A Lifetime of Firsts

There is truth in the statement that you never forget your first. As humans, we mark milestones by our firsts. Babies in the womb, it’s joy at the first kick or the first hiccup. Life moves on to the baby’s first smile, first laugh, first word, and first step. As you grow older, it becomes your first day of kindergarten, your first dance, your first date, your first kiss, your first car, your first job, and the list goes on and on. Of all of these, the most memorable is your first love.

Many know that I have lived a colorful life full of ups and downs, bumps and bruises, but I wouldn’t trade a moment of the good or the bad. Without one, you don’t appreciate the other. The experiences have molded me into the person I am. I have been blessed to be touched by love many times in my life.

My first BIG love happened, as it does for most, in high school. He was a friend of a friend, he was a senior when I was a freshman. We knew each other in a passing way, it wasn’t until my senior year’s homecoming night that we met officially.

I was dressed in a Flashdance style oversized sweatshirt dress of hot pink that was slashed to slide over one shoulder and legwarmers as were most of my girlfriends that night. We were all out cruising our local shopping center acting crazy.

It was a very different time in the world. His car full of friends stopped to chat with our carload of friends after the Friday night lights had dimmed.

We ended up being pushed together. Music was our common touchpoint. Our first conversation was about the song Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. I knew he played music and he knew my brother was in radio. We talked about life and lyrics until my curfew and then kissed goodnight.

I found out the next day, he broke up with a girl he had dated for four years just so he could ask me out. We began dating and found that we could be ourselves around each other, no subtext, no games. It was a thing of beauty.

We spoke the same language of lyrics, a love of music, and laughter. He had a wicked sense of humor, and his sharp wit drew me in even further. We were old souls who connected. It was a magical time and I wouldn’t trade a second of that time for anything.

We both fell hard and fast. When I got grounded in April of my senior year for some silly infraction of curfew, we tried (and failed) to run away and get married. Instead of marriage, we ended up engaged.

When my mom found out what we had failed to do, there was a very long conversation. She realized that my stubborn streak would just keep trying until I succeeded.

The same thing happened with his family. All of the elders in our lives tried to talk us out of it. We were both set on getting married. We both felt a sense of urgency, it was something we HAD to do, though we couldn’t explain it. Most adults thought I was pregnant. I wasn’t. We set a date for July of 1983. Right after my high school graduation.

We went through pre-marriage counseling, I got the dress of my dreams, and we booked the caterer and the church. It was a magical wedding. We worked, I went to school, at night we lived a life of music, lyrics, creativity, and love. It was beautiful. It was also short-lived.

Our magic wasn’t without hardship, Gary had juvenile diabetes. Diagnosed when he was 6, his case was chronic and severe. Treatment in the early 80s for diabetes was much different than it is today.

We had moved to Atlanta for me to go to art school. He worked various jobs and tried to find gigs.

The years of severe diabetes took their toll on his body and we found ourselves moving back to Kentucky after 6 months.

The first year we were married we survived three moves and a hospital visit. Our connection even through the toughest moments never faded. The second year we were married we spent more time in the hospital than we did at home.

His organs began to take on the stress of diabetes. Even though I made sure he adhered to a strict diet and took two shots of insulin a day, it didn’t turn the tide.

His kidneys failed and he was put on a transplant list. He was scheduled for his first dialysis the Monday after he died. Two years and 11 days after we were married, Gary died in my arms at home.

It was 3 am on a Saturday morning and he awoke, just feeling off. I got up and got him something to drink. He took the drink and then he was gone. He fell over on me and I tried to give him CPR. I screamed for the neighbors or someone to call 911. The neighbors thought we were fighting. They didn’t know we never fought. We had only been in that apartment a month.

I ended up calling 911, screaming into the phone. I called his aunt, who was a dispatcher, to hurry the ambulance. I knew in my heart he was already gone. They wouldn’t let me ride in the ambulance.

Someone drove me to the hospital. I have no idea who. I was surrounded by people in the hospital and felt more alone than I have ever felt in my life. It was an eternity before the doctor came out and told us he was gone. He’d experienced renal heart failure. At that moment, I shattered. He was 23. It was two months before my 20th birthday.

April 7th would have been Gary’s 61st birthday. It was 40 years ago this month that we tried to elope. Last week I found a small spiral-bound notebook filled with his handwriting that I have held dear and carried from place to place, all over the world.

The notebook is filled with satire, wit, crazy humor, and lyrics to music that will never be written this side of heaven. Lyrics we worked on separately and together. I was his sounding board and thesaurus. Alongside his handwriting are my red proofers marks, in every word our hearts mingled, soared, and laughed together.

