Posted in LGBTQA, writing

THEY WERE HERE (12/06/17)

On December 6th, we were able to stop again on our way back to South Carolina to pay respects at Pulse in Orlando, the sight of the now second biggest massacre in American history. Since June 12th, 2016. We’ve already had something top it.

What a sickening thought.

I believe my first trip to Pulse was late last year or early this year, and it was just as painful to witness and behold. There is no preparation for what you will feel when you pull into that lot and imagine what happened there, the senseless carnage and the cruelty.

The surrounding community has most definitely not forgotten these beautiful souls – even the Wendy’s across the street, where we changed clothes before the long ride home, had encouraging signs stressing the need for acceptance and equality posted behind the counter, and a framed print listing the names of the lives lost that night. From the window of the Wendy’s, you could have a burger and stare at the memorial. The sad thought turns my stomach. The crosswalk in front of the club had been painted rainbow, and ONE ORLANDO signs hang boldly for all to see.

It makes me so profoundly happy to see that this place is being taken care of. A live Christmas tree is up now, with jugs of water placed nearby, encouraging those who stop by to tend to it. And they do. People protect this place.

A sign, attached to the official Pulse sign, which is new as of my last visit, states that it will eventually be a permanent memorial and museum. Not a single soul is unrepresented or forgotten. I am so grateful for the people who are tirelessly tending to this precious place, who are keeping hate away from it. Who plant flowers in multicolors and share smiles and urge us, the shocked and horrified passersby, to walk away from this painful place feeling inspired to be kind, understanding, and above all things, tolerant.

I’ve included photos below the cut, with a trigger warning because of the obvious reference to LGBTQ+ violence and slaughter. As I’ve said before – I do this not out of voyeurism. I want people who are not able to visit Pulse, whether for travel reasons or perhaps just an emotional unreadiness, to know that these people have not and will not ever be forgotten. I’ll never stop visiting them and praying for them.

I was not a Pulse attendee. Orlando is not my true home. But I identify as a pansexual woman who spent many nights at my own personal Pulse with my many LGBTQ+ friends, feeling safe and free to be ourselves in a designated “safe space”. In many ways, that innocence is lost – there is no such thing as a safe space anymore. But all we can do is promise to remember, and to do our absolute best to prevent it from happening again.

There will always be a Pulse, as long as we promise to never forget. And I never will.

Continue reading “THEY WERE HERE (12/06/17)”

Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, turning 30, writing

Every stumble & each misfire

Oddly enough, I have been surprisingly calm about turning 30 – maybe even a little excited, dare I say? In all honesty, my calmness has been entirely shocking to me. Typically by the time September rolls around, I start to get that metallic, anxious taste at the back of my throat because I start thinking about aging and lost opportunities and all of the societal terrors that are ever so kindly imposed on women. In the week before my birthday, I am at my worst – crying, panicking, and most of all, in an endless cycle of self-loathing and self-criticizing. I have never handled birthdays well, no matter what the age – any mention or reference to aging has always been enough to make me clench my buttcheeks hard enough to suck an entire chair up my ass, legs and all – but somehow, when it comes to this one, I feel cool. Seriously. I feel pretty cool. This tells me that I’m either growing up or about to have an absolute mental breakdown – is there even really a difference between the two?

Continue reading “Every stumble & each misfire”

Posted in MENTAL HEALTH, writing

BEFORE/AFTER

I have been living with a pain in my neck and shoulders for the past few days that feels like some sort of stress-born entity has planted roots and taken up a permanent residence inside of me, tendrils coiling lovingly around the knobs of my spine. Very matter of factly did it move in, like I had no choice or say in it at all. I never even thought to fight it, never even thought I had the right to. I am and always was bound to be the corporeal home of this being – was always meant to carry this weight.

I lay in my bed and I study the world around me through the tiny screen that is my way out – I compare, I compare, I hate myself, I hate everything about who I am. How did all of these lucky people that I know get to become able, capable, confident? What exactly is it that happened to me to make me so hard on myself? I try to look back on my life and pinpoint it – was it a childhood trauma,  some deep, emotional disturbance? I don’t know. But every day feels like I’m tip-toeing closer to the edge of a cliff.

