First love

It creeps up on me periodically, that memory of my first love.

No, it wasn’t/isn’t my ex.

First love happens much younger, much easier. When you’re young, and naive and thinking that the answer to any problem or challenge is just love. It’s secret notes, stolen glances, butterflies in your stomach and nervous laughter. It’s simple, and yet feels so complicated at the time.

Life will prove us wrong eventually.

He pops into my brain every once in awhile, for reasons I can’t even explain. It used to happen more often, sometimes daily during the more challenging times in my marriage, wondering where he was and how he was doing, wondering if he ever thinks of me too, or if he can feel my thoughts. Asking the “what ifs”. But as time goes by, and life’s rough edges smooth out, the memory of our connection gathers dust in the back of my mind.

I met him when I was 13 years old and he was 12. Crazy to think, but true.

I knew almost immediately that I would love him, meeting him the first time as the new neighbor of my best friend, and wanted so deeply for him to love me. And he did, in his own preteen boy way, that lasted for the next decade or more.

I could watch him all day, just watch him move, and it was enough. He played basketball, and would practice jumping with ankle weights, shooting hoops in his backyard to jump higher. He was so driven and determined, so focused, it was captivating.

I can still see him in the highlight reel of my mind.

We would talk on the phone for hours, back in the day when phones were hung on the wall and used “units”. A time well before cell phones and texting. You had to plan a time to call, to make sure that person would answer and not their irritated parent who could not believe someone would call after 9pm!

But that was the best time to talk. Didn’t they know anything?

Over the years, we went beyond the basic teenage talk of “what’s up?” and “did you watch that show last night?” and other conversations about who likes who and what was going on this weekend, just to stay connected. We dug deeper into our hopes and dreams, our plans for the future.

Talking late into the night, sitting in a dark kitchen or hiding in a back room out of earshot, cast just enough of a shadow to make us feel protected enough to share our deepest thoughts. His love of antiques and rebuilding things, my dreams of being an artist and going to college, what type of life we wanted, always with the idea that it would be together.

Once we talked for hours, while I was babysitting overnight, and agreed that we both wanted a big family. Eventually entertaining the idea that it would be so big that we could name a child after each letter of the alphabet! We spent the next few hours coming up with names, for each letter, for a boy and a girl. Twenty-six names, from A to Z, times two.

I wish I still had that list.

I dated some of his friends during high school, usually after a break-up with him or another ruined attempt at reconciling our relationship, anything to stay within his orbit I suppose. Deep down wanting to make him jealous, wanting him to interfere somehow, but instead he would hang back and wait me out.

Maybe he knew too that it was only a matter of time before we would make our way back to each other?

Our love attraction lasted for years, on and off between new relationships, and sometimes during. The saying “like a moth to a flame” describes it perfectly, the more unavailable we were to each other the more we were drawn to one another. I could not stay away from him, or get over him, no matter how hard I tried, or how distracted I became with someone else. It was just a gravitational pull that I couldn’t escape.

I always came back.

Beach days, carnival nights. Sneaking out of the basement bedroom window in my cut-offs to walk the streets with him and his buddies. Sneaking beers or a bottle of blackberry brandy to walk through the woods. Nervous and exciting, innocent and naive. Flashes of those teenage summers still run across my mind, the holiday breaks too.

And all of the times in-between.

For some reason, I always assumed that we would end up together, happily ever after, just like they show in the movies. I think some of our friends, and maybe even family, assumed the same. Sure, we would date other people and have other experiences, but we were meant to be together.

We shared a history of “firsts” and goofy teenage stupidity, we took chances together taking on the world and new ideas, we made some of our best memories together. We shared a thread, from the beginning, that was woven deeply into our fabric and connected us.

In my dreams for my future, we would eventually get married, and have beautiful brown-eyed babies with his perfect teeth, broad shoulders and hearty laugh.

We would build a perfect life together with flea market Sundays, and lazy, lingering weekend mornings in bed wrapped around each other, or exploring the world together and taking on new challenges. Making each other better versions of ourselves everyday.

