grace.

to my gramps.

Hi, Grandpa.

I love you. I miss you. My heart aches to see how you’ve been laid waste in the media by our own family. Everyone talks about you as if you’re already in the grave; I know your heart is still beating & I hope you live up to your stubborn legacy & live for a long while yet.

To the whole world you were only ever the face of an evil entity. But of course to me you were always my Gramps. My kind, sweet, adoring Gramps. I miss you so much. I wish the sisters & I could meet you & Granny for another shake party up in your room (we’ll even bring your favorite strawberry one from McDonald’s).

I’m sorry for every second we’ve been apart this last year and four months. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you more when you were mine. I’m sorry our human frames are so weak & we couldn’t spend an eternity together on earth in perfect health. I’m sorry for what the church has done to our family. I’m sorry the media rejoices in the declining health of a human being. I’m sorry people reflect back the same hate & judgment that WBC delivers. I’m sorry you got trapped into a deluded way of thinking to the point that you were willing to hurt other people & yourself in order to serve a god out of fear. I’m sorry. I just am. I’m sorry I can’t hold your hand again & cry & reminisce with you as you lay on your death bed.

“You’re my great, big, beautiful doll!” You used to tell me. I wish I could hear you say it once more. This time I promise to know how much you mean to me. I never could have asked for a better grandpa.

– your gracie.

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megan.

twenty eight thank yous.

Today is my birthday.

Twenty-eight.

Celebrations after twenty-five are often treated with disdain (“Grow up, already!”), but I can’t help it: January 31 will always be a red-letter day for me. Birthdays were a big deal growing up; they were basically the only holiday my family celebrated. Well – unless you count our annual tradition of protesting as many Christmas church services in our hometown as the seventy of us could cover in a single night, regaling the parishioners with a version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” rewritten to describe [what we perceived to be] gay sex practices in graphic detail. “Five golden showers!” You get the idea. I was maybe seven or eight when I learned the song, so these weren’t concepts I understood (at least, not until Gramps explained them from the pulpit on Sunday), but I sang along heartily anyway.

Do you count that? I don’t count that.

So. Birthdays.

This month has been full of reflection for me. That’s partly because I started my first Whole30® on January 1, which I successfully completed yesterday (Miley grin, tongue and all ;). It’s impossible to truly change the fundamentals (food, sleep, exercise) without it fundamentally changing your outlook on life. They’re at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy for a reason, my friends! Depression, guilt, anxiety, sadness – they haven’t disappeared, but they’ve become so much easier to deal with. I’m lighter, mentally and physically, than I’ve been in years, and that’s something worth celebrating on my twenty-eighth.

The reflection also stems from the fact that after a year spent on the road, I’ve finally landed in a place I plan to be for awhile. Deadwood, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Des Moines, Chicago, Sandusky, Hartford, New York, Boston, Montreal, and I wasn’t anywhere for longer than a month at a time. Three weeks, three days – these were the norms. It was equal parts running to adventure, to awareness, to understanding, and running from “real life,” from decision-making, from the past, from the future. It was a glorious mess.

But that’s a story for another day. In this moment, I just want to share the biggest part of my thoughts: my overwhelming love and gratitude to the people who have shared their time, homes, kindness, experiences, and love over the past 1.25 years, people who welcomed Grace and me into their lives when ours had been all but emptied of those we held (and hold) dear.