What happens next? What do I do? Who am I? I don’t know.

Agitated, agitated. I’m happiest alone, but I crave motion, company. Stillness makes me nervous. I don’t feel like myself anymore, I haven’t for years – I constantly think back to the “old me” and wish I could find her again, she was fun, she was free, she wasn’t afraid. Instead I feel restless, old, stuck, uneasy, caged – I can NEVER see the forest for the trees. Summer is hard for me – summer is always hard for me. I want to say that I am not okay, I want to scream it as loud as I can until someone hears me, but I can’t find my voice, and even if I somehow could, what would matter? What would change? Those who want to help me annoy me most. I’m too tired to talk, it takes too much energy to try to make anyone understand that I feel like I’m already gone.

I am aware that time is flying and I can feel it, sticky and hot, as it rushes by and sucks the breath out of me, but somehow I still seem to be exactly where I’ve always been, watching everyone else pass me by.

Always watching.

Jealousy and spite are getting the best of me, I am a bent and bowed creature, labored and wanting. I don’t want to work, I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to do anything at all. I feel dumb, sluggish, my once attractive features warped into a constant ugliness that is all that I can ever see or fixate on. If I could pick myself to death, skin clean from the bones, I would, and with a smile.

I have lost sight, I have lost hope, I am unfocused. I search for answers, I have no answers, there are no damn answers. I hurt and I hurt and I hold it because I can’t bear to share it, can’t stand the feeling of my guts hitting the floor as I pour them out.

 

Posted in LGBTQA, writing

ORLANDO

If there is anything that I can say with absolutely certainly about my early childhood, it is that homosexuality was no big deal. It was a concept that I quickly became familiar with, and I knew all that I needed to know about it: it was just something that some people were.

Though I became familiar with homosexuality at a very young age and knew and understood what it meant to be homosexual, it was just a part of my life that required no further explanation. I cannot stress that enough. I never had to ask my parents awkward questions, I never needed further help on the topic. As I saw it, some boys kissed boys. Some girls kissed girls. It seemed really simple. I just innately knew from a very early age that the gender of who I loved or was sexually active with didn’t matter, and honestly, it just seemed like a really stupid thing to get your panties in a bunch about.

I got to live in this beautiful bubble for awhile – where gay was gay and gay was totally okay – but by the time I reached middle school, the jig was up. I started to understand that being gay wasn’t so black and white – rather, it wasn’t a thing that you just could be with any semblance of ease. I felt like a fish out of water when I started to look around and see the behavior towards homosexuality – it was “disgusting, unnatural, perverse”. Even more confusing was when people were accused of being gay that weren’t – like the term “gay” was a bad thing? Something actually insulting to be called? In middle school, if you didn’t throw a football well enough, you were a “faggot” – even if you WEREN’T. It was sort of like how I learned that “fat” was an insult that could be hurled at anyone, and it was the worst thing – it would bring a twiggy, long legged girl to her knees with self doubt. I had always been fat and knew it was “bad”, so I accepted what was dealt to me – but I never could quite understand how being gay had similar connotations. This was the first time that I began to make gay friends, and I bonded with them in solidarity, and fought for them like a lioness defending her cubs. But the wool had been pulled back from my eyes – the naiveté of early childhood was gone.

Then I got a little older. High school. You can only imagine all I learned about “being gay” in those hallowed halls. Still, I was confused. Why was this a bad thing? Why were my friends hurt and abused because they were gay? The bullying dialed up to 11. The Southern Baptists told my friends matter of factly that there wasn’t a space in heaven for them if they didn’t change. I watched them cry as they turned from their churches out of fear and shame, watched them live in fear of their parents finding out who they truly were and what the cost of the truth would be. “Faggots” were targeted, chairs kicked out from under them, their lives a constant living hell. To this day, I thank God that we were the last generation before social media really became rampant – because I don’t think some of those jackals would have let some of my friends out of high school alive.

