One year after

I’m forcing myself to write today. I don’t feel like I have a lot to say, but I’m gonna throw some stuff out here anyway.

Yesterday, I felt pretty gross. Emotionally, I felt surprisingly…okay. Physically, I started to feel nauseous. I threw up in my family’s bushes. I felt better. And then I continued to be sick for the rest of the day until I finally passed out. I couldn’t keep any food down, so I just prayed and prayed that I could keep all bodily fluids inside me until I got off the bus in Matagalpa the next day. 

(Right, did I mention that I’d made plans to come to Matagalpa so I didn’t have to sit alone with my sadness on the anniversary of Dad’s death? I wasn’t about to cancel those plans.)

When the nausea first hit, I wondered if I was having a physiological response to my grief. I hadn’t eaten anything weird, and the sickness just hit me out of nowhere. And then I started thinking about Dad.

I thought about sitting in the waiting room every day while he was getting radiation. How he started off feeling fine and then eventually got thinner and weaker and couldn’t keep his food down.

I remembered being thankful that the doctor cut his radiation treatments short, because watching his weight fall below mine, below Jasmine’s…it was painful for all of us.

So last night, as I was feverish and nauseous and losing my food in all the unglamorous ways, it helped me put some things in perspective. Dad was going through that for months and months. He hated it. 

And today, which had the potential to be emotional and horrible, I was just thankful that I didn’t shit my pants on the bus. Thankful that today wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

In the last year, I’ve had so much support from friends and family. I’m sitting here right now—on a day when I thought I might be an emotional wreck—and I’m surrounded by friends who care about me. 

Where was I this time last year? Sitting, surrounded by people who love me, prepared to drive to pick up Jasmine by myself because I felt like I needed to be alone with my grief. Stupid on so many levels, when I have so many people prepared to step up and take care of things for me. Luckily, Mom wasn’t about to let me be an idiot, and she drove me to St. Louis and let me play the Hamilton cast album the whole way.

In the past year, I’ve tried to be more open with friends and family. I think that’s one way that I’ve really changed. Last week, in anticipation of a total emotional breakdown, I told some friends that I was planning to take a day out of site. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna handle today, but I knew that I shouldn’t be alone. It’s very, very easy for me to isolate myself, and I’m trying not to do that.

Saying, “This day may be hard, and I’d appreciate if you could keep me company” is a significant step for me. It would be so easy to shut myself off with my grief and regret and pain, but sometimes you have to give people a chance to be there when you need them. 

Even if you can only bring yourself to share little bits and pieces of your story. If you need a stupid distraction, or a hug, or a text that says, “thinking of you today.”

So today, like all days, I’m missing Dad a helluva lot. I’m thinking of the laugh he gave me, his love of westerns, the way he was always barefoot inside. Most of all, I’m thinking of how he loved me unconditionally even when I took him for granted. How he forgave all my faults and saw me as my own talented, smart, beautiful person.

Today, I’m seeing the good things. Memories of Dad, love from people back home and here in Nicaragua. Today, I’m not angry, and I’m not distraught, and I’m not bitter.

Today, I’m thankful for the people who love me. I can feel it so strongly. It transcends time and space. I can feel it from people sitting in this room, and from people back in the U.S, and from Dad, through memory and stars and his voice that I still hear clearly.

I have nothing left to say, 

but

I love you.

There must be some kind of way out of here

Written on January 26, 2016 (the night before)

I don’t want to write much, so I’m gonna keep it short.

I went to see Dad, shook him awake (which I’m honestly shocked that I was able to do), gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he kissed my cheek. Lately he hasn’t really been able to do that so I was glad he did. He was mostly out of it while I was there, and Bev mentioned that the nurse said he’s in a semi-comatose state.

Every once in a while, he would wake up and be anxious or agitated. Really the only thing he said all night was “let me out of here.” Over and over and over. Every time he woke up, that’s what he said.

While he was sleeping, I sang him “All Along the Watchtower,” and God my voice is awful but I like to think that he could maybe hear it or that it kept him calm.

Before I left, I told him I’d be back to see him tomorrow, and I kissed him on the cheek and told him I love him.

And he said it back.

Currently sitting at Dad’s bedside

Written on January 16, 2016 (11 days before)

I’m sitting on the bedside toilet and holding his hand. I came in and he opened his eyes and I kissed his cheek.

Adding to the list of words he’s said that I’ve understood:

“Hey, baby.”

(Twice)

Once when I kissed his cheek and once when Bev said, “Jade is here.”