Laughing at the same jokes and telling the same stories to our children about how we met and the crazy things we egged each other into doing, sharing common memories that date back to that awkward stage of our lives. Stacks of photo albums filled with pictures of us, our families, and the friends we shared from so many years back.

Back to the beginning. When I was 13 and he was 12.

We would be comfortable with each other, in a familiar way, by the time we joined together. Years of growing together, parallel sometimes, would be a gift that would secure a beautiful future. Being with someone who has known you since you were thirteen, watched you grow up and become the adult you will be and love you is a rare gift.

So very rare.

But love isn’t always enough, or maybe first love isn’t strong enough to endure what life has in store. It’s all much more complicated at twenty three than it ever was at thirteen. Other people cross our paths, unexpected events happen, diverting our expected direction and changing our plans to create a new future we never dreamed of or imagined.

But you don’t know that, at the time, with your first love.

We were so very young. I was willing to believe in fairy tales back then.

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Life gets in the way

It was a long year, last year.

Just when you think the wrinkles in the road have smoothed out, the roadblocks have been removed, life takes you off road into the gravel, into the bumps and ditches, and shakes things up. It tests your seatbelts and airbags and the road comes up at you.

Life gets in the way.

As often as I have a running commentary going on inside of my head, almost daily, writing down those thoughts has become just one more thing to take care of on my “to do” list. Another responsibility, another job, another thing that takes up space in my already busy and overfilled brain. It’s too much some days, most days really, to think about so many things that in the end aren’t helping you keep the car on the road.

The end of 2018 did not go out quietly or without a “to be continued” ending. (don’t you hate when that happens?)

No, 2018 ended with many loose ends and unfinished plot lines.

If I didn’t call or text you after August, I’m sorry.

If I didn’t send you a birthday/Christmas/anniversary card, I’m sorry.

If I missed your banging Halloween party, your housewarming, baby shower, bridal shower, gender reveal, art show, musical performance, divorce is finalized party, again I am sorry. So very sorry.

Life got in the way.

That was the theme of the last quarter of 2018 for me. I know, everyone is busy – I just read recently that being “busy” is the most overused response when we are asked how we are. And it shows a lack of consideration for the person asking about you too, because believe it or not, we’re all busy.

Good point.

So maybe I wasn’t constantly busy, physically. I will admit to that. I can definitely remember, more times than my usual practice, sitting on my couch – or any couch – completely giving in to a binge watching session of Master Chef, Top Chef…or Rick and Morty because I do have other interests, and just blowing off my to do list or any other non-lifesaving activities.

I also slept a lot, since October if I had to guess.

Sleeping in until the last possible moment, testing how much time I really needed in the mornings to be ready and functional, before I had to get up and tackle another day and it’s almost guaranteed new surprises. Sleeping in and ignoring the promise to myself to workout regularly, to lose the twenty pounds that are beginning to feel all too comfortable, even after a two week stint of “getting back on track”. I was even going to bed earlier than usual most nights, which most people would translate into not having enough to do, or just plain laziness, but I was feeling exhausted and worn out no matter how much sleep or how many lazy days I took on the weekends.

It’s not like I was training for a marathon, or an Ironman, or even a 5K. I wasn’t building a house, planning a life changing event (I won’t even pretend to pretend to plan another wedding in my lifetime, so don’t hold your breath!) I wasn’t taking classes for my masters, starting up my own business or even traveling for business or pleasure enough to keep me from living the normal life I used to have.

No, I was just living the life that the universe was handing to me.

And some days, the universe had high expectations of my mental stability and physical energy levels. Some days, I began to question if the universe had forgotten about other people in the same orbit, and had acquired some weird, imbalanced focus on me, for reasons unknown. Kind of like that time I thought my high school U.S. History teacher had it in for me, calling on me constantly to make me feel stupid or put me on edge, only to eventually be told (by him during an almost tearful conversation at 7:30 in the morning when I couldn’t take it anymore) that my seat was in his line of vision, nothing more than that.

Maybe I need to change seats?

My hopes for a somewhat normal existence were more of a wish for boring, uneventful, regular life stuff. I just wanted to have a routine. A get up and go to work, come home and make dinner and talk to my kids about their lives kind of routine. No earth shattering turn of events, no challenges, no new players in this game of life. I didn’t want to take on anything new, or anybody new for that matter. I wanted the challenges and craziness of the last couple of years to take a break, to stop coming at me, and give me a breather.

