April 11

April 11.

Four years ago today, Russ tied a dozen or so notes we’d written each other and strings of lights to the trees by the creek at my mom and dad’s farm and got down on one knee and asked me, in the sweetest way, to marry him. As obnoxious as it sounds, I’d say yes to that again every day.

Today, I’m leaning on that memory. Because today, April 11, four years after that night, was supposed to be the day we got to meet our first baby – a baby we affectionately call “speck”. If I’d known it was the only name our baby would have, I would’ve chosen better.

We’ve been open about this whole process since the early stages and will continue to do so, because there are a lot of people with stories similar to ours and we don’t think anyone should have to feel alone in this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but many people don’t feel they can speak about this kind of loss.

I’m frankly unwilling to be quiet about it. Today I don’t get to meet my baby, but that doesn’t change the feeling that I knew my baby and I love my baby. I know I always will. That may not make sense to some people, but if you’ve carried a baby or watched as your biggest dream shifted on a sonogram and heard its heart beating like nothing in the world could be wrong, you know.

Today, I’m sad. Most days I’m at least a little sad, but today it’s bigger. I’m sad because I remember the week we saw that heartbeat wasn’t as strong and speck didn’t seem to be growing. I’m sad because it’s been more than six months since that day and we haven’t seen another heartbeat on a sonogram since. I’m sad because being a mom is my greatest dream in life and something I took for granted as something I would just get to do.

I have been fundamentally changed by this process, as anyone is by grief.

I’m not at work today. I took the day off to just let myself feel whatever needs to be felt. This is a process and I don’t know what the right way to handle it is, but this is mine.

If you got this far, I’m asking you for a favor, hopefully a simple one – be patient with people. Be kind. Honor the fact that so many people, maybe even you, are fighting really challenging battles while still facing whatever daily routine is required of them. Just spread some love for me today.

Hormones, people. Ugh.

When I started the medications for the retrieval part of the IVF process my brother joked that I was going to be a bit of an emotional challenge.

It’s not an off-the-wall prediction to say that pumping extra hormones into your body might make your brain react in weird ways.

I actually braced myself for this in those first few weeks. I fully expected to be kind of an emotional handful for those around me. I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from what I believe to be very reasonable fears that the process might not work out, I actually felt pretty mentally stable. It was nice.

Of course, my brother didn’t necessarily believe me when I told him that I never really felt out of my norm. I believe his exact words were “I’ll see what Russ says about it”. That’s fair and it’s also not an unexpected response from a sarcastic brother.

As it turns out, this process I’m in now is ripe for the mental meltdown. I’m taking what feels like a boatload of estrogen – granted, I have no real concept of how much estrogen is normal and how what I’m adding compares – but this feels like a lot.

I’ve been on it for a few days now. It started with two pills a day. I’m now up to seven pills a day.

And I’m noticing.

This week has already been extremely emotional. We have some big changes coming over the next few days as our best buds move away followed by more great friends moving away a few days after that.

I’m not handling any of it well.

To put it lightly: I’m a wreck. I cried when I saw the U-Haul in our friends driveway three days before their actual move. I’ve cried because my body looks and feels different to me right now. I almost cried while Russ and I were running yesterday. I’m tearing up while writing this.

I said when I started sharing this stuff that I would be as honest as possible about the ups and downs. There’ve been a lot of ups. I have to believe that our experience so far has been about as good as it possibly could be. It’s funny how quickly we went from feeling this whole situation is wildly unfair to celebrating the little victories – perspective matters and ours has shifted like crazy over the past few months.

We’ve had a trend of getting better than expected news from each step of the process. It’s been great – kind of like winning the slowest heat in the 100m great –  but still, pretty great.

There are downs. This week is quite clearly one of the low points. I feel physically great, but I’m overly emotional about everything and that’s hard on me and even tougher on Russ.

I’m currently trying to reel it in because the last thing an embryo needs is to try to make a home in a stressed out body. Running helps. Little things like Russ cleaning the kitchen and turning on Jeopardy without my prompting help. Messing around in our garden helps. The new baby birds who just hatched in our yard help. Unexpected text messages from friends who are just checking in help.

We’re getting really close to the end of the first attempt at this whole process. I felt like a superhero during the first part. Giving myself shots without much hesitation really boosted the ol’ ego.

Of course, if you know me well, you know the fact that my emotions are the biggest challenge of this journey makes absolutely perfect sense.

