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Car accident: NO INJURIES

Yesterday I got into a car accident for the first time.

Okay, it wasn’t really the first time. Once in high school I was driving my mom’s car when a women in her twenties and I collided in an intersection. I was turning left and she was going straight, but it wasn’t very clear to the police whose fault it was because the woman had her left turn signal on and changed lanes mid-intersection. Technically, because she was going straight, she had the right-of-way, but she’d only made the decision to drive straight once she was in the intersection. The airbags didn’t inflate. No one was injured.

This was different.

This will count, for me, as the first time I was really in a car accident. Somehow the airbags deploying made it seem that much more real. That and the fact that I really did feel like it happened in slow motion.

I’d just left work to go take some photos for a story a few minutes before the accident. I was less than two miles from the office when I stopped at a four-way stop. There were no other cars there with me. I started to move through the intersection and as I did I saw a woman coming to the stop sign on my right side, but she didn’t seem to be stopping. I knew what was happening before it did and I tried to speed up to avoid it.

She swears she stopped before slamming into the rear passenger side of my car.

The airbags and bent wheel say that’s unlikely. The police agreed.

If you have to see what airbags really look like, my wish for you is that it be like this was for me — that the impact is on the opposite side of your car from where anyone is seated. The back passenger side of the car is literally as far away from the driver as you can get.

I was alone. So was she.

The noise was terrifying, a crunching that sounded much worse than the damage shows. Immediately after she hit, I tried to brake. My car slid about 20 yards up the street, a quiet back street with almost no traffic. The car slid until I realized I’d been pressing with all of my might against the floor instead of the brake.

My car came to a stop in a diagonal position in the middle of the street. I really wasn’t hurt. I knew in that moment I hadn’t hit my head or anything, but I also didn’t feel like I was inside my own body.

I was together enough to put the car in park, but not enough to realize that I shouldn’t leave my car sitting diagonally across a street, get out and wander into the street while leaving my driver side door wide open.

I couldn’t hear out of my left ear except for the ringing that didn’t go away until I woke up this morning, but I was otherwise physically unharmed. Still, I was shaking; maybe from the shock of what I’d watched happen or the fact that I tried and couldn’t avoid it or even the scary realization that it could’ve been so much worse. Regardless, I stood in the middle of a neighborhood street shaking as I called police.

Car accidents are strange. I hear about them every single day at work. Most days I hear about a deadly crash on a local road. Sometimes I write about them.

While we waited, I thought about how many friends I’ve lost to car accidents. I thought about a number of close calls. I thought about how minor the damage was to my car and self. I put into perspective just how lucky it is to be in a crash with a strong enough impact to release the airbags and walk away with nothing worse than temporary hearing loss and an annoying ringing.

The car can be fixed and pretty soon I’ll stop doing double-takes at cars approaching intersections as I pass.

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Veterans Day repost

I’m re-sharing a post from 2014 because its about my brother, a veteran of the war in Iraq, whom I absolutely adore. Remember our veterans every day, but especially this weekend. Thank you to all who serve.

Here’s a link to another story about him, if you’re interested. 


I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know the Bruce Springsteen song ‘I’m on Fire’ existed until John Mayer covered it for his 2009 album. I was a senior in college and still in that swoon over John Mayer phase. Bruce Springsteen was just ‘born in the USA’ and nothing more. When my brother brought this song up on the phone I told him I knew it because of John Mayer. He said “no, you’re thinking of the Jimi Hendrix song.” ‘Bold as Love’ is another cover I didn’t realize was a cover until I loved John Mayer’s version first in the mid 2000s. The timing of my existence is mildly unfortunate, at least in the case of good music, but I digress.

My brother is not a Springsteen superfan, by any means. Of all the years I spent riding passenger side in whatever vehicle he hadn’t wrecked yet (sorry, bro), I never remember any Springsteen. He was my old school rap and Miles Davis loving brother. He is also the reason I had boyz II men cassette tapes before I was old enough to care if they were boys or men. But Springsteen had a song that struck a cord during what must’ve been the most pivotal period of his life so far.

It’s two minutes and 37 seconds long. 2:37. That’s about as short as a song on pop radio can get. People run half a mile in that time. Running is exactly what it makes my brother want to do. When he brought up the song he told me he’d been listening to it on repeat for at least an hour. The why was heartbreaking. The song held no meaning before one particular night after Iraq when he was home safe and realizing the finality of friends that never would be.

…Watch as I skip over tons of details here, because it’s simply not my story to tell…

It was a night when the reality hit so hard that all he could do was run from it. He got up from his seat, went out the door, grabbed his iPod from his truck and hit play.