In order of appearance: Bob. Keith. Jason. Libby. Logan. Dan. Amy. Drew. Aidan. Josh. Stephanie. Gabe. Brandy. Hez. Hayley. Tim. Uncle. Shirley. Bella. Adam. Graham. Chris. Larry. LeAndre. Dana. Timothy. Jeff. Moïsh. Paige. Steven. Taylor. Kate. Dylan. Emma. Susanne. Pepijn. Louis. Afentra. Danny. Laura. Dustin. Cora. Ryan. Chad. Nana. Tammy. Amanda. Tanner. Hank. Sully. Dave. Josh. Will. Jacie. Heidi. Andrew. Jennika. Joe. Michelle. Sam. Mariah. Dave. Emily. Grant. Daniel. Tristan. Anne. Wendy. Lauren. Nate. Kevin. Mac. Jake. Justin. Dan. Jack. Jane. Derek. Chad. Amanda. Brittnie. John. Scott. Monte. David. Yonah. Rachel. Moshe. Tzofiya. Shlomo. Nafi. Marcus. Josh. Ben. Dani. Meira. Josh. Michael. Eric. Zadie. Lauren. David. Ayo. Chad. Pauley. Krissy. Jeremy. Jeremy. Dan. Barbara. Chad. Kurt. Myra. Josh. Eric. Tess. Jessica. Brett. John. Joyce. Grace. Keith. Eleanor. Al. Davis. David. Maria. Marina. Dima. Jen. Mel. Sarah. Ray. Chris. Rebecca. Rob. Jess. Blaire. Kayla. DJ. Sarah. Lacy. Louis. Katie. Joey. Mandy. Greta. Blake. David. Alicia. Tara. Maggie. Glenn. Emily. Darrel. Ryan. Nicole. Ava. Thomas. Adrian. Molly. Ed. Karrie. Halle. Kate. Jasper. Diane. Tia. Sandy. Brad. Desi. Joyce. Marlin. Jerry. Cindy. Ronnie. Joan. Amy. Mike. Jaime. Angel. Mike. Sarah. Mila. Nolan. Jake. Kat. Sydney. Gabe. Ryan. Lishai. Michal. Julie. Steven. Jake. Darren. Carly. Will. Carolina. Kalervo. Amanda. Sarah. Avi. Mandy. Jeremy. Lucas. Alex. Jon. David. Jade. Matt. Karen. Briah. Tamira. Sapira. D’veer. Karen. Kell. Simja. Miguel. Sandy. Ido. Noa. Marie. Victor. Bracha. Margot. Ohad. Bill. Tyler. Eileen. Deborah. Theresa. Louis. John.

My memory is good (I get it from my mama, who, given any date of her existence, can describe it to you, including what she ate, with relative accuracy and certainty) – but it’s not perfect. To all those named and unnamed, and to every nameless stranger whose kindness I was fortunate to encounter on my path: please know that you have profoundly impacted my life. Every act and word of understanding, generosity, and care showed me how different humanity was than I had believed. At first, it was shocking to me (how wrong I’d been!). It’s still something that makes me marvel. And I’m more determined than ever to share that love and compassion with others.

Cheers to my twenty-eighth year for teaching me that we *all* need it.

- megan.

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megan.

the chosen path.

I awoke this morning in the usual way: a grab for my iPhone to check the time, followed immediately by a slide of the finger to open the text messages sent by my sister Grace in the wee hours of the morning. She doesn’t sleep so well these days, even though it’s already been nine months.

I can’t believe it’s already been nine months.

Her words fill up my screen, and I think yet again of how grateful I am to at least have some nightly relief from my plague of existential thought experiments, lamentations for loved ones lost, and endless processing of the onslaught of newness. Sleep is a natural escape from these mental gymnastics, but it’s a degree of relief that Grace is often denied.

“This article makes me angry at the writer.” It’s a link to a Slate piece written by an American-born woman, the child of first-generation Indian immigrants. She’s seventeen years into an arranged marriage she didn’t want and tried hard to avoid – but tradition has a certain amount of inertia that can be nigh impossible to overcome, and at twenty-two, she felt ill-equipped to take it on. It’s not an option to say “no,” she writes: “the stakes in our honor-and-shame-based family were too high.”

As I read the article, I’m trying to understand which part of it raised Grace’s ire. It’s a story we’re intimately familiar with, at least on the broad strokes:

There’s a girl. Girl’s life is on a track built by those she loves toward a place she desperately wants to avoid. Girl sees three options: (A) convince the track layers to change its course; (B) jump the track, creating an unbridgeable rift and losing loved ones; (C) continue on the track in order to keep loved ones, suffering losses of another sort instead.