If you’re the praying type, prayers help. Prayers for staying calm and positive and, if it feels appropriate to you, prayers that this whole thing works out. We’re so ready to love on a baby.

Results (so far)

I can’t even tell you how many 400 meter hurdle races I’ve run in my life, but there’s a very distinct pattern to the emotion of my favorite race.

Like every track event it starts with the adrenaline at the starting line, a burst of energy or even a chill as you place your feet in the starting block and give your legs one last shake out. There’s the stillness before the gun goes off that seems far longer than it is.

Then you’re off and facing the first curve and the first hurdle.

You’re confident. At this point there’s no doubting you’ll easily clear all of the hurdles.

But it’s a brutal race. It’s a quarter mile at a full-blown sprint pace with 10 hurdles spread along the way.

When I coached track I always told the 400 runners “I love the 400 because it’s just long enough to make you want to quit and right about the time that feeling hits, you reach the finish line”.

For me, that desire to quit used to hit somewhere around the last straightaway of a hurdle race when I was far enough in to know what I’d already accomplished but tired enough to wonder if I might have trouble with the last hurdle or two.

I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Until IVF.

IVF is emotional whiplash. The process, if you’re lucky, is filled with highs, but each one is met with the almost-immediate realization that the next hurdle may take away everything you’ve worked through so far.

Right now, we’re somewhere in the final curve having cleared so many hurdles along the way.

Last week was huge. Russ had surgery on Wednesday and we learned, after months of wondering, that we might actually be able to have a kid (hopefully kids) of his own. I’ve never been so thrilled about anything, but it was followed by the very real fear that my Thursday egg retrieval wouldn’t pan out like it should.

Thursday went well too. They were able to get 19 eggs. 19 eggs! I was IV drunk after the procedure and I think I asked about that number about three times before I believed it.

But here’s the thing, numbers in this process change dramatically. We knew that. So, we reined in our excitement and waited for the Friday phone call about how many embryos we’d have.

16 eggs were mature enough to attempt fertilization. 14 were successfully fertilized.

We started with 14 embryos with the knowledge that the number would again be cut down and probably in a big way. The embryologist estimated five would continue to grow like they should until this week when they would freeze them for later transfer.

The embryologist was correct.

So here we are with a finite number. We have five chances. If you know anything about the statistics of pregnancy and IVF procedures specifically, you know that doesn’t mean five babies.

Though five used to be the number of children I always said I wanted, we’ll be thrilled to have just one and we’ll figure out the sibling thing later, ideally using leftover embryos, if everything works out.

Right now, we’re facing what’s ahead. I get to be normal for a few weeks until I start more shots ahead of the transfer process. I can run and enjoy some beer and just generally feel less like a pin cushion and more like myself.

Those last few hurdles are still there. We don’t know that the embryos will all survive the thawing process and we don’t know that any of them will lead to a successful pregnancy and I’m terrified that we have a maximum number of chances and it’s just five, but we’re also thrilled that it’s not the zero we thought was a very real possibility just 10 days ago.

If my over-the-top metaphor proves true, right about the time this process makes me want to quit, we’ll find some relief.

details

This is a look at my meds through phase one of the process.

One shot and three pills in the mornings.

Two shots and one pill at night.

The box full of meds still waiting for after the egg retrieval is daunting, but I’ll face that when it gets here.

The morning shot is the one I added on Friday and, to be perfectly honest, it sucks. It’s okay going in, though the needle is larger than the others, but it hurts after. Every morning so far I’ve found myself using google to try to determine if I’ve accidentally hit muscle or something.

It turns out I’m doing it right, it just sucks. That’s normal.

To be totally honest, I’m feeling the effects now. Sitting for a long time or riding in the car just aren’t comfortable. I’m also getting tired really easily. All of this is normal and still not as bad as it could be.

Also, missing running was a joke. I haven’t missed any activity this week. I’ve gone on a few two mile walks, but I’m maxed out by the end thanks to the heat and just general fatigue. So running can definitely wait and I’m cool with that.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about the process. I’m fascinated and thrilled with what science can do for us, so I thought I’d share the basics:

The stimulation phase is for pumping up the ovaries so they mature way more than their usual one egg. Basically the ovaries are pumped up from the size of almonds to the size of two bunches of grapes – LOVELY.

In the meantime, there are several doctor visits for ultrasound and labwork.

