The Afternoon After

11.09.2016

I feel like I’m on fire.

I started burning in the night and here I am the next afternoon, still burning, writhing, praying for the flames to just consume me already—please, just consume me—so I can rest

and lazily write some kind of message in the ashes.

Words in the dirt. Poetry in the smoke.

But the burning won’t stop. And I wonder—oh, I wonder—if maybe I will always be burning. Maybe this is how I exist on the other side of the unthinkable.

I hope I can make use of the flames in my chest, because maybe this is just who I am now

the girl who burns.

Resisting the Urge to Picket the Princess Castle

4.15.2016

I wish it wasn’t so often that I want to quote something beautiful, but can only attribute it to some striking voice in the blogosphere that I read somewhere at some point. But now is one of those times.

Somewhere at some point in the vastness of the internet, I read the gut-checking words of a mother talking about her fears. She threw a question out into the universe and it lodged itself in my soul—”How do I teach my daughter to question without forcing my questions upon her?” And this, I believe, is the big hairy question you take on when a feminist becomes a parent. How do you teach your child to think critically about the world without attempting to create a minion? Minions sound really nice, to be perfectly honest, cute little feminist minions, but they’re a bit self-defeating. I’ve never met a minion who had a mind of its own, which is sort of the whole point of minions and the whole antithesis of feminism.

It’s also the question I’m mulling over tonight as I think about my very verbal two-year-old daughter’s current obsession with “butiful dresses” and all things princess. After one viewing of one princess movie—ONE—she was hooked and now Elsa is on speed dial and Anna is the topic of her constant conversation. There are good things modeled in princess movies. I’m not here to hate on them categorically. I’m just here to wonder why those aren’t the things she seems gravitate to, and mostly, to tremble in fear at the swift consuming power of Disney over my child.

“I be butiful,” Scout said as she bounced into my bedroom this morning, wearing the dress she’d insisted Trent put on her.

“Yes, you are beautiful,” I said, “but being beautiful doesn’t really matter much. It’s more important to be smart and kind.”

And later, digging through my makeup bag, she repeated a version of what I told her. Dabbing a brush on her cheeks—”I look butiful and smart.”

“Well yes, little one, but it’s not about looking smart,” I thought. But I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t say anything, because I don’t know what I’m doing here. And I’m not sure how to navigate all this. And as much as I want to prevent my daughter from falling victim to lies about ideal beauty standards and warped priorities and wacko gender stereotypes, a feminist robo-child who repeats what I say, but doesn’t internalize it for herself, well … that’s no better.

So for now, I trust in my trying. I’ll fill her world with stories of girls and women, real and imagined, who are smart and kind and brave and beautiful, the kind of beautiful that matters. And I won’t picket the princess castle, because making princesses too forbidden only enhances their power. I’ll also trust in my daughter. She’ll figure things out. Because wow, she is smart. And strong. And if you’d seen her point that stern little finger between your eyes—”YOU be da prince,” she commands—well, you wouldn’t argue with that.

Everybody Hurts

2.26.2016

Tonight I went to listen to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” because I wanted to connect with the humor in my situation. I wanted a darkly funny thing to get me laughing, and what better than such a stupid kitschy song? But then, it spoke to me. That’s how bad I was feeling. The kitsch wasn’t kitschy at all. And I found myself sobbing to it on repeat, rocking my colicky baby to the beat, bouncing in catharsis in a night that was “(mine) alone.” And maybe there’s something funny in that. Please let there be something funny in that. I need a good laugh.

My baby is colicky. I haven’t wanted to admit it—not to myself, not to anyone—because admitting that my baby occasionally cries inconsolably for no reason at all means admitting that I also couldn’t take credit for my last baby, the one who never cried at all. Admitting that Finn is a “hard baby” means that Scout, my “easy baby,” was truly just the luck of the draw. Of course I said that all along, but somewhere deep down, I think I took credit for her being so “good.” I let it boost my ego and admitting that things are different this time around means letting that ego be shattered.

