Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Help

I've made the same promises to myself over and over:

Write more.  
Take more pictures.  
Say "yes" to more opportunities.  
Say "no" to things that don't let me take those opportunities.  

Needless to say, and by definition, I am acting insanely.  I'm saying and doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  This blog is proof!  I've wrote in here, multiple times, that you (yes, you) will be seeing more of me (not literally, but on this blog).  Except - here's where you grit your teeth because you know what's coming and because you too have done this - I don't follow through on my plan, my promise, my truth.  

I've made this blog an intensely deep outlet.  I have shared memories and stories and trials and tribulations from my past but never have I gotten so presently real with myself.  It's one thing to look back on a memory from 10 years ago and dissect every sight, touch, smell, and feeling but it's an entirely different mountain to climb when I am present with what I am enduring today.  

Today is a good day.  I woke up at a much too late of a time, read a magazine about photography from front to back, checked in with all my favorite photographers and writing blogs, took some practice snapshots for a wedding that I am shooting this fall, and than jotted some notes.  I did what I loved today.  And yesterday was good too; hours upon hours of class covering personality disorders and mental health emergencies, and than a lovely dinner with my bestfriend-roommate-sister and her boyfriend, as well as my own boyfriend.  

But the day before yesterday was dark.  If I were my own therapist, I would ask me, "What does it feel like when it's dark?"  "Well," I would respond, "It feels shitty.  It feels sad.  The day feels overwhelmingly tragic, and frankly, I cannot justify in my mind any reason for me to find myself in this state of being."  I can't explain where the mood shift comes from, I can't shake it nor can I make it more intense in an effort to find a peak and than a plateau.  It just is.  You could call it depression, or symptoms of depression, or you could call it melancholy, chronic bereavement, simple sadness, displacement.  Call it what you will, it just is.  Being the "game-changer" that I am, I am constantly scrapping for treatments of this, wanting to find a resolution, a peace, something tranquil or serene.

I can't finish this post bcause it was wrote a year ago.  

I like what it is and I wish I would have finished it but it won't be what it was meant to be if I finished it today.  

I am a year older, a year more experienced, and a year wiser; I've moved to my own place, I achieved my Master's degree, I landed a job, I became a mommy of a 4 year old, and my relationship with Alex aged one more year.  Most importantly, and unashamedly, I received the support I needed for the symptoms of depression that I experienced.  

Where do I think I was going to go with this post?  I think I was going to tell you how desperately hallow I felt.  How it felt like my fault but my intellect told me it wasn't my fault.  How confusing and hopeless of a message this was!  I would have assured you, the concerned reader you may be, that I was never suicidal or risking my safety.  I would tell you about the suffocation of depression and how my symptoms were exacerbated by any form of abandonment whether perceived or real.  I would tell you that I would walk tall and proud for three days and stumble repeatedly for weeks; like a rope was wrapped around my ankles.  I would tell you I was the one who appeared fine on the outside - a smile, always - for everyone but those closest to me, and even still.  The me on the outside had a lot of people fooled but the me on the inside was holding a machete and hacking my way through the deadening hopelessness to try and release the real spirit I am.  I never felt my symptoms physically but I acted them out instead.  My doctor tells me I have probably had these symptoms since my mother died and they became so internalized that I associated them with 'just how it is': "your life hasn't been easy; so every time you feel threatened by potential pain than go ahead and act out" is how I lived.  But I promise, this was as subconscious to me as waking up from a deep sleep.  

I got help because I had a consistent person in my corner who never faultered no matter how rotten I treated her.  Consistent, stable, and unconditional is Megan.  She proved that I could test her like the hardest Bar Exam of LIFE and she would never fail it.  I was tired of making her prove her love for me.  I wanted to stop needing proof of her love but I was terrified of not having proof.  I've come to realize now, that when either one of us are dead, I will always have her love.  