I am so thankful that I didn’t listen to my elders and wait to marry him. Our time was short. The heartbreak was immeasurable. It was worth every second of time we had together.

Twice I have loved with my whole heart and lost everything. Gary was my first BIG love and my first BIG loss. I have been asked if I would do it again knowing the risks. My answer is always, YES.

I have learned to listen to that still small voice. It tells you when things are right and it tells you when things are wrong. So pay attention, listen more than you talk. Cherish each fleeting moment and accept the difficulties as learning opportunities to grow and become better.

April is always a retrospective month for me, along with Gary, my biological father’s birthday is April 15th and he would have been 79, the aunt who raised me until I was 11, shares her birthday with a friend of mine on April 5th, she would have been 92 this year. April holds a special place in my heart, as it makes me reflect on what was, what is, and what is to come.

If I have learned anything it is to be true to yourself and to cherish each moment with the people you care about.

I will close this blog with a few words from the 40-year-old notebook of Gary Lane Sullivan’s lyrics. I love this one. It reminds me no matter the length of time, it is always worth the cost.

Love is just what it is

It drives some men crazy
Some go insane
You'll never know about love
Until you've played the game

Some men get lucky
Some always lose
Love's a strange experience
It can turn men into fools

Love is for both of us
It's not just yours or mine
Love is where you find it
It is just a matter of time

Some men get confused
They don't know which way to go
Some think they understand it
Some they just don't know

Men don't know about love
Some think they do, but it's all lies
When they get confused about love
You see it in their eyes

There is nowhere to put the blame
When you have loved and lost
It is no one else's worry
It always has a cost

You just have to try it
Just to find out how it is
Love is where you find it
Love is just what it is

Yes, it belongs to both of us
Love is just what it is

To Thine Ownself Be True

The title is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1 scene 3. I do love a good Willy Shakes play and prose. I also love the wisdom in this quote. Throughout the tumultuous portions of my life, I ignored my own inner voice and wound up worse for it.

To thine ownself be true poster quote

As I strive to become an updated version of myself, I have fallen into familiar patterns from my past long ago. A time when my thoughts weren’t clear and my heart was troubled. Ignoring that small inner voice lead me down a path of self-destruction by overshadowing myself, and leaning into codependent relationships.

Speeding forward, without thinking of the outcomes, was a common theme of my youth. And now, I find myself making those same mistakes. I got carried away, I thought I was older and hopefully wiser, but here I am. I know I can’t do that anymore, even as much as I want to feel young and alive again. I also want to be responsible and secure. Those things seem to be at odds.

I have had to step back, step away, look inward, and ask myself some hard questions about who I am, what I want, and where I want to be in my life. I have to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with finding those answers before I press forward. Romantic love isn’t the goal for my life. That still, small voice inside me says there is more. Am I listening?

Take the time to listen to what that small, still voice is telling you. Quiet all the chatter, all the outside noise, just listen.

It’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to sit in silence and listen. I forget that prayer isn’t supposed to be a one-way street, with me lifting up a litany of needs or wants. God gave me two ears to listen twice as much as I talk for a reason.

What I am finding is the little things that bother me, are telling me something. My soul feels the uncomfortable places down deep and sends up red flags that require my attention.

The things that bother me aren’t the fault of the other person. They are who they are. I am not here to force change on anyone, just as I don’t want anyone to force change on me. Change happens, good or bad, it is inevitable. Who I was 10 years ago is not the person I am today, nor will the person I am in 10 years be the same as today.

What troubles my soul is what steals my joy and by contrast what brings me joy. I have to weigh those costs. I can’t hold close to that which robs my joy. I have fought a hard, lifelong battle to be joyful. I can’t settle for less. I can’t settle for less because someone else wants or needs me to. I can’t settle for less even though it might hurt someone else.

If I settle for less it is hurting me. If I give, and lose myself, what have I gained? I refuse to become a shell of who I am to fit into a mold I don’t want. I won’t do that. I won’t let my joy be stripped away slowly, for anyone. Lifting someone up while you are drowning, doesn’t give you life, in most cases, it drowns both of you.

You may ask, what strips the joy from me? What keeps me from being true to myself? While that list is an ongoing learning curve, I have found that I do it to myself. Most of the time I don’t realize it until much later. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

It’s that thing I should have said and didn’t because I didn’t want to come off as nagging, bit**y, angry, upset, or whatever.

It is letting things slide, to avoid a tirade or an uncomfortable conversation.