Anyway, he stuck his hand out of the blanket and Bev said, “I think he wants you to hold his hand,” and I did and he squeezed it pretty tight and damn I want to remember this moment.

I took a picture because even though I swore I didn’t want to document his frailty or illness, this doesn’t particularly feel like either. 


After a while, he woke up and was a little confused about what was going on. He’d say things like “we should probably get going” or “do we have to be out by the 16th?” He seemed pretty focused on moving/leaving the house/paying rent, but I tried to ease his worries and talk about other stuff.

I asked if he had a favorite Jimi Hendrix song (which he doesn’t.) I asked the same question when he was in the hospital 3 months ago and he didn’t have a favorite song then either, but I do think Jimi is probably his favorite artist.

I asked if he’d seen the news about the Flint water crisis, and told him that the governor allowed these people to be poisoned. Mostly I was just trying to fill the silence, and eventually he closed his eyes and seemed like he was going to fall back asleep, so I told him I was leaving, and I kissed his cheek and told him I love him.

(Twice)

Predestination is bullshit, but this feels real

Written on January 15, 2016 (12 days before)

Before I forget: I have a couple more clear, understandable Dad things.

“Be careful.”

“Sorry.”

I’m trying not to be sad all the time, but goddamn it, I am. Dad saying, “Be careful” just felt so…almost normal? That’s what he always says when we leave, and I appreciated that moment, but I get the feeling that he has to put out a lot of effort to do that. I don’t know.

The “sorry” though. God, I hate that sorry. Dad apologized to me after I threw one of his snotty/spitty tissues away, and just…fuck, I hate that he hates this. And I just want to be able to pretend that everything is normal, but it’s not fucking normal. This is so hard for me, and he knows it, but he has to know that I would throw away his nasty tissues and fix his cannula and help him drink water and fix his pillows and rub his neck and give him more blankets every day if he needed it. It’s not a burden for me to do those things. I want to be there. And I want him to know that I want to be there. I don’t want him to apologize to me for relying on me a couple hours a day.

This blog post probably makes no sense but I’m not going to read over it before I post.

In the past, I’ve kind of resented the fact that I’ve lived my whole life in Springfield. I hated myself for my many roads not taken. I didn’t go to NYU. I hardly applied to or considered any schools outside of Missouri. I went to grad school in Springfield. I got a job in Springfield.

For years and years and years—since before I started high school, for sure—I knew that I wanted to leave here. I always said I’d go to school out of state, or at the very least, a few hours away. I wanted to live in a big city…or really anywhere but here. So how did I end up here? Why did I end up here?

Initially, I think I stayed for a few reasons: It was the safe choice, I had good scholarships, and I wouldn’t have to leave whatever boy prospects I had going at the time. Later, I stayed for similar reasons. It made financial sense to stay, but I always had one foot out the door and my eyes on the horizon. When I started at the Honors College, I didn’t resent myself for staying quite so much. After all, I’d found my calling, and if I hadn’t taken these particular roads, I probably wouldn’t have found myself doing this particular thing that I loved. (Of course, I may have found a different passion, but whatever.)

Anyway, I had found something I loved, and I used it as a reason to let go of any regrets I had about going to school in my hometown (twice), near my boyfriend (twice). I was happy with where I ended up, but a big part of me still felt like I had sold myself short for years, and that I was doing far too few extraordinary things, or even just above average things. I didn’t want to live the life that most of my high school classmates were living. I still don’t.

That said, I’m glad I’m here. And I typically don’t believe in fate and serendipity, but right now I kind of need to believe that all of my possibly-shitty decisions have led to me being here for this. Because if at any point I had left Springfield, I’m positive I wouldn’t have come back. I’m glad I’m here. Somebody has to be here.

I don’t know, part of me almost feels like I was predestined to be the one who stayed. I can’t imagine what it would be like if Jaz was gone, and Michael was locked up, and I was in New York or something. As much as I hate this place, and as much as I want to get out, I will never regret being here with him.

Also, just an FYI for future me who looks back at this blog post and cries: When I leave, I always kiss Dad’s cheek and tell him I love him. And then he tells me he loves me. And then I tell him I love him again, just because I need him to know that I heard.

I swear I’m ending this post, but I just remembered something. The other day, when Steven was leaving, Steven said bye and kissed Dad’s head, but Dad didn’t seem super aware/awake. As Steven was walking out the door, Dad said (pretty clearly), “Thanks for stopping by,” but Steven was already half out the door and didn’t respond, because he didn’t hear him.

