All in the Details

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They met through the Appalachian Mountain Club.

By some beautiful irony, I wouldn’t know some of the details as to how they met until the day of his memorial.  That he had offered to drive some of the Boston members up to that day’s hike.  That she would be one of his passengers.  I never knew that part.  I knew they were fellow members, but that other detail was brand new, given out like a souvenir to all the current pain and suffering.

But I knew the part about hiking.  Like how I knew the detail about how they both went to the exact same university — and both part-time, at night, but 11 years apart.  Her degree was in English.  His was business.  Little, precious, synchronicitous details.

And I like how I knew that she wanted to get married, and he wanted nothing to do with marriage anymore.  He had already done that twice, and with six kids to show for it.  He was in his 40s.  He was done with that avenue in life.  Can’t he just have his pretty live-in girlfriend, the one with the unsure eyes and the disarmingly genuine smile?

And how I knew that she gave him an ultimatum.  That she was going to leave him and move out if marriage was off the table.  And that he called her bluff and even helped her look for apartments.  But that, eventually, the fear of losing her trumped the fear of getting married again.  So, after years of dating, they got married at the church that they belonged to, just a mile down the road from where they lived.  He gambled once more, hoping third time’s a charm.  And they would be married right up until the day he died.

It’s a beautiful story, and sometimes I like to just let it stop there.  Anything can be pretty enough, given the correct angle.

You can make any marriage look like the most profound love story if you leave out the right details.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.  The key is in what you let the reader onto, and what you keep them in the dark on.  Gloss over some details, and everything feels right & in its place.  Add in other details, and you can make the reader’s toes curl in distress.  And, somewhere in between the two ends, lies the complicated, nuanced reality of it all.

She still wears her wedding ring.  She is open and frank about missing him, about feeling sad (her words. “feeling sad”. so simplistic it could make your heart break).

She talks about him, and she talks about the past.  But the once well-trodden past is unearthed and tilled in light of recent events.  Now, when she speaks of the past, key details are left out.  Other details are fabricated on the spot.

No one has the heart to correct her.

With the right details, any story can be a happy one.

Key details.  Key scenes.  Key sets of behaviors and interactions.  Like what really happened when she lost hearing in one ear.  Or why neighbors once lodged a formal complaint.  Or the way that he treated her during those last years, his behavior while he was dying.

Their marriage was filled with demons that never learned to play well with each other.  It was a shipwreck before it had ever left the dock.  It proved you could fulfill the “’til death do us part” and still be a complete failure.  They were proof that that sentimental story — the one about the couple married 65 years, saying, “Back in our day, if something was broken, you didn’t throw it away.  You fixed it,” — isn’t a coverall piece of advice.

That, sometimes, you have to admit when something is beyond repair.  That sometimes things are just broken and you are throwing good money after bad and it’s simply time to part ways with it.

That “being together” and “making it work” are two separate concepts, and sometimes they are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

That, looking at the right details, the couple celebrating their 65-year anniversary could be seen as a hallmark of healthy devotion or a cautionary tale against not knowing when to break it off.

But in the mess of every single detail, therein lies two well-meaning and deeply flawed souls, and the deeply tragic understanding that we only get one shot at this particular life, and we’re all just making it up as we go along.  And in between every detail is a false sense of time — particularly that we’re always learning what the details mean far too late, when it’s too far gone to do anything about it.

And so we do nothing and dance with the details until it does, actually, become too late.

And we cope with it all by organizing those details.  Selecting which ones fit the narrative and which ones don’t.  By telling ourselves certain details don’t need so much attention while rewriting others.

But — every once in a while — we are brave enough to stand akimbo and take in the complex noise of it all, welcoming the contradictions and confusions, understanding that the story of the human condition would never actually make for a good book.  There is no neat arc and plenty of loose ends.  And no one would know who to root for.  No one would know what to take away from it.

Focus on the right details, she is a devotee, a fool, a victim, a warrior.  Her eulogy at his service is filled with the details of how they met, and the mountains they’d climb.  Names of the biggest, most majestic ones in the area.  Listed accomplishments from 30+ years ago.  The crux of what she says focuses on those first few years.  The details are as specific as a book report.