It is not saying what I really mean because I am saving someone’s feelings.

It is knowing something doesn’t feel right and remaining quiet.

It is being something I detest, passive-aggressive.

When I do these things, suddenly I look in the mirror and I don’t like the person I am becoming.

I strive to be a person who is true, and honest, and whole. I need that for myself. I may never get there, but I’m trying. I have gone from being a “we” to just “me.” I think I was good at being a “we.” Now, I have to become good at being a “me.” Finding me. Liking me. Loving me. All those take work. It is not a straight path.

At first, I thought a romantic relationship was what I needed to be valuable. I am finding out I have been valuable all along and I don’t need a relationship to define me or what I want out of life.

It is not about deserving more or wanting more, it’s about being true to who I am and who I want to be. It feels selfish, maybe because I have never made a conscious decision to stand for what I need to feel whole. It’s about maintaining my independence and not defining myself through a relationship. I am finding that I need space.

I have spent much of the last few years feeling invisible. I’ve been longing to be seen, to feel attractive, to connect and feel alive again, to have deep conversations that connect me to a person and make me feel like someone understands. It is a powerful thing when someone listens and connects. I think everyone needs that on some level. I am learning that level doesn’t have to be romantic. I am blessed to have a great tribe of friends and people who love me and pour into my life on so many levels.

Romance is a great and wonderful thing, but it is not what I need right now. And, that’s ok.

The Duds of Online Dating

Ah, the joys of online dating. I’ve sort of given the whole thing a break. Although, there is still a site that I’ve paid for, where my membership is still good until the end of March, and my profile is still live. I figure, I paid for it, may as well see what pops up. (No pun intended.) I’m nothing if not frugally curious.

As I’ve said before, there are several things in online dating I find quite hilarious. I just can’t help myself. I recently found an article that had a list of online dating etiquette. I thought many of these tips were very common sense. I have yet to see the etiquette for when you run across a profile of someone you actually know. Do you throw the phone? Do you act as if you didn’t see it there? Do you do the absolute, wrong thing and say “Hey, how’s it hangin’?” So as not to cause any misinterpretation, I aim for a polite, “just wanted to say hey and happy hunting.” I mean really it’s just a conversation that no one ever answers, so you may as well be polite.

Anyway, I thought I would share a few of my more humorous online dating encounters. Let me preface this by saying, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Encounter #1 (and my favorite) was a superhero. BATMAN! I have to tell you, I laughed until I cried. I was so amazed that Batman liked me, I mean wow, it is not every day you get a message from the caped crusader! His profile was the Michael Keaton version of Batman, so I was intrigued. I mean who wouldn’t be? I am a special blend of playful and snarky, so I had to ask questions. His profile said he was from North Carolina. I knew there was a Batcave, NC, so surely this was the real deal. His profile also said he was 5’11” (somehow I thought he would be taller?). So, I asked if he wore heels? It said he had kids. I asked if he still counted Robin his ward as a dependent? Was Batgirl also his? I’m not sure I remember the storyline. I also think he lied about his age, he said he was 45. So I asked if he was sure? Little did he know, my first words were “na na na, BATMAN!” when I was 1 in 1966, and Batman at that time was a grown man, so something is not adding up here. Even if he were the Michael Keaton version he would be older than 45, right? Hmmm. He didn’t respond to my questions and he never messaged me again. Oh, well. I guess a superhero was too much to wish for.

Encounter #2 was with Rigger. He worked on an oil rig and loved to cook and CLEAN. Really? I would think that would keep you really busy on a rig. He texted a wonderful game, was sweet and funny and enjoyed witty banter, was somewhat intelligent. Until I started asking personal questions. The oil rig he worked on had security and could only text, no phone calls, no video chats, no photos. Right. Did he miss the part about me being an Army widow? I got skyped from war zones. Let me call bulls**t. The story (after 2 days), he was coming off the rig in a month. He really wanted to come to see me and stay in Knoxville because it sounded so beautiful. Hmmmm. He got really defensive when I said I had Googled him. He didn’t exist anywhere he said he did. When I told him I didn’t want to meet with anyone who couldn’t video chat and at least prove they were who they said they were, things got dicey. And again, my snarky side jumped out and asked for a photo of him holding his driver’s license. How dare I ask for a picture or a background check. Oh dear, there goes another one.