As I left high school, I left with one truth: in the eyes of the great majority, it was somehow not okay to be gay. And if you were gay, you either un-gayed yourself and un-gayed yourself quick, according to the Southern Baptists – or you hide your “shame” for the rest of your life.

Well … I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand for that.

As it always does, and as none of us truly believe it will, life goes on after high school, and what we were afraid of then becomes the catalyst to who we will inevitably become – whether we choose to stay afraid, or if we use what we suffered as a launching pad to our personal evolution. At this time in my life, I was pretty clear on hatred towards gays. My gay friends, previously proud and bold and jubilant, ran back into the closet and slammed the door with the force of a thousand suns.

And throughout all this time, I was just there – I was there when they hid their true selves in public, and I was there when, as we grew up and away from high school a little bit, they tiptoed, absolutely terrified, back out of the closet. I was there for them, because they were there for me. After all, I had always been different: fat, mental problems, a little dramatic, weird as hell, way too damn much eyeliner – and the gay community embraced me with open arms. I quickly and happily blended in to the gay clubs where we all sought refuge from the real world with a relieved glee. Many, many happy nights spent drinking and dancing, covered in glitter, light up the memories of my early twenties like so many stars now.

(Funny thing, though – you always wanted to get out of the parking lot and into the club as quickly as you could – you could just never be sure who was watching, and how safe you’d be. This is around the time that I learned about hate crimes.)

There’s a secondary part of this story, too. While I’ve always designated myself to ally – defender and militant supporter of the LGBTQA community – the truth is that I’ve always grown up knowing that I liked both boys and girls. And not just that. I liked trans girls and boys, too. I have never have labeled my sexuality for the same reasons that, as a child, I just couldn’t understand the big deal about all of this – and also because I just didn’t really know where the hell I fit in. And though I tended to crush mostly on boys and slept mostly with boys – but simultaneously liked girls, trans people, and basically anyone who interested me – I just thought that, at most, I was straight with a dash of extracurricular interest. Maybe bisexual – but even then, I didn’t feel like that fit. I couldn’t claim that, because there was more to it, a wider berth.

As I grew older, really, only in the last year or so, and my knowledge of queer culture deepened, and I realized what I am: pansexual. “One who can love sexuality in many forms. Like bisexuality, but even more fluid, a pansexual person can love not only the traditional male and female genders, but also transgendered, androgynous, and gender fluid people.”

FINALLY. Something that makes sense.

So when I think about what happened in Orlando over the weekend, I can’t help but feel sickened. Sickened because I know what it’s like to want to be with your friends in a safe place. Sickened because I’ve watched my gay friends be broken and abused for who they are. Sickened that some assholes right now are coming out to say that these people that were senselessly slaughtered deserved this because they aren’t right with Jesus. Sickened because this has been my community all along and I was too ignorant to realized it.

I thought earnestly about what I could do to help – the answer is not much. There is just no way to plug the gaping hole left in the LGBTQA community, or our nation. But what I can do is claim this as MY community now, and fight LOUDER & HARDER – fight tooth & nail for our rights to safety and freedom. I am a part of the LGBTQA community, formally and proudly. MY community was attacked. I am not okay with that. And while kind, no amount of thoughts & prayers will fix what has been broken. We have got to take a look around, every single one of us, and find the common denominator in these issues.

And then we have to fight like hell to stop it.

So here’s what you can do. If you are a straight ally, start talking about why what happens hurts and disgusts you. Start talking to anyone who will listen. Hell, even a retweet will do – don’t ignore this because you think you aren’t involved, or because this isn’t your community. This is not just about gay people, but your brothers and sisters in humanity. Fight for them.

If you are a girl who likes girls but also likes boys and also likes trans people but don’t know where you fit in – you fit in right here with the rest of us. You are a part of this, and don’t you dare feel any differently. Fight for them.