The early 80s beat picks up…”Hey little girl is your daddy home…” He’s running as hard as he can. He’s thinking of kids he knew over there. Kids, because that’s what they were. He was 23.. Some were just 19. Some, as he put it over the phone the other night, hadn’t even had sex yet. Maybe you argue they knew what they were getting into, but there’s really no way anyone does. The guys who never come home live not even half lifetimes. The guys who do, end up racing down the dark street in the middle of the night months and years later because they don’t know how or why it wasn’t them. My brother told me his whole story and I had no words. After several seconds I said, “In a very small and insignificant way I know what you mean.” That’s when he cut me off, telling me I was wrong. No memory that evokes emotion is insignificant.

There’s a George Strait song that puts me in the passenger seat of my dad’s old Buick. I’m 10 years old and he’s driving me through the West Virginia mountains that old cowboy is describing. I cannot hear it without thinking of that trip. I fell
in love with two things on that vacation; the beauty of West Virginia’s New River Gorge, and Country music. I couldn’t have fallen more in love with my dad if I’d tried. My junior year of high school I was coming home from track practice in that same old Buick, this time I was driving. I heard The first few notes and picked up my phone. I called my dad and left him a message because he was out of town and at 16 you sometimes still need your dad to know you miss him when he travels for work. I told him I was calling because our song was on and I loved him. The phone call ended. The song ended. My dad kept the voicemail well into my college years.

The summer we moved to South Carolina my mom rented a convertible for a week while her car was being fixed. It was an 8th grader’s dream. I had a newly purchased copy of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ soundtrack (terrible movie, btw), the wind in my baby thin hair, and no clue how awkward my teenage years would soon become. All I knew was that my mom and my best friend were willing to belt out Ewan McGregor’s version of ‘your song’ with me no matter where we were in town. I can barely handle Elton’s version anymore without wanting to really give it to the “are they green or blue” line.

Music is memory. Songs put us where we want to be. My music tastes have changed dramatically since I loved John Mayer, or since I thought Dave Matthews was super talented (kinda steered me wrong on that one, bros). I’ve grown up to find what I like, instead of what I “like” because someone I love does. But some songs still take me back. ‘Hand in my Pocket’ has me on the living room floor of my first house listening to my cousin Erika play piano. ‘Sailor Suit’ puts me at my computer with my middle brother leaning over my shoulder telling me which songs are cool enough to download. ‘Rich Girl is me, and Ginny, singing at the top of our lungs in Charleston humidity after a long, perfect day on the beach.

Music makes us feel alive.

Music often makes me want to run. When I got off the phone with my brother that night he told me he was going to run. He was going to put Bruce on repeat and just go until he couldn’t feel. I told him to be safe and I love him. We always say ‘I love you’ now, but we didn’t always say it before he went to war.

I hung up the phone, spent 99 cents on iTunes and put Bruce on repeat in my own bedroom because, in some way, his story is now mine too.

 

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As it turns out, I am very bad at writing these daily now

I came home from the hospital on the day of the Raleigh Christmas parade in 1987.

The same parade was held on the weekend of or near my birthday every year of my childhood and still is.

I’m a maniac about my birthday. Anyone who knows me well knows this. But I’m also a maniac about Christmas and I barely can separate the two things in my mind.

The issue of when to begin celebrating Christmas is divisive. There are those in the wait until December camp, the wait until the day after Thanksgivings and the I can’t wait to start listening to Christmas music on November 1st crowd.

I bet you can guess which one I’m in. And I know it drives some people crazy. So I try to respect that. I keep my Christmas music in my headphones until after Thanksgiving.

But the truth is, the lines are blurred. November kicks off a full season of joyful time with family and friends. There are two major holidays between now and December 31st, but for me the feelings of those holidays lasts the entire season.

I, of course, know the meanings behind Christmas and Thanksgiving and understand why some people want to keep them separate, but I can’t help myself. I love the celebration of family and togetherness. I love Christmas decorations and the way I feel like I should go a little more out of my way to be kind to strangers (I know, I know.. I should do this all year round and I really do try).

I love the idea that most people around me have something to look forward to during this season, whether its visits from family not seen since last year or cooler weather or those darned red cups at Starbucks.

I love that my mom and mamaw are/were Christmas fanatics who started shopping months in advance and couldn’t wait to decorate multiple trees in their homes.

I’m grateful that we have a season that is undeniably meant for loving one another, no matter how or what we celebrate between now and the new year.

I don’t apologize for being excited about the holidays as soon as November hits.

In fact, I sort of blame the City of Raleigh. It’s not my fault I was born on the weekend they chose to hold their Christmas parade each year.