I also got help because of my partner; while I was in the ring fighting with the reprucussions of my life, he was my trainer who told me to keep going no matter how hard it got.  He lifted me up when I fell, he took frequent emotional beatings from me, and questioned how badly I wanted to find the other side of my dark but comfortable hole.  

And lastly, I got help because I couldn't afford to not get help.  I knew that depression can progress when untreated.  I knew that I'd eventually get exactly what I was afraid of: abandoned.  I knew that Nollie would suffer the consequences of the behaviors that resulted from my symptoms.  I feared what my life might become.  I look back now and see that there was a small window of hope and knew that if I jumped through that window, a few stoic people would be there to catch me on the other side.  And catch they did.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

To you who thinks you have time.

I've had all this time: March 5th - June 23rd. Time to think. Time to reflect. Time for What. the fuck? moments. Time. Time that I was never guaranteed with her. So why did I behave like I would have time? What. the fuck?  I've already thought all this before, when he died.  What didn't I learn?

This is how I've been dealing: I've been gathering  fragments of my relationship with Karen; some are dull and some are like the sun.  I try to access those dull fragments because it must be in those moments that I missed something; a lesson, a word, a look, a kiss, a prolonged "i love you."  I try to deconstruct all these moments so they become vivid, bright, uncharacteristically taking up space in my brain but unfortunately some of them stay the same. They stay idle and frozen and don't go anywhere but linger in the land of questions and letting go. Questions will forever be unanswered and my delusion of her living as long as her hopes were endless shatter over and over and over, like a scratched CD. 

I wonder if she felt shattered like I did.  She was too smart for denial and too hopeful for disclosure of fate.  After every conversation with her, I'd think, I've got time.  If I even had to think that than I surely didn't have time.  "I've got time:" its like a scientific hypothesis that proves wrong at the end of your research and hard work.  What did I miss?  I trace the avenues of conversations and handholding and back scratching and playing with my hair and hugs and tears she wiped away that led me to this moment without her.  Surely there is a concept I have overlooked?  These questions keep me staring at the ceiling on quiet nights when nobody is looking.   

My last conversation with her was two weeks before she died. When I hung up the phone and placed it on my kitchen counter it read: "Karen Allard HOME: 1:27."  I thought about taking a screenshot of my phone because something felt different; a little ache inside knew that would be the last time that her name would light up my phone.  I didn't listen to that ache.  

One hour and 27 minutes wasn't long enough for us: we could have kept talking; kept giggling and gossiping and apologizing and dreaming. 

I told her I was sorry; sorry for not being more physically present. 
She said she understood. 
I told her I couldn't relive this. 
She told me to stop. 
I told her it hurts too much to feel a death that feels like another mom. 
She told me she already knew this, that apologies were unnecessary, that she doesn't blame me. She said, it's not like I love you any less because you can't stand to see me die.
There was a long silence, piercing and heavy, where we listened to one another swallow tears in between breaths.  
I wish this was easier for me, I told her.  I wish, for my sake, I could deal with this differently.  
I could already feel the predator of regret.  

I wrote these notes on the day she died: March 5, 2013:

I have long talks in the hot tub with her.
I have prom pictures with her.
I have parent night at volleyball and basketball with her.
I have these cards from her that tell me I don't have to be so strong all the time.
I have her, "Bre, you need to eat something more than just chips and pop.  What can I make for you?"
I have random stop-ins at her work - the time I skateboarded 6 miles in 90 degree heat and she worried restlessly at her desk until she heard my voice on the other line telling her I made it home and I'm not dying from heat stroke.  
I have her conversations with my other mom-by-choice, teaming up on how to best raise me and get me out of a situation that was swallowing me whole.
I have her house key.
I have our family nights in her living room where gossip was shared and lectures were had.
I have meals.  So many meals sitting at her table where she encouraged me to drink milk.
I have her laughter at my half drank cans of pop.
I have her ring she gifted me the day before a trial that had me questioning every belief and strength I claimed to have.  The ring now sits next to my mother's wedding ring on my middle finger of left hand.
I have my Christmas stocking hanging on her front closet door.
I have my "I'm pregnant" conversation (the fourth person I told), the one where her voice became but a whisper, and she verbalized her worry, concealing her excitement.
I have her, one of the first visitors to see Bean on the day she was born.  She kissed my forehead and complained about the traffic and tears welled up in my eyes when I saw her stare into my daughter's eyes - grateful she was here but painfully wanting my mom to be able to do the same.
I have her hugs. The hugs that didn't release until I was ready.
I have the night I bombarded Nicole's room while she was reading her a bedtime story, all I said was "I'm sorry" and collapsed into her arms.  No explanation was needed - I just couldn't take my life and she was my security.
I have a day spent in bed with her, watching trash TV while everyone else was at work or school.
I have her adoration for my dog, who she selflessly allowed to tramp through her house for weeks on end while I drifted through homes and never once asked me to remove him.  Or buy dog food.
I have Target trips.
I have her hand that held mine; in the car or on the couch.
I have her cheesecake bites in the freezer.
I have the evening I made my mom's "famous chicken dish" and she and Scott and I ate a meal in remembrance of her.  She told me it'd be better with real mashed potatoes, and Scott said, "Or rice."
I have the guilt of the bracelet I made for her with Matt, Tawny, Nicole's and my birthstones on it.  I told her I shouldn't have put my birthstone in it, and she said, "I wouldn't have accepted it if your birthstone wasn't on it."
I have the blanket she crafted out of fleece to try and replace my ratty old baby blanket (nice try Karen, it didn't work!)
I have the conversation, after crying and complaining about my other mom-of-choice, in which she told me that i need to give her the same respect I give her, because, she said, We are both just here to love you. 
I have Shirley, the school principal, putting her as my guardian and emergency contact, even though she wasn't my guardian but most definitely my emergency contact. 
I have summer nights sitting on the porch and talking about stars and weather.
I have our conversation in which she asked if I was making the right decision in ending my relationship with Bean's daddy, and when I said, "I don't know," she said, "Well, you don't have to know right now.  You will figure it out."
I have her whisper, "You aren't smoking cigarettes are you?" after Scott's death.
I have my last conversation with her, when she told me the gossip I've been missing out on, the heartache she felt when she heard there were no treatments left, the optimism that she would make it through the summer to see her next grandbaby, the excitement that I have a partner that I work well with and who she desperately wanted to meet, the forgiveness that I became absent after her diagnosis, the update on Sophie's behaviors sine Scott had died, her disappointment in not being able to eat the foods she loved, her messy house that she felt embarrassed of, her pride in Nicole for going back to school, the awe in Tawny for taking on the task of raising a new family all while watching her family change drastically, and the faith that Matt would find his way through all this pain and her absolute confidence he would be the greatest dad, just like Scott.

And I have this, this most powerfully human moment in her hospital room:
She was intoxicated on morphine and pain. She was already, nearly dead - mostly incoherent and somewhere only those close to knowing death knows.  I got close to her face because I wanted her to see only me.  "Karen," I said, "It's me, Bre."  She opened her eyes and lifted her right hand up to my cheek and touched my hair that fell in front of my eyes; she stroked my cheek as I spoke.  She needed to feel the tangible presence of who was speaking to her.  "Karen, I just want to thank you" I said, "I'm not who I am without you.  I don't know where I'd be without you.  You have been my mom and I love you and I'll miss you and I hate this.  I hate this so much but I love you."  She made a noise, as if tears were going to fall, and she mouthed the words "Oh honey" to me.  I dropped from her view because I didn't want her to see me anymore, I didn't want her to feel sadness for me or with me.  I just wanted her to be on her journey of letting go and for once, not worry about me.  She fell quickly back to that place of unknowing and I sobbed heavily on the side of her bed while Matt and Branna sat silently wiping their own tears.   