And finally, to those who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons, I won’t and could never change your minds, and I respect that: but I do beg you to be civil, gracious, and generous. Stop telling people they are going to hell. Stop making Christians look like terrorists themselves. Stop being cruel. Stop turning away from people that are different than you. And most of all, get down on your knees and thank God that it wasn’t your church that was attacked – because it could easily have swung that way (and has been before in the past) – and rise above your egos. FIGHT FOR THEM.

If a kid like me could figure out the truth about homosexuality at the age of six – IT’S NO BIG DEAL – then I think we should all be able to grasp it. Support it or not, whatever, do your thing – but remember this: who other people sleep with is really no damn big deal. And one should not have to DIE or even ever feel one second of fear in order to assauge the insecurities of a sick and twisted man who let his ignorance and fear breed hate.

To those that were lost in Orlando last weekend, eternal love flows as your community weeps for you, and you will never be forgotten.

 

Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, turning 30, writing

FORTUNATE

I’ll be thirty soon. In just a little over 3 months.

It feels hard to believe and also just right, you know? Like, wow. I can’t believe I’m not 11 and listening to Hanson and waiting for Taylor Hanson to eventually deflower me. And also like wow, I can’t believe I’m 29 and listening to Hanson and still wish it had been Taylor Hanson who deflowered me. Somewhere in between all that.

I’ve become quite introspective as my twenties have gradually started to draw to a close, which I feel is probably very normal – sometimes I look back at the last decade and ask myself “what the hell did you waste all that marvelous, youth-laden time for? You should have done so much more!” And other times, I look back and I laugh and cry and thank God Almighty that I have seen and done so many of the things that I have, because life moves so quickly that sometimes I forgot how great it has been – and truly, life has been kind of wild.

Though I’m reaching this milestone birthday that (to me, at least) is supposed to really signify the crossover into full blown adulthood, this place where I should be totally together and everything everyone expects of me – there are times where I feel less sure of who I am than ever before. Truth be told, I never really know what to think of myself.  Do any of us? Perhaps this is the last great hang up of my twenties – perhaps it will take much, much longer to figure out. I recognize that I get caught up a lot in living a social media life. I want my life to look pretty and I want you all to think that I’m interesting and fun and worthy of love, and I want to be someone that you want to know. I am very lonely a lot of the time, many times when surrounded by people I love – but I don’t want you all to think of me as lonely. I want to talk to you about my mental health problems, but I worry that I’ll do or say something and you’ll think I’m just “crazy”. And most of all, I worry that you think something must be wrong with me because I am single. That’s the greatest worry of all. Sometimes I want to show up on the internet performing tricks, juggling fire, belting arias, anything just to distract you from the fact that I’m single – because it makes me feel different. And feeling different makes me feel bad.

So I worry. And that’s silly, isn’t it? To worry about what people MIGHT be thinking of you. But boy, I am the queen of it.

There are many days where I struggle with who I am and with my life’s path, because let’s face it – three months won’t make me a together kind of girl. I won’t magic myself into adulthood just because the calendar says so. And I feel like a lot of times, I don’t have many people to turn to for guidance – I just don’t know any other morbidly obese, lipstick fiending, bipolar morticians who burst into tears at even the thought of Elton John… I’m kind of my own species, it feels like. I envy those who are excitedly getting married and having children right now, because that is so very, very adult. No one could ever question those people because they are doing typical adult things, and that makes them official adults, right? It is ridiculous to feel this way, because I’m literally envious of people who are getting things that I don’t want – but what I do want is to feel normal, and there are a lot more save the dates and baby bumps out there than there are morbidly obese, lipstick fiending, bipolar morticians. I’m not kidding when I say that sometimes it is my biggest shame that I am not another wife in a Lilly Pulitzer dress getting excited over flatware – I wish I had that in me, but it’s like a synapse that is misfiring – I can’t will myself to be her. I constantly try to cover up my life like a cat turd, because somehow I’ve convinced myself I should be ashamed of it. I still catch myself willing life to fast forward to the “good part” where I magically become some normal person who isn’t always so very, very, THIS.