Option A failed this woman; her family dictated her track, and they refused to hear her pleas for change. And what is left? The choice is heart-wrenching: losing family or losing all real freedom to choose your partner in what’s arguably the most important and intimate relationship a human being can experience. The woman chose to lose freedom – and though she got to keep her family, she still grieves all that choice cost her. Reading her story, I mourned for her, too.

By the time I finish, I still can’t see which part of the essay has so angered my sister, so I ask. Grace says that the woman made her choice, so she has no right to complain. I’m certain my face shows my puzzlement, so Grace explains: “She got to keep her family.” And then I understand.

The woman had made the choice that we didn’t. We got the freedom, but she, the family. We could choose our own path, but she got the love and support of those nearest her heart. We could now see the world without the blinders of entrenched tradition, but she could be there for her siblings’ birthdays, for her nephew’s first day of school, for her parents in their old age. We’re all allowed to mourn our losses, and keeping that to ourselves doesn’t make it any more legitimate – just as sharing it doesn’t make it any less so.

I understand, little Grace. I want them back, too, so much that my whole body shakes with the sick sadness of the choice we were forced to make, so much that I retreat to sleep so I don’t have to feel that way. I want so badly to hear Mom happily call out for me, “Miss Meg!” I want to laugh with Gabe as he stockpiles the bacon when the other boys aren’t looking. I want to watch “Tom and Jerry” with Zach at lunch, and see water shoot out his nose when an unexpected laugh overtakes him.

That woman should’ve never had to make the choice that she did. Us, either. But we have to remember that we still have a choice. We can still try to change the ones who lay the track. We still have hope.

Don’t lose heart, sister mine. Let’s make that our choice.

– megan.

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grace.

bus life.

I am currently sitting on a bus. I left from western South Dakota early this morning, and will be arriving at my Nana’s home in Ohio tomorrow afternoon. Twenty-eight and a half hours on a bus. My ass hurts already. It’s admittedly a small price to pay to visit my Padre’s mom, whom I haven’t seen in over four years.

I spent the morning reading a book of short stories by Nabokov, getting caught up on the latest news (and snarky commentary) via Twitter, making new bus buddies, and listening to sad indie music.

The majority of my time, however, is spent looking out the window. The deep green fields littered with bales of hay are echoes of Home. Kansas. The collections of windmills are my most favorite scene. They are magnificent and majestic against the azure skies, and I itch to climb one.

I drift in and out of sleep. My mind wanders to the bags at my feet. All The Things I Must Travel With. So much of it is technically useless. A more practical soul couldn’t have spared the precious little space in two bags for such items, but they’re of more value to me by far than my pretty bras or toothbrush or running shoes.

A ring my little brother made for me in jewelry class a few years back. A book my Madre used to read to me when I was a wee one. A framed photo of my babe brother that I’ve had since fifth grade. So many little things that my life has been reduced to. Twenty years, and this is what I’m left with. I’ll take them with me everywhere I go for forever.

I begin to feel frustrated by the woman a few rows back who’s loudly playing some random anime soundtrack. The flies that continually land on my already-bug-bitten bod. The lack of air conditioning and outlets. The grumpy bus driver. My sister sleeping beside me. I hate it all.

But mostly, I fucking hate being separated from you. I hate that I’ve disappointed you and that I can never take back any of the hurt. I hate that I can’t tell you all the ways I love you and miss you.

A Hans Christian Andersen quote comes to mind:

‘But if you take away my voice,’ said the little mermaid, ‘what is left for me?’

I may as well be mute, for all the effect my voice has. I’ll have to employ every other force I possess to make my love realized by those dearest to my heart.

And I will. I’ll do it.

My heart feels a little lighter. I find new purpose in this bus trip.

– grace elizabeth.

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