I just wanted to coast for awhile.

By the end of the summer, my two oldest boys had somewhat launched, one went off to college five states away, and the other moved out of state to begin his new career. Leaving me with one newly minted teenager under my roof, and I was cool with that idea.

Down from three to one, this should be a piece of cake!

There was a bit of excitement in this idea of my children going out into the world, further than a stones throw away from home. The thought that I may actually have the house (almost) to myself for a weekend or two, if I planned things right, made me almost giddy!

I love my kids, and I adore their friends, but let’s be honest – there are weekends when you just want to be alone in your own house to drink coffee, read the paper and putz around without having a basement full of video playing/Netflix binge watching teens coming in and out, throughout the day and night, eating you out of house and home while leaving a mess behind that looks like a cyclone went through your house.

An array of power cords missing their plugs, single unmatched socks, drink rings on the coffee tables, debris of crushed pretzels and popcorn kernels across the carpet, assorted Nerf darts and Nerf balls strewn about and between the cushions, and always (always) an empty toilet paper roll in the bathroom with an actual eight roll package of paper sitting within reach.

And that’s just the basement..

No, the house would be quiet now, and tidy for the most part. There would be a new normal and I would go to my new job where people expected me to show up everyday. I would have new things to talk about, grownup worldly things, a new place to go that would pay me for being there. My days of volunteering, giving my skills away fro free, were closing down. This was going to be awesome!

But then…life got in the way.

My college son started off well enough, excited about his new school, and new state. We had a wonderful three day road trip together to move him out there. At the end of the week, I left him with a sense of accomplishment and proud to say, very few tears. I felt good about leaving him, certain that he would do well and flourish.

I even gave myself a “good job, mom” talk while boarding the plane.

Three weeks later I got a call that he had rolled his truck down the side of the mountain he was “off-roading” on with some friends. Luckily, he was fine, but the truck was basically totaled.

It wasn’t a luxury vehicle, it was a pickup truck that he fell in love with last spring. He had painted it, with the help of his aunt and uncle, the perfect color of flat military grey before leaving for school, and had added a lift kit making it nearly impossible for me (or his very petite girlfriend) to climb up into without a running jump. He drove it with two of the biggest American flags he could find hanging off of the back end. One American flag was a police support flag, with the blue line in the stripes, that one he loved the most. He loved everything about it, and drove it with the biggest smile on his face everyday.

And now it was gone.

Luckily we had already planned to go out to visit him before this happened, and his brothers and I were there a week after the accident to console him and check up on him. To say that it was shocking to see the crushed in cab of his truck is an understatement. He’s 6’3″, I still cannot explain how he walked away from it without snapping his neck or crushing his skull. God was watching out for him.

Before we could board the plane to get to him, my oldest called me to tell me that he’d finally gone to the doctor, for what we thought were swollen glands, believing it to be strep throat. He’d been sick for a couple of weeks, feeling exhausted and run down, running a temp off and on, and what we assumed were his glands that were swollen were the size of a golf ball. He’s my workhorse kid, he doesn’t stop for anything and he rarely gets sick, but this made him sick enough to take a day off of work just to sleep.

He called me that Thursday afternoon, when he knew I would be home, because he didn’t want to “bother” me at work. The doctor had just told him, over the phone that morning, that he believed he had lymphoma. He wanted to do a needle biopsy, an ultrasound and a CT scan – could he do that on Friday? It’s best to move quickly when treating cancer.

Lymphoma?

He had gotten that call at 10:30 in the morning, while at his relatively new job, and miles away from home and his family, but waited until I was home from work to call me because he didn’t want to “bother” me. He had been sitting at work when the doctor made that call, then he had gone home and sat there alone until he thought it would be a good time to call me with this earth shattering news.

I can’t even begin to explain how this broke my heart. And still does.

This was on the Thursday before we were all flying out on Friday morning. I was ready to cancel the entire trip and drive to him to begin the battle against this monster diagnosis, but he insisted that he still wanted to go.

