tick, tick, tick…

Tick, tick, tick…

Hands on the clock move too fast, pushing the crush of time along quicker and quicker and me along with it.

Tick, tick, tick…

Sometimes it feels like a time bomb. The moment of truth after a year and a half of preparation and hard work and nights collapsing exhausted into bed, wondering if everything I worked towards will pay off.

Sometimes it feels like a loud pulsing in my ears while I wait, hands wrung in nerves, for results that will change my future. Will decide if I get to continue on this crazy ride I’ve found myself on or if this is my last stop.

Tick, tick, tick…

The hurry and the pressure to get everything done when I know what my fate is, the one that I hoped for. But only a short time now to get everything done in order to make it happen. Offices to visit, paperwork to sign, gear to turn in. And on it goes.

And somewhere among all of that, the goodbyes. Always the goodbyes.

Tick, tick, tick…

The constant reminder that time with friends who have become family and people that I love more than I ever thought I would is almost over. The last chance with them now.

And when Thanksgiving comes around, most everyone else is gone except for them. The two who have become my partners in crime. The ones who tell me that I should be honored that I was allowed to be part of their epic bromance because that never happens. And, in a goofy way, I kind of am. And the Thanksgiving we spend between packing and coffee breaks in one little Chinese restaurant, the only thing that’s open. We sit and talk for hours there, none of us really wanting to be the first ones to end the night. So we don’t. We decide to find an open bar, no easy task in this small town, and share one last beer, making it last as long as we can. And he looks at me and says, “You’re not allowed to go, sorry.” And I smile but break a little inside. Because while I’m excited for what’s next, I really don’t want to leave them.

Tick, tick, tick…

The long drive in the car alone, everything I’ve come to love in the rearview mirror but I can’t see it through the blur of tears. But a new adventure waiting down the road.

Tick, tick…tick…

One final moment, the breath of time held just long enough. Slowed down just long enough when you wrap me in your arms and pull me close to you as you say, “One more.” And I fold myself into you, wrap my arms around you, too, and press my face to your chest. We agreed no overdone goodbyes with dramatic final statements.

I say I have to get to the car before I cry and lose my badass reputation. And as I slide into the driver’s seat, you turn around and wave one more time, a sadness in your expression that breaks me. And I barely make it out of the lot before I burst into tears, the first time I have cried in a very long time. How is it possible to feel this much? I didn’t know it was possible to feel this much.

I feel as if there are so many things I need to and should have said but your words drift back to me, “It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can just be goodbye for now.”

And there’s no time to dwell on it because the road ahead presses on. There are still things I need to do and places I need to go and only a limited amount of time to do them, to see them. And on it goes.

Tick, tick, tick… 

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the long hallway

We say goodnight and the door closes behind me. I turn and stare down the long hallway towards my room. The one I’ve walked down countless times. But this time, it feels different. I feel different.

This is the long walk before the goodbye. This is the part where I close the door on what has been one of the craziest, most stressful, most incredible years of my life so far. And I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to see what’s further down the road for me.

But I stand in front of the door for a while, a tightness in my chest and a fist closed over my throat. It already feels like it’s all over, even though there are still days left. Take several long, deep breaths to fight the feeling. But I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to nights spent at the smoke pit. Venting, teasing, falling in and out of feelings a lot like love. Nights spent falling into being just friends again and somehow finding a way to be OK with that. Realizing that some friendships, no matter how short, are meant to be bigger and deeper than most.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to road trips to random corners of this side of the coast. Finding adventures on mountaintops, in wineries, tunnels through the woods, boat trips, jumping out of airplanes, beach runs, and Spartan races. Always on long, winding roads with incredible views that lead to hole-in-the-wall restaurants toasting with our beers to the trouble we get ourselves into and out of. Where we fall asleep on each other’s shoulders in the back seat like an assembly line.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to nights around the bonfire, gathered around someone’s iPhone attempting to sing karaoke, one voice loudly singing off key, “The instrumental paaaarrrrttttt!” Or Army family Thanksgivings where we toast to success for our training, friendships made, and “other emotional shit like that.” Where we gather for family photos and can’t seem to take one where we all make a normal face. To poker nights full of whiskey and cigarettes, sometimes too much, and making competitions out of everything and getting into heated debates over them. Nights at the bar dancing the way only white people who’ve had too much to drink can, singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” at the top of our lungs as we leave.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to coming back everyday to her smiling face and pouring out our hearts and frustrations and beliefs and politics. One of the few people I trust to be the safe keeper of my feelings. To sitting on her washer while they cook and bicker playfully and I pour out my frustrations over a glass of wine.

I stand at the edge of this hallway late last night. It’s not the last goodbye, not yet. But it feels like one. And the feelings that I’ve pushed back or tried to ignore over the last few weeks, caught up in the final stretches of training, won’t go away now. And it’s too real to deny that it doesn’t hurt right now.

I take a step forward down the hall towards my room and it suddenly becomes the longest walk.