I have these moments.  They may be small moments but they complete my life, fill the holes, band-aid the scars, and stitched my heart.  Although her heartbeat no longer makes music with my own; these moments compose a quiet symphony of strength that I rely on daily.  

Matt, Tawny, and Nicole, 

I don't have the memories that you have of trips to the park as a child, Christmas' gathered around the tree, your long car rides accompanied by long talks, doctor's visits, or even your fights.  I don't have those moments of your first days in daycare or school when you missed her so fiercely you thought you'd explode of sheer loneliness.  I don't have every single family dinner that she proudly placed on the table nearly EVERY night or the tears you silently shared with her in the most unbearably sad moments.  I don't have the stories she read to you before bed or the worried look on her face when you came home after curfew.  I don't have the moments that you saw her shed tears and the helplessness you felt in wanting to erase her sadness.  I don't have your first driving lessons in the car - oh but I can imagine!  I don't have these moments of tenderness because I have others that were designed for me.  This post is meant for me but it's meant for everyone who reads this and especially for you three - my family through her...
I know what you feel missing her daily.  I know your struggle, your confusion, your sheer and utter anger.  I know the desperateness, the loneliness, despair, and frustration.  But I also know, that if I hadn't of allowed myself to grow close to your mom after my own mom died than I wouldn't have known peace, serenity, understanding, and letting go.  I wouldn't have known that it's okay to miss but also to grow close to another even though I take the risk of losing and loving someone all over again.  I hope you allow yourselves, when you're ready, to allow someone to love you as your mom loved me because she has been one of the greatest gifts this Universe has given me. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

To: Bean, Love: Mommy | Part I

My Dear Nollie, 

Four years ago my life changed forever because you entered into it. You will know this love one day, I hope, and you will love as intensly and selflessly as I try to.  

There is no conceivable, measurable amount to the depth of my love for you.  It is farther than the farthest galaxy and deeper than the deepest parts of the oceans.  As I have told you before and will tell you again, it is in every color of the rainbow and can be as loud as a lion or as soft as a whisper.  Sometimes my love feels big to you and sometimes my love feels small to you but we carry it together because it is with you that it came to be what it is.  I can't know if I had this love before you and it grew brighter or if you brought it with you through your grand entrance but it is ours.

You told me, not so long ago, that your "most favorite" part about being a baby was being naked with me at the hospital because it was silly and funny and special.  It's not my place to say what you remember and what you don't because in this instance, memory has nothing to do with the message.  You know, as I do, that birthing you was as breathtaking for me as it was to be you on that very day.  
My bean, I had no idea that in an instant, my love and my heart and my existence could be completely transformed into unrecognizable territory.  Who I am as a mommy is greater, fiercer, braver, funnier, sillier, and smarter than who I ever was before.  I had been shaped and molded, fine-tuned and oiled, inspired and intrigued in a matter of seconds.

I had always had these ideas in my head about the importance of a nuclear family; a family that lives together, eats together, and sleeps under the same roof every day of the week.  A nuclear family was something I wanted with passion and vigor.  As you know, it has not been this way.  Some days have been difficult, some have been crawl-out-of-my-skin unbearable, but most days give me blocks that I use to build me a new way of being.  It is our life, as perplexing and unpredictable as it can be, and I am trying to teach you to embrace it in all it's non-traditional glory.

 It has been these four years that have proven our strength and resiliency as a duo.  Through my discipline and rules, you have found a way to be my best friend.  As unmotherly as this might sound to most mothers; I look to your opinion when I make nearly every decision of my life.  I value your four year old intelligence and wit, your untamed heart, and your unsoiled-by-society perspectives.  My favorite quality about you is that you are as intuitive about human behaviors as I am, so much so, that if I am distracted while you are speaking to me, you have been known to say, "What did I just say mommy?  Because you weren't listening."  And when I tell you to be careful with new toys, you have been known to offer age-old wisdom: "It's just a toy Mom.  A toy. It's okay if it breaks." 

