I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry you’re gone. I’m so sorry you spent your last days with the man who would murder you. True, nothing is *proven* in a court of law, innocent until proven guilty, whatever. But we all know what happened. We watched the footage. Too many of us know exactly what was going on in that van no matter how hard you tried to play it down and take the blame. They always know how to talk a good game. They put on a show to the world and everyone says, “what a great young man!”
“She must be handful.”
“Y’all are so good together!”
But it’s not like that when you’re alone, is it? As easily as he turned it on for the police, he can switch it back off. No one would believe you if you tried to tell them how crazy it can get. How alone you feel. No you weren’t perfect. You were 22. You weren’t supposed to be perfect or even good at this whole life thing yet. But you weren’t supposed to be a victim either.
I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you didn’t know that you didn’t need him. That you were so much better than him. He knew. I’m so sorry you never had the chance to learn any better. And you would have. You would have figured out that you deserved so much more. You would have outgrown him. Maybe you already were. Maybe that’s why you’re gone.
I’m so sorry, Gabby.
But we promise you this, your legacy will be bigger and longer than your sweet, short life was. We won’t forget you. And we won’t let them. We will use your story to hold them accountable. All of them. Your tragic tale, and so many others just like it, will be passed down to the next generation of girls. We will teach them the warning signs. We will teach them to stand up and walk away. We will teach them they are worth so much more.
Today is your birthday. Eighteen years ago today you turned 18. It was 2003. The world had changed and now so would you. You thought you were so smart and so grown. As only experience and hindsight can prove, you’re now painfully aware that you were not. I wouldn’t go back and relive those years for anything in the world. But there are a few things I wish I could tell that girl. That intelligent, ignorant, confident, terrified child.
First things first, LEAVE YOUR EYEBROWS ALONE. The pencil thin brow is just a fad and a stupid one at that. Your brow should begin in line with the inside corner of your eye and taper all the way past the outside corner. This is very, very important. If you heed nothing else I say, please take this to heart. While we’re on the subject, wash your face every night, do not go to bed with makeup on and make sunscreen your friend right now. Nothing less than SPF30 on your face at all times. I can’t believe we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lay in the sun like strips of bacon with a cancer wish. SPF15 all over your body no matter how long you’ll be outside and at least 30 from the nipples up. You will thank me.
I want you to remember to trust your gut. You will do some extremely stupid things in the next few years, many of which could be avoided by listening to that little voice that often sounds a lot like your mother. Your instincts are good and your intuition is strong. Pay attention to it. Don’t discount it because some rando says it’s fine.
I should reiterate here. When I say you’ll do some extremely stupid things, I mean some really ignorant, truly dangerous, life threatening shit. In the intervening years you will think many times, how did I not die?! The piece of advice on this is, never be afraid to call your parents. You will suffer through some traumatic, painful days all alone because you underestimate how much they love you. When they come pick you up from jail, their disappointment will take a backseat and they will ask where you want to go for breakfast. I didn’t know at the time what unconditional love actually meant. I wish I had known sooner what a solid rock of a sounding board my mom would be.
Anxiety and depression. Call them by their names. Putting a clear label on something takes away half its power because it’s no longer an unknown. Things are scarier in the dark so shine a light on them. The sooner the better. When you correlate what you feel with these terms that can be researched and understood, suddenly it’s just another manageable part of life. Once you realize you’re not alone, it’s easier to deal with. And when it’s still too much, reach out. Please don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses.
Avoiding your feelings is only a temporary solution. Learn to sit with them. Understand, analyze and break them down. Figure out where they come from and why.
Your pride will be what hurts you most. You build up walls and keep everyone at arms length and act like nothing is important to protect yourself from being hurt. But all you’re really doing is missing out on some wonderful things because you were too afraid to fail or be vulnerable. This is where most of your regrets will lie.
The next thing I wish you knew is that you can walk away. From people, jobs, situations, anything that is giving you a bad vibe or not serving your best interests. As women, especially Southern women, we learn early to be polite. Go with the flow, don’t make waves, don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Except ourselves, which we hide with a smile. You owe no one your time or energy. You can set boundaries politely. You can also throw politeness out the window when the occasion warrants. And sometimes, even if you do nothing wrong you will make unreasonable people upset. But you know what? That’s ok. Sometimes unreasonable people deserve to be upset.
It will still be several years before you begin to realize that you can be a pain in the ass. That’s ok too. Self awareness is one of your best qualities and one that takes a lifetime to sharpen. Know who you are and what you’re worth and never forget it. You’ve already spent too many years trying unsuccessfully to be normal. Eventually you will learn that no one is normal and your specific brand of weird is a lot of fun. FYI, you’re currently carrying a purse with dinosaurs on it.