I never want that to happen when I’m leaving. I want to say I love you, and I want to acknowledge that I receive and appreciate his love, and I want to him to know that I know that he appreciates me. Right now, honestly, I think he needs to feel heard. He is seeking validation. I’m sure he fucking hates it when people are talking all around him, talking about him, but not talking to him. Not hearing what he’s saying.

Well, I may not hear what he’s saying most of the time, but I’m damn sure going to talk to him anyway. And I’m going to make sure he knows how much I love him.

And I’m thinking about What Sarah Said

Written on January 14, 2016 (13 days before)

“Love is watching someone die.”

Heads up: this post is coming to you straight from Bummerville.

I’ve meant to write so many times in the last couple weeks, but I couldn’t really bring myself to open my laptop and write the first sentence. So here goes.

Dad is dying. I know, technically he’s been dying for a while. Technically we’re all dying. Right now, though…it seems imminent.

On December 11, Greg and Nancy had their annual Christmas party. Dad was tired. I sat by him. Bev would go fill his plate, and it was obvious that he didn’t have a lot of energy to run around the house, but he was there and aware and talking and mostly being himself.

On December 25, Dad slept for most of the day. Bev wasn’t there. In hindsight maybe I should have been more…helpful? But I didn’t want to make him feel like I was babying him. Throughout this whole process, I’ve tried to treat him the same as always, with the occasional health question thrown in. Anyway, he was tired, and he was in pain, but when he was awake, he was mostly the same as usual. Standing for a picture was difficult, and he was shaking the whole time, but he did it. I kind of hated making him stand for a picture, but at the same time, I needed it. I won’t apologize for needing it.


The next couple weeks, he looked bad. Way worse than Christmas. He fell asleep a lot, but he still asked us questions and talked to us about as much as usual.
The last thing I remember him saying clearly—I think this was the day after Jaz left—was in response to me saying I’d be back to see him soon. He said, “Please do. Your daddy’s wasting away.”

He also thanked me for checking on him (I don’t remember when he said that, but I’m cataloging as many of his words as I can.)

I am heartbroken. The next time I came to see him—maybe a couple days later—he could barely speak. I don’t know if he’s just too tired to talk or if the pain medicine is fogging his brain or what, but about 99 percent of his words come out as an unintelligible mumble. I try to talk to him as much as I can, but it is hard, because he’ll mumble back to something I’ve said, and I can’t tell if he’s really trying to engage in conversation or if he’s just kind of out of it. And I don’t want to talk over him if he is trying to say something, but I don’t want to constantly ask him what he said either.

Every once in a while, he’ll say something that comes out fairly clearly. I think it takes a lot of effort, so I’m going to store the memories and be thankful for them.

One night, after I helped him adjust his cannula, he mumbled, and when I didn’t respond, he turned to me and said, “Thank you.”

Last night, Bev and Greg helped him walk to his bed so he could go to sleep. I sat beside him and kissed him on the cheek and told him I love him. I’m trying to never let a day go by without telling him I love him. He replied, “I love you,” and then I think he was scared that I didn’t hear or understand him, because he said it again, louder, and that time I replied, “I love you too.” And then I left.

More than anything, I want him to know that I love him, but I also recognize that it’s important for him to know that I heard him, and that he loves me too. I’m trying to be there, but it’s hard to watch him die. It’s hard to watch him waste away. I don’t know what his last words to me will be, and I don’t know if I’ll understand them, so starting now, I’m keeping track of the ones I do understand.

I’m carrying those words with me wherever I go.

2016

2016 was probably the worst year of my life. It was also the best year of my life. I made a valiant effort to write an in-depth reflection that turned into exactly what you’d expect: a sad, incomprehensible ramble that largely ignored 11 months out of the year. There’s enough of that coming up, so I scrapped it in favor of a new idea.

I really can’t explain all of the ways in which 2016 changed me, so I decided to sift through the photos on my phone and computer to find some to represent my year.

A few self-imposed rules:

  • I couldn’t choose photos that had already been posted on social media.
  • I could only choose photos that have me in them (otherwise this would have ended up being a gallery of wildlife. And also this is all about personal growth or whatever.)
  • I had to include photos from each month (turns out, this was impossible, but I tried. Stupid June.)

I’m going in backwards chronological order, for reasons.