He needed to go. The cancer would still be there on Monday.

The long story of this knee-jerk diagnosis, leading to the realization of the unbelievable misdiagnosis, is filled with many dark moments. Too many to name or write about, they’ve all been shared with friends and family as it was happening and it’s still to hard to believe.

I will say that I have never screamed so much into the emptiness, cried so hard alone, or made the deals that I was willing to make with God and the Devil in exchange for other people’s lives ever before. I was in full momma bear mode, and I was going to take people down, push them down even, if they got in my way or delayed us.

I was definitely channeling ‘Terms of Endearment’ Shirley Maclaine.

Two weeks of scheduling doctors appointments and waiting to be seen. Two weeks of trying to balance normal life, with a new job that barely knew me, while I went MIA to be with my son. Two weeks of questioning the medical professionals and health insurance providers, pushing for the tests and the answers to happen now, not later.

Two weeks feels like a lifetime when you’re told you have cancer, it feels even longer when you’re told your child does.

How could a twenty year old kid do this on his own? He can’t.

Suddenly all of the normal distractions we all have in our daily lives, melted away. All of the plans I had been making, all of the new beginnings I had begun, came to a screeching halt for the foreseeable future.

I was in survival mode now. Life had gotten in the way.

By Thanksgiving, we had gotten through the truck accident, and the cancer scare, and even added in a bit of oral surgery for the youngest, because why not finish the trifecta? I’m finally feeling good, feeling blessed and lucky to have the life I have, where my kids are healthy and happy. The reality check of possibly losing it all is still fresh and vivid in my mind.

Like a wound that is slowly scarring over, you still protect it.

The holidays were around the corner, I was back to work, having a normal life again. I was making extra money now that could be squirreled away for “fun stuff”. I started planning a trip to Cuba in February and a spring break trip to Punta Cana with my youngest. How about doing something fun, as a family, next summer or over the Christmas holidays? Maybe even a new refrigerator?? Life is good!

Then, the floods came. Life got in the way.

Ankle deep water in the basement, a week before Thanksgiving – a week before I was cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, why not?

It was a poltergeist. The water was just rising up from the center of the house, and nobody knew why or how.

After two months, three waterproofing companies, a cleaning company and multiple plumbers scratching their heads in confusion while drilling holes in my walls, the problem has been fixed and the basement is on it’s way back to being usable (fingers crossed)

Goodbye Cuba trip, goodbye Punta Cana, goodbye new refrigerator – one of the things on my list for a reason to go back to work in the first place.

Someday, just not today. Life got in the way.

As it was all happening – the accident, the cancer scare, the flooding – it was a never-ending story, a story that had the hook of “but wait, there’s more!”. Just when I thought I had made it through the darkest part, or the toughest challenges, there would be more. Testing me, pushing me, stretching me to my limits sometimes.

I lost a part of myself along the way. I just didn’t have the room, the time, to take care of myself and do the things that I know are good for me. I didn’t have the mental space, the energy, at the end of each day to push myself for me, because that energy needed to go out to my family, like the branches of a tree taking the energy from the roots and the trunk.

I am the roots, I am the trunk, and the last few months I have dug deep for nourishment to keep this tree alive. And it has been hard work. Exhausting work, some days. But so very worth it.

We make plans, we have dreams, and we do the best we can to make it all happen, all while attending to the details that define ours as a full life. We try to balance it all – friends, family, work, play, our health – but sometimes, life just gets in the way. It takes up too much space, too much brainpower and emotional weight, leaving us depleted and unable to attend to some of those details.

And that’s okay, it will be there when you’re ready.

If it’s not? Then maybe it was an unnecessary detail, an extra stone in your pocket that you can drop on the road and keep moving forward, knowing that you’re only taking with you what you truly need and love.

Those things will constantly change, sliding up and down, switching tracks and changing direction, causing you to recalibrate and reexamine your choices, and maybe even take a time out, because that’s what life does. It pushes back and takes up space. Life sneaks up on you, like a jealous lover needing attention, blocking the door so you can’t leave and demanding to be seen, to be heard, to be felt.

Maybe just appreciated.

While you’re busy making plans, life gets in the way.