And then, she turns a page in her writing and zips to the end — to the feelings of loss and mourning.  Fast forward 35 years, to the present day.  To the reality of loss, of standing at a pulpit, delivering a eulogy at her husband’s service.  Her voice starts to crack and she suddenly sounds like a young child who has finally figured out what death actually means.

There is something so heartbreaking in that detail: the way she stands there, her papers held close to her face, her words practiced out but her soul as raw and uncovered as ever.  It makes me want to shield her from the world, from the complicated nuances of the human condition and the unfettered reality of suffering.

Out of anything else, it will be the one detail I remember for the rest of my life.

Nevada and Home

I.

For a New York minute, there was talk of moving Nevada.

It was a long shot, but also a once in a lifetime opportunity.  One of those offers that you just don’t turn down, that you see where it goes — no matter how unlikely, no matter how thrilling or frightening.

From a little before Christmas until a little while after New Year’s, there was talk about moving out west.  Casual talk.  Hypothetical talk.  “It’s too early to tell,” talk.  Keeping it casual.  Long shot casual.  Google searches of Lake Tahoe and the local realty, but, still, casual.

Nervous jokes about what it would mean — but, still, casual.

Analyzing and over-analyzing, obsessively riding hypothetical waves of what the future might bring — but, still. Casual.  Too early to tell.  Really, it’s such a long shot.  Not worth getting too amped up about.

But…still.

I had spent the last few years riding nothing but hypothetical waves, figuring out the future as if reality itself existed on multiple planes — and this wave was no different.  What would it mean, if the long shot actually proved fruitful, and we were faced with potentially leaving the Northeast.  What would it mean in terms of careers and friends and housing and everything.  What would it mean in terms of all the hard work that we had been putting in if there were yet another upheaval?

What would it mean if, in the midst of these shifting winds of change, we’d be thrown into a hurricane?

What would happen if the next step in this increasingly uncertain future be packing my bags?  What would happen if the perennial nomad got a chance to unhook her moorings and push off away from the dock?

As hypothetical and daunting and stressful as it was, this potential offer became chance to be a little more retrospective.  It was a chance to go back over the last few years and truly reevaluate.

At my absolute lowest points — when it felt like everything was unraveling around me and I was certain my heart couldn’t take any more — I had looked around and wondered if the only solution was to just leave town and start over.  At higher points — when I was alive with wanderlust and insatiable with travel — I had looked around and wondered just how long I was meant to stay in New Hampshire; if it was time to go, not because the problems got to be too much, but because my calling rested on different lands.

And now, here we were, faced with a very real possibility of putting down stakes in different soil.  And what could’ve been music to my nomadic heart had given me considerable pause instead.

I thought of the card reader, who had told me that I was not meant to stay in New Hampshire. And I thought of some of the other card reader’s predictions, and the ones that had seemed so certain but never came true.

Leaving Boston had never felt like this.  I had been hesitant about the “small town” of Nashua (oh, if I could only give 24-year-old me a visit now, and give her a lesson on what “small towns” actually look like), but it always felt like the natural evolution of events.  Good-bye, the Atlantic.  The mountains await.  I embraced the unshackling of my beloved Boston area in a haze of new jobs and wedding vows and an apartment with a view of a pond.

But there was something slightly unnatural about leaving New Hampshire.  Something kept tugging at me and making me feel uneasy, like I was attempting to trespass something.  All the pictures of Lake Tahoe in the world couldn’t assuage it.  Every time I took a deep breath and truly looked at the world around me, I got this deep feeling within my gut, one that told me, point blank:

It is not yet time.

I gave the feeling little thought at first.  I knew that there was fear and excitement and trepidation and worry backing every single thought — and I had learned a while ago that I can mistake my fevered emotions for gut instincts or even divine intervention.  But still, it stayed.

I looked at my home and my neighborhood and my community — the roads I traveled on a daily basis, the views and vistas I experienced weekly, the air of all that surrounded me — and felt that statement, time and time again, as deep and as calm and as true as a patient father:

It is not yet time.  You belong in New Hampshire right now.