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There’s no shame in the joy

A sweet friend of mine carefully and thoughtfully this week told me she is pregnant. She wanted to tell me in person because she knows that’s something I also want in my own life.

A lot of my friends are pregnant or taking care of infants and toddlers. It’s that time in life for many of us. 

I am not pregnant. Not because I don’t want to be, but because it’s not as easy for some people as others.

I’ve had friends who got pregnant in what seemed like an instant. I have people I love who never planned to be pregnant at all.

And I’ve had people very close to me who were devastated to learn they never would conceive. And I’ve seen them climb out of that despair and build families in their own perfect and wonderful ways.

The journey is different for everyone and that’s okay.

This is not about the sadness, loneliness or absolute depression that can come from the struggle for so many women. 

And it’s not about giving up.

This is about joy.

Right here, right now there’s just one thing I want to address, not as your friend who may not have as easy of a road toward motherhood as you had, but simply as your friend.

Share the news.

Don’t hide it. Don’t worry that you may come across as insensitive. You won’t. 

There is no wrong way to tell that friend that you’re pregnant. 

She’s your friend. She loves you. As much as she wants the same thing to happen in her own life, she’s no less thrilled that it’s happening in yours. 

So share the news. 

Understand that her own hopes for a family don’t diminish her excitement for you in this beautiful and cool time. 

There’s too darn much going wrong in the world not to share such joy.

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Nerves got the best of me

I was invited to be a guest on Stories of the Upstate, a Greenville-based podcast that interviews people from the community.

The host, Loyd Ford, is awesome. I’ve actually interviewed him before and found him to be fascinating. He believes everyone has an interesting story, a belief we have in common.

But this isn’t about his podcast or my appearance on it.

This is about what I didn’t say.

Ford asked me right off the bat to talk about my childhood. It wasn’t a surprise question. I knew it was coming, but I was nervous. I’ve only been on one other podcast and it was just last week – and it was hosted by a good friend of mine.

I was nervous, so I didn’t say everything I’d want to say if I were sitting down to write a succinct description of my childhood. In fact, I barely mentioned my family.

In my mind, that’s a huge misstep.

So here’s what I would say.

My childhood was almost exactly what I’d want it to be if I were to do it again. I was surrounded by love from a huge family.

I had two brothers who rarely made it known that they found me annoying and would include me when they picked teams for neighborhood football and street hockey games.

I had two sisters who were already nearing adulthood when I was born and, though I only got to see a few times a year as a kid, went out of their way to make those moments special. They taught me, by example, so much about being a young woman, what kind of man to find for a partner – someone who works hard for his family and will have your back – and they continue to show me what it means to be a great mother, even when it’s the most challenging job in the world.

My parents weren’t rich, but they made every opportunity I could’ve ever wanted possible. They supported me when I wanted to play sports I wasn’t good at and continued to pay for dance classes long after they knew I was just in it for the social aspect and wasn’t actually going to be a Rockette (shoutout to my fourth grade dream). They made sure I was well fed and they sat with me while I learned to read. When I was a young kid, they never let me act shy when an adult tried to talk to me. They taught me to look people in the eye and always try to be kind.

When a hurricane devastated many of our friends, neighbors and even strangers in Raleigh, they carted me all over town to help clean up yards and deliver hot meals.

I had all of the time in the world to play outside and run and laugh and make up games and just be a kid.

I did pretty well in school and had endless access to books, one of my favorite things. I even made friends with the librarians who would take extra time to talk to me about things I might like to read next.

I wrote books. I read. I ran. I swam. I played. I loved

I was allowed to be a kid in ways that so many people aren’t afforded.

If nerves hadn’t got the best of me, this is what I would’ve said.

 

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That time I was definitely not a softball star

In the spring of 2002, I was 14 years old and in my second year on a recreation league softball team that took the game about as seriously as Justin Verlander takes the ALCS.

It was slow pitch.

I’d ended up on the team a year earlier when I’d missed the rec. league tryouts for some reason and had my name drawn out of a hat by the head coach, a nice though intense man who held practices in his backyard.

The man owned horses and enough land to have two softball fields – one on either end of the property. There was a batting cage at the one behind his house. We practiced five days a week, while other teams did the standard once weekly practice at whichever rec. field they’d been assigned to that week.

Our parents met up with the coach at a grocery store and we’d ride in the back of his truck out to his land for a two hour practice before meeting back at a gas station where he’d buy everyone a snack and a drink and we’d get back in our parents’ cars and head home.

It all sounds very bizarre now, like something no 2017 parent of a 14 year old would be comfortable with.

But it didn’t feel strange then and it really wasn’t – aside from that fact that we all took the game way too seriously and basically guaranteed ourselves back-to-back-to-back championships with our rigorous practice schedule.

