Homecoming.

There’s no more light in the forest. I’ve been looking skyward for days, but the rainwater keeps getting in my eyes, blurring what used to be so crystal clear. I know, I know it should cleanse my soul, awaken me, but it’s drowning me out, carrying me away in a stream of debris. The deluge is reaching up to my neck, and I’m not so sure I can swim. The water is so cold it’s left me numb. I can’t tell if my feet are touching the bottom anymore, and even if I could, I would just feel the shards of broken bottles and empty memories. Each cut reminds me of what I had to give up to get here.

But what did the sacrifice mean? I am alone in a forest that never ends, where the light never reaches the floor of plants so starved for light that they stretch themselves thin and frail just reaching out for it, their cells shrinking until they are but whispers of their former selves.

I’ve been looking for a tree to rest against, just to catch my breath from all the traveling, but each one I lean on crumbles into dust the moment I let go. I know there’s a tree strong enough to hold me–to allow me to live my life out in its limbs, safe from the unending storm–but it takes destroying so many others that I’ve given up. Instead I seek my refuge in hollowed out logs, sharing my hideaway with the occasional rabbit or squirrel. I haven’t felt another human in weeks. One learns to look for warmth in other places after a while, but a water-logged forest does not lend itself to being temperate.

There are no paths anymore–no trails to follow. If anyone else has been here before, they certainly haven’t blazed anything, so I stumble blindly from place to place, everything blending into one unbroken canvas. It’s all the same anymore. I’m trying to find home, but no one ever taught me where that was. It has to be more than siding and walls, chimneys and roofs, but anywhere I’ve tried to hang my hat has gone up in flames so fast I didn’t even have time to cry.

I miss the sun on my skin. I miss anything warm, like a shoulder to rest on or a mug of tea or a good book. I miss the sound of my name being wrapped in the softness of compassion, miss the feeling of having flat ground under my tired feet, miss the smile of someone who has seen my heart but holds it anyway, even though it’s rough and bumpy sometimes… even though there are pieces missing. I miss feeling like being enough, even though I am one person who is very small and very tired. I miss the magic of 7:00 PM on a country road, weaving through green pastures and showing birds how to fly away.

No, I’m doomed to walk the forest, knowing that if I ever resurface, I will break through the tree line to see all those who promised to be there, smiling and saying, “We were worried, but we knew you could cross it.” And I will look at them, with their genuine eyes and their noble intentions, and I will walk away because when you tell someone you will walk with them, it means day or night, rain or sun, warm or cold. It means you will help them to their feet when another tree crumbles. It means you will reach out a hand when the current is holding them captive.

I stopped crying long ago; the sky sheds my tears now, providing life for others who are lost. Mother Nature… look how she mourns for me. She’s the only mother I’ve ever known to listen to the songs I sing while I gather sustenance for another night alone. The minor keys play on her heartstrings as she erases the clouds long enough to let me count the stars before I fall asleep. She is everywhere, but I cannot touch her–cannot feel her embrace because her life is separate from mine. Maybe she is home for me, but what a lonely home it is.

Reminders.

Last week I learned that my grandfather has advanced, aggressive cancer. He’s ninety, and he’s lived a good life, but neither of those facts make this easier on any of us.

This news comes at a time in my life when I’m finally working toward getting through my dad’s death. As I’ve said before, my father’s death is something from which I’ve been running for almost six years now, so to have this put on top of me when I’m finally trying to move forward makes the whole process feel that much more daunting. It’s just too similar. The waiting. The long, drawn-out agony of waiting for the death you’re so afraid of. I feel myself picking up pieces and sprinting as far away from this as possible, but I’ve already started my journey in the other direction, so it’s too much of a disservice to myself to abandon the effort and run away.

I’ve been led to remember some pieces from my past lately, mostly concerning my dad. I’m amazed by how little I remember about my childhood and those years in which grief fogged up my life. I’m startled as to how little I remember about him, but it makes sense. It’s a defense mechanism, sure, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to remember. I’m not afraid of what I’ll find–I know there are things in our past that are painful–but I think I’m more worried about the nostalgia that comes with the territory. If I remember what it was like, I might want that past to be my present again. That’s an impossibility, obviously, so why put myself through the pain of wanting something so completely unattainable?

I get that I should honor his memory just like I should honor the time my grandfather has left with us, but it’s all too painful and close to the surface at the moment. I’m dreading Father’s Day even more fervently this year than I usually do. My entire family is going out to lunch to honor my grandpa, which is a nice idea, but the restaurant they chose is the restaurant we went to right after my dad’s funeral. That is the only time we’ve been there as a family, and it’s pretty much the only time I remember ever being there. I don’t want to be back there, especially since it’s going to be another time of pain. It’s going to be hard for everyone, but it’s going to be the worst on me. On the surface that kind of sounds selfish, but for once I actually carry some kind of resentment and anger. It’s so unfair that my mom and her siblings have had their father for more than fifty years. I had mine for fourteen. It’s just not fair.