At my last appointment some follicles were already the size they need to be to release a mature egg, so I started that new morning shot.

It’s meant to stop me from ovulating before the doctor has a chance to go in for the egg retrieval.

The day before my retrieval those shots will stop and they’ll be replaced by one final trigger shot that helps release the eggs for retrieval.

Something that’s been on the back-burner for both of us is Russ’s surgery. It’s a huge deal, but with so many different things to focus on that are happening *right now*, it’s been easy to just put that one out of our minds.

Russ has, to no one’s surprise, been going way out of his way to make sure I’m comfortable and supported and loved. And that probably has a lot to do with why I haven’t been feeling down throughout this process – that and my friends who’ve reached out by phone, text, snail mail and in person just to let me know they’re thinking of us.

Now Russ’s surgery is coming up on Wednesday. It’s a big day and not a small surgery.  My retrieval may be the same day, but the recovery is supposed to be far easier for me. I’m looking forward to my chance to be the support for him. He’s looking forward to playing a lot of Xbox and really good pain meds.

I can do this!

 

I did it.

I survived my first night of giving myself shots and I didn’t even panic. I felt fine about it all day and there was a brief moment right before when I had to pause and just say aloud “this seemed less terrifying before I actually had to do it.” Then, dressed in my ugliest and comfiest shorts, I rolled up my shirt, bent over, pinched some stomach skin and just made it happen.

Having to focus on getting the injection right really helped distract me from my fear of needles.

Russ sat right there with me but I asked him just to talk to me. I think this will all be easier if I can control the situation.

There’s a long road ahead and a lot more shots, plus I’m told my stomach will bruise and it may be tougher once that happens, but getting over the fear of the first night was a big success.

I’m feeling really tough and proud right now.

I think I can handle this.

What I don’t have

Perhaps I’ve written these words before – a long time ago, someone at my first job told me I don’t have the stomach for news.

It was in response to jokes she was making about a public figure who’d hanged himself. I didn’t find the jokes funny.

I was told I would either harden my heart and brain in this job or I’d get out.

A lot of people cope with hardening. I completely understand that. It’s easier for most of us to separate ourselves from the darkness – to make it not feel real.

That’s not me. When that comment was made several years ago, I didn’t take it lightly. I was upset for a bit, but mostly at the prospect that I wasn’t cut out for the one thing I’d studied to do. It was a straight shot to my ego to think I might be made for something else and I’d just wasted four years of my life making this something happen.

I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, as I left the newsroom on the day the Sandy Hook shooting occurred so I could take a few moments to myself in a bathroom. I thought about it on the day a man walked into a church in Charleston, a city I love so dearly, and killed 9 people during a bible study. I thought about it the day I walked the streets of Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood asking people what they knew about teenager accused of gunning down a Greenville police officer before turning the gun on himself.

And I thought about it again this morning as I stood with neighbors of a home on Greenville’s westside and watched forensics teams pull a body out on a gurney and load it into a medical examiner’s van.

I don’t often report on breaking news. It’s not my “beat”. I am typically only drawn in if someone is on vacation, busy or the story is big enough that we need several people working on it.

Every experience I’ve had with violent death has been on the job. It’s foreign to my personal life and yet it’s something I take personally.

I realized something on a dead end street, in Greenville County, lined with old mill houses and a small mobile home park – I don’t have the stomach for news. I don’t even want the stomach for news, if it means I ever leave a scene like that and don’t think about what was lost.

Not ready for exposure

Last Friday I fell while running. I got pretty banged up and had a few bruises, but the heel of my hands took the brunt of my fall.

I cut layers so deep into my hands that tiny veins could be seen pulsing under the open white skin. Even now, five days later, it seems little healing progress has been made.


This afternoon, a few dozen miles down the road, police say a teenage boy killed his father, stole his truck, then drove to a nearby elementary school and fired shots. According to police, his bullets hit two young students and a teacher. According to logic, the violent interruption in an otherwise quiet town hit everyone who wasn’t ready to admit it can happen to us.

Young students were filmed filing off of school property to a nearby church. The footage aired on Facebook live streams from local news outlets and during nonstop on-air television coverage. Parents wept as they waited for answers and the chance to hug their kids.

An entire community wondered if the threat was over until the announcement of an arrest.

Storylines feasted on raw emotion.