But on good days, on days where I haven’t sunk too low into my worries, I try to grab ahold of myself, shake myself by the shoulders and remind myself that what I constantly  fail to acknowledge is that this IS the good part. It’s MY good part. And it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s good part.

Like I said, on a good day, when there are no triggers or setbacks or tensions, I love my life with such ferocity that my heart could burst. I feel gifted, truly, with the one thing that shames me the most: being single. If the perfect man or woman comes along for me, that’s bitchin, and I’ll be stoked – but that relationship could never be more valuable than the one that I’ve been building with myself as I am forcibly dragged into adulthood. There’s a reason I’m single,  and I’m not ashamed of it (at least not today – it’s a good day) – I’VE GOT MORE TO LEARN FIRST. I’ve got further to journey before someone else can come along, because I am, for some reason, lucky enough to be given both the gift of self knowledge, and the time required to truly learn who you are. I know that by society’s standards, I’m supposed to be a wife and a mom by now, and growing up, I never really thought either way about what would happen to me when I got older, but I assumed it would look like everyone else’s life – and the moment I realized that it didn’t and that it wouldn’t, well, I have been scrambling to camouflage my oddities ever since.

But really – when you divorce yourself from what you think your life should look like and focus on what actually makes you happy and who you want to be (and not who you want people to think you are), there is this freedom that you would have never ever been able to dream of. My grasp of this concept ebbs and flows, depending on the day. There is sadness, too, when you align yourself with this line of thinking, because with that acceptance also comes a certain type of goodbye to a person you’ll never be – goodbye, Ashley in a Lilly Pulitzer dress, picking out shades of paint for the guest bedroom – but the pain feels worth it, somehow. Like that girl had to die so I could truly live. I mean, that’s sort of harsh, but you feel me. I’ll never know (well, I guess I will, I’ll ask Jesus about it after I die, right after I ask him who really killed Jon Benet Ramsey) why I’m meant to be eternally marching to the beat of my own drum, but who knows – maybe I’ll magically figure it out when I turn 30. For now, I’ll just keep wondering and marching. Well, maybe I’ll march more towards October – it’s getting hot outside here and I’d like to avoid boob sweat.

What I wish I could stop being ashamed of is simply just being who I am and feeling the need to explain away all of the things that I see as flaws – how the hell did I get to be this way?! Why am I the rudest person my self has ever encountered? And what I need to constantly remember is to STOP COMPARING MY LIFE TO OTHER PEOPLE!! We can all be happy and different and it doesn’t make me less to be just one person and not part of a pair. If the greatest relationship I ever have is with myself, then that’s awesome. If I find someone else who is a match for me, that’s awesome, too. But this mentality of thinking that I’m not enough or not on the same level as my peers because I don’t have a baby or a husband/wife – I hope that toxic thinking is the first damn thing to go when I turn 30. Because I’m more than enough. Hell, I’m too much – and not even in a braggy way. Just literally. I’m exhausting.

Above all things, I just want to  be grateful for this season of MY life – all seasons, really. Things seem so difficult and meaningless and frustrating all of the time, and I complain the days away and bitch about what is and what isn’t – but if I had to be honest and sum my life up with one word (other than “lipstick”), the first thing that comes to mind is “fortunate”, and that kind of blows me away, you know? I was so surprised, when it appeared, quite taken aback – but then  I nodded to myself. Yeah. Fortunate. Sounds about right.  

 

Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, FUNERAL SERVICE, MENTAL HEALTH, PHOTOGRAPHY, SCHOOL, writing

Summertime Sadness

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Well, it is unofficially and undeniably already here – my very own case of summertime sadness (thanks, Lana, for giving such a clever name to that listless and unfulfilled feeling that haunts me from late May until early September).

