Dear Lucy

Dear Lucy,

I miss my roommate. I’m not talking the ones who lived upstairs and yelled at me sometimes for feeding you too many marshmallows.

I miss the roommate that slept at the foot of my bed for over a year and when you weren’t perched there, you were in the doorway of my bedroom, partially because I think you were a little claustrophobic and partially so you could protect me.

When I moved back in with Mom and Dad last January to save up some money for a place of my own, I anticipated it only being a couple months. I anticipated it feeling like an extended visit, but soon enough I wasn’t a “visitor,” I was back home.

I don’t remember when exactly it started, but it was pretty immediate, I think. You were glad to have me there, glad to have me back. You started waiting at the top of the basement stairs every night as I went down to my makeshift apartment, not moving until I said it was OK for you to come down.

I’m wondering if it’s because we didn’t get that time together when you were little. When you were a puppy, and really, until last January, I was the sister that visited a lot, but I always had to leave. Only now I wasn’t leaving, I was there all the time. I think you were making sure we had time together and our own memories together because you know it wouldn’t be forever.

I knew it wouldn’t be forever either, of course, I planned to move out at some point, on my own again, but you know what I mean. I thought we had more time than we did.

Before I lived with you again, I already knew you were a good dog – an old girl who still believed with all her heart that she was a puppy. Even if you got a little wobbly on the stairs those last few months and your breathing sounded a little different, you still crammed all your toys in your mouth to carry them from one place to the other. You still could take out a rawhide bone in 2 hours or less and threw your rope toy around whether someone was holding the other end or not.

You are the only dog I have ever let eat food that was sticking out of my mouth – when I’d stick one of those huge marshmallows in my mouth, stoop to your eye level and you’d slowly and gently grab the other end and take it. That was our best trick, you and me.

When it became apparent sleeping upstairs for you was going to just be for naps only, I made you a little bed, remember? That old blanket folded up all nice for you at the foot of the bed? You laid on it to humor me until I fell asleep, I think, but I saw you later, laying on my shoe or the balled up T-shirt or sweatshirt I’d left on the floor.

Sometimes you snored, but I couldn’t get mad, because I did too. I knew it meant you were comfortable and sleeping well, having great dreams about chasing squirrels and getting ice cream from Dairy Queen – two of your favorite things ever.

Sometimes you’d be upstairs when I woke up – you’d gone up to visit Mom and Dad before they went to work. If you came back downstairs, or were just too tired to go up at all, you waited for me. It was a silent communication between you and I. You’d rest until I was done with my shower and dressed and ready. And when I headed for the stairs with my bag, there you were, ready to follow me up.

Remember that time I tried to make you run with me? Sorry about that. You weren’t havin’ it, I know. I tried to make you keep going but you pulled us toward home and I had to relent. You were a 63-year-old with about 30 pounds of hair, it was a little crazy for me to ask you to run in Kentucky in the summer. I agree.

I loved that I could take you on a walk without a leash. That even if you got too far ahead you’d stop and look back and wait for me to catch up. Payback for the running, maybe?

Remember when you spent a couple nights at my apartment during the ice storm? You were probably the happiest one there, since there were four adults and you crammed into a one-bedroom apartment. And you behaved so well! (Dad will disagree because of that whole taking your time outside when it was freezing thing).

You’d love my new place. I’d have had you come visit or stay with me when Mom and Dad were out. There’s still plenty of room at the end of my bed, and a nice sunny spot by the doors to the deck, because I don’t have curtains yet.

I’m glad we got that year, you and I. I miss your company, and even your dog breath in my face sometimes when I would sleep close to the edge and you’d come over and sit, usually trying to get me to pet you.

I still look at your spot in the living room when I go back to Mom and Dads, hoping none of it was real and your bed is still there in front of the fireplace.

The day we said goodbye to you hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I thought I might run out of tears. I just went numb for a while.

I take comfort in the fact that you are keeping Grandma company – I don’t think God would separate Dog Heaven from People Heaven, because that’s cruel.

She loved you, you know? Remember how she opened your stocking at Christmas for you every year?

I think about you all the time, little one, and miss you terribly.

Thank you for the year we had. I wouldn’t change a thing.

And I hope hope hope hope hope that you’re getting so many marshmallows where you are now.

I love you.

Laura

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At a loss

For the past three days I have been staring off into space a lot. Or sleeping. Or trying in vain to distract myself from the truth. The truth, that my friend is gone.

I’m without words but at the same time my brain is filled so full with things I want to say, it feels like it could explode. Does that make sense? Does anything make sense?