The first two days after my fall, my hands hurt anytime I tried to use them. They stung like they were on fire when I let open air reach them for more than a few seconds. That’s how nerves behave when they’re not yet ready for exposure and they’re forced out into the world anyway.


Students will be kept home from school this week. Parents may decide they’re not ready to take their eyes off of them even when the school doors reopen. But students will go back and it will happen sooner than later.

They’ll tie their character tennis shoes, strap on backpacks that are the full size of their torsos and wander into their classrooms to begin again.

They’ll  wait for instructions from parents and adults who are trying to pretend everything is okay. They’ll follow the lead on how to behave after a tragedy rocks the small piece of the world they’d only begun to understand.

But they’ll move forward. They’ll progress until their wounds reopen. They’ll finally make it all the way across the monkey bars or get their first triple in kickball. They’ll learn multiplication tables and begin reading chapter books. They’ll continue to look up for direction.


But Band-aids aren’t designed to stay on certain body parts. Movement forces them out of the holding position. They leave gaping holes where air can seep in and make wounds burn.

I spent most of days three, four and five after my fall wanting to take backwards steps, to wrap my wounds again so they’d never be exposed.

My inner monologue became violently angry the moment the adhesive began to pull away from my skin. I couldn’t handle having nothing to protect my open flesh. It was fresh. It was raw. I wanted, no needed, the protection.


One day something will remind these that they lived through a tragedy that relatively few people in this country understand first hand.

Maybe it will be insignificant – like the pop of a firework, or the surprisingly familiar smell of a responding officer’s cologne wafting from a stranger in a store. Maybe they’ll be with friends a few years down the road and it will just come up in conversation.

Something will remind them and they’ll remember that day they filed past emergency vehicles and flashing lights out of the classroom with the bright paper cutouts on the wall and into a church parking lot full of scared adults. They’ll remember that someone drove to the safest place they knew at the time and opened fire on a playground. They’ll look up old news clips to piece together what they saw happening and what they were never told.

Someday they’ll know they were a part of a story that triggered fear in parents all across Upstate South Carolina and reminded them that no one is untouchable in 21st century America.

 


Even when that time comes, the wounds of today’s tragedy won’t be ready for exposure.

Read more: After Sandy Hook

 

 

The peace rally that was

Tonight I went to a Black Lives Matter peace rally in Greenville. Less than 24 hours after a peaceful BLM rally was interrupted by a shooting that left five cops dead, I went to my first BLM rally.

Peace they promised and peace they delivered.

I have many words in my mind that I want to share. I have moments of interviews in which I was glad my sunglasses were shielding my teary eyes and moments in which the family I thought was holding up the white power sign actually turned out to be raising their fists in solidarity.

Tonight, I am proud of my city. And I want to share why with y’all when I’m ready, but right now I’m just ready for wine.

So, I’ll share the story I wrote for work, along with a special shoutout to my editor Dave (who I now know reads these posts) for tidying up my words on these heavy and important stories. It can’t be easy.

Here you go

 

Like your mother taught you…

I know in this age of Facebook and Twitter and texting our normal communication inherently helps us avoid the horror of a phone call or actually using the U.S. Postal Service, but there are some things that still matter. RSVPs matter. Letting people know they either can or shouldn’t expect you to be at the party they are taking time and energy to plan is important, lest they be left with favor bags full of baked goods and tons of uneaten (and VERY delicious) food.

A lot has changed over the time I’ve been alive, but the work that goes into throwing a nice invitation-only party has not. There is preparation that goes into these things. We’re talking about a lot of hard work – food prep, favors, games (if it’s that kind of party), many different things that require knowing a number and names of guests.

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This weekend I sat with a few friends and some family around a campfire at the home of a very nice couple who know my parents better than they know me. Months ago they generously offered to throw us a wedding shower. To my left sat my freaking awesome fiance (more on that guy here), and just over his shoulder was a table covered in snacks, and white bags individually labeled for each expected guest. The bags weren’t there because we were waiting patiently to grab our own. The bags on the table were left by people who never showed and never called to say they wouldn’t. The party in question required a “regrets only” RSVP – A phone call from those who wouldn’t make it. Most (certainly not all) didn’t give that courtesy.