And shattered it is. I am humbled. Please let it be that I am sufficiently humbled, because … well … I’m crying to R.E.M. over here and I have to face another day of potty training in the morning. In my worst moments, I find myself feeling that this isn’t what I signed up for, and in my best moments, I’m sure that it is. And the strange thing is that my best moments, the ones where I am my best self, they aren’t always the same as the best moments of the day. Sometimes I’m my best self with pee all over my floors and spit up all over my clothes. Sometimes I rise to the challenge. And sometimes my worst moments, the ones where I ugly cry and pound Fig Newtons and type with one hand, come when things are calm and should be easy. With one little girl finally asleep in her crib and one little boy finally asleep in my arms, I feel sad. And happy. And humble. And human. Mostly human. Cause everybody hurts sometimes.

Finn’s Birth Story

1.30.2016

I want to remember the feeling of safety that washed over me when I nuzzled my face into your dad’s hands. I gripped his wrists in anguish and bore my forehead into his palms. He stroked my hair with his thumbs and glided down my neck and I felt less alone in the pain. It was the only thing that brought me comfort when you made your way into this world. It’s a feeling I find myself chasing in these days of achy newness, these first days of your life. You were born in the night, little boy, on a wave of fire and ice.

The contractions started hours before the snowfall. At 3:30 in the morning I felt it starting to roll up my back again—heat, a familiar burning. And by the time the sun was up I knew that what I’d feared was true—that again it would be back labor, that again it would be long, that either the shape of my pelvis or fate’s cruel hand had forced another baby into a posterior position inside me. It was all too familiar. I resigned to labor with the devil I knew.

I had contractions all day about ten minutes apart. Sometimes they’d speed up and give me hope. Sometimes they’d slow down and make me anxious. But they kept on coming, the waves of burning, as the snow starting falling just like they said it would. Your dad made Pho and a mess in the kitchen. Your nana made a snowman with your sister behind the apartment. Scout made all of us laugh, ruling our roost and reining our hearts alone for one more day. And through it, my back was slowly burning.

We put Scout to bed with a foot of snow on the ground outside her window and I immediately tried to go to bed myself, to rest while I still could, but it was already too late. I bounced on a ball and watched TV, breathing through the fiery waves. I called the doctor to check in about the weather and he told me what I didn’t want to hear—that it wasn’t time yet, that I should stay home longer. Annoyed, I turned off the TV and told Dad to sleep and went to the living room. I sat in the rocking chair and rocked in the darkness, listening to Nana breathing on the air mattress, knowing she was awake and doing the same. The doctor called back and told me he’d go sleep at the hospital, just to make sure he could get there in the snow. “Come when you’re ready,” he said. And I felt a little stronger, more content to let hours pass rocking, rocking, rocking as my body was engulfed in flames.

When one contraction brought me to my knees and made me cry out, Nana spoke up in the darkness. “You should go,” she said. And I did. I woke your Dad and laced up my snow boots and we made our way to the car. The bite of cold air was a welcome change. I gulped it in.

The car got stuck almost immediately. The wheels spun underneath us, and I felt your Dad go frozen in the drivers’ seat. He pushed on the gas and they spun again. I started to panic and sobbed, “please, please,” over and over, an audible prayer. God would have to fill in the blanks. I saw a dark figure come out of the building and into the parking lot, and then another and another. Neighbors. Saviors. They said things like, “kitty litter” and “traction” and heaved and hoed while I sat in the passenger seat, clutching the handle above my head, trying to stop my mind from wandering into worst case scenarios.

We moved. Dad jumped in. Relief spilled out of who knows where and we drove on icy, deserted roads as fast as we could to the hospital. I got out of the car at the main entrance and a shocked security guard, shoveling the sidewalk, ushered me in to the ghost town lobby. He looked at me like I shouldn’t be there—didn’t I know there was a blizzard outside?—and then told your Dad that with a good Irish name like Murphey he’d better have one hell of a cigar to celebrate at the end of all this. I walked to the delivery room, taking breaks to breathe through the heat waves, and the rest was a blur. It always is.