On Monday, a very good friend of mine was shot and killed. Ambushed by a couple teenage thug wannabes, one who I’ve heard has a large confederate flag tattooed on his chest, if that tells you anything about his level of intelligence (or lack thereof). He was selling them drugs, when they decided to rob him.

My friend was shot and killed over what? Something stupid. Something materialistic. Something that – no matter if it was money or if it was drugs – would be gone soon anyway and then what would they be left with?

Think what you think about drugs of any sort. But does someone deserve to be killed over them? Never. But it happens all too often. And this time it was way too close.

I first met him about 9 years ago – when I started working at the restaurant up the road from my parents’ house, when I was 20 and a day, legally old enough to sell alcohol though I couldn’t drink (legally).

In addition to someone who has become one of my very best friends in the world, I met several other awesome people who became good friends. Three of those people were brothers. Brian, Dave and Mike.

For a while I worked mostly with Dave and Mike, as they were both servers, and Brian – who I thought was much more quiet and shy – worked the expo line.

As I was there longer and longer and worked more and different shifts I got to know Brian just as well. I stood around waiting for my food to come up and struck up conversations.

Eventually the time came when I left that restaurant, and so did everyone else, eventually, because that location closed and is now some chicken place (after three other restaurants went in there and failed).

I don’t remember what got us talking again officially, who added who on Facebook, or who gave who their number to hang out sometime or text on occasion, but that was several years ago too.

And hang out we did – I remember one day in particular a couple years ago after he’d picked me up from a bar (I was kind of over it and just wanted to leave). I spent the night and all day the next day we just spent watching TV and listening to music, running random errands like him going to get cigarettes and stuff to cook and playing with his dog, Romey. It was one of those days, a relaxing day to spend with a friend and not worry about other responsibilities.

Though I knew he took pills, I only ever saw him actually take any one time of the several we hung out. Usually it was just he and I, catching up, talking about relationship drama we’d had with other people and how we both wanted better jobs and money to up and leave for a month to Costa Rica where we’d sit on the beach and drink Coronas and margaritas and have no other responsibilities than just making sure not to get a sunburn.

He was one I could text in the middle of the night – or anytime, really – with any problem I was having. He fended off a weirdo I didn’t want texting me anymore one time, telling the guy to “stop texting my girlfriend,” even though we were never that.

When Dave committed suicide in 2012, things changed. The happier texts were fewer and farther between, but when they happened, it was still the old Brian. But his brother’s death hit him hard. I remember the day he texted me that it had happened. When I called him and he was still in shock, still processing that it had happened.

One day last week would have been Dave’s 33rd birthday. On that day, I texted him, like we had so many times before, to tell each other we were thinking about them and let them know “I’m here, whatever you need. Love you.” It was a text that had become more frequent since Dave’s death – I checked in on him a lot. He’d been through some rough patches but seemed to me to be doing better, especially since I had dropped him off a few months ago at a hospital to see a counselor for some treatment for all he was feeling. Before we went though, he came to visit me at work and we had lunch, something I will always remember.

Anyway. On Dave’s birthday, I sent him one text. It said “Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you today. Love you.”

He wrote back, “Thanks. Love you too.”

That’s the last exchange we had.

I’m glad it included the word love, because I cared about him so much. I’m glad he was in my life, and that I was in his.

I keep reminding myself of this as I fight off the anger I have since he died – the anger at the complete waste of a person the moron is who shot him, the anger at him for putting himself into potentially dangerous situations like that night.

I miss him already.

Saying something

I have debated, on and off, since Friday, if I should write something about what happened. I have turned my thoughts over and over in my head and I kept coming back to the same thing – I wanted to get them out. I wanted to write them down, so-to-speak. No matter how jumbled, no matter how all over the place, I wanted to see them in front of me. Because like much of what goes on with me, I deal with it better when I can write about it.

You all know what it is I’m speaking of – the tragic shooting at an elementary school Friday morning that left 20 six- and seven-year-olds dead and six of their teachers/administrators, who died trying to protect those children and others.

On Friday when I heard the news, my heart immediately leapt into my throat. Another shooting at a school? At an elementary school? Why?

My thoughts turned to my dad, an elementary school principal. To several of my closest friends, who are teachers. To the elementary-school-aged children in my life. I thanked God it wasn’t them while at the same time wondering how this could happen, why this could happen. Again.

I was in high school when Columbine happened. Just out of college when Virginia Tech did. I saw Dark Knight Rises a few weeks after the shootings in Colorado. Any one of those events could have happened where I live.

I watched and read the news all day Friday. But I didn’t let myself really feel it until Sunday morning. Sunday morning we sat in church, with 26 candles on the altar, representing the victims. Our pastor brought up the questions we all had: “Why? Where is God? How could he let this happen?” And he couldn’t answer them. No one can.