I have tried to be as transparent as I possibly can be, as a mommy and as a human being.  You've seen some of my ugliest traits, you've witnessed me at my weakest, and you've triumphed with me in the most mundane celebrations (mommy got her oil changed finally!).  We have had some challenging roads and there's no doubt we will travel more challenging ones in the future but know that I will always try my best to walk alongside you while we endure them together.  I will always respect you and your independence while balancing my mommy instincts of what you are ready and what you are not ready to experience.  

To know you is to love you Nollie Bean.  You are spunky and funny, kind, stubborn, grateful, and creative.  Watching you grow and change into the "big girl" that I'm proud to call my daughter has felt like my privilege, my gift, the ultimate adventure in my learning and life.  

Here are some of my favorite qualities about you: 
You are inquisitive and curious and intelligent. 
You are a collector of trinkets.  
You love strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries and are known to eat an entire carton in one sitting.  
You are not afraid to tell your dad and I that grandma makes better "chopped chucky" and oatmeal or that the toy you were just gifted should go to the Goodwill.  
You move your body to any kind of music.  
You are tentative around loud and abrasive persons.  
You ask permission, most times.  And you say your apologies even if it takes a time out to say it.  
You'd rather be outside than inside.
You could take or leave TV. 
You already know how to devour a good book.
Critically thinking is one of your strongest assets and I hope you never lose it. 

Sometimes I watch you sleep; your little lashes flutter and your mouth a perfect pouted rosebud.  In those moments of sheer silence I think of all the things I can't give you yet and all the areas that I am lacking in your perfection.  But Bean, I am confident that one day when all is said and done, we will both know that we have all we will ever need.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tiffany & Steven | Married!

It started with a facebook message: 
"Your photos are fabulous and you have an eye for sweet moments! Let me know if you are interested in doing weddings and if you have a ballpark on prices. My date is 9-15-12 and we haven't decided on a photographer." 

My thoughts:  
"Surely she has GOT to be kidding."  

What I said to my roommate: 
"I just got this message inquiring a price to shoot a wedding.  There is no possible way I could ever shoot a wedding.  I'm referring her. That's too much pressure." 
What my roommate with doe eyes and a shrug of her shoulders said: 
"Well?  You never know."

Truth is: I wanted to dodge shooting this wedding.  I wanted to weasel my way out.  I suggested another photographer.  I even told my very first bride-to-be everything that a scared out-of-her-mind-first-time-photographer only thinks; A) I've never done a wedding solo before, B) I'm not very confident at posing people, C) I don't have all the right equipment, D) Are you SURE?!?"  And my bride-to-be, who at this very moment turned into my savior said, "If you don't get [image x,y,z] than the sun will come up tomorrow."  

And, with that, I told myself?  Grow up Bre.

The insecure, less than confident photographer inside my brain told me to scram and that I was way out of my league and I had absolutely no business collecting money for something I thought I was less than adequate in and the insecure, less than confident photographer in my heart said, she's giving you the chance you've always wanted.  Take it and RUN with it you crazy lady!  

But of course this story is only half mine, or really, not at all mine.  Tiffany gave me a chance because she liked and agreed with my vision as an artist.  I think I can say with confidence that she appreciates the flaws as much as she does the perfections, because if not, she would have never hired me to capture the day that will only happen once in her lifetime.  I felt and still feel privileged and honored to celebrate in her and Steven's day.  I feel a kindred spirit in Tiffany for the tenacity and resiliency that glows from her and a fondness for Steven who adores those very things about her.  

It is so cliche when I hear people say "they are meant to be" but to be honest, I don't even care how cliche I sound to myself right now because these two...they are meant to be.  It's as if they are an old married couple already together for 40 years.  They were "for better or for worse" before they ever said "I do."  And oh how sweet that day was.  Tiffany spent endless hours and countless days working on details from her "here comes the bride sign" to the hangers for her bridesmaids dresses down to the kid's take home bags that she forgot to give them because she was so wrapped up in being in love with her husband...which is exactly how it should be.  I'll stop with the gushing...see for yourself!