For two and a half hours, I was burned alive, full of doubt that my body was capable of anything but its own destruction. “At this point, bad is good,” one nurse told me, so I forced my body up and clung to your dad as the heat waves rolled in on top of each other. It felt worse. I knew that meant progress. I would drown and gasp, then find the surface and steady my breath.

You started crowning as I stood in the corner. I screamed, “I can’t! I can’t!” but I already was. The pain was blinding, deafening. The doctor rushed in and gave me instructions and I repeated the words out loud, comprehending nothing. I pushed. I felt powerful and helpless, trapped and wild. And six minutes later, there you were, lifted up to my chest. I collapse beneath you.

The pain, the burning, was all consuming. And then it was gone. So quickly it melted into love and sweet relief. Pain isn’t supposed to work like that. It wanders away slowly. It leaves ghosts. It clings. No pain has ever consumed me then deserted me that way. But that night it did. It vanished so swiftly and completely that all I was left with was a strange kind of dream, a memory of your dad’s hands softly holding my tortured face, and you. I’m still trying to work out what I’m supposed to learn from a pain like that. I know it has something to teach me.

We were snowed in at the hospital for more than a day. No one in, no one out. The three of us just slept and snuggled with snow drifting down outside the window, warm in the light, light in the warmth. We marveled at your 9 lbs. and 8 oz., your arm rolls, your blonde hair. It all surprised us. We tried to pick a name for you, tried to discern a lifetime in a little face, and did our best, which is all we can ever do, I’m sorry to say.

Phineas William Clark Murphey, may I do right by you. May you keep surprising us. May you learn from your pain. May you find soft, strong hands to hold you and sweet relief to fill you in this world you live in now. I love you, little boy. May love be enough.

Read Scout’s birth story here.

Dear Baby Brother

1.12.2016

Dear Baby Brother,

Your official due date is a week from today and I am not ready for you to come. With your sister, I was ready before I was halfway through and by the time she actually came at 42 weeks, I was going mad. Now, I’m going mad from the panic that you’ll get here before my to-do list is finished and my heart is open to all the changes you’ll bring. Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll be ready this time. My to-do list is growing, not shrinking, which is what always seems to happen to me when my heart is avoiding itself. I think I’ll have to hurry up and make my peace with the fact that you’re coming, ready or not.

What do I want for you, little brother? I want you to have a name—which right now isn’t coming as easily as we thought it would—and an identity all your own. I want you to be more than just Scarlett Murphey’s little brother, which I’m sure of course you will be, but right now, with my world so consumed by your spunky sister, it’s hard for me to fathom. Can I confess something to you, little boy? I haven’t thought much about you these past nine months. I wanted you. We wanted you so surely, but as soon as you were there in my belly, the world just went on spinning. How will you fit into our world? I can’t work it out in my mind exactly, but I know you’ll fill in holes I didn’t know were gaping. Your dad says he wants you to be a sensitive man of wisdom, a leader, and a linebacker. But if your sister turns out to be the linebacker of the family, which indeed she might, that’s cool too, he says.

And me? I want you to be my teacher, little boy. It’s about the only thing I can sense about you, but I can already feel that you will be. I can already feel the magnitude of the growth you’ll bring to my scared little soul. You will make me better, whoever you are, and you will do it by forcing me to face things long before I feel I’m ready.

See you on the other side, little man.

Love,

Mom

New Year

1.03.2016

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I had a lot of goals in 2015. I had a whole Google Spreadsheet full of ambitious, detailed New Year’s resolutions ranging from reading a carefully curated self-determined book list to jogging 500 miles, a particularly laughable goal considering that the only time I’ve jogged with my B.O.B., the Subaru of jogging strollers, was when I was desperately trying to catch a bus.