I am no softball player. I’d already played for a few years by the time I joined this team, but I’d never been good. I enjoyed running the bases, but I wasn’t very good at hitting and fielding was even worse. I stood in right field, the place they put the worst kids on any little league team, and prayed my friends would get three successful outs before I had to worry about a single pop fly coming my way.

It was slow-pitch softball. No one was hitting line drives to right field.

There was no good reason for me to be on that field, except the social aspect of the sport. Which is pretty much the case with most sports I played at that age.

My best friend had a similar story. Maybe she’d asked to play, maybe her parents signed her up. I don’t really know, but I don’t suspect it was because she was gunning for softball superstardom. Neither one of us was, though she was arguably better than I was. There’s really no reason we should’ve both been on this rigorous championship-seeking softball team that I can surmise.

Except to meet each other.

That’s the only real lasting thing I take from my time on that softball team, other than memories of free snacks, long practices and teenage girls yelling high-pitch cheers about good eyes and home runs from a dug out.

Honestly, I don’t really subscribe to the idea of universal signs or “everything happens for a reason”, but when she and I were trading innings out in right field and hitting only mildly impressive singles week after week, we were building something that’s lasted more than 15 years — across state lines, across the country and now, luckily, just down the road.

 

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Journalism

I get to write a Q and A column for the newspaper I work for. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can find it here: http://www.greenvilleonline.com/downtown/askelizabethlafleur/

Journalism is taking some major hits right now, both from people who don’t respect the ethics of the job enough to be doing it and from people who simply don’t want to hear anything that disagrees with what they already believe to be true.

Journalism has two major roles to fill. It’s a watchdog making sure elected and selected leaders are doing what they’re supposed to be doing without corruption. And it’s providing the general public with information they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Writing this column allows me to fill the most basic of these two roles. Twice a week in publication (and many hours of research in between), I get to work to provide people with something they’ve specifically asked to know.

It’s that simple.

The formula is a question sent + time spent researching and interviews + time spent writing the answer. And in two months of doing this, I’ve received only positive feedback. That’s not to toot my own horn and say I’m doing it anywhere close to perfectly, but I think it says something about journalism in general.

People want to know things that matter to them – big or small.

Journalism has gotten away from itself. It’s become this never-ending search for clicks or views and a constant search for the balance of sharing stories that matter or sharing stories that people will actually click.

In these two months, I’ve studied my own analytics – the mark by which most journalism is measured these days. What I’ve found is that people still want answers. They still want to know what is happening in their own community.

They want to know they can impact what they’re reading and be impacted by what they’re reading.

It’s that simple.

It’s journalism.

And I couldn’t be more proud to be able to be a part of this small piece of it.

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Happy October 20th

It’s October 20th and you know what that means…

No you don’t (and that’s totally okay).

It means I have one more month in my twenties which is somehow both wildly insignificant and terribly important to me.

I have friends who are older than me who’ve told me for years now that your thirties are some of the best years of your life – that you’re more confident, more assured, and just generally more aware of who you are and what you value.

I have friends older than that who tell me the 40s are even better.

I’m thrilled.

I’m not scared or sad like I thought I might be. I’ve always enjoyed birthdays and never minded getting older too much, but for a long time I felt like I was really a 17 year old trying to pretend like an adult.

Right on time, as if this is how aging is supposed to work, I actually feel like a grown-up now. I feel ready. I’m excited for what’s to come.

I did a thing four years ago, after being encouraged by friends, where I made a promise to write and post something every single day in the month leading up to my birthday. It wasn’t about making myself write – I already do that every day. It was about being willing to put it out there.

I did it and it led to a lot of great things. Publishing daily on this website played a role in the job I have today, which is huge. It also caught the eye of the man I’m now married to, which is MUCH BIGGER.

Writing, for better or worse, has changed my life over the past four years (largely for better). In fact, it’s changed my life all the way through since I opened my first bright pink diary with Minnie Mouse in a ballet costume on the front and little purple bows printed on the corner of each page inside.

So, I’m doing it again. Bear with me. I write far more for work now than I used to, so I’m going to need to dig deep for creativity at the end of long workdays, but I’m going to do it.

To celebrate the non-accomplishment of just still being here, I’m going to do it.

These three decades have been pretty darn good to me and if my friends are to be trusted, there’s something even better ahead.

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A book and podcast I can’t get off my mind

 

I just finished a beautiful book called ‘The Bright Hour’ by Nina Riggs, it’s the memoir of Riggs, a woman from Greensboro, NC who is battling breast cancer. From the beginning you know the book was published after her death.