Be sure to check out the slideshow (which includes two of the bride and groom's favorite songs) at the end of this post for the full wedding and Steven's epic air guitar solo!


 Steven bought Tiffany a solitaire necklace.  I think her expression is priceless..

 To see more of Tiffany and Steven's wedding day, watch here!
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Saturday, July 7, 2012

This is how he say's "happy anniversary:"

I love you too Alex.  

And thanks... 
for putting up with me.
for being patient with me. 
for loving my daughter as if she's your own.
for honoring my relationship with her daddy.
for teaching me, through example, that our dreams can be our life.
for leaving me speechless at least once a day.
for calling me out on my bullshit, and still loving me afterward.
for being honest, always.
for believing in me as a mom, a student, a "picture-taker," a writer, a training therapist, a girlfriend.
for picking me up when I fall, and than picking me up again...and again...and again.
for staying true to you.
for finding me.

Thanks for being my boyfriend all year.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Good greif!  I say.  I’ve had enough of that (literally).
It's time for some happiness.
Let’s jump right in.

I have this little dude in my life named Cole who is ¼ brother, ¼ son, ¼ miracle, and ¼ awesome.  He was born six years ago to my ¼ mom, ¼ best friend, ¼ sister, ¼ arch-nemesis.  He really is a miracle, in every sense of the word, if you believe in the word.  And she’s really not my arch-nemesis but sometimes, in the back corner of my mind when all the good griefs of life seem to take up the shades of gray that make life manageable, my anger surrounding orphanhood comes out on her.  When I say she takes all the blame, I mean it. 

Cole is Megan and Doug’s miracle.
Cole is a miracle because Megan couldn’t have kids. 
He’s a miracle because she conceded to “not want kids.” 
He’s a miracle because she was told in a cold emergency room, at month six, to go home and let the baby die and come back when it’s over. 
He’s a miracle because, after too many miscarriages, he was the persistent and resilient one.

Cole is my miracle too.

I found out Cole was on his way when I was 18, in my first year of undergrad.  I was jealous and angry in the knowing she was pregnant because I conjured up the worst-case scenario: that Megan and Doug will have something to love more than me.  It’s sort of like when you drop your second scoop of ice cream from the cone, right after the first scoop.  My feelings were so unbearable around the subject that I made no room for absolute elatedness at said miracle.

I didn’t see it at the time but Cole would be the cornerstone of the rebuilding of my existence.  People were being stripped from my life like a band-aid but Cole was the golden nugget of hope.  He was the piece de la rĂ©sistance.  He was placed into my arms on September 27 (because I waited a day to meet him, par for the course in delaying acceptance) and in lesser words he said, “You’re going to love me while you’re still missing people.  You didn’t know you could do that, did you?  I’m going to be worth the letting go.  It starts now.” 

And so my journey with Cole and my acceptance of life started.  My learning was slow as molasses and the telltale signs of growth were not so “telltale” but I had his consistent growth to encourage me along.  I was slowly opening my zipped up heart while he was reaching for objects.  When he learned how to kiss, I felt myself reweaving the silver thread of lining that I had previously tore to shreds.  He took his first few steps and I, in turn, took the necessary ones to change the direction of my sails.  We explored the world together.  I found awe in the same intricacies of a flower as he did.  We pointed at clouds and the moon and found a hiding place underneath the neighbors old willow tree.  I threw rocks into puddles with him, shared the first taste of brownie batter together, and collected the coolest sticks.  My favorite part was when we danced in the kitchen together, when no one was home, and my companion slowly taught me that the development of goofiness could move me through the resistance of change. 

Cole’s lessons come from a place of pure youth but his lessons are as old as time.  I have kept a journal of some of his lessons over the 6 ½ years that he has been with us.  Enjoy.