I did—with the positive peer pressure of my mom, sister, and grandma who shared this goal—memorize a poem each month, but aside from that, I accomplished nothing. Nothing on the spreadsheet at least.

When I think about what I want to accomplish in 2016, all I’m sure of is that I want to be my best self.

But then I think, “No, wait. Maybe I just want to be kind to myself.”

And then I think, “No, wait. Why are those two things in conflict?”

They’re not. Or rather, they shouldn’t be. But my “best” self—the Sam who is thoughtful and creative and adventurous and brave—is also a perfectionist and a brat. She’s rather shaming of her own shortcomings. She’s good at spreadsheets and bad at forgiveness.

This year, I’m stepping into January nine months pregnant with an immediate future that seems sure and looks bright. Trent will graduate in May. We’ll move to Texas in the summer. He’ll start work. We’ll raise babies. For the first time in a long time, I woke up on New Year’s Day with my ducks seemingly in something of a row. At least until our plans get messed with—which, of course, they assuredly will—my energy doesn’t need to be sucked into my usual black whole of fretting about the unknown, which leaves me with plenty of strength for creativity, bravery, and adventure. And kindness, for myself included.

My goals this year are simple.

Rather than commit to a creative writing schedule like last year, and then flake and hate myself for it, I’m going to commit to listen to NPR every day. I’m going to make an effort to engage my brain in a simple way. And something tells me that if I do, the writing will flow out of me on its own.

Rather than promise myself I’ll jog, which I knowingly despise, I will commit to go for a walk outside every day, even if it’s just around the block. And if I can’t do that, I will at least stretch for a few minutes before I crawl into bed. Rather than push my body into “fitness,” I’m just going to acknowledge it every day, thank it. And something tells me that if I do, I’ll find a desire to see what it’s capable of.

Rather than vow to cook healthy dinners from scratch every night of the week, and then survive on guilt and frozen burritos, I will try my best to help my little family sit down for breakfast together every morning, say nothing of what we eat. Something about the sitting, the connecting, the ritual, will start our days and our eating habits off right every day. And something tells me that if that happens, I’ll find more joy in cooking myself and more gratitude in Trent cooking for me. His contributions will feel more like signs of a partnership and less like signs of my personal failures.

And last, but not least, I will not keep a spreadsheet, mental or otherwise, of said personal failures. I will not give myself harsh performance reviews every time I get a Google Calendar reminder to “Check 2016 Goal Progress.” I will not be such a psycho about Google Calendar reminders at all. I will engage my brain and get outside. I will stretch my body and fill it with goodness. I will be thankful for my partner and the two little ducklings in our messy row.

And I will write.

The One Where I Don’t Know How It Ends

10.01.2015

It’s been almost six months since I last wrote on this blog. So much has happened. I could write about our trip to Europe or our summer in Utah and Texas. I could write about Trent’s internship and job offer. I could write about how we’re moving to Dallas next year when he graduates or how sharply I’ll miss Virginia or how, smack dab in the middle of the coming winter, I’ll give birth to a baby boy. I could go on for days about how much Scout has grown and changed. I could pontificate about what happened psychologically that caused my oh-so-dramatic absence from blogging, but I’ll spare you that much. It’s overwhelming to even try to tackle everything, so I’ll write about something else entirely. I came home tonight feeling an itch to write, so I’ll scratch it and see what happens.

I’m really happy these days. Things are going well for me and mine, but honestly, I don’t think that accounts for most of why I’m happy. I think I’m happy because I’ve been building back what I lost.