I know it’s a temporary feeling. In just a little while, it will get swept away in the whirl of changes and new challenges and this, all of this, will seem like a phase, a dream. It’s the way it always goes. And I’ve had a lot of experience over the last year with goodbyes. And, God, it has been one incredible year.

But I’m not ready yet.

And for now, for just right now, it’s a very long walk down this hallway.

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And then there was today.

When everything piles up and seems to weigh so much, even if it’s just a lot of little things.

A day where I wanted to just stop. I wanted to stop pushing my feet forward and tightening my grip.

I wanted to stop taking it in stride.

I wanted to stop wondering if I was going to make it.

I wanted to stop worrying about where I will be in just a couple weeks.

I wanted to stop feeling my heart being pulled in a hundred different directions.

I just wanted to stop. Set down my suitcase of feelings, burdens, tasks, realizations, memories, and decisions. Sit down on top of it in the middle of the road and enjoy a really long smoke.

But there’s just no time. So I do the only thing I can – I keep on keeping on. And I hope that it will eventually get me where I need to go.

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at the smoke pit

We are at the smoke pit. I told myself I’d had my last cigarette about five cigarettes ago.

We talk idly about nothing as we blow smoke into the stars until eventually it’s just you and me. I still have a cigarette between my fingers, almost down to the filter, and you decline one last one. But you don’t leave.

And I’m not exactly sure why but I take as long as I can to smoke mine.

But when things get quiet and words draw down, I venture to ask, “Are you OK? I mean, really OK?”

I don’t know why I ask. But the look in your eyes earlier today when I saw you briefly prompts me to ask.

You look confused for a moment before responding, “Yeah, I’m OK.” But then you add, “At least I think so.”

I respond, “That’s not very convincing.”

You lean back on your hands on the bench and then kind of give me a crooked smile and say, “I can’t tell anymore if I’m genuinely upset about stuff or if I’m just generally hating everything. I try to do that. Then I don’t have to deal with emotions and shit like that. I’m so good at pushing all that so far down, I don’t recognize when I have them for real anymore.”

But I understand. It’s why I’m standing out here with my cigarette after all. And I say, “You don’t have to tell me anything. But if you need someone to talk to, I’m not doing anything but blowing smoke.”

You’re quiet for a moment and I worry that I’ve overstepped my bounds. But something about you makes me want you to know I’ll stand here all night burning the lining of my lungs if that’s what you need.  But I add, for safekeeping, “I promise, I’m not trying to pry.”

You look at me. And then you say, “You can pry as much as you want. I don’t mind. It might actually be good for me to get it off my chest.”

And so for a good hour or more, I stand here. Cigarette long burnt out. And you talk. Get it all off your chest. And at the end, you say, “I’ve got so many demons. I’m so fucking broken.”

And I nudge your shoulder with my own. Share a half-smile with you. “You know,” I say, “I have always preferred broken people. Perfect and safe are so boring. And I promise to never try to change you. Only help you if I can.”

And you return my smile. Wrap one arm around me as we both lean against the rail. Staring at the pile of cigarette butts around the trash can and the endless sparkle of stars and city lights. “You just did.”

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dear body, I have to apologize…

Dear body,

I have to apologize.

Maybe it was when I couldn’t use my hands for two days because I had shredded and burned them so badly climbing ropes, carrying water jugs, and flipping tires.

Maybe it was when I was puking the contents of my stomach from the last few hours into my hands.

Maybe it was when I could barely walk up the hill because my bad knee almost gave out but I still forced you to run on it, anyway.

Maybe it was when I realized that late night cigarettes had become a habit.

Maybe it was all these things together that made me realize I owe you, dear body, an apology.

I have beaten you, battered you, abused you, pushed you, pulled you, and kicked you around. Sometimes with good cause. But not always. And you, dear body, have always responded with the most resilient of comebacks. You have rarely failed me.

And I spend so much time criticizing you for what you are not. I have looked in the mirror and thought about how ugly you are at times.

I owe you an apology.

For all the times my hands did not fail me. When I threw myself out the third-story window of a building with only your grip on a thin rope to keep me from plummeting all the way down. And when my little hands hauled hoses, pulled extension ladders, injected needles into delicate, slender veins, and dragged my partners across building floors and patches of gravel. And later when I was determined to climb a rope, despite open blisters from the first attempt. And even though I shredded all the skin from your palms, you, my sturdy little hands, did not give up. You even pulled me up a second time. Endured the pain for days.

For all the times I scraped, bruised, and shredded my knees crawling in the dark smoke, opening and reopening scabs so  many times that they are now scars. For those times high crawling across a muddy field, rifle in hands, knee pads flailing uselessly at my ankles so that you, my poor little knees, took the full abuse. For all the times I broke and twisted you playing sports and running hills and climbing obstacles. You twinge with the pain even still but you never quit on me. You always carry me home.

And you, my poor, well-worn feet. You have carried me through days in the woods, up mountains, across sand, tromping through mud and over rock. Twisted ankles and massive blisters, you never let me down. When I launched myself from heights greater than I thought, you endured the shock of pain all the way to my hips but recovered to keep carrying me forward. Despite being stuffed into boots, heels, sneakers, and sometimes just barefoot in the most uncomfortable places, you never failed to carry me home, too.