There’s no way out – no surprises. This person, whose story you’re going to become deeply invested in, will die and it will be at far too young of an age. She’ll leave behind two young sons and a grieving husband.

Along the way she’ll guide you through radiation treatments, tough conversations about her disease with her young sons, watching her mom die of another form of cancer and all of the ways she travels from anger to sadness to pure joy in the moments that she has left.

There’s a chapter that made me put down my book and call my mom just to talk. She doesn’t even know it. It’s impossible to read about such loss and not wonder about your own loved ones – and it’s unbearable to ignore that sentiment.

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On my way to work, I’ve been listening to a podcast called ‘Terrible, Thanks for asking’. It’s as dark as it sounds. Host Nora McInerny lost her husband to brain cancer when he was in his 30s. She weaves her own journey through his death in with interviews of others who’ve experienced similarly tragic loss – drug addictions, cancer, brain aneurysm and more.

Most days, I find myself weeping on my way to work as McInerny dives into deeply personal stories about figuring out how to continue to live in a world where someone so important no longer does.

McInerny explores life and death in a way that makes many of us uncomfortable.

She asks guests to share stories of the people they’ve lost – who they were, why they mattered and even how they died.  She speaks openly about deceased people whose names even some of the people who actually knew them are too afraid to mention in the aftermath of their loss.

Sometimes the gut reaction when someone we know loses a loved one is often to try to avoid bringing it up – to avoid interrupting whatever peace they might’ve found in the days since.

McInerny beautifully understands that peace doesn’t come from pretending those people never existed – or a fear of saying their name. Sometimes the best response is to ask how they’re doing and be comfortable with hearing “I’m terrible, thanks for asking.”

 

I can’t stop listening to McInerny’s podcast, because she’s dissecting something so final, and painful in a way that helps me understand that peace, or whatever semblance of it people in mourning can find, comes from being able to share the person they’ve lost and having people who are ready to hear about them.

I’ve surrounded myself with death in an, admittedly, superficial way. I’m not dealing with it as intimately as many people around me. I can’t compare teary car rides to the actual impact of tragedy.

But there’s something ethereal about listening. There’s grace and power in empathy.

You can find McInerny’s podcast at this link or download it in the podcasts app on your iPhone.

You can buy Riggs’ book at this link (or a Barnes & Noble store)

 

 

 

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RIP Oprah.

My goat Oprah died unexpectedly last night. I’m heartbroken over it, more than some people might think one should be over a goat. But here’s the thing, I waited almost 13 years for this goat and she was sweet, though timid, and a wonderful mother to some very cute babies. She was my first goat, someone I dreamed about from the time I was about 14 years old. I don’t really have much else to say, but I’m going to miss her, so I’m going to use this day to share a couple of photos and a post I wrote shortly after I got Oprah for Christmas in 2014. ​

 


Welcome to the family, Oprah (Jan. 7, 2015)

I was squatting in a corner of the goat pen, hand outstretched with a carrot resting on the end of my fingertips, softly trying to negotiate with the goats. “It’s okay girls. You can trust me. I have carrots for you.” It turns out that’s not enough to convince adult goats that a complete stranger is safe.  Those that know me best would tell you patience is not my strong suit, but it’s going to take a lot of patience for me to get to know my new goat… and for some reason that feels okay.

Twelve years ago I started asking for a goat as a negotiation tactic. My parents told me we were moving from our perfect, happy, SERIOUSLY WHY WOULD WE EVER LEAVE HERE suburban life near Raleigh, North Carolina down to a farm in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina. My brothers weren’t going. They were both old enough to live on their own. I was the only one still in school. For reasons best explained by teenage angst and inability to see the big picture, I thought this whole thing was terrible. I decided moving by myself to South Carolina was, at the very least, a strong enough negotiator for getting a pet goat. So I started asking. I pushed hard for a while. I was a 14 year old girl with her dad wrapped around her finger (why deny it?). It didn’t take long to get a yes to the goat… but then she never actually arrived.

—–

I bit into one of the carrots to break it into smaller pieces. I can’t be certain, but I think one of the girls gave me the side-eye as I put my teeth around the end of the carrot.

I looked down at my dusty boots and laughed quietly at myself; I waited twelve years to squat near some goats, for what seemed like forever, while trying to patiently coax them into sharing a carrot or two.

—–

I named my goat Oprah — partly because I used to love watching Oprah after school with my mom… but mostly because I think it’s a hilarious name for a goat. Oprah can’t live with me right now. She lives at my mom and dad’s farm because I don’t think goats love apartment style living and my dog is going to murder me in my sleep if I bring another animal into her life.