I hate that petty “it’s not fair” stuff because it doesn’t get my anywhere, but that’s where I am in relation to this process. I’ve never been allowed to be angry or frustrated or emotional. I realized only yesterday how silent I was forced to be in my dad’s death. Lawsuits really do complicate things, and I was taught to be suspicious of almost everyone. I was told not to talk about it, and somewhere along the line it really stuck. That’s at least part of the reason why thinking and talking about it now are so foreign to me.

This is all disjointed and not nearly as eloquent as I usually like my work to be, but nothing in the grieving process is neat and tidy. It bleeds over into everything, leaving stains and marks you try to scrub out but never truly can. There are no rights and wrongs, no do’s and don’ts, no map to follow. I find my journey is a series of starts and stops. I picture myself as a sprinter, but one that doesn’t have enough energy to clear the hurdles, so every time a hurdle appears in my lane, I crash into it. Then into another, and another, and another until I sit down and wait for my muscles stop aching enough for me to run again.

As I said before, everything feels too similar, and it’s jogging memories of what life was like when my dad was in the hospital. Yesterday I was reminded of how little support I had in high school, at least in the beginning. I lacked true support in a lot of ways, and I didn’t find really helpful people until my junior and senior years. By then a lot of the damage was done; I had taught myself how to suppress feelings and memories, so that support didn’t do as much as it would have when I was 14 and 15. This time around though, as someone was smart and kind enough to point out, I’m not alone. I do have an abundance of support at this moment in my life, so if ever there were a right time to work through grief, it’s now. My fear, as always, is overburdening other people, but right now my need for comfort far outweighs the guilt I might feel. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ll be able to repay them later somehow. I really have to believe that, and then I’ll feel more comfortable with what I need to do now.

I’m lucky, though, to have so much support. That’s what I choose to focus on a lot of the time, especially now when things seem to be so difficult. For now I’d rather write and think about the amazing relationships I presently have and how they’re helping me along. Later I’ll be able to think about the relationships that I’ve lost or are about to lose, but gaining strength is one of my main goals at the moment. I’ll do what I need to do to get there. I’m not weak by any means, but I’m not yet strong enough to clear the hurdles.

And you know what? Right now, that’s completely okay.

The Weary Traveler and the Girl Who Fell.

Opening the door I found the monster I had drawn pictures of in my mind, but he had quite a bigger jaw than I had imagined.

They call this a process–a journey–and say that there will be missteps and stumbles along the way, but I feel I might have to claw my way across the ground before I can even hope to have missteps. They don’t tell you that there’s a good chance you’ll fall right out of the starting gate, and the soil in your mouth tastes gritty and bitter. Bruised knees. Bloodied elbows. Breathe the scent of earth and lie there, hoping to God that someone comes back and realizes you’re not moving along. It rains. It’s cold. Trying, trying to get some strength to pick myself up off the ground, but everything hurts and it’s so cold and I want to go home. Home is with you, but you’re not here.

And as I lie there, eyes closed and mind tired, I hear cautious footsteps. A gentle hand on my back and the soft whisper of, “It’s okay.” An understanding. Someone sits on the ground next to me, knowing it hurts. Knowing it’s cold and oppressive and that getting up is not as simple as moving muscles. Someone becomes something, becomes hope, becomes light, becomes a piece of the key needed to unlock the shackles that cut and bind. The road is the same for us weary travelers, you and me, and though we may travel at different paces, at the end of the day we try to make a camp in the same place so that we may share the same fire. Dark isn’t as dark when “me” becomes “us,” and something that’s bigger than me cannot be bigger than us. “Us” is big. “Us” is strong. “Us” is the fortification against a terrifying travel through a land no one can face without holding the hands of another.

Your voice, unwavering and low, cuts through the haze of pain. Your voice, kind and patient, stirs movement in my joints and I can sit. I can lean against your shoulder and feel something other than hurt. A blanket against the cold. You’re cold, too–I know you are–so we stay close together and wait for the rain to stop. I’m still so near the beginning, so near the door with the monster, that I cannot see even the first bend in the road, but you’ve been there and tell me that it’s not too far from here. I believe you because I want to. I believe you because I trust you.

For now I will sit next to you, soaking up your presence, basking in the feeling of not being alone. You can leave anytime you want to, but for now you choose to stay next to the girl who tripped coming out of the gate. You can leave anytime you want to, and I’ll make it to the next bend. Just know that the clouds are fewer and the days are warmer when you’re whispering, “It’s okay” with the confidence of someone who’s seen the dark but chooses light. And despite myself I find a voice in the back of my mind that says, “Don’t leave,” even though I should know how to walk this alone. I should. I do.