I had had inklings of a similar feeling in the fairly recent past: a gentle voice telling me, Hang tight.  You’re going to want to see what happens next.  One that pinged at various moments, at both the high and low points of the past few years.

Listening to that voice would end up paying off in spades.  Hanging tight, letting things be, holding space until I got some vital pieces to some very confusing puzzles.  Allowing things that were destined to fall into place do exactly that.  And the voice would continue to ping at me, as if emboldened by being proven right.

(continue to hang tight; you’re really going to want to see what else happens next)

But — at the end of the day — that mantra was about patience, about not acting until I got all of the information, about letting the laws of cause & effect come into play.

It was different than this voice.  This one surveyed my smaller town on the border of civilization and the boondocks, and stated:

It’s simply not time.  There is still work to be done.  Unfinished business to attend to.

There are promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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II.

In the end, the long shot proved its length, and Nevada was off the table.

(“I didn’t want to jinx or sabotage anything but…I’m glad we didn’t have to make that decision.” “Me too. Me too.”)

Just days before we’d learn exactly whether or not we’d have to make said decision, my husband and I had stopped off at a local eatery, treating ourselves to gourmet mac & cheese after a day of darting around.

“I mean, we’ll definitely see what we’ll see but…it just doesn’t feel right, y’know?” I had said over my plate, repeating out loud what my inner voice had been saying all week. “Like, there’s unfinished business in New Hampshire, and it’s not yet time to leave.”

“Not time for you to leave?” my husband asked.

“Not time for us to leave,” I replied, and meaning every word.

“You’re right,” he said. “I feel it as well.  There’s still work to be done here.  At least for now, this is where we’re supposed to be.”

“At least for now, this is where we belong.”

That moment created something, in that casual restaurant, by that tiny table.  Something connecting and conspiratorial had materialized right between us.  A gentle type of energy, bridging the air between our spots.  The speakers piped in some type of bubbly pop music, a song that was completely ill-fitted to the situation, but I kept hearing one line from a song by the Script, playing over and over in my head:

-Even after all these years, I just now get the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time.-

(Hang tight.  You’ll want to see what happens next.)

III.

We had owned our home for three and a half years when Nevada showed up at our doorstep.  Three and a half years, thousands upon thousands of dollars in mortgage payments, repainted walls and a rewired sound system and a semi-finished basement.  Property we had been gently forming and shaping to our desires, a mailman who knew how terrible I was at checking the mail and arranged our fliers and junk mail accordingly.  A handful of neighbors who knew us by name; the rest by sight.  Nearly six years with a New Hampshire driver’s license, plus a car that was purchased and registered in the same state.

But none of that was truly confirmation, not until there was a chance to step away and I was forced to dig deep, to see what it was that I truly wanted.  And what I found was reassurance on a soul and cellular level.  A reminder that my roaming heart craves a home base, even if it itches to wander away from it from time to time — and my nomadic heart had found that home near the mountains of New Hampshire.

This might not be where I stay forever.  Who knows exactly what the future will bring.  I’d long ago given up such cutesy predictions and instead embraced the beautiful uncertainty of a chaotic and unfair world.  I’d long ago stopped trying to tell fate what to do and instead trusted something bigger than myself to take the wheel (at least from time to time).  And heaven knows how long it will be this way before the winds shift again.

But, for once, in the present moment, I knew where I was supposed to be.

This is where I belong right now.

This is where we belong right now.

And I had been waiting my whole life for exactly this feeling.

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Resolve

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I’ll go to the gym.  I’ll volunteer.  I’ll eat better, live better, be stronger.  In a sense, New Year’s Resolutions are a way of testing our resolve — of looking back at what you have no interest in repeating and seeing just how long you can keep those things behind you.  With each item on the list, we are essentially going, “I resolve to turn a new leaf, to go down a new path, to leave behind what needs to be left behind.”  Even the superficial resolutions are deep vows to ourselves, reminders that we have unhealthy habits that need dropping, that there is so much to do in this world.