Twelve years ago when I asked for a goat it was because I was a goofy 14 year old who appreciated the novelty of owning an animal none of my suburban friends had seen outside of the state fairgrounds. It’s probably best not to get a living, breathing pet for a reason that ridiculous. This year, when I renewed my request for a goat it was because this farm thing is real. I’m in this. I love the lifestyle. I love living off of and learning from the land. I don’t get to live it every day, but I benefit from it most days of the week. I cook meals made from vegetables grown in my parents’ backyard. I bake, scramble, and boil eggs from their chickens.

When I need a place to just get away and breathe fresh air, the camping spot down by the creek is the best spot I know.

—–

I know… as I corner Oprah and her sister and get just close enough to rub their backs, while they watch me with suspicion… that this is all going to take a while. I know, as I drive down the gravel driveway and turn out onto the road that carries the address I used to call home… that the farm is not my reality right now. I know that in 35 minutes I’ll be pulling up to my apartment two towns away from my family’s land, and that is where I live right now. That is where my bills arrive. That is where my dog sleeps. That is where I get ready for work each day. I know I still live in an apartment in another county, but the family farm’s influence is real and it’s shaping me.

Oprah is my best way to really take some ownership in the farm right now. She’s my ticket to spending more time enjoying what this land… our land… has to offer,  if I can ever get her to trust me enough to share these carrots I’ve already bitten.

 

 

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15 years

We left North Carolina 15 years ago today in a U-Haul.

I was 14 years and 8 months old and should’ve been doing my 9th grade summer reading on the way down, but I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I was leaving behind.

I hated moving.

I typically love disgusting southern summer heat, but it was unacceptable that day. The truck rattled on the highway and nothing on the radio sounded right. We got Chick-fil-A somewhere just before the state line and it didn’t even taste good.

Chick-fil-A always tastes good.

It’s the first time in my life I don’t remember being excited to see the Gaffney peach.

We used to come down to Liberty, SC fairly often. We’d visit my grandparents farm, swim in their pool, fish in their pond, spend time with my sisters and nephews.

It was a fine, no, great place to visit.

But it was no place to move a teenager who was used to the comfort of the suburbs in a progressive southern city, of that I was sure.

—–

My opinion of this place changed. I became comfortable over time. High school in rural South Carolina was far better than I expected it to be, and most likely a better experience than I would’ve had in a huge suburban Wake County high school. I made friends I will never lose.

I stuck around South Carolina for college. Though that decision was largely influenced by in-state scholarship money, I’m glad I made it.

I left right after school to try a new place, because I thought I needed to get away.  It only took me 19 months to hurry back from Mississippi.

I eventually fell from feeling stuck in South Carolina, to being in love with it. My sisters are here. My parents are here. A huge part of our family history is here. I fell in love with South Carolina.

And I fell in love in South Carolina.

I met a guy from New Hampshire who’d come down for a job and through the course of all of the things dating, falling in love and getting married can bring, I sort of accidentally roped him into sticking around the Palmetto State.

So we’re settling in this place I never wanted to move to, but it’s not settling in the sense that I’d rather be elsewhere.

I wouldn’t.

We love our city. This city is ours and that’s important to us. We’ve watched it grow and change in the past five years and will continue to do so long into the future.

But I still miss North Carolina.

I still think of North Carolina as my home.

Not in a sad, pathetic way, or at least that’s what I tell myself, but in the way that a person loves the place that shaped them.

North Carolina is where I was made. It’s where I learned to walk, run, swim and ride a bike. It’s where I made my first friends and some of my very best friends. It’s where most of my team allegiances lie and where my mom’s whole side of the family hails from. We didn’t travel a lot when I was young, instead we spent most of our time off and many weekends visiting my grandparents’ home near the NC Coast.

It’s also the only place I grew up with my brothers. They were both out of high school when we moved. A transition to being the only child left at home might feel natural for any other youngest child, for me, it coincided with a life change that amplified an altered family dynamic.

—–

15 years ago today my mom, dad and I moved into the first house I ever lived in that wasn’t ours from its beginning. It was a rental house, actually a former parsonage for my grandparents’ Methodist church which sat just behind the backyard. The living room had green carpet and the kitchen had the oldest appliances and cabinets I’d ever seen.

I’m sure someone loved the home at one point, but it wasn’t me.

We lived in that house for two years while my parents built a big white home on a hill outside of town. Someone bought the parsonage after we left and renovated every inch.

I don’t disconnect well. It took me years to figure it out, but it’s probably my biggest weakness. I don’t easily grasp the idea of losing friends to time, distance or even conflict. I’m still, even as we go through the process of buying our first home here in Greenville, appalled at the idea that people live in a structure for years, build memories there and then just leave, destined to only ever see it again from the outside as they slow roll down the street wondering how the new residents have redecorated.