Yes, I was hurt by my friends not showing up or calling the hosts. I show up for a lot of people. I’m sure I screw up a lot of things in relationships, but I do show up. I make a genuine effort for those who matter to me. For years I’ve gone to bachelorette parties and kids birthday parties, more baby and bridal showers than I can count, and every wedding I could possibly make it to. Some people tell me I “should say no more often”, but I don’t, because when it comes down to it, I want people to know they matter to me. If I miss something you’ve formally invited me to, I guarantee there is a very good reason. This weekend I felt like a lot of people didn’t give us the same courtesy. It may be small in the grand scheme of life. It may seem petty. In fact, it is smaller and more petty than some unrelated tough things I’m dealing with in other realms of life right now, but it still hurt.

Yes, for me, it was embarrassing, rude and a little hurtful… but it really doesn’t matter what it meant for me.

At the end of the day, I know it doesn’t really say anything about the caliber of the friends we have. I know it says more about how busy we’ve all become. I know this issue is not exclusive to our party. I’ve attended several others that played out the same way, but this one hit home for me. I know this is about a larger societal shift, not just me and Russ and whether we’re loved (Spoiler alert: we are and we’re lucky). It’s a sign of the times. Society’s priorities are changing and maybe not in the best ways when it comes to nurturing relationships.

The truth is, Russ and I had a really great time celebrating with the friends who showed up. It was a solid group of incredibly special people — those who remind us on a regular basis that we have all of the love and support and friendship we need in this world.

If I could change anything, it wouldn’t be a change to those who showed up. I’d love to have had any combination of the invited guests there. They were all invited because they’re important to me. I had a wonderful night and left feeling, once again, like we are two of the luckiest people to be able to start this life together with so much support.

No, what I’d change is the lack of courtesy shown for those who worked hard to plan the night. I’d like to give the host and hostess a simple heads up about the bags of baked goods and party favors that wouldn’t be needed.

This isn’t about the sting I felt on Saturday. I woke up on Sunday feeling as loved as any other day of the year.  This is a bigger issue about manners. I’m not one to take people to task or call individuals out and I wouldn’t dream of doing so, because we’ve all gotten too busy at one time or another, but we can do better. We can take a tiny moment out of our sometimes hectic lives to respect the time and efforts of other people. We can show them they’re at least important enough for common courtesy.

Show up or don’t, but at the very least please just make the phone call.

Pickens County

It’s hard when I’m on a trail not to look around and think of who’s been there before. I look up the hill beside me and imagine how the natives might’ve run criss-cross paths through the trees. This was their land long before anyone carved out trails and nailed markers to tree trunks.

I imagine how swiftly they’d move from one spot to another, occasionally someone might have turned an ankle on uneven ground. Or maybe that didn’t happen like it would today. Maybe their joints were stronger, more nimble because they weren’t used to the cushion and control of a pair of nikes.

I’m suddenly embarrassed by my reliance on and loyalty to the swoosh.

The Keowee-Toxaway State Park was not where we intended to end up on that Sunday afternoon. We were headed a little further northwest. Driving through Pickens County always feels like an exploration of home. Of course, I feel that way about basically everywhere in the Carolinas. I’m a sucker for the long leaf pine and palmetto trees.

I was 14 when we moved to Pickens County, and I only truly lived four years of my life there, but It’s as much my home on this particular Sunday as any part of North Carolina at this point. And it’s in my blood.

Devil’s Fork has been on our radar since the first time we took friends to see it. The easy trails give way to beautiful views of Lake Jocassee and a nice spot to swim and kayak. Devil’s Fork is where we thought we were going, but the sign for Keowee-Toxaway is visible from the intersection of 133 and Highway 11. Sometimes plans change.

The people who would’ve run through these trees are my actual ancestors.

With backpacks, water bottles, hats, and bagged lunches we make our way down the path. We’re not counting on catching our meals or going too long without a sip of fresh water. We’re prepared.

It’s several miles before we’ll come out on the other end. There are hills and dips, lake views and areas where you can’t even tell you’re near a water source – these are the spots that seem most authentic.

The lake we’ll pass wasn’t even there with the natives. Every lake in South Carolina is man made. Our northwestern corner of the state once had only dense forests and mazes of rivers, streams, and creeks.

Long before our family had the Sanders name, or owned a farm near town, my ancestors most likely ran through those trees, chasing down prey.

I had a hard time moving to Pickens County in 2002 because I was a teenager, and because it seemed like it had nothing to offer. There’s not even a mall where a girl can buy a new pair of nikes.

But the people who once ran through these trees are my people. Before the Sanders landed on top of a hill by Rice’s Creek, my family knew the animals, the red dirt, and the way the streams carved through the land like natural maps.

