and was happy when I could keep up, including the plank part. (We will not mention here that my planks at home always get adjusted, and I may have figured out a way to easier planking. Go me! Shifting forward makes it so much harder.)

Gaybor – Exceptionally Inspirational Ab Coach (Hey, I’m old, not dead. Plus, Heather took the photo, so… well, I know my inner 16 year old cheered when she did it. 🙂 He’s a solid volleyball player, too. Just sayin’.)

During the entire trip, I had my phone off, which was absolutely liberating. I slept better than I had in months, thus ending months of insomnia. I’ll also admit, that until the super choppy day on sea, I didn’t really feel the ship move. I could tune it in or out, so I was showing off this newly found skill whenever I could. I brought Dramamine, and I never had cause to use it.

I watched the sun rise and set over the ocean.

In sum – I laughed a lot, I danced a lot, I relaxed, and I spent a solid week with my family and my friends – uninterrupted time I never get with them. I had the absolute best time I’ve had in a long time with people I love. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.  And while I still want to travel properly – wander the hidden paths, escape the commercialism and the demands that I “consume” things, I would do this all again with the same people. (Though, I’d take on an additional friend or two who couldn’t make it.)

Sunset with the Girls

So, who wants to sail with me from Miami to Havana?

Now go read the Game of Thrones series, and memorize this opening (I need you to be prepared):

A Year Ago: A Cruise Story

On March 4th, 2017, sometime after noon, I completely ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and my medial collateral ligament (MCL) after slipping in some mud on the Warrior Dash. For my efforts, I was rewarded with an annoying physical therapist who called me “Miss Beth” constantly, a metal cane, and a disabled parking permit. I got to chant things like “heaven up, hell down” to remember which leg to use when approaching a step, and I got to wince and practice not crying out whenever my leg bent beyond 90 degrees. I also got to practice not crying out over the injustices of the world, or crying out when a relative decided to tear into me, because I was clearly too stupid to have figured out I shouldn’t have been at the Warrior Dash to begin with. Super helpful! Great conversation!

When you can’t use your legs at the gym, you’re left with doing a lot of things with your arms, but forget about how much I despise the hand bike – you’ve all heard about that. Let’s talk about the fresh humiliation that came when I fell off the weight bench  into a pile on the floor… when I couldn’t bend my knee, and I had to figure out how to roll onto my stomach and use my hands to walk towards my body so I could stand again, and try  to get back on the weight bench again. You all know the rest. I cried when I was first able to row, and then I successfully rowed my little half marathon on Christmas Eve. Basically, I got stronger, and my knee became more stable until I now where I’m up to 260 lb. on the leg press. Granted, that’s not huge, but considering where I was last year, it’s huge for me, and another small win – I can dead lift again.

I met with my orthopedic guy a few weeks prior to discuss where I was at, and what I could do. We determined I should brace my knee up whenever I was in a crowd, and on uneven ground – things I’d definitely encounter on the cruise, which meant I approached this trip with a great deal of trepidation. Only 3% of the participants on the Warrior Dash are ever injured, and I had been among the 3%. I wondered what small percent I’d manage to cover while cruising. I smiled on the outside, but I kept stuffing down the feeling that I was going to get hurt, and I was going to get hurt badly. I bought my traveler’s medical insurance, and talked myself through what would happen when they had to fly me back to the States, reminding myself it would be ok. To say I was traumatized by the ACL/MCL tear would be a huge understatement. Keep in mind the day before the cruise, I had already had a bad reaction to something – either the overwhelming Scentsy smell or the food (or both), and I saw it as an omen. (The ravens and banshees really tipped the scales. I mean, given those, who wouldn’t pause and say, “hrmm… that can’t be good, right?” Did I not mention those? Never mind. Nothing to see here.)

For all of day one, I kept my brace on, and was mindful of how I felt walking around the ship, being around people, judging how the stable the ship felt, etc. By day two, the brace was off, and it remained off while I was on the ship.

On Day 2 called “A Fun Day at Sea” I rowed 12,000 meters while watching the sun come up over the bow of the boat. (An advantage to always getting up early). Nothing centers me more, nor clears my head better than going to the gym, and there Heather took one of my favorite pictures of me on this trip. (While there are better photos of me, this makes me happy – me heading to my zone.)

Rowing the Ship to Cozumel

On Day 4 we went to a Mayan ruin called Xuantunich, 70 miles to the west of Belize City near the border of Guatemala. There I climbed the structure known as El Castillo (along with climbing a few shorter structures that don’t count for the purposes of this blog, but do count to their mother and father structures, because though they’re smaller in stature, those little guys are equally loved).

At first I was struck by how people who, at their tallest would have easily been about 7″ shorter (or more) than I, were able to scramble up the gigantic stairs.

Stairs MUCH bigger in person! The camera takes off 10″. Fact.

And then I took another moment to marvel at how, nearly a year after my injury, I was standing on this amazing structure – knee stable – looking out on the beauty that was this archaeological site, that was Belize, and how lucky I was to experience this with these people I absolutely love and adore. (Also, equally super glad to get back on the ground safely without having the helicopter evac for which I had mentally prepared.)