That was the only home I’ve never cared about since we left.

On the rare occasions when I drive by that house, all I can think of is grumpy 14-year-old me on a hot, sticky July day, insisting on putting two unopened packets of Chick-fil-A’s Polynesian sauce in the ugly old fridge as soon I arrived – you know, in case I needed them in my uncertain future in South Carolina.

 

 

 

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The lost art of disliking something quietly

I could mourn the loss of a lot of things at the hands of the internet.

Privacy

My free time

The ability to remember mundane facts instead of googling them

But, perhaps, the thing I miss most is the lost art of disliking something quietly.

Nobody needs my opinion on goat cheese or ‘The Princess Bride’, but what we’ve built in this internet saturated age is an endless platform for just that – opinions on flippin’ goat cheese.

I, like many of you, remember hearing “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” ad nauseam when I was a child.

There was a general principle that the need to comment on things we disagree with was not as important as the need to respect other people’s opinions.

If my brothers wanted to watch a movie I didn’t want to watch, I was redirected toward an activity that I would enjoy or I watched that movie and earned the right to make the movie decision the next time around.

If someone offered me a food I didn’t like, I politely turned it down or sucked it up and ate a small portion.

If, as is the way in the internet world of 2017, I’d shouted in the offeree’s face (CAPS LOCK, MUCH?) about how disgusting that food is, I would’ve spent some quality time with a chair in the corner or some other reasonable punishment.

We used to be blissfully unaware of how everyone we’d ever met felt about every trending topic of the day.

The internet took that away.

Faster than any of us could’ve expected, we’ve become powerless in the face of a blank space waiting to be filled with our own righteous opinions on every little thing.

Gluten sucks!

The president is stupid! The president is a genius and everyone else is stupid!

Women shouldn’t wear leggings as pants!

Libtard!

Racist!

Bigot!

Idiot!

Moron!

I swear, I didn’t see this coming.

Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. Is this really where we wanted to land – in a place where our first assumption is the worst assumption – a place where we’d rather blast the things we don’t like than celebrate the things we do?

I can’t help but think we might all be better off if we took a few minutes to sit in the corner and share our opinions on goat cheese with a wall.

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We went to Maine

This past weekend we flew up to New England to surprise my father-in-law for his 60th birthday. It was a blast and a half. My in-laws, who are always willing to show me new places up North took us up to Maine.

While in Kennebunkport we saw the wildly underwhelming Bush compound – I just feel like they could’ve picked a better color scheme, took a bunch of squinty and ill-framed selfies before realizing sunglasses would help and I ate lobster for the first time. Life hack: If you’re going to try lobster for the first time, do it in Maine. It’s delicious and light and as fresh as it gets up there.

I am a southern girl to the core. My family on both sides is from the Carolinas and I’ve been known to be obnoxiously proud of where I’m from, but MAN, it is SO cool to have a reason to visit another region of the country on as regular a basis as we can afford.

If we made a lot more money, we’d be up there even more often.

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When you have to talk about tragedy with a teenager

A gray Tuesday with dark clouds hanging heavily in the sky is exactly what you’d expect out of a day spent talking about death with someone too young to have to figure out how to understand it.

I’d kept my crumpled rain jacket in the passenger seat all day, in case the exact moment I stepped out of the car was when the clouds released.

I’ve never been great at talking about death – most especially with a teenager – someone who, one can only hope, had never experienced this kind of loss before.

We lost classmates when I was in school, classmates – with an s. We attended more memorial services for people our age than any kid should have to. It was usually the result of a car accident on a rural road.

Temporary memorials were placed at the site of their deaths. We cried. We hugged. We left notes in places we’d decided belonged to them – lockers, intersections, their parking spaces in the school lot. Their desks remained empty. In the back of the yearbook, we knew what to expect – a black and white photo taken on a picture day before any of us knew what was ahead. Underneath it the year they were born, a dash and the year they died.

We mourned and counselors were brought in to try to help us process it. I imagine this is how it goes at most schools when a life is lost. A community of adults tries to help kids understand and move forward.

I found myself back near the intersection of death and youth on that gray Tuesday. A dozen tables filled the lobby of a local high school, each covered with rolls of paper filled to the edges with notes to a track & field coach who’d died in a fiery wreck on his way to school. He’d coached his track teams to state championships, but the trophies took up far less space than the notes from students, parents, athletes and colleagues thanking him for the love and kindness he showed.

I’d seen all I needed to see. My small notebook was filled with details like the color of the paper, the number of times he was named coach of the year and how many pairs of track spikes were left hanging on the fence by the stadium where his team practiced.