I didn’t do it consciously, but a few years ago, when I started to really acknowledge doubts about my faith and questions about my paradigms, I also stopped letting guilt motivate me. I realized that many of the things I did in my personal worship I did because I felt guilty if I didn’t. So I stopped doing those things. Plain and simple. I removed the guilt from my life and with it went the behaviors it motivated. And for the first time, I just let them go. It wasn’t dramatic or even outwardly noticeable, but it happened. I stopped reading the scriptures consistently. I stopped praying every single morning and every single night. I stopped being so stalwart with my church attendance and so rigid in my worship in a thousand other ways. I stopped telling myself I knew things I only hoped for and stopped being afraid to know my own limits. And for a while, I truly felt freer. I felt less burdened, more spiritual. I felt the fruits of the spirit in new ways, different ways. But after time enough to detox my guilt had passed, I also felt a longing to start over.

So I began to do that. I’m still doing that. I’ve been picking up the tenants of the faith I still call mine and “experimenting on the words.” It hasn’t been systematic, just fluid, and it started with the smallest of things, things like who is really up there listening when I pray. I’ve stopped being scared of asking my real questions of God, started trusting the times when the answers that come are unexpected or unpopular among my peers at church. I’ve stopped the cycle of self-loathing I spun inside when I felt different from them. And piece by piece I’ve gathered up the many things that make up Mormonism and weaved them back into my life, with many old conclusions and some new conclusions and mostly no conclusions, just progressions. Progressions without guilt. Progressions with integrity. My “testimony,” as we Mormons call it, is smaller and stronger than ever before. And that’s not coincidental. It is stronger, because it is smaller. It is stronger, because I’m not wasting my energy pretending. I’m spending it learning.

I’m happy these days, so very happy these days, partially because I’ve been building back what I lost, but mostly because I’m building something I never really had in the first place—a faith that is truly my own.

Listening to: William Fitzsimmons, “Well Enough”

An Ultimatum

4.30.2015

I am sitting on a bed that’s made in a room that’s a disaster. And it’s kind of a metaphor for my life. If one thing is tidy and complete, everything else is messy and unfinished, or truthfully, unstarted.

I’ve been having a little slow onset breakdown lately. It’s been a gradual decent, less of an explosion and more of a slow flame, but my house is still burning down. It’s a combination of things, it always is—overreaching, misfiring, falling short. I feel like I put all my time into life’s logistics—feeding people, cleaning rooms, packing bags. And I don’t do any of it well. I feel like my marriage is egalitarian and all, but still. There aren’t enough hands. Already. There aren’t enough hands. I feel like I just don’t have anything interesting to say anymore. I don’t follow current events. I don’t read for pleasure. I haven’t in months. And aside from the nichey trade topics I write about for work, topics most people in my normal circles wouldn’t know or care a thing about, all I have to talk about are my goals. I can’t talk about what I’m doing or thinking, only what I hope to be doing and thinking. And hopes are fine, but they make for short conversations.

And if this whole thing were an ultimatum, it would be this: either live in filth and anarchy or spend your days as an uninteresting person. You can’t have both. You have to choose.

I know it’s not an ultimatum, that life doesn’t really give you many of those, but I also know that my hypothetical choice is revealing. I’ve been choosing cleanliness and order, hoping for creativity and learning, and failing at all of it. So many people are searching for wholeness and when they talk about it, they talking about looking for someones or somethings that will fill up their empty spaces. But I have no empty spaces. I’m full to the brim, too full. I’m heavy, lonely, and bursting, like I’m holding my breath. I’ve made myself an island of this perfectly tidy bed and I’m sinking in a sea of chaos and expectations and I just need to jump off and swim away and start over.

I want wholeness just as much as the next Joe, but I don’t want to fill myself up just to fill myself up. I need to clean house before I can deal with the emptiness. And no, for once, I don’t mean that literally. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up to a dresser covered with unfiled papers and camping gear. There will be ants all over my sticky kitchen floor. Scout will wear a mildewy swim suit to swim class. But maybe I’ll have a clearer head and a lighter gut when I wake up tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have a better idea of who I really want to be.

Notes from a Wedding Day

4.26.2015

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Before Trent and I got married, somebody told us to take time on our wedding night to write in our journals about the day, so we could remember the little details we might forget if we waited. We did, but just scattered notes. We jotted down key words to jog our memories. We’d write it all out later, we thought, but we never got around to it.