If 2015 tested my strength, 2016 tested my resolve.  And I vow to go in to 2017 with more than just a set of resolutions.  I want to dive straight to the core — to what those resolutions actually mean, to the promises made to our souls.

I want to stick to resolve.

I resolve to remember my worth.  I resolve to stop trying to be as small and as unassuming as possible.  I resolve to step forward more often and be bigger more often and take up space and be loud and take pride.  I resolve to stop lowering myself just because I worry another person will think I’m too high up.

And I resolve to remember that my worth isn’t based on how many interesting things I can do or extraordinary things I can accomplish.  I resolve to remember my worth is innate, as inborn as my soul and as unknown to the outside world as I allow it to be.

I resolve to remember that worth.

I resolve to remember that actions speak louder than words: that apologies and promises mean nothing if you find yourself in the same cycle, over and over again.  I resolve to remember that my time and my energy are valuable.  I cannot be wasting them by going in circles.  I resolve to remember the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, expecting a different outcome.  I resolve to recognize patterns quicker and to have the guts to stop repeating them.

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to communicate directly.  I resolve to speak clearly — not skirt around the issues and hope people will infer & sympathize.  I resolve to plant both feet when I talk, never again retreating back or dropping the subject entirely.  I resolve to never downplay what I’m saying ever again, hurting myself because I don’t want the other person to get hurt.  I resolve to never again silence my suffering at the feet of someone else’s sob story.  I resolve to let my voice be loud and clear, to state simply:

The things you’ve done have brought me pain.”

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to kill the Cool Girl off, once and for all.  I resolve to stop saying, “It’s fine,” when it’s not, it’s not, it’s really fucking not.  I resolve to speak in real time when things are killing my soul, to speak in real time when my soul needs something.  I resolve to kill off this notion that the only way I can be in people’s lives is if I have no wants, no needs, no hang ups, no anything.

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to continue to be proactive about removing the things that drain my soul — and embellishing the things that feed it.  I resolve to remember it’s on me to break cycles, to step away from toxic situations, to step forward towards the things I want.  I resolve to — never again — meekly state my situation and hope someone cares enough to listen and change.  Because, the thing is — they don’t.  It’s on me to blaze the trail and cut out what’s in my way.

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to keep my eyes more open, to not be so blind as to what is blatantly in front of me.  I resolve to be a little less naive, a little more assertive.  I resolve to be vigilante, to not wait until things have to be spelled out for me before I finally act.  I resolve to hold truth in both hands and accept it to the best of my ability.  I resolve to remember there’s a world of difference between positive self-talk and outright denial.  I resolve to not wait until I’ve tapped out my reserves before I finally say, “I won’t give anymore.”

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to take more time to feel the miracle of things, to fight mercilessly against the despair of the world.  To continue to retreat to the mountains and visit the ocean and dive headfirst into life.  I resolve to continue my inquiries, both around and inside of me.  I resolve to be fearless in my pursuits, to let unanswerable questions hang where they must, to solve what can be solved, to build what can be built.

I resolve to remember my worth.

I resolve to remember what is good about me, and to finally drop that “broken” narrative, once and for all.  I resolve to remember the warrior within me that has gotten me as far as she has — and remember that she’s done a pretty damn good job, all things considered.  I resolve to banish the part of me that’s quick to label myself as crazy just because I have emotions, just because I find myself at my wit’s end when I’m hurting.  I resolve to remember there’s a world of difference between regulating responses and outright invalidating feelings.

I resolve to remember I already have resolve, that I’ve come this far with it, and to not act like it’s something I must dig up, create from scratch, make out of absolutely nothing.  Much like my mind, my body, my heart, my spirit, it’s not some shattered thing that I have to scramble to piece together again.  It’s a force in its own right, one that simply can be built from.

I resolve to remember my worth.  And to never forget it again.

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Gardenia / If She Could See Me Now

There’s a new trend on Facebook, one where you post a picture of yourself from 2006, then one from 2016.