Saturday night, I babysat two of my favorite kids, both around the ages of those killed in Connecticut. I hugged ’em a little tighter while we sat on the couch together. I made the effort to play more, to do more fun things with them, while underneath it all, my heart was breaking for the parents who wouldn’t get to do the same. For them and for the babysitters, aunts, uncles, teachers, family friends, who loved those kids like they were their own, whose levels of grief I can’t even fathom.

People want to talk a lot about guns right now. That’s not my plan. There’s a bigger issue, a more important issue, one that people don’t talk about, at least not until it’s too late. That issue is mental health.

I’m writing this fresh off a visit with my therapist. I see her about once a month – sometimes the stretches are longer, but lately it’s been about four weeks apart. Today, one of the things we talked about was my medication. I am medicated. For depression and anxiety. Because sometimes life sucks. And sometimes it’s stressful. And sometimes, for some people, chemicals in their brain don’t fire the same way as others. The medicine fixes that.

A few years ago, I was afraid to go to a therapist. Afraid it meant something was wrong with me. Luckily, I had a friend who convinced me otherwise. Who told of all the good it had done for her. And if it weren’t for her, and the situation that ultimately got me to go, well, I don’t know. I’d be where I was then. Unhappy. Constantly stressed. Crying for no reason every other day. Dragging myself out of bed because I had to, not because I wanted to.

My personal experiences with mental health are tiny compared to what’s out there. But the stigma’s the same. To many, therapy means admitting a problem. It means something’s “wrong with them.” It means they’re “giving up.” When they hear the words mental health they picture asylums, padded walls, straightjackets.

People don’t want to talk about it. People don’t want to admit they need help. But no one can do it on their own. As human beings, with souls and hearts and emotions and minds, we need connections to others. And not just for the good stuff. We need someone we can call and say “Help” or “This is hard” or “I can’t do it.” Does it mean something’s wrong with you? NO. It means you’re a HUMAN.

Every one of these shootings has come back to mental health. The shooter was unstable. And it wasn’t just that one time. People remembered previous instances when they were worried, when they were unsettled, when they wondered just what was going on inside that person’s head. But nothing was done, until it was too late.

People with a mental illness cry for help. They do it in different ways, but it’s there. Does that mean everyone should be institutionalized, should be watched like a hawk and sent somewhere the first time they make a comment that doesn’t seem right to you? No. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer for how to deal with someone with mental illness, because they’re all so different.

But I do know that there are signs. I do know that people in a bad place don’t just get there overnight. And I know that they can’t get out of it alone.

Those children should not have lost their lives Friday. Neither should the people in that Colorado movie theater. Or at Virginia Tech, or the mall in Oregon.

We need to have these conversations about mental health. We need to get rid of the stigma associated with mental illness. Not everyone who has a problem will do something of this nature. And the more we talk, the more people are willing to seek help, to not be afraid to ask if they need it, the less likely we are to have something like this happen again.

We owe it to the memory of those 26, and all those before them, to make a change.

The first birthday

As you know, on this blog in 2012, we’ve started honoring some of my family members (when I’m a professional blogger I’ll branch out to friends as well) on their birthdays with a photo and a list I make about them. In March, there are two birthdays that are tough. They are the birthdays of my grandfathers, both of whom have passed away – one in 2008 and one just this past September. I miss them both, all the time.

This is the first birthday of my grandpa deWitt’s since he passed away. He would have been 95. It’s hard for so many reasons (just as it is on my other grandpa’s birthday and other holidays and events when we are especially reminded our loved ones are gone). One thing I always told my grandpa d. was that we’d have a 100th birthday party for him. We’d already started thinking about the cake.

There have been so many things I’ve wanted to tell him since he’s been gone, things to share with him, and when I think of how I’m not able to do that now, it kills me.

So for his birthday, I made a little list about him. Happy birthday, Grandpa

Grandpa d.

– He’d definitely want to see (and probably use) my new camera. The man had like, every camera ever made and he was always taking pictures.

– I miss his voice, but luckily early last year saved it in a book I’m keeping for my family and my kids one day. It’s of him and my grandma, reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” in one of those recordable books from Hallmark. We listened to it this Christmas and it made me happy to hear him again.

– I miss making him laugh.

– It’s March Madness, and this is the first year we won’t have his bracket filled out, taped up next to the rest of ours at Mom and Dad’s. He’s always been good at picking his teams.

– I miss hearing him tease grandma.

– I miss hearing stories of his life that were sometimes even news to my mom.

– He’d be so proud of Chuckie and so excited for him for getting into M.I.T.

– I like being told I look like him sometimes. It’s usually when I’m squinting? but I like that I can have that.