Just a technicality

So I did this little thing that, lord knows, Elizabeth Wren Sanders at many different ages probably thought would never happen. I said yes to loving someone forever. These are funny things, proposals. If done correctly then you already know you’re in it forever and saying yes is just a technicality. Regardless, what a thrill.

For weeks I’ve known Russ was going on a guy weekend in Atlanta. He and a couple of good friends do this trip down there to hit a brewery and tour some Walking Dead set sites. They’ve done it twice before. This was going to be the third time, and I made fun of him pretty relentlessly for not being creative enough to come up with a new trip.

We make fun of each other a lot. It’s what we do.

Russ wasn’t in Atlanta. None of the guys were in Atlanta. Their instagram accounts would have you believe otherwise, a detail that proved handy as I sat by the pool with some girlfriends on Saturday and casually scrolled through the ol’ IG (is that what the kids call it?)

That’s right. Russ planned a guys weekend and I very quickly planned a girls weekend to counter it. I spent most of my day laying poolside, chatting with friends, and letting the sun zap all my energy while turning my skin a little darker. My guy was out of town and I’d be alone the rest of the night, though I assumed I’d be headed to dinner with at least a couple of the girls.

-My mom called and attempted to make dinner plans with me. I knew I’d be tired from the pool day and still hoped for dinner plans with the girls. I declined.-

Let me take a moment right now to just tell you that when Russell A. LaFleur makes a plan, he really makes a plan. I can’t even tell you how many people knew about the proposal before I did, but it was the majority of the people within a 60 mile radius who might potentially ask me to hang out on this particular Saturday night.

I continued to hang out with my friends, still assuming someone would probably stick around for dinner.

-My mom called again. This time to make a plan for me to come over to see about a baby goat that would be moving to the farm. I was still tired, and really not interested in taking the 40 minute drive to Liberty. I declined again.-

My friends left. I couldn’t convince anyone to stick around for dinner and by this point I was tired enough to not try very hard to do so.

-My mom called for a third time. Seriously, why won’t she give this thing up, right? I’m tired. She tells me they need to talk to me and it’s important. Everything is okay, but they need to have this conversation while Russ is out of town.-

If you know me at all you know that I heard everything in this conversation except “Everything is okay”. I threw on some decent clothes, didn’t shower, didn’t wash my hair or the sunscreen off my face, and hurried to my car.

They didn’t think I’d come over so quickly. Sunset wasn’t until 8ish.

As soon as I walked in the door my dad stopped me. He told me to get in the car we were going to see about a baby goat. At this point I was frustrated and confused because we were supposed to be having some serious talk and now there I was talking about a baby goat again.

You know where this is going. Distraction after distraction as they stalled until it got close to sunset. Around the time the sky normally glows orange my mom made up an excuse for us to ride on the tractor to the bottom of the hill where we have our legendary (among family and close friends) campfires.

I’m questioning my intelligence now as I share this story with you and wonder how I didn’t pick up on any of the quirks of my day, but I’d also like to take this moment to swear to you that it’s totally normal for my parents to be mid-conversation then randomly suggest we “take the tractor down by the creek to make sure the fire is out before the wind picks up.”

My parents’ property is a giant hill. The house sits on top, and my favorite corner of the land is on the back left at the bottom of the hill. A creek wraps around much of the back property line. The path we take over the hill carries the tractor through a fence on the far right side of the back pasture. From there you can see the trees by the campfire from about eye level on up to the sky, but you can’t see the ground. I stopped my mom near the bottom of the hill and told her I thought the fire had already spread. I could see tiny flames scattered through the branches. She played along and told my dad to hurry up (hurry up on a tractor — nice one, mom).

As we rounded the corner I saw a figure in my favorite blue and red checkerboard shirt sitting nervously by a fire. I burst into tears, because that’s my move, and because I finally knew what was happening.

My sweet parents dropped me off, waved goodbye, then made the slowest exit of all time on a decade old Case tractor that probably moves about 3 miles an hour.

The flames in the trees were candles.

There was no Atlanta.

There was just a boy who’d spent his entire day with my parents hanging candles in mason jars, string lights, and old notes we’ve written each other all across my favorite clearing by the creek.

We read the notes that were hanging. They were some of our favorites. He told me he’d spent the week preparing while I thought he was at the gym. He told me that he picked up topaz colored glitter to cover the insides of the mason jars. He told me he chose notes because he knows how important words and writing are to me.