I wasn’t there to pressure kids to talk to me. There were adults with whom these kids are comfortable with who could do that. A story isn’t more important than respect for someone’s grief.

I was nearly to the door when a teacher stopped me. She called a girl’s name and I watched as a blonde with a stoic expression turned toward us. The woman asked the girl to speak with me – to share her story.

I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable in that moment. I watched the girl’s face morph from stoic to sad as she considered it. The woman urged her – saying she knew she had something important to say.

I gave her an out.

I told her I was going to take care of something and would be back in a couple of minutes.

“If you’re sitting on there when I get back, we can talk,” I said, motioning to a bench by the school’s front door.

I gave her an out, but as I approached the front door of the school again a few minutes later, I could see her legs sticking out from the bench.

I could tell she was nervous. She’d brought a friend along for moral support. The three of us walked together into the first open room I could find – an auditorium. The large space was void of people, but full of chairs. We grabbed a couple in the corner.

As we began to talk, her voice was steady. She knew what she wanted to say about a man she’d known since she was just a seventh grader. She told me how much she’d grown and could see him in herself as she approached her upcoming graduation. A couple of times during our conversation her friend spoke up encouraging her to “tell her what you told me earlier”.

I listened as the girl’s eyes welled up while she talked about this man she’d loved. She’d run for him for six years. He’d known her through some of the most important moments of her life so far. She’d known big achievements and tough disappointments under his direction and recognized in him the ability to keep a positive attitude about each. She recognized the way that attitude had rubbed off on her.

I teared up with her. We talked about the track & field team I coach. More than a few times I saw her take a deep breath to steady her voice and imagined a few of the athletes I’ve become close to over the past couple of years. I thought of my high school coaches and how I would’ve ached to lose them.

I took notes as she explained how the track wouldn’t feel the same without her coach. We talked about the younger kids she’d be leaving behind after graduation – those who are even less equipped to understand sudden, tragic death.

She poignantly and carefully described a man who could make any kid feel like a champion.

Sometime soon she’ll find herself in a room with a few hundred or so people who felt his life in their own way. It’ll become more clear that he’s gone and she didn’t get a proper goodbye. She’ll learn that life somehow still continues without him.

I won’t be there for any of that. This young woman taught me how to talk about tragedy with a teenager. But the reality is I only knew her for a few minutes in a couple of brown chairs in an empty high school auditorium.

 

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To the normal mom

ElizabethRusselWED188

My mom used to go all out for our birthdays. I don’t mean she spent a lot of money. At that time, I don’t think my parents had a lot of extra money to spend. So she got creative. One year my brother had a pirate party and everyone was given handmade maps to their own treasure buried in the woods across from our house.

 

When I think back on my childhood, it’s full of little normal moments when my mom went beyond where she had to.

She was the mom who picked me up when I fell, put a band-aid on and then lovingly told me to keep playing, because that would make it feel better.

She was the mom who made three meals a day and let us help plan a month’s menu so we could feel like we were a part of the process.

She was the mom who let me traipse around her garden in tiny sandals, probably stepping on plants along the way, so I would one day appreciate what it’s like to grow my own food and flowers.

She was the mom who, when our home was intact following a major hurricane, packed us all into the car and drove us to North Raleigh so we could help members of our church clean up from their own devastation.

She’s the mom who knew she was terrified of storms, so she made sure to spend time with us watching lightning and counting until the thunder clapped, so we wouldn’t have the same fear.

She drove me from school to dance to swim practice to whatever rec. league sport was in season at the time and always talked to me about my day on the way there – in a way that made me want to share my life with her.

She let me borrow her sewing machine when I was a middle schooler with a penchant for creating purses, pajama pants, pillows and more.

My mom always wanted to help me learn how to cook and I was stubborn for too long and didn’t give her the attention that I probably should have, but she often forgivingly invites me into her kitchen as an adult to make up for lost time.

She’s the mom who will still talk to me over the phone later at night until I reach my destination, just to make sure I make it there.

She’s still one of the very first people I’d call if I ever needed help or to share good news.

When I was very young, I wanted my birthday party to be a “teddy bear tea”. My friends wore their finest dress-up clothes and brought their teddy bears along. My mom made the usual snacks and drinks for the kids, but also took the time to set a table for the visiting bears and even made them tiny marmalade sandwiches, because that’s what Paddington ate.

I’m convinced moms are made in these little moments – in the hours spent drawing treasure maps on normal paper and burning the edges to make them look old and in the spreading of marmalade on tiny, delicate pieces of bread so a group of 5 year olds can pretend.