Encounter #3 was the Flying V. His profile photo was of a wild-haired 80s guitarist holding a beautiful classic Gibson blond Flying V guitar. So I complimented him on his guitar (I love music and it was a fine instrument). He liked fluffy girls and thought he should come live with me because Knoxville has such a bitchin’ music scene. Knoxville does. He shouldn’t. He thought I was cool because I knew what he played and he obviously thought that meant he needed to move in with me. He was devastated when I told him I had a roommate. Things when downhill at warp speed, and another one bites the dust.

Encounter #4 was Who’s Your Daddy? A very nice-looking truck driver who thought I was an amazing lady of exceptional caliber. We talked on the phone a few times and the conversation was going fine. Until I asked, “How many kids do you have?” I thought it was a perfectly normal question, right? Until he answered, I’m not sure. Wait, what? You don’t know how many children you have? I’m thinking player or sperm doner, either way, I think I’m out.

Encounter #5 Momma’s Boy – I should have known better than to even respond to this one, but I was flattered. He was 45, so 12 years younger. I thought, maybe he can keep up with me. It seems that the nice fellas I met who were my age all went to be at 8 pm and that’s just not me. So, I was hopeful. I have a co-worker whose hubby is 9 years her junior and they have a wonderful relationship. You never know, right? So I meet the fella for dinner. He was late. He arrives after I already had a table, a drink, and an appetizer. I’m polite, say something about the traffic or road construction. He says, no, he’s helping his mom. Ok, that’s sweet. Then he proceeds to tell me he lives in her basement and is unemployed. She actually gave him money to go out that night because he helped her. Can, I pick them or what?

Now, I know I can be a bit much. I laugh too loud. Sometimes my filter is broken and things just come out of my mouth that should have stayed in my head. I tell the truth to a fault, but I try not to hurt anyone’s feelings. You always know where you stand with me. I am diplomatic. I can’t sit still when music is playing. I’m colorful. I’m creative. I’m overweight. I’m active. I love to dance, especially in my kitchen barefoot. (Lord, knows my kitchen isn’t for cookin’.) My hair color/style changes on a whim. I have never been accused of being boring or sedate. I am fiercely loyal. I have a huge heart for people, animals, and the world. And a whole host of other things. I would definitely say, I am an experience. I’d like to think a positve one. About a week before Andy died, he came into the kitchen, where I was dancing and singing (badly) putting away dishes (remember my kitchen is for dancing) and he whispered in my ear, “life with you is never boring.” That is one of my most treasured memories. Life should never be boring.

I must say, I really try not to be judgy, I think most people who know me would say I’m not. Online dating makes you judgy. I can’t help it. It does. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly and I hope some of my adventures have been a cautionary, fun glimpse into my world. If you have someone to love, love them with all that you have. Appreciation is often overlooked. Live life to the fullest, it can change on a dime.

Thanks for reading.

Knowing What You Don’t Want

Please raise your hand if you are a fan of online dating…anyone…anyone? Oh, I see you scammer in the back. Please exit now, we don’t need your kind here.

So, I can’t help but laugh when I think about what it is like to be dating at my age. When I first began this journey, I took it to heart when someone didn’t return my like or made a rude comment about my size, my hair, or just my profile in general. I soon learned that every part of this is an adventure. The adventure is not a pretty fairy tale and there is no prince charming to kiss the sleeping princess awake and live happily ever after. What is it? A comedy of errors. Honestly, I think it is hilarious.

Image credit from B. Devine (Facebook)

You write these profiles so people will like you. Hopefully, drawing the moth to the flame. We all want to think we are the flame in this analogy. Hot, right? In some cases that may be true, in others, it is more like flies to sh**.

During the whole experience, everyone is trying to look social media perfect and no one is who they say they are. It isn’t until later you find out who is the flame and who is the sh**. And so far, I’ve seen a lot more sh**.

So everyone is telling people what they are looking for, I want this or I want that, blah, blah, blah…Their wishlist for the perfect relationship. There is no such thing. All relationships take work and communication. All my life I heard the expression, “wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up faster.” Wishing for the perfect relationship is like that to me.

Honestly, 29 years ago I would have never chosen the man I married. He was none of the things I had on my perfect relationship wishlist. NONE. OF. THEM. Yet, he turned out to be Mr. Efing Wonderful, not perfect, but wonderful. Why? Because we got each other on a level, that prior was unknown to either of us.

It was more important for me to learn from my past mistakes and know what I DID NOT want in my life ever again than it was for me to have the wishlist for the perfect relationship. If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them. Sometimes when the same thing happens over and over, you have to look inward and deal with yourself. Sometimes it is unhealthy and you have to know the warning signs, so you don’t repeat the mistakes. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know, until it is too late.