Your family is amazing, cling to them. Not just your blood family, the one you build from scratch. You will be blown away by the people who become important to you and how they end up in your life in such random ways. No matter the physical distance or how long it’s been, the people who matter will remain. Feel free to cut the rest out. No relationship has to last forever. Important during one period doesn’t buy a ticket to the rest of your life. Your time, energy and peace are precious. Don’t waste them on those who don’t matter.
Regardless of what all the graduation songs say, this is not the time of your life. The best days are still ahead. You will grow into who you are and love her more everyday. She deserves your patience and respect. She’s not perfect, not even close, but try not to be too hard on her.
I want to begin with a confession. What is likely to be the most controversial thing I ever say on this page, I do not at all care for John Lennon. (I can practically hear one of my friends losing it as she reads this right now. Sorry yo.) I have my reasons but that’s not what this post is about. Those lyrics just fit and coming up with titles is hard.
I vividly remember the moment. My first and maybe only ever true epiphany. It was my sophomore year of high school, circa 2000. Sitting in my bathroom sink one morning getting ready for school. Caking on foundation that didn’t match my skin tone and drawing on eyeliner thicker than my eyebrows. It was a different time. No you are not getting a photo. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks that there were other kids all over the county getting ready for school just like I was. Kids that I didn’t know, who didn’t know me. Getting ready, going to school, going about their lives. Entirely independent of me and what I was doing.
Yes this makes me sound stupid. To be fair though I believe there are a terrifying number of adults out there who have never actually realized that everything does not revolve around them. What that moment did do for me was create a tiny puncture in the bubble in which I had, to that point, lived my whole life. Not everything changed overnight. I was still an insufferable twit for many more years. But all at once I had gained the gift of perspective.
In the years since, that perspective has grown and evolved and torn a huge hole in how I think and the way I view the world.
In every corner of the earth, we all do the same basic things every day. We sleep and eat, work and love, laugh and cry. What distinguishes us from one another are the many different ways in which we each got to the places we are today. Childhoods, circumstances, experiences and choices. The things we’ve seen and been through. How can I hope to understand what the stranger across the street, or across the world, feels when I have no idea what they saw yesterday or ten years ago? How could I claim a person’s opinion on a subject is wrong when I can’t know what they were taught growing up or the experiences that led them to that position? In brutal fashion, I have become aware that “my way” isn’t the only way or even necessarily the right way. As us Disney kids learned from Mrs. Potts,
“Bittersweet and strange,
finding you can change,
learning you were wrong.”
Not understanding where someone is coming from is very normal. Writing them off because it’s uncomfortable making the effort to understand is inexcusable. The ability to set aside your own biases and preconceived notions is a skill that requires conscious effort and practice. It’s said that travel is the death of close-mindedness. If you have the privilege to see the world and experience different cultures, I encourage you to do so. But reading is another form of travel and a beautiful way to peer through someone else’s eyes for a few minutes.
It’s natural to feel strongly about your beliefs and opinions. And it’s ok to disagree, even with the people you love. The goal is to make sure you are thinking critically about the world around you, asking hard questions, and always taking the opportunity to learn from others. Even the stupid people. Sometimes you learn the most from them.
I am not at all sure if I’ve made any kind of point. I’m no longer even sure what point I was going for. I will probably touch on this subject many times again, likely after I’ve had to explain my position on John Lennon. But I want to leave you today with a quote from a former atheist turned born again Christian, a decorated and well respected scientist, director of the National Institute of Health and Dr. Fauci’s boss, Dr. Francis Collins.
“One must dig deeply into opposing points of view in order to know whether your own position remains defensible. Iron sharpens iron.”
Welcome back! I’ve missed it here. There was no real intention to write weekly at the start but I didn’t write last week and I’ve been wracked with guilt about it. Blogger’s guilt, is that a thing? I gotta tell y’all I hate the word blog. It sounds like some kind of gross goop that grows in your house and requires a special cleaning product. I digress.
I also really struggle with deciding what to write. That’s truly the hardest part for me, like trying to decide what to make for dinner every night forever. I’ve always been one of those people that needs a thing to be extremely, entirely perfect or I feel like there’s no point in doing it at all. That’s a hard habit to break but it’s a super unreasonable standard to hold yourself or anyone else to. I’ll have a dozen half ideas and stress myself into oblivion thinking, what’s the perfect subject to write about, would something else be more appropriate for this week? This is kind of stupid, it doesn’t matter, there’s something more important to write about. No doubt there is. But this is an exercise in putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard as the case may be. What that means for me is absolving myself of any duty to write something deep or meaningful and just write. Ideas float up and most of them are stupid but eventually one will float to the surface enough times and then that’s the next topic of this blog. Blog, ugh.
So what is this post actually going to be about, you ask. Well I will tell you. Today we will be starting an occasional mini series where I tell y’all about some of the dumb things I’ve done and we all laugh together in wonder at how I have managed to survive mostly intact this long.