I found those scribbles a couple of months ago, bullets on a notepad with the Hotel Monaco letterhead at the top. We were nervous, awkward, overwhelmed kids when we wrote those words and with five years between us and them, so much of their meaning has wandered away. But I could make sense of some of it.

I wanted to remember my sister driving me down Provo Canyon in the morning, practicing the song she sang at the reception that night. She belted “At Last” in the driver’s seat and somewhere along the way, I had a moment when it all felt real. I cried. I wanted to remember the moment and the crying.

I wanted to remember getting my hair done at the mall and doing my makeup alone in the food court bathroom. I wanted to remember “Dad’s peeing loud story” which he must have told me when my parents picked me up and drove me to the temple, but honestly, I don’t remember it at all.

I wanted to remember feeling relief in the celestial room before our sealing—relief from what, I’m not quite sure. I wanted to remember looking around the sealing room to see who was there—so many people, it seemed—and I wanted so badly to memorize the way I felt when all of those people lined up to hug and congratulate us when the ceremony was over. I felt loved like I’d never felt before. I felt like we had an army of people rooting for us. I felt like we could make it. I remember that well.

I wanted to remember the wind, the cold, and the dark, ominous sky. It was so different from the wedding weather I’d pictured. It was strange for late April, strange and beautiful.

The rest was a blur, even in my notes. I wrote that my Dad was like a game show host at the wedding dinner, walking around in a tux with a microphone. I wrote words like “madness” and “Fire in the Disco”—the song I danced to with my dearest, craziest, maddest friends. I wrote “Wild Thing”—the song I sang to Trent before we were rushed out the door through a line of smoky sparklers waving in the rain. We got into a filthy old Camry and drove away. And though it wasn’t in my notes, I remember looking back at the glow in the windows of the reception hall, the silhouettes of the people who loved us and rooted for us, and wishing I could go back.

But as we all know, we can never go back. No, not really.

So onward, Trent Murphey, onward we drive into surprising beauty of the big dark sky.

Listening to: Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen, “When You Open Your Eyes”

Building Goodness

4.20.2015

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I’ve been organizing events these past few months as the Darden Partners Association’s Community Service Chair. It’s very official and all. It reminds me of my glory days back in the Center for Service and Learning at BYU, and by “glory days” I mean days spent trying to convince busy people to make their lives busier. Thankfully, the Charlottesville community service scene is hoppin’ and the Darden Partners are pretty cheerful worker bees—BUSY, cheerful worker bees. Is this metaphor annoying yet?

In addition to the monthly Ronald McDonald House dinners we’ve provided, we pitched in to clean up a local animal shelter‘s dog-walking trails and participated in the Darden-wide Building Goodness in April event, which takes on home repair projects for local residents in need. (See cute photos above.) We also did a prom attire drive for students at a nearby high school, and let me tell you, the MBA community is the demographic to tap for formal wear donations. Next up, we’ll be doing some gardening with the folks from Building Bridges, a nonprofit that serves adults who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. When I surveyed the Darden partners at the beginning of the year, they made it clear they wanted to get their hands dirty with volunteer opportunities. I took it literally.

Cheers!

Happy Birthday, Scout

4.08.2015

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Dear Scout Murphey,

Today is your second birthday. Your first birthday, your actual birth day, was a whole year ago today. I know I’m stating the obvious, but the obvious is blowing my mind. This year, I have learned that the collective wisdom of parents past is true, at least when it yaks on about how the days are long but the years are short, and when it won’t shut up about how transformative parenthood will be, and when it becomes a broken record saying things like, “You’ll love like you never knew you could.”

I never knew I could love like I love you, Scout Murphey. Not even when they said it a million billion kajillion times.

