16 Years

We were only children the day we held hands and promised to love each other forever.

I looked into your eyes and they held hope and promise and joy and, yes, maybe even a little fear.

We didn’t know the things in our future, but we knew we would fight our way through them together.

And we have:  through the babies, through the joy, through the war, through loss and gain and lessons and mistakes.

And now I look into your eyes and I see hope and promise and joy and memories.  

And behind it all, there is your love for who I am.

Thank you for your patience, and your strength, and your listening ears when I talk too much.  Thank you for your honesty and your encouragement and always, always your belief in me.

You are my best friend, and the love of my life.  And I would not want to be me without you.

Happy Anniversary, Babe.

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Dear Crazy Brunette Lady in the Beige Honda:

I know that the construction going on in Michigan gets annoying.  I know that being stuck in traffic really sucks, especially if you’re late for something.  Especially if you’re in a hurry.  I get that.  I really do.

I also know how hard it can be sometimes to merge into crazy freeway traffic.  It’s hard to judge sometimes if the big semi is going to change lanes or if the cute guy in the silver pickup truck is going to slow down or speed up so that you can get in.  It’s frustrating sometimes, that’s true.

However.  Today, that was MY cute guy in the silver pickup truck.  And he was simply driving home from an important meeting in our state’s capital.  You saw him.  You saw him in his Army camo with the “Iraq Veteran” license plate.  I know you flipped him off lots and lots of times, to express your discontent at his driving style.  I know it made you really mad when you were continually flipping him off and he smiled and waved as he passed you by. 

But for you to then scribble a note on a piece of paper…for you to speed up to pull alongside him and press that note on your window for him to read…for you to write “You should have died in Iraq”…I wonder what you’ve been through.  I wonder what in life could have made you so angry.  What could have made you so bitter?  How could you have become so unfeeling?

My Sarge has a wife who loves him.  He has three children who adore him.  His parents care for and respect him.  He is a productive member of society who pays his bills and recycles.  He drove the streets of Baghdad every day for a year, trying to avoid the roadside bombs and sniper fire.  He lost a friend over there.  Other friends are dealing even now with PTSD.  He spent a year away from his family, wondering every single moment if he would ever see us again.

But I’m sorry that the traffic was bad.  You’re right.  That sucks. 

I’m going to pray for you tonight, as I lie in bed waiting for sleep to come.  I’m going to pray that you can let go of the anger.  That you can find some peace.  It must be miserable to be so miserable.

And then I’m going to snuggle up to Sarge and say goodnight.  And I plan to thank God that Sarge didn’t die in Iraq, no matter what you say should have happened. 

I hope your drive tomorrow goes better.

-Bunchy

Fractured

A couple of months ago I was hiking beside a waterfall in the upper peninsula of Michigan, slipped on a wet rock, and broke my arm.  I didn’t actually know it was broken, because while it hurt like crazy when I first did it, within a few minutes it just felt sore and a couple of days later was improving.  I thought I just strained my wrist a bit.  I wrapped it and went about my life.  I hiked some more, I lifted heavy things, I picked up my kids and my friends’ kids, I took the wrap off to sleep or when it got annoying.  I went about my business as usual.  It was sore.  No big deal.

When it didn’t improve after a couple of weeks, I went for x-rays just so people would stop telling me I should, and found out that I had cracked both bones in my arm.  Both very minor fractures, but  fractures  just the same.  The doctor gave me a removable cast, saying that I could take it off to shower or do the dishes if necessary, but that I should keep it on at all other times, even when I sleep, to be sure not to injure the arm further.

So suddenly, I was paranoid.  I didn’t lift things with that arm.  I took the cast off to wash dishes and was nervous about picking up a bowl with it.  I found myself basically doing dishes with one hand, all the while telling myself I was being ridiculous, but unconvinced. 

I think I do this emotionally, too.  I often have a mild feeling of discomfort, wondering if maybe people think my hair looks funny or my nose is too big or I talk too much or I’m selfish and needy.  I’ve never been told these things are true, but I worry about them somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting for some sort of confirmation.  And then one day I pass an acquaintance  in the hall and they ignore me, or a friend tells me that I’m acting weird, or someone jokes about my wind-blown hair, and suddenly I’m paranoid. 

Suddenly I’m waking up earlier to spend more time on my hair, or I’m overanalyzing everything I say or do around my friends, or I’m being extra friendly to the acquaintance who ignored me (or avoiding them altogether).  I know it’s ridiculous.  I’m 35 years old, have some really great friends, and I know, in my head, that there’s really nothing wrong with me.  And yet.