I’ve got a lot going on these days. I’m working full-time as apprentice funeral director/embalmer, I’m going to school full-time (which involves traveling an hour and a half away twice a week to Piedmont Tech for biology classes after work – meaning I don’t get home until nearly 11 PM at night) – this plus the rest of the coursework for other classes and trying to maintain sanity as I learn an entirely new career that isn’t quite so simple (I mean, embalming a human body is a little more complicated than working as a cashier at Target, and I can say that with confidence, as I have done both) – my point being, I don’t feel good. I’m stressed, and stress is hard for me, because I take it to a bad place. I take it to a place of blame and self doubt and it is truly the sickest and cruelest thing I could ever do to myself. I feel sad a lot lately. I feel overwhelmed and stretched thin and all of the things that I love seem to go abandoned – like blogging, reading, crafting, etc. I know – at least I hope and pray – that all of this will be worth it in the end, when I have that degree and my apprenticeship is complete, but it is hard to give away your time when you feel like you have none to give, I guess. Especially now, during my personal hardest time of the year.

I’ve always been prone to summertime sadness – while everyone else is orgasming at the first mention of summer rolling in, I withdraw, isolate myself, go away inside – I’m mean, snappy, frustrated easily, angry – I don’t know why this is. I just know that I have never felt joy in this time. It has always felt like something to be suffered (probably because I have the good common sense to be revolted by 95 degree heat). And mentally, as far as my levels and mania and ups & downs go – this is where I always find myself at my worst and most desperate. So to have an already heaping amount of external stress dumped on top of a place where I’m already trying to hold a hand over an open wound in myself feels like a mountain I’m too tired to climb again this year. Already, my teeth are gritted, shoulders hunched, “can’t can’t can’t can’t” a steady mantra on repeat in my mind.

I thought that taking a mini vacation to Disney World before this semester began would be a really good thing for me, and in some ways it was (pics to come later) – I flew again for the first time in years and got over that major fear (HALLELUJAH), and that felt AMAZING – plus I had a great time with my best friends at one of my favorite places in the universe, so you really can’t complain about that. Sadly, some “triflin’ shit” got in the way of pure & total rest & bliss, and it put quite a bit of a damper on my relaxation, but that was also a learning opportunity, too, which I’m grateful for – I’m quite used to trying to constantly be everything for everyone, and I worry to the moon and back about everyone’s happiness but my own. Fortunately, the aforementioned “triflin’ shit” helped me to put my foot down and realize that sometimes I deserve to be happy, too. And I think that was a big step for me – and having that notion cinched in my mind is something I’m going to carry with me into the summertime sadness – I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY, TOO. There. I said it. It’s on the internet, so it must be true.

I think something important for me, at least during my bouts of summertime sadness, is to be mindful of my triggers, so I can at least step around the landmines as best I can vs losing my damn leg to one. But how to get past the depression? That, I have no clue. This is how I always end up around the beginning of September plotting my suicide and being irrational and out of control to the point that none of us – my family, my friends, myself – know how to handle me- I get so down that I can’t see up, only straight ahead.

I guess I just wanted to chat with myself on my blog and rationalize what I’m feeling. The first step to getting over or past any hurdle is to accept it, and I accept it – I’ve got the damn summertime sadness. It’s a real thing, it’s valid, and I’ve got to somehow gird my loins and try to make it through. And mostly I think I just needed a good whine, and writing always makes me feel better. I get so damn hung up about writing and trying to make it perfect, but none of it will ever be perfect – and I guess I’d rather post lots and lots of sullen or meaningless crap than look back and wish I had taken the time and wonder what I was thinking way back when.

Feel free to leave your favorite summer suggestions in the comments – just remember, I hate the outdoors, all people, places that aren’t air conditioned, and basically everything. Just kidding – I’d love to know your tips and tricks for summer fun – or, even more importantly, what helps you get through your own version of “summertime sadness”.

Till next time xx

Posted in LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, writing

BLUE MY MIND

Since the moment you started coming around, I kept a bottle of nail polish (OPI’s “Blue My Mind”) on the top right corner of my shower, for emergencies. The idea of you catching me with chipped fingernail polish could be likened to the horror that I would feel upon facing a firing squad, and it just wouldn’t do. So many nights I have jumped in for a quick shower before you came over & grabbed that bottle to touch up an imperfection while the steam clung to my body in the heat of the bathroom. It was exciting. It was thrilling. The act and art of readying myself for you was a ritual and routine that l always loved performing.