I’ve been meaning to do it. Especially since us godforsaken late Millenials — the ones who got Facebook in 2006 — have quick access to those pictures from 10 years ago. I’ve been meaning to take part in this exercise in seeing how different we look, how much we’ve changed.

And I have changed. It’s as clear as the pictures from 10 years ago. In 2006, I had dyed blonde hair and an uneasy smile. I spoke a half octave higher than my actual voice, speaking to the world as if I were afraid it would bite me.  I held my body as if I were ashamed of it. Always too tall, too clumsy, too oafish.  The younger version of me was filled to the brim with potential, but overflowing with self-doubt and self-loathing.  She avoided so much because of it.  She avoided sports because she thought she never would be good at them, because she wasn’t an athlete.

If only she could see me now.


A weekend snowfall cancels school and opens up my Saturday. Plans get shifted and I end up joining my husband into Boston, parting ways briefly as he goes about his original plans before we reconvene for a few get togethers. I do what I do best: I put on my headphones and I walk the streets and immerse myself in.


Walking the streets of Boston with music in my ears is a staple. It was how I explored the city when I first moved in for college. It was how I soothed myself during the tumults of the college experience. It was how I recentered myself when the real world was too chaotic, too monotonous, too anything.  Returning to it is like returning home.

I walk streets I know by heart with songs that are as old as this experience.  Mandy Moore’s “Gardenia” comes on and I might as well be in 2006 again. I decide to go straight to where the majority of my 2006 memories were made — back to my alma mater, back to Huntington Ave and the Huskies and college age me.


Where was I in 2006? Depending on the time of year, an unsure freshman or an unsure sophomore.  A member of the literary magazine committee, eager to see if my latest terrible poem will make it in, and always grateful that the submissions were anonymous and no one ever knew when they were tearing into my work.

I was freshly 20 and filled with pipe dreams. I wanted to publish a novel. I wanted to publish a collection of poems. A collection of short stories. I wanted to be part of anthologies. I wanted to be way more than an aspiring writer.  My fevered little mind wanted people to read what I wrote and tell me that it connected with them.

But how in the world was that even going to happen? About 75% of my work never made it into the literary magazine and I didn’t really have any good book ideas and I probably could never really write a novel, anyway.

Oh if only that younger version of me could see me now.


Walking down Saint Stephens Street to Northeastern University is like reuniting with an old friend. While the other end of campus is rapidly expanding, this side stays the same. Same white brick buildings, same red brick sidewalks.  Mandy Moore croons in my ear.

I’ve been seeing all my old friends in the city, walking alone in Central Park. Doing all the things that I neglected, traded them all in just to be in your arms.”

Huntington Ave still has the same feel. The green line trolleys still emerge from the tunnel like tardy companions.  The tracks still clack.  People still dart across the ways, avoiding trains and cars and gigantic slush puddles.  The world is alive and filled with all walks.  The college kids all look like babies, like they should be worrying about getting their learners permit, not finals.  And I laugh, knowing that I was once one of those babies.  So eager to turn to the world and proclaim adulthood, but no where near close to actually achieving it.  Twenty and naïve and assuming it was all already figured out.

If she could see me now, she’d know how off base she was.


I walk past an old white brick building, one with bay windows and iron railings. The one that used to house a boy I once knew. A boy I once devoted my heart to, and, because of that devotion, I never had the guts to stand firm, to say our arrangement was bullshit, to say that I deserve better. And, in being afraid of losing what little I was given, I was only wounded further.

The entire dynamic shattered my heart and cut me up.  It would continue to cut me up, to walk past that building, after everything was said and done and nothing more would be said or done, reminiscing with too much solemnity on what had happened in that building, rehashing and resurfacing the broken sides of my heart as if to reinspect them.  I used to morosely walk this side of the street, convinced I had lost my One, convinced I would forever feel this way, convinced that my one shot at love had misfired.

I walk by it now and can barely conjure up even the memory of that feeling.  I walk by it and the memory that pops up is one of a saying I saw online: “Remember that time you confused a life lesson for a soulmate?

If only that younger me could see me now.