One day a couple of weeks before my “follow-up” doctor’s appointment, I took my cast off and moved my arm around a bit.  I flexed it slowly.  I moved it gently in a circle.  I bent my wrist from side to side.  It felt strong.  It felt able to handle more than I was giving it.  I left the cast off for the day to see how it felt.  (And plus I was going to be out in the sun all day and didn’t want funky tan lines!)  I was careful with it…I didn’t lift heavy things or move it too much.  But I “practiced”.

The next day it was a little sore.  I put the cast back on and took it easy for the day.  But it was just a few days before I stopped wearing the cast altogether, unless I knew for sure that there was a chance I could strain it.  And a couple of weeks ago the doctor proclaimed me “healed”.  My arm  feels strong, and it’s no longer sore at all.  The muscles are still a little weak sometimes, so I know that it’s time for me to start exercising it and building it back up again.

I’ve also been exercising my confidence.  I am practicing being more sure of myself.  I’m stepping out and stating my opinions, and I’m being me.  I’m still unsure sometimes.  It’s a weak area, and there are times when I’ve lost sleep over what “she” thinks or what “he” said.  But I can only get stronger.  And just as someday I will do a cartwheel with my daughter without worrying about that arm, there will also come a time when it’s not an effort to be myself with confidence.  The day will come when I don’t have to practice anymore.  It won’t be long.

Circus Freak

I got my first tattoo when I was about 27.  It was a small little Kanji, or Japanese character, on my left shoulder that says “Faith”.  To me, that tattoo represented a lot of things.  It was for my daughter, whose middle name is Faith and whose pregnancy took a lot of faith and prayers for me to get through.  It was for my faith in God and how it can sustain me through anything.  It was about growing up and allowing myself to be myself and about taking a first tentative step away from doing only what I thought was expected of me by others. 

A year or two later I got a colorful pair of comedy/tragedy masks on my left ankle, representing my love of literature and theatre, and also reminding me that life can be a comedy or a tragedy, depending on what I make of it.  That’s my favorite, because it was drawn specifically for me and is absolutely one-of-a-kind.  Nowhere else is that exact picture duplicated.

In 2005, my husband Sarge was deployed to Iraq and I got a small yellow ribbon tattooed on my right collarbone.  That tattoo represents my strength, my loyalty, and my patriotism.  It reminds me that if I can make it through a deployment, I can make it through anything. It has, honestly, given me comfort many times when I felt like I was on the edge of losing it.

And then, a week ago, I was looking for a way to get through the day of my big sister’s birthday, the first since she died a few months ago.  I had known that I wanted to get a tattoo for her, and decided it would be a good day to go.  So I got a new kanji, one that says “older sister” on the inside of my right wrist. 

Many people I know don’t “get” the tattoo thing.  Some people in the church actually think it’s a sin, though I can argue against that one all day.  Some people have gotten tattoos and regret them.  Some people just don’t see the point.  And there have been times, in the last years, that I have been a little embarrassed of my tattoos in certain circles because I know that those people don’t understand.  To them, it suggests a lack of class or a rebellion against things they hold dear. 

But to me, these tattoos are just fancy scars. Don’t know what I mean?  Have you ever sat around with friends and compared scars?  You sit around and say, “See this scar on my ankle?  I fell off a skateboard when I was twelve” or “I got this scar on my elbow when I fell out of my grandpa’s  tree and a branch got stuck in my arm” or “This is from a surgery I had after I injured my knee playing soccer.”  Whatever the scar is, there is a story to go with it.  Those scars remind us of childhood or being an athlete in school or the friend who ran home to tell our mother we were hurt.  They remind us of the BFF who sat with us in the hospital as we recovered from surgery or the relief we felt when our child was okay after an emergency c-section.  Those scars are the story of our lives. 

Just the same, the tattoos, to me, are a kind of art that tells the story of my life.  I catch a glimpse of my wrist and remember the times I spent with my sister.  Someone asks me about the tattoo on my ankle and I get to tell them about how much I love to read or go to plays.  I look in the mirror to brush my hair and I see the yellow ribbon that reminds me how strong and capable I am.  My tattoos are fancy scars that tell the story of my life. 

I think I’m done getting tattoos.  But then again, I’ve said that before.  I’ve promised my husband and my parents that I definitely won’t get sleeved.  My dad jokes that I’ll be a circus freak, and that fifty years from now the nursing homes will be filled with interesting-looking tatted-up senior citizens.  But that’s okay.  They love and understand me, and maybe after this post they’ll even understand me a little more. 

I’ve decided not to be embarrassed about my tattoos anymore, no matter whose company I’m in.  Just as I once encouraged my sister not to be embarrassed of the scars from her surgeries or her chemo port, I won’t be embarrassed of my fancy scars either.  They are part of who I am, and if you love me I guess the tattoos come with the package.  Circus freak and all.

Sign

My favorite sign, seen in a shop on Mackinac Island:

“Children left unattended will be given an espresso and a puppy.”

So clever!  And hilarious!