The polish remained long after you stopped coming around, but it was familiar to me, I didn’t want to take it down. I remembered the thrill, the excitement, it was a token of a time in my life that felt like being shot into space without warning – the thrill and the fear were delicious and always present. I looked at that bottle every day and thought of you and felt sad because I kind of missed the fear and the thrill. And that became routine, missing you quietly in the shower every day of my life.

I guess if I’m honest, I used to think that if I did take the polish down, if I did anything with it at all, it would mean something, would suggest something – would maybe even jinx something. I never know from morning to night what state of grace you and I are hanging in, if I’ll get a call tomorrow and be summoned to your side or if we won’t talk for six months – and though it was unhealthy to linger in that space with a fragile heart and a cluttered mind, I clung on to the hope that you would come around and I used this bottle of nail polish like a little life raft –  a bat signal, or a beacon or sorts – some little symbol that meant we existed, once, and that maybe you would find your way back if I left the light on (or the polish in the shower).

I have spent so much time in my life trying to fix what was meant to stay broken. For so long, I looked at my inability to reconstruct the ruined as a character flaw: it was wasted time, a failure on my part, I missed a bigger picture because I wasn’t smart enough to see it when it was right in front of my face. And I punish myself so hard for what I can’t control or change. You have been one of my greatest worries, right from the start. The way I felt around you at all times was like a human Jenga tower that was one block away from falling to pieces – and by God, was I determined to stay standing for as long as I possibly could, no matter the strain and effort. Because to care about someone so much, to feel that gross way your actual heart constricts when you watch them sleep and know that you love them so damn madly – to hurt for them and to go through hell with and for them – and then to shake hands and walk away from one another … it doesn’t feel real. It feels inhumane. You once knew all of my secrets and now we don’t even speak regularly. How can I let go of something so massive in my life? Doesn’t it HAVE to be something bigger than this?

It came to me the other day, as I was staring up at that little blue bottle –  maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe all we had is really just that. Had. Past tense. The realization was like finally exhaling when I didn’t even realize that I had been holding my breath. Somewhere between the shampoo and the conditioner, I realized that you might be my past, but that I also deserve to have a future that doesn’t necessarily involve you … and that’s okay.  It can all be just exactly as big as it was. We don’t have to talk about it or fight about it or try to reconcile it or make any big promises about doing better this time – we don’t have to do anything at all except just go on.

Just go on.

Somewhere, in another lifetime, perhaps, you and I are together, but we are different there. Maybe better, depending on how you look at it. Maybe I’m not afraid and maybe you aren’t selfish. Maybe I’m better at all of this, and maybe you are, too. Maybe we live together, or are married, or are just best friends. Whatever we are, wherever we are, it is fun and we laugh a lot. There is always blue nail polish in the top corner of the shower. That I know for certain. And this place is where we will stay, you & I. Never a waste of time, never a failure – just another lifetime.

I took the nail polish down today.

I may put it back up tomorrow. I don’t know. I don’t know. One day at a time.

You blue my mind once, it’s true – but maybe one day I’ll be ready to let someone else have a shot at it.

 

(also, please never read this, because I would actually die)

Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE, SCHOOL, writing

GLORY DAYS

Below is the first submission I made to my first class when I returned to school in February of 2014 to become a funeral director. We were asked to introduce ourselves, and I remember how exciting that felt – I was saying it out loud (well, typing it, really) for the first time: I’m here to become a funeral director. I’M GOING TO BE A FUNERAL DIRECTOR!

Now that I AM a funeral director & am back in school once again, this time pursuing my associate’s degree in mortuary science, I had to laugh at how Miss America I was about it all in the beginning – because this time around, I’m pretty I’VE F’ING HAD IT, bloodshot eyes & constant thoughts of murder about it all.