I cried like a baby as he handed me one last note with my name on the outside and “Will you marry me?” on the inside. Then he got down on one knee, held up my Mamaw’s ring, and said all the things I could possibly want him to say about sharing this life. I’m not going to tell you he cried (but he totally did).

I said yes (spoiler alert).

The craziest thing about it is I’ve been saying yes. For months we’ve been saying yes. We’ve laughed and cried (again, mostly me). We’ve hiked in some old favorite spots and found some new ones. We’ve run together. We’ve thrown the football around almost every week just like we did on our first date. We’ve spent time with each other’s families, and shared big holidays. We’ve grown together into this thing that already felt like forever. The proposal was beautiful. It was perfect. It included all of the things I love most in this world, but it was ultimately just a technicality.

That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.
That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.
Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this
Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this
This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it's at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.
This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it’s at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.

a sort of love letter to the upstate

One day last year I was pushing a cart down the grocery aisle at my local target store when I turned the corner and ran into my older sister. I was surprised to see her on my side of town on a random weeknight, but loved the little moment of running into her at one of my regular stops. We hugged and chatted for a few minutes, then continued our separate shopping.

I spent my Senior year of college telling everyone that I was applying for jobs in 49 states — every one but South Carolina. I wasn’t bluffing. I’d moved here unwillingly as an almost 15 year old, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I took a job in Mississippi that taught me a lot about myself very quickly. Most important was the fact that I was not ready to be one of the only people in my entire family who didn’t live within a 4 hour radius. I work for a great company and a great boss who helped me find a way to do the job I love closer to the people I love.

Twenty two months ago I spent a Saturday evening walking through downtown Greenville by myself with a giant smile plastered on my face. My parents helped me move in to my new apartment that morning and I’d done some of the standard first day unpacking, but I couldn’t wait to get downtown. It was that dreamy hour in South Carolina where the sky is a ridiculous combination of pink and orange. The kind of sky I don’t remember seeing as often in any other corner of my world. I tried to take a picture with my blackberry. You know the picture tourists always take of the Reedy River running through downtown. The camera blurred what I saw and after several takes I gave up trying to freeze it. I was too excited to care that no one on the internet would get to see what I was feeling. You can’t capture, especially on a grainy blackberry camera, the way it feels to be home.

That first fall I went to a couple of football games at my high school, the rural south’s place to be on a Friday night. I took each of my parents out for lunch when their birthdays rolled around. I spent some weekends at home on the farm just because I could. I still often pick up fresh produce and eggs from my mom and dad because they’re just 35 minutes up the road and they care enough to let me live off their land a little bit (or a lot). I spent some summer days by my sister’s backyard pool. I tried out restaurants downtown that I never knew existed. I tailgated at Clemson games. I drove (probably too often) by my grandparents’ old farm, and the house my dad grew up in on the old mill village in Liberty. I spent the first year just getting reacquainted with my home — The home I was reluctant to claim at first, and excited to rediscover the second time around. I was hooked on all of it, the magic of just being home.

Moving back to where you’re from isn’t all easy. I admit it. It’s particularly tough when you’re still not far enough removed from high school to understand that people change in those key years from 18-24. Moving home makes you face that fact, quickly. You don’t return to things as you remember them. If you’re lucky, they’re better. Some people moved away in those gap years. Some people still live with their parents. Some people are still around, but you just don’t really want to hang out with them. All of that is okay and good. The fact is, it’s part of growing up. Most people learn those things when they come home for the holidays, others of us get to learn them year round.

Some old friends remain, and new people fill the other gaps. In my nearly two years back in Greenville I’ve met incredible new people. Many of them are transplants. That’s the nature of journalism. I work with people who came here from all over the country because they followed a job. They’re doing what I always thought I’d be doing. Now I get the chance to show them what I love about this place. I get to help them enjoy my space for however long they stay.

When it comes down to it, I could’ve decided today that I wanted to change my course. I could’ve said I was going to walk away from a job I like, and people I love. I had the chance, like any other journalist to try out another new city. While I admire and encourage people around me to do that if it’s what they want, I’m just not ready to give up the chance to be able to casually bump into my sister when I run up the street to pick up a loaf of bread.

Greenville is my city. The upstate of South Carolina is my home I never thought I’d love, and I am so happy to spend at least another few years here.

farm food