Years ago when my husband and I were still dating.. (It has been brought to my attention that he does not care for the moniker “The Boy”. He prefers “The Man” but that sounds weird to me so negotiations are underway, I’ll keep you posted.) Years ago when we were pretty newly dating, I was at my apartment one night after work doing my nails.
It should be noted here that I go through phases where I love having my nails done. Like the long, tick on everything, might stab someone, not at all practical, beautiful nails. Not all the time, sometimes I don’t care. But I can never stand to go get them done at the salon. I don’t have the patience to sit there for two hours or the follow through to go back every few weeks. So I buy the plastic Kiss glue on nails for $6 at Walgreens and do them myself. I have very few real talents but gluing fake nails onto my fingers is one of them.
Anyway. So I’m at my apartment doing my nails after work while the Man-Boy’s at the gym. I’m sitting at my little kitchen table and the dog’s in my lap. I’m all set up, I’ve sized each nail and gotten them all laid out. All that’s left is to glue them on. I dig around in my purse for some nail glue. Find one. Shock of all shocks, the lid is stuck on tight. It’s at this point my genius 20 something self does the most logical thing I can think of and I hold the bottle in one hand and grip the lid in my teeth. The next five seconds is kind of a blur. It’s been a decade and I’m still not sure what happened. The cap of this tiny bottle doesn’t twist off. I somehow rip this bottle of glue IN HALF, sloshing glue all over myself, the dog and the kitchen table. My dog mom instincts kick in and I check him immediately. A little glue in the fur but otherwise unharmed. Thank goodness.
Then I blinked. My right eye blinked like normal. My left eye closed and stayed that way. I HAVE GLUED MY EYE SHUT. I grab my eyelid, pry it open and call my dad.
“Daddy I have glue in my eye, what do I do?”
“You have what in your eye?”
“Nail glue. I have just splashed nail glue into my eye. What do I do?”
He skips over “how on earth..?” and goes straight to, ok you need to rinse your eye out. He told me to get in the shower and hold my face up under the shower head in lukewarm water for several minutes. Ok, can do. I turn on the shower and start looking for a good temperature. My phone rings. Hello? Daddy says, how’s it going? Not even in the shower yet, I’ll let you know. I’m holding my eyelid open this whole time and there is rapidly drying glue on my eyeball. I get in the shower fully clothed and stick my face under the water. In the few minutes I’m trying to flush my eye out, my phone rings several more times. Hello?
By this point in my life my parents are extremely used to me or someone else calling them to explain what dumb thing I’ve done now, I’ve always been their do dumb sh*t kid. This may have been the first time though that I was several hundred miles away and it’s dawning on us both that he won’t be able to just come rescue me. Eventually we realize that I can’t talk on the phone and flush my eye out at the same time so he says, ok flush your eye out and call me back. That moment as a parent to an adult child when you become aware that your options for fixing a situation are limited and you can really only sit and wait must be terrifying.
I stand there waterboarding myself for what feels like forever, get out and call my dad back. He says, how does it feel? Well it burns and I’m afraid to close my eye. Still holding my eyelid open with one hand. He says, ok I think you should go to the ER. Is there anyone you can call to drive you?
Le sigh. There is but I was really hoping my new boyfriend wouldn’t discover that I’m an idiot for some time yet. It’s still pretty new and he still thinks I’m cool. This is not a moment for shame, however. So I call him. He’s right in the middle of his workout.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“I need you to come take me to the hospital please, I have glue in my eye.”
“Be right there, baby.”
He abandons his workout, if you know him you know what a big deal this is, and shows up at my door five minutes later. I’ve managed to put on dry clothes and give the dog a treat one handed. He asks what happened on the way to the hospital and I tell him the whole dumb tale. We get there, check in and sit in the waiting room. I say over and over that he doesn’t have to wait for me, I’ll be fine and can take a cab home (Uber wasn’t really a thing yet). He won’t hear of it. He stays with me the entire time, takes me to the overnight pharmacy to get my prescription drops, then takes me to McDonald’s for dinner (also a huge deal if you know him). Never once did he laugh or act like I was putting him out in any way.
In the end, my eye was fine. I wore glasses for a couple of weeks and learned a very valuable lesson. A couple actually.
One. Be very, very careful with your nail glue. Any kind of glue for that matter. And never, ever open it with your teeth.
Two. If the person you share your life with isn’t willing to drop what they’re doing to come help you out of an extremely dumb, self imposed situation no questions asked, and can’t be counted upon to not laugh at or criticize you at least until making sure you are entirely ok, you’re in the wrong relationship.
In the intervening years we’ve laughed a lot about it and I’ve since done and said way dumber things which will be saved for future posts. He has never once made me feel lesser than for not being perfect or afraid to come to him with any little dumb thing I need.
Just like my dad and my husband and all the other people I rely on, surround yourself with those who will support you, help you, and wait to make sure you are going to be fine before saying, “Wow, that was stupid”. We all need a strong safety net and, occasionally, we all need to be told the hard truth.
Having good people like that in your life is my wish for you.