But I don’t have to, and that’s what makes all the difference.

God Bless the Broken Road.

My life, when it comes to college education, has been a roller coaster. If you had asked me at the beginning of my senior year of high school where I planned to attend college, I would have immediately launched into my love-driven soliloquy about Carnegie Mellon. It was a last-minute choice not to apply early decision. Instead, I submitted applications to both Susquehanna University and Carnegie Mellon University, both for Creative Writing. When I got into both, I was faced with a decision that plagued me for quite some time.

It was a lot less difficult to pick when I found out that Carnegie Mellon requires C.W. majors to complete their core studies before even thinking about writing courses. I thought that was a waste of time for the amount of tuition I’d be paying (thanks for all of the invisible financial aid, CMU). I sent my deposit check off to SU, and I believed I had made the greatest decision possible.

I loved SU. I was blissfully happy for maybe three weeks, and then the homesickness hit. And then my cat died a week before the anniversary of my father’s death, and I found myself in the same state of mind I was four years prior to that moment. I lost direction, and I started developing horrible panic attacks in the middle of the night. I’d even have them at home. The worst happened at 3:00 in the morning at SU. It lasted two excruciating hours, and at one point I had completely lost feeling in my fingers. I couldn’t finish out the semester without mentally straining myself to breaking and getting horrible grades, so I took a medical leave of absence with the intention of returning for the spring semester.

The real me was gone for a while when I had come home from SU. I struggled with crushing feelings of failure and regret, and I was constantly afraid of the judgement of others. And, while I can talk about it openly, I still feel some of those emotions about the whole ordeal. I was, however, determined to go back… until I felt the registration deadline bearing down on me. I couldn’t face it, and the deadline passed without anyone saying a word.

I registered instead for an intersession course and several spring semester courses at Lackawanna College. They had a satellite center ten miles from me, so it all seemed very doable. Temporary, but doable. Pride-injuring, but doable.

I remember sitting down with my degree audit and planning what courses I’d take at Lackawanna and what ones I’d take at SU. I had everything planned down to the very last credit. I felt like the plan was going to work. I’m not sure when things started to change, but I know that by mid-January I had decided I’d never go back to SU. This decision was dual-faceted: I didn’t want to be far from home, and I didn’t want to be a Creative Writing major. Teaching! I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew a friend in Marywood’s education program. Marywood… yes, Marywood would be a good fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, why did I have to go through that journey? I am a firm believer in the mantra “everything happens for a reason,” so I have to believe that each step in this process was necessary.

Why Susquehanna?: I met Stacey, Hope, and Shannon, three people who are absolutely incredible. I found out that, yes, I can live on my own, but I have to sort out some of my demons first. I learned that Creative Writing is something I don’t need to be taught, and that writing critique letters was not a good use of my time. I had to learn there. SU will always be a part of me, and sometimes I miss it, but I now realize why I wasn’t meant to be there.

Why Lackawanna?: Well, first off it was a lesson in patience and learning how to be a student without being social. Mostly, I think I was destined to go to Lackawanna because I was meant to meet Nina, and that’s a good enough reason for me. I needed to be a student, because without working toward something bigger than myself, I fall into feeling useless. Lackawanna saved me from this.

Why Marywood is my fit: I hated Marywood at the beginning. There are still some things about Marywood I dislike, but I’ve really come to realize that I was meant to go here. It rekindled my love for a language that should have always been a part of my life, and if I hadn’t gone to Marywood, I would have been done with language. I love the Spanish component of my major, and it makes me sad to think that I could have missed out on something I love so much.

I love that the departments at Marywood are small and close-knit. Of course, it helps that I’m part of the two best departments in the school (and the most fun, omg). Walking into the English department after a long day feels like home, and wandering around Immaculata is what keeps me going. (I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that my room is right above the Foreign Language department.)

As always, though, it’s about the people. I’m so glad to have met Mike and Kasey; they’ve made this semester so great for me. Mike and I really are the same person, and I do think I was meant to meet him. Our Dora and Diego adventures have been some of the best moments of my life, and I wouldn’t trade that for prestigious, stuffy Carnegie Mellon if I could. I’m grateful to have met two women who serve as real inspirations both academically and personally. These four people have made the journey totally and completely worth it, and if I hadn’t had the long journey, I don’t think I’d appreciate just how wonderful things have been at Marywood. (Oh, yes, there have been dark moments at MU, but they made me stronger and appreciate the good that much more.)

I was meant to take this path, and I was definitely meant to end up at Marywood. Sometimes the path is winding, but we all get to where we’re meant to go in the end.