Dec. 22 – Matagalpa, Nicaragua: Reading in my room while Holmaris is her usual sneaky self.
Dec. 5 – Matagalpa, Nicaragua: Do you ever look at a photo and just remember how genuinely happy you were in that moment? This is one of those photos for me.
Nov. 10 – Managua, Nicaragua: I know this looks almost exactly like some other pictures I’ve posted, but I swear it’s different, and I love these guys too much not to share their faces more.
Nov. 4? – Catarina 🇳🇮 : Penultimate batido of training with the best squad a girl could ask for. Also I kind of cheated and stole this off the batido place’s Facebook page, but it doesn’t exist on mine so I’m callin’ it fair.
Oct. 30 – Niquinohomo: Sliced my finger open trying to cut my hair with a razor blade. Also, no joke, this is the only photo of myself that I have from October.
Sept. 30 – Managua: Walking that fine line between confident and cocky with the only person I’ve found who’s on my level.

Sept. 28 – Estelí: Practicum week was crazy in so many ways, but I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to work with a teacher as wonderful as Mariela.
Aug 19 – Niquinohomo: Squeezing 4 people in the back of a moto taxi like it ain’t no thang.
Aug. 9 – Springfield, MO: One last selfie with my momma at the airport. Neither of us cried.
Aug. 4 – Springfield, MO: Best big sister in the whole damn galaxy.
Aug. 4 – Springfield, MO: Miss him and his shenanigans.
Aug. 4 – Springfield, MO: Forever thankful for this friendship.
Aug. 4 – Springfield, MO: Missing our walks and talks.
Jul. 18 – Missouri: Sweet baby snuggles make everything better.
Jul. 15 – Ohio: Who won this game? I feel like maybe it just devolved into Conner family madness?
Jul. 13 – Ohio: Y’ALL. This. Cake.
Jul. 13 – Ohio: AND HOMEMADE ICE CREAM. With my favorite almost-5-year-old.
Jul. 5 – Denali National Park, Alaska: Barefoot and crazy in the Teklanika River.
 

Ok, I don’t know what happened, but I literally took no photos in June. Oops. That’s okay, because May and July are awesome, right?

May 14 – St. Louis, MO: Fancy sisters at a wedding.
May 14 – St. Louis, MO: Their vows almost had me in tears.
 

May 12 – New York, NY: This sweet innocent soul has no idea she’s about to run almost 2 miles in that outfit.
May 9 – Dallas, TX: It may look like we’re about to escort some gentlemen to an underground card game, but really we’re going to a Beyoncé concert.
May 9 – Dallas, TX: 🍋🍋🍋
May 8 – Springfield, MO: Best friends, at least for that day.
Apr. 23 – Chicago, IL: 🍷 🎨 👩🏽‍🎨
Apr. 23 – Chicago, IL: 🏃🏽‍♀️🏃🏽‍♀️
Apr. 17 – Home: Dad’s birthday, Dad’s shirt, Dad’s favorite dessert.
Apr. 2 – South Bend, IN: There’s no workout quite like dancing for hours in 5 inch heels 💃🏽
Mar. 26 – Roaring River, MO: Riley caught his first fish 🎣
Mar. 10 – Chuck E. Cheese: #aunthood
Mar. 6 – Home: “Music’s the only thing that makes sense anymore. Play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay.”
Feb. 27 – Kansas City, MO: Sangria and shopping with big sister.
Feb. 20 – Home: Sewing a button on my favorite Dad shirt.
Feb. ? – Home: Testing out the new porch swing. On the ground. In the house.
Jan. 3 – Kansas City, MO: Freezing my buns off with my faves at the game.
 

Okay, so I think I’m about to get…sentimental?

When I decided to do this photo recap for 2016, I didn’t really know what I wanted to achieve. After spending a day compiling and posting these photos, one thing was abundantly clear: I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by this many people who love and support me.

This year started off shitty. 2016 will always, first and foremost, be the year I lost my dad. January was by far the hardest month of my life, but 2016 still managed to bring me joy.

It was a year when I was able to bounce all around the country (Indiana, Illinois, Texas, New York, Alaska, Ohio) and then move to Nicaragua.

It was the year I swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer.

The year when I saw Beyoncé and Hamilton in the same week.

Looking through these photos and thinking about the many unphotographed or unrepresented moments throughout the year, I feel incredibly lucky. I have a huge extended family who loves me. I have friends from school and work who dropped everything to be there when I needed them. I have Peace Corps friends who continue to help me through the hard moments, no questions asked.

People who listen when I need it. Who repeatedly tell me they’re here for me. Who feed my sweet tooth. Who give good hugs. Who make me laugh even when I think it’s impossible.

I would be completely and utterly lost here without them.

In a year of loss and change, I’m grateful to have the best of the best standing by my side.

Besos & abrazos, y’all.