“Gardenia” is on repeat now.  Mandy Moore sings lightly, sings to the me of 2006 and the me of now.

I hear my own voice. It sounds so silly. I keep telling my story all around. And everything I’ve lost ain’t so different — ’cause this is how everybody gets found.”

My therapist warns me not to spend too much time in the past. And she has a point — looking back too much will tweak your neck. But the last few years have forced nothing short of a constant revisit.  The events from the last 2 years have forced me to compare and contrast, find root causes and flawed motivations and unresolved emotions.  And it all has shown me that sometimes the only way you can let go of the past is to dive headfirst into it.

I’ve already proven to myself that, if you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. I’ve already found that the lessons you refuse to learn will come back around, again and again, until you’ve no choice but to learn them.  I’ve already learned that if you don’t confront your demons, you will always attract people who’ll confirm them.

I think of a poem I’ve written recently, about letting go, and how there really is no such thing as it. We can pretend to pry open our hands and drop what we’ve been carrying. But it will follow us, wondering when it can jump back into our arms. The only way through it is to recognize we can’t let it go, so much as let it be. That we have to blaze forward and forge on ahead and pray we make it out on the other side with some of it left behind.


My time at my old college is short. There is too much to see, too many streets I want to visit before reconvening with my husband. There are memories on every corner and I have no interest lingering at one of them for too long.  I loop around the Museum of Fine Art and around the Fens and toward Mass Ave again. I revisit familiar roads filled with strangers and forge on ahead, letting what needs to fall by the wayside linger behind me on the streets.

I don’t wanna hang up the phone yet. It’s been good, getting to know me more.”

This Is What It Feels Like to Write a Novel

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I once likened writing a book to a long run.

A really long run.

Particularly, that part in the run when you’ve hit the wall, when the road stretches out into infinity in front of you.  When you feel like you’ve started running through molasses, when you feel less like you’re running so much as you’re picking up one foot and placing it back down on the exact same spot.  When you feel like you’ve run out of energy and you swear you’re going no where and the actual end is no where in sight.

And it’s true.  It does feel like that sometimes.  Sometimes it feels like a slog.  Like you’re dredging the swamp and coming up with muck.  It feels like murder with each keystroke, like each word has latched on to the back of your mind, the tip of your tongue, and refuses to come out.

But it’s not always like that.  The reality is that writing a novel is like any intricate, long-term endeavor.  It’s a complicated, nuanced, layered beast. Continue reading

This Is What Rebuilding Feels Like

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It was Thanksgiving of 2014 when I looked at the man sitting in the arm chair of the living room.  Thanksgiving of 2014 when I looked at a shell of a human being, a shell that was simultaneously hollow and yet filled with all the things I still couldn’t sort out.

It was Thanksgiving of 2014 when I sat in my car, shell-shocked and exhausted, and muttered, “I think that was my father’s last Thanksgiving.”

It was three days after the Thanksgiving of 2014 when he was rushed to the ER, and five days after Thanksgiving when he was transferred to the ICU.  It was a week after Thanksgiving when words like “encephalopathy” were thrown around, among a slew of words that never need repeating.

December of 2014 was marked with confusion and stress, with phone calls and conversations so maddening that I felt like throwing my phone against the wall.  My father would be in and out of the hospital, fighting tooth and nail to stay at home and rounding up anyone who agreed.  I’d be in and out of reality, desperate for a breath away from what life was turning into.

He’s spend his last December in the hospital.  I’d spend his last December in a anxious haze that gave the world a soft, surreal glow.

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Thanksgiving of 2015 was the first one without him.  My husband and I hosted a humble Thanksgiving, bringing my mother and my little brother up to New Hampshire.

My mother’s talk and demeanor gave hint to the damage of my father’s decline.  It had been almost two months since he had passed and so much had been hollowed out in the wake of it.  Things echoed in ways that caused sideways glances and knowing looks and a profound feeling of soul weariness.

December of 2015 was a weary one.  It echoed the previous December.  It echoed all of 2015, which would turn out to be a year of extreme and brutal upheavals.  It was a month of going through the motions, of being leery of the Christmas cheer and absolutely desperate for it at the same time.  It was a December of exhaustion, of a hazy reality, of a frustrating and confusing ache that lay heavier than any snowfall.