Xuantunich, Belize (El Castillo in Background – Where I climbed to the top, and stood between those five prongs.)

PS – This brought to you by Indiana Johnny who, by dropping today’s ball, guaranteed you’d get a gym-esque story instead of a “funny story from the cruise”. Proceed to cast blame.

Next Up: That time on the ship I got to talk to the cruise police. (Ok, I’m kidding. Oh, not about talking to the cruise police. I totally got a talking to. I’m just not sharing that story on my blog. I think someone should buy me a drink to celebrate my silence. Just sayin’.)

Spa Day: A Fancy Cruise Story

I’m not really a fancy lady. I’d never gone to a proper spa nor had I ever had a professional massage until this cruise.  You see, spas and professional massages seemed like things fancy ladies did with their fancy disposable income. Whereas my disposable income tends to go towards things that appeal to say goofy men with Peter Pan syndrome. You know, the absolute antithesis (or arch nemesis, perhaps) of a proper “fancy lady,” but definitely someone Mary Martin could sing about.  And here I was on this fancy cruise, with my fancy friends and my fancy family, thinking maybe my fancy little back might deserve a fancy little rub on one of these “fun days at sea”. It turns out that for me, my fancy little traps, thanks to fancy leisurely rowing, are a little (lot) tight. In fact, they sense I’m typing about them now, and they’re tensing up just to get some attention (or it could be that I’m sitting at a desk and have been all day – or it could be that I threw a lot of axes last night (I’m not kidding, I totally did that) Anyway, I can anthropomorphize my trapezius muscle if I want to – you worry about yourself).

(For Heather :))

So, on Day 2 of the cruise I made my way to the ship’s spa and signed up. Now the original idea was to get a deep tissue massage, but that turned into The Manager’s Special with its promises of bamboo, hot oil, a facial, something with my feet, and the clear promise I’d emerge relaxed and fancy. Dream massage was sooo… dreamy.

My friend Heather prepped me on what to expect. See, one reason I dislike a lot of fancy things is that sometimes I fear there are certain unspoken rules, or rituals one must follow that everyone else is in the know about except for me. I mean, what if I did something wrong? I could be spa-shamed! Then that information would likely travel through the back channels of the masseuse/masseur world, and the next thing you know I’d be eyed warily every time I passed a spa, massage parlor, or sidewalk carnivorous foot nibbling fish bucket purveyor. I wouldn’t live it down! EVER!!! Breathe Beth, BREATHE! I can do this.

When I enter the room it’s pleasantly dim, smells delightful, the music is peaceful if a bit new age-y, and the masseuse speaks in a soothing calm voice. Whew. I can do this! She begins my brushing my arms and legs with a cactus bristle brush. She explains it’s used on autistic children to calm them down. I ummm… wait. What? What are you saying? Am I being odd? I don’t know. Quick check. Ok, well other than the talking in your head thing. People do that, you know. Don’t be a freak. Breathe. Make polite conversation. “Interesting.” Good one. Nice save. I can do this?

I’ll fast forward a bit, because pretty much it could be boiled down to: hot things on my body feel great, and all of my muscles being rubbed also feel great (save maybe some knots that couldn’t be worked out in my shoulders).  And being called “dahhh’ling” excessively is vaguely annoying, but tolerable because of the aforementioned hot things and massage. Then we hit part of the appointment that was the hard sell, and the hard sell went a bit like this:

Dahhhling, your back muscles are a complete MESS (in the most disappointed/horrified/silky voice ever). There are crystals forming in your back, and the muscles are LEECHING calcium from your bones, Dahhhling.  For $170 you can buy this amino acid that you just apply a few drops to your shoulders, and that will break up the crystals.

What? I’m not sure that’s even real science. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, you may need a back massage once or twice a week, and it will never be right. It’s just a temporary fix, Dahhhling. Are you sure you don’t want the drops? No? Let me put those away then.

Dahhhling, your skin is so dry. You look old! You must moisturize. Here are (insert a host of products being lined up one by one starting as low as $45 and scaling up to about $80) that will make you look much younger. Even I use them, and I am 27, can you believe it?

No. I would have gone younger. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, now here’s the final bill. You’ll see the 18% tip has been applied; however, you may tip more if you wish.

Bless your sweet little heart, darlin’, I do not wish, but thanks for the opportunity. (Inner voice)

By the time Heather got to me in the spa lobby, having had a wonderful massage, I was in a fetal position (on the inside) and feeling vaguely sticky, withered, like an un-moisturized husk who clearly looks every bit of 80. We won’t even talk about these parasitic muscles.

And that’s how I spent a part of the second day while trying to be fancy on the cruise, and six days later, when people asked for my opinion about the cruise, it added to what annoyed me. And yes, this always had to be the second story. It continues to set-up my initial knee-jerk reaction, but as I mentioned before, there’s always more to a story, and there’s still more to this one.

Welcome to installment part deux!