So to avoid all the past chaos of my life I asked this man a series of questions about all the things I knew I could not bear to live with, and I will be damned if he didn’t answer EVERY question right. But by the same token, we had deep conversations about why I asked the questions and why he answered them and then he asked me his series of questions and we had conversations about why I answered them the way I did. It all came down to being willing to communicate openly and honestly with each other.

I am the type of person that takes every experience as a learning opportunity. If I have a question about something, I ask. If there is something I’m curious about, I ask. If there is something I don’t understand I will ask for an explanation. I learned a long time ago not to waste my time and energy guessing.

Obviously, that is not how things are done in this day and age, because I do not see a lot of open and honest communication happening anywhere online. I don’t know if that’s what’s wrong with me, or what’s wrong with the system. Enter the strange lady who speaks her mind and asks strange questions, it freaks people out a little. And boom, I’m ghosted.

Great relationships take work, and if you have one, keep working at it. It’s rough out here, people are just flat-out difficult to figure out. So married people, people in a committed relationship, let this be a cautionary tale, if you have someone who loves you, accepts you for who you are and you get to snuggle with them, DO NOT take it for granted. Things can change in an instant. Let the people you care about know you care.

As for me, I’m done with online dating for a while. I’m just going to keep on being the wild, weird, wonderful me, when and if something happens, it happens. God has better plans for me than I can even imagine, so I’ll leave it to Him.

I’ll leave you with a few words from the Beatles…

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Thanks for reading, friends.

Beautifully Broken

Thinking about the different twists and turns my life has taken, I sometimes wonder, “How I am still standing?” My life has had so many unbelievable chapters, I am hesitant to talk about them in great detail, or all at once. It seems too hard to believe that so much has happened to just one person.

Yet, it’s just me. All the twists and turns have made me who I am. And I like who I’ve become. I try to be a person of integrity, humor, and a bit of sass. Sure, when I look in the mirror I don’t always like what I see, but I’m a work in progress, as we all are. The cover doesn’t always match the book. There is a song I like by Gov’t Mule called Beautifully Broken, there is a verse that goes something like, “She’s so beautifully broken, shaped by the wind, dangerously twisted…” That’s how I feel sometimes.

Mosaic heart by charmin foth

I have often described Andy’s passing as the event that shattered me. I felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to the full-length mirror that was my life. The force of the blow exploded my world into a million sparkling pieces and left them at my feet to figure out what was next.

Amazingly though, this isn’t the first time I’ve been shattered, I’ve been broken so many times that some of the fragments have turned to dust and there is no picking up those pieces. The dust gets swept under the rug. I don’t think a person ever loses the trauma they survived, it comes back from time to time as the dust blows around and you have to sweep it up again.

Each time my life shattered, I bent over and started picking up the pieces and gluing me back together, one piece at a time. I didn’t know what else to do. I have never been a negative person, I truly believe every experience teaches us something. There is a Nelson Mandela quote that says something along the lines of “I never lose, I either win, or I learn.” So, I am learning as I go. Living is about learning.

For the last two years, I have picked up one piece after another and put it back where I felt it fit best. Remembering parts of me that I lost, finding new colorful pieces to add. The thing about shattered mirrors is you see yourself from every possible angle. If I’m honest, I know the parts that need work, the parts that don’t show me in the best light, the parts that are rough and jagged, the parts that are smooth and shiny, there are so many different pieces, but they are all me. All the pieces still fit together, just not in the same way.

I shocked myself. One day I looked up and almost all the broken pieces were put back together. The mosaic of shattered pieces had created a beautiful heart that was ready to beat again and a spirit of resilience I want to share with others. The mirror of my life will never be a solid mirror again, but by being broken, by God helping me piece it back together, I have become something new. My life doesn’t look the same as it did before, truly, I’m not the same person I was before. Each time I have been shattered, and I get it together again, I am different. Life shapes us, the mosaic changes. It is still the same pieces creating a new piece of art. It is hard to understand, but I am the same, yet different.

Ashlee Simpson also has a song called Beautifully Broken. She sings, “I’m beautifully broken and I don’t care if you know it, I’m beautifully broken and I don’t care if I show it.”

I like who I am now, I’m not perfect and never will be, but who wants perfect? Perfect is boring. I would much rather be real than perfect, and I think I’m finally comfortable with that concept. I recently told someone, we are all broken, and it doesn’t matter how broken we are, it matters what we do with the pieces. If the pieces of my brokenness can somehow help mend the pieces of your brokenness, I think that’s God at work in His truest form.