I wish I could give you something meaningful for your big day, something more than board books and a plastic airplane to knock of the shelf, as you do with all things. For weeks I’ve been thinking about what I could say to you on this day of all days. What do I want you to know, Funny Buns? What do I want you to remember? And in trying not to yak on like all those worn out parents past, I’ll just give you one thing.

I will try not to need you too much, Little Duck.

That is my gift. There you are. Happy birthday. I will try not to need you too much.

I’ve noticed it growing inside me this year, this dependency on you to make me feel important. You look to me for life, sustenance, comfort, and learning and you look at me like I’m the coolest, funniest, most interesting being that ever walked on the face on Earth. I’ve been collecting those looks, gobbling them up, filling my tank with those hits of validation.

Validation—it’s a word us grown-ups throw around a lot, but almost never do we talk about it coming from our children. Maybe that’s because children stop validating their parents at some point. That sounds right, now that I think of it. I’m sure this is just a phase. I’m sure you will learn that there are cooler people out there, and better jokes, and more interesting things. But I will try to be ready for you to learn that. I will try not to mourn the change so very much when it comes. I will try not to be so addicted to your love and your looks that I need you more than I help you. I will try to find my own internal sources of validation so you can learn how to do that too. I will try to show you that my love for you can fill a planet, but it cannot fill your soul. Your soul is not mine to fill, Busy Bee. I will try not to pretend that it is.

So go enjoy your birthday, Baby Girl. Paint the town red. Eat cake. Open presents. Walk.

Or don’t walk just yet.

Run.

Or crawl a little longer.

Slow down. Stay little.

Grow big. Learn more.

Listen.

Ignore me.

I’m torn.

I’m zen.

I’m your mother. For better or for worse, I’m your mother.

There you are. Happy birthday.

Love,

Mom

Listening to: The Weepies, “Nobody Knows Me At All”

Going Back

4.01.2015

Before my roommate reunion a few weeks ago, I pulled up a bunch of old files on an external hard drive, copies of letters I’d written to a missionary back in my college days. We roommates planned to share funny excerpts from journal entries we’d written while we lived together. Those letters were the only journal I had.

It’s weird to go back.

I was writing to a missionary, I remind myself, which had to have colored my thoughts. I wrote a lot about wanting to go on a mission myself. That was before the mission age change. I wasn’t yet 21. I hadn’t remembered feeling such longing to go and serve God like that, to share the gospel like that. But I wrote a lot about that longing.

I was writing to a boy whose approval I desperately wanted, I remind myself, which had to have altered my tone. My tone was insecure. I couldn’t stop reassuring him that I wasn’t the “closed-minded liberal” he thought I was. I did it jokingly most of the time, but the frequency made it real.

I want to be kind to myself, I think as I read, but my instincts go elsewhere. I reach into the letter and out again and shake my 20-year-old shoulders a good one. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING TO HIM. And what’s so wrong with being a little liberal? And who are you trying to convince here? Yourself?” But 20-year-old Sam shrugs me off and diverts her eyes. “Why would I listen to you?” she says. “You never went on that mission like you said you would.” And I shrink, because she’s right. And I shrink smaller, because I feel relieved by it.

Be kind to yourself, I think again.

My authenticity waned and waxed throughout. There were passages that felt honest, even reading them years later. I wrote about the rush I got making an eloquent argument in my current events class and a spiritual insight I discovered in my world lit class. I planned, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a study abroad to London and an internship at the Cincinnati Enquirer, neither of which came to pass. I gushed over the luggage I got for my birthday and fretted over getting my wisdom teeth out.

Of course I also wrote a lot about my roommates, those quirky, wonderful, kindred crazies. And although some of my stories didn’t check out when compared to my roommates’ versions at the reunion (I’m known to embellish here and there), the feelings were true. Mischievousness, cautiousness, loneliness, belonging, vulnerability, invincibility—that was us in those days, a beautiful mess of growing-ups all sharing a single bathroom.

Listening to: Kings of Convenience, “I’d Rather Dance With You”

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