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The world was a different place by the time Thanksgiving of 2016 rolled around.  By 2016’s Thanksgiving, our family tree had trimmed off yet a few more branches: my older siblings’ mother, my beloved brother-in-law, both gone within a month of each other.  One death happening weeks before my father’s one-year anniversary, the other a few weeks after.

I brought up my mother and my little brother up again for dinner.  I could hear one of my nephew’s comments echoing through my head:

It feels like all of family get-togethers as of late have been at funerals and wakes.”

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The world was a different place.  There was no other way around it.  November echoed the lessons learned in 2016.  The beautiful and heartbreaking revelations and realizations.  The devastating and unshackling truths.  The recognition of the rebirths that had happened (and had to happen) in the midst of such merciless change.

In the midst of this evolution, there was an unshakable understanding that I was not the person I was in 2014, and I was not the person I was in 2015.  I was barely the person I was in October.  A page had been turned and I had adapted accordingly.  True to my promise to myself, I had risen from the ashes like the Phoenix, reborn and stronger than ever.

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Unlike December of 2014, when I wished to dive into holiday cheer to escape — or December of 2015, when the holiday cheer served as a brutal mocking for how badly it had failed me the year before — this December is different.

The start of this December was subtle.  As subtle as listening to the Christmas music on the radio with an easy ear, of making Christmas plans without the weight of the world on my shoulders.

This December proved itself gentler.  It didn’t roll in with hypnotic and intoxicating nostalgia.  It didn’t envelop me in all things merry and bright.  It stepped in slightly, let itself be known, and waited for me to react.

And I reacted with decor.  I put up the garlands and the knick-knacks and the lights because it felt right.  As right as my morning cup of coffee, as right as turning the volume up when the right song comes on.  There was no fight, no struggle, no overwhelming sense of duty.  Just a subtle step forward and into the holiday cheer.

Just a toe into the festivities, as if it were the most natural thing to do.

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“Let’s go over the basics,” my husband says as we go to the tree farm. “We’ll keep the tree wrapped until it’s all the way inside, we’ll make sure to never, ever use a plastic stand again…”

He references the comedy of errors from previous Christmases, a little bit of light-hearted humor as we set aside time to wander the rows of trees and cut down our favorite one.

Even the tree we pick is subtle and gentle.  It’s not the behemoth from 2015.  It’s not the tree I desperately wished was the one, right tree, the perfect tree, like I did in 2014.  It simply called out from the ones around it.

“Pick me.  I’m exactly what this Christmas will be.”

One of the men working at the farm is from Paris.  In his thick French accent, he asks if I am from Germany.  Apparently my sing-songy, vaguely-Boston, pseudo-SoCal accent sounds Eastern European to a set of foreign ears.

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We set up the tree in our living room.  Our black cat patrols the area, jumping up onto furniture and giving his signature head butts.  The room already has the subtle scents of evergreen.

The lights are colorful and bright and bold.  The ornaments echo back to a blindly and beautifully simpler time.  Trans Siberian Orchestra plays throughout the house.  We decorate the tree, casually talking about gift ideas and joking about farts and strategically placing the good ornaments by the top & the cheap ornaments by the bottom.  There is no need to desperately reference the past, or escape from the present, or worry about the future.  Both cats watch us, ready to bat at the bottom ornaments.

“This is what rebuilding feels like,” I thought to myself, letting Christmas be what it needs to be, in its simple and light and ethereal glory.

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Detox

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“Sometimes you just need to detox the body.”

I’ve heard this countless times before, as if toxins stake territory and the only way to get them out is by drinking some terrible potion.  As if we don’t have working respiratory, circulatory, and endocrine systems.

The grapefruit juice cleanse.  The lemon water and cayenne pepper cleanse.  Liquid diets as a way of clearing the body.  It’s everywhere in the pseudo-New-Age world.