I have burned the lining of my lungs smoking more than I should. I have attempted to poison my insides with whiskey and wine. I have twisted my back being thrown from horses and trying to carry more burdens than I should have by myself. I have burnt my tongue on hot coffee and hot words. I have lost focus in my vision and myself and had to learn to re-focus all over again. I have set you, body, in the dead well of depression and stagnancy and then run you into the ground trying to get out. I have shredded my heart more times than I can count and cut my palms regluing the pieces. Still, body, you keep on carrying me through.

I have thrown you from windows, rock ledges, tree limbs, and airplanes. You have fallen through floors, fallen against jagged beams, fallen off of horses, fallen in the mess of love and loss. I have given you many sets of scars to take with you when we go, some you can see, some you can’t.

And you, dear body, every part of you, is so much stronger, more resilient, and willing to give until you break than I ever give you credit for. When I should be grateful for you, all I see is what you can’t do. Despite your imperfections, your extra curves, your height deficiency, and your scars, you are amazing. You are beautiful. Really, you are beautiful.

Dear body, I owe you an apology for every time I ever thought otherwise.

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it was never going to be just ok

Some days, I feel like chaos in motion.

I feel like the ocean is swirling inside me and this fragile cage of skin and bone can barely hold it all back.

Some days I feel the violence of thoughts and words push at my tongue and fingers and the collision of all of it inside me tearing me. Wrecking me. Reshaping me.

Other days I’m consumed by light, pulsing with so much energy I feel like I will burst and never know what darkness really feels like. Like it is the only thing that exists within me and around me.

Some days I feel the sweep of overwhelming darkness forcing me to make right with it. Forcing me to remember it is as much a part of me as the light.

Some days you fill me up so much, I want to extend my arms as wide as possible and absorb everything you are. Some days, you break me so wholly, I feel like I will never be able to pick up all the pieces.

I’ve spent my whole life wondering when I would stop running. When I would find something worth settling on. When this raging storm, this pulsing restlessness, this relentless drive, would fade and I’d finally feel OK. I’d finally feel like it’s enough. This life is enough. You are enough. You are enough. All of this is enough.

When do I stop looking ahead? When do I start looking around me? When do I start feeling at home? At rest? At peace?

And I’m just now realizing that I never will. At least, not for long.

I wrote once that I never understood the idea of peace. Being still. I drown in peace. I lose myself in stillness. I run until I am in chaos again. It challenges me. Draws me. Makes me feel alive.

And because of that, the peaceful feeling, the idea of OK, the idea of enough, are never going to come.

My peace is here, in this chaos of motion. This raging storm. This pulsing restlessness. This relentless drive.

I have made my peace with chaos.

This is the life I have chosen. This is the life I choose. Maybe this is the life that has chosen me.

Maybe this is the closest to peace I will ever come.

It was never going to be just OK.

It was never going to be just enough.

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even a tiny candle

When she says those words to me, it takes everything in me to bite my tongue. All I really want to do is snap back a cutting retort. One filled with all the frustration I have been forcing further and further to the back of my mind. The frustration that now swells to the back of my throat and presses so persistently against my tongue that I don’t know how I hold it back. The frustration accumulated over a year of conflict veiled behind short but courteous exchanges. Because, unfortunately, today everything has finally reached the breaking point and her short, rude words have just enough edge to knick my already bruised pride. The final kick from a week that already pretty well dragged me to my knees and leaves me scraping the bottom for shreds of pride and patience. Now it threatens to come in words about all the thoughts I truly have of her.

But they’re uncalled for here so, for once, I do the better thing and bite my tongue, not quite all the way, and just say, “That’s not really the point.” But she’s already halfway out the door, not sparing even a second glance after her smart remark to me.

I catch the look in his eyes as she leaves. There’s a spark in his expression as he’s watching her leave, too. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But for the moment, he says nothing and I forget about it.

Later, he brings it up. “I couldn’t believe how rude and disrespectful that was,” he says, his tone laced with fury on my behalf, “She just came in like that and tried to show you up and remind you how much smarter she is than you. I didn’t want to say anything there but I really wanted to get all sergeant on her and tell her she doesn’t know who’s she’s messing with. These are my soldiers.”

I smile a little, ever so slightly balmed by his words. Some of the sting of hers fading with his support. “Yeah, it was kind of the icing on the cake for my day.”

“Well, she should know who she’s dealing with. There’s a fire in you and one of these days, she’s going to feel it. Hell, we’re all probably gonna feel it.”

A strange part of me swells inside when he says that. I almost feel like I want to cry. IMG_20140805_221810Because lately I have felt anything but like a fire. And I say, “I dunno if it’s so much a fire these day
s,” offering a thin smile, “more like a tiny candle.” And it’s true. Or it’s how I feel. No real power here. No real power to affect anything.

He nods, a crooked smile ever so slightly tugging at the corners of his mouth. As if he understands the feeling. But he shakes his head and says, “Yeah, maybe. But even a tiny candle can burn down a house.”

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