I’ve wanted to say, “If you want to detox, eat healthy and stay away from the things that are bad for you.  If the body can’t cleanse itself then, you’ll be needing far more than a jar of juice and spicy water.”

All sardonic commentary aside, at the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.  You don’t need any special concoction.  You don’t need to fast.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Eventually.

Sometimes the detox is unnoticeable.  Sometimes it’s as innocent as removing pasta from your diet and feeling like the world has started revolving carbohydrates.

And sometimes it’s a less-than-innocent reminder of how entrenched you were with what was toxic to you.

The caffeine headaches I got when I switched to decaf were otherworldly.  For two solid weeks, the pain behind my eyes and around my temples made me wonder if a migraine was approaching.  It made me wonder if scaling back on my caffeine consumption was even a smart move in the first place.  But I knew I was drinking far too much coffee, and needing more and more caffeine to get the same results.  I knew it was not helping my innate restlessness and unease and anxiousness.  I knew it wasn’t solving my general feeling of weariness.  I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the long run, and I needed a change.

My body detoxed from those caffeine levels in loud and painful and disruptive ways.  In ways that made me wonder if this was the new normal.

And then the headaches dissipated.  The switch was complete.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Even though sometimes the detox will be loud and painful and disruptive.

But sometimes the detox — like the toxin itself — will be subtle and nuanced and intangible.  Sometimes it’s detoxing from an old way of thinking, an antiquated belief system, a trusted reactionary measure or coping device.

Sometimes it’s detox through distance.  Sometimes it’s detox from a toxic individual.   Sometimes it’s detox from a one-sided relationship, an imbalanced dynamic.  Detox from an unhealthy situation, a place that did you no favors.

The detox can come in the form of feeling like the work is too much and the sacrifice is too great and the change it too little.  It can come in the form of wanting to return to old habits, in the form of not really believing that the toxin was toxic in the first place.  It can come in the form of pointing out every time the toxic thing had done you right and made you feel good.  It can come in an ache in the head or the heart and in knowing nothing but time can remedy that.

But it’s still as simple as this: stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.  In whatever ways it needs to.

And sometimes the detox is the opposite of innocent or subtle.  Sometimes it’s bold and explicit.  Sometimes it’s unabashedly blunt.

Sometimes it’s lethal.

For all its ubiquity, alcohol is a menacing force.  Depending on your level of addiction, it will scorch the earth when you try to leave it.

Alcohol detox is one of the few fatal withdrawals.  Ironically, opioid withdrawal might make you wish you were dead, but alcohol will actually go through with the deed.  It’s something I learned all too well, when my father was rushed to the ER three days after Thanksgiving in 2014, for what initially appeared to be a stroke.  Forty-eight hours in a hospital bed and away from the liquor cabinet, and the seizures were so severe he was rushed to the ICU.  The doctors did not mince words when talking about why he was there and what exactly it was they were monitoring.

It was a lesson in knowing what happens when things go too far.  A lesson in understanding that it only gets tougher with time.  A cautionary tale in what happens if you let it go on for too long.  An understanding that, at some point, the hole gets dug too deep and you’ll need a rescue crew to get you out in one piece.

But it isn’t always a crew of EMTs and ER nurses and IVs.  Sometimes the rescue crew comes in the form of support groups.  Sometimes in the form of therapy.  Sometimes in the form of turning to your cherished friends and going, “I don’t know how I got here, how it got this bad.”

Sometimes it’s yourself who mans the helm of the rescue crew, searching for yourself and repeating the mantra over, and over, and over again:

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the soul will cleanse itself.

Remove the toxic, and you will detox.

And the cleanse will always feel elusive at first.  You won’t wake up one morning and pull back the curtains and suddenly feel like you’ve stepped into a new body.  A body free of the toxic dependency, whether it was chemical, biological, or psychological.  You won’t be reenacting any of those pharmaceutical commercials, the world suddenly coloring itself in with vibrant new shades simply because you decided to step out of the trenches.  It will be slow and frustrating and nonlinear and filled with doubt.

But the body will detox itself.  Eventually.  And you will be grateful you got out yourself of the hole when you did.

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