Long story short – I guess it is kind of adorable to look back and see how sweet and excited I was about it all in the beginning. This first semester back has been so damn difficult and draining, I won’t lie – I’ve had a few moments where I’ve been up to my eyeballs in never-ending work & have thought “weeeeeeellll do I REAAAAALLLY need to embalm, too?” (the answer is yes) – so I kinda needed to get back to that vibe – because at the rate I’m losing sanity this time around, I’m thisclose to abandoning my career and going to sell pretzels at Disney World for the rest of my life. Anyway, read on!

“For the past eight years, I have been working as a Cosmetologist, with a focus primarily on makeup application and hair cutting. My time at Piedmont Technical College will be spent earning my Certificate in Funeral Services.  For some, the jump from Cosmetologist to Funeral Director seems like a huge leap, but many of the same qualities necessary for a successful Cosmetologist can be translated into a future career in Funeral Services. While the idea of re-entering education as an adult did seem intimidating at first, I am looking forward to the challenge. I am excited to experience the next chapter in my life as a student.

Aside from my professional aspirations, I am a native of Greenville, South Carolina. I love to travel and see as much of the world as I can. I am always up for a spontaneous road trip spent in the company of good friends. I also like to go to as many concerts as I can, because music is very important to me, and is a huge part of how my friends and I bond. When I am at home, I enjoy spending my downtime time reading a good book, knitting, catching up on TV shows, or spending time with my family.”

Cute, right? I know, I know.

Back to the books.

Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, turning 30, writing

A LIFE WORTH WRITING ABOUT

Whenever I try to write these days, I feel a sense of panic that I can’t really put words to. Writing used to be my most natural and craved form of expression – every word, every exchange, every thought had to be documented once, twice, three times over. I was religious in my documentation, the telltale hump on the middle finger on my right hand always red and swollen. My diaries were my friends, my confidents, the only people who knew the truth about who I was, what I had done, and how I hurt. Like a fool, I took for granted the person I was and the life that I was naturally living, and instead used to cry to the fates and beg the universe for a life worth writing about. And then when one fell into my lap, when things were hot and fast and out of control, when I had EVERYTHING to suddenly write about – the pages slammed shut and I put away the pen.

I rationalized this because a lot of things that I needed to say were hard. And some things are just too hard to write about. So … I stopped, pretty much completely.

Can you blame me, honestly? It’s like, you try as hard as you can and work with a furious fervor to squirrel away the things that hurt into a place where they aren’t constantly falling back into your immediate line of vision – and writing is just purposely recalling blinding, white hot pain for the sake of …?

Of what?

What was the point of recalling what I barely made it through the first time? Then again, didn’t I always want this? Countless pages in countless diaries, wishing one life away to make room for another?  Oh, how I wanted to be a real, bonafide adult, like the ones on TV – to have all the mythical secrets of adulthood unlocked and for the taking. Wasn’t that the story that I kept waiting to write?

It is this narcissistic and frustrating combination of finite disinterest and fleeting whimsy that seems to be where I spend most of my time these days. All of the time that I wished away is exactly where I wish I could run like hell to now. Most days, I feel like a battery in a car that won’t turn over – you try as you might, but the damn thing just won’t do it.  Everything in my life, not just writing, falls into two categories – hard, or not. If it is hard, if it even SEEMS hard, I don’t even bother looking at it. Writing is hard, so I don’t do that anymore. Facing my fears is hard, so I’ll just turn away and not look. It isn’t that I don’t want to move forward, or that I don’t want to be present or progressive – I just can’t find the strength. But here I am. Ashley the adult!

Every day, I’m toeing the line between desperate to make a point and exhausted by the idea of even trying. Working around the deceased has made me siamese, one single body split, fighting two alternative visions. There are only so many times that you can artfully arrange the shell of what used to be a human being into a fancy casket before you make yourself look down and wonder what the hell we are all really doing here in this life. When death becomes real to you, really, really real, everything matters SO much. The fear of wasting a second of your life is all-consuming. I panic so often about not doing it (life) right – the same old fear of not living “a life worth writing about” –  yet similarly, I can’t help but feel that nothing truly matters in the grand scheme of things, because we all leave the same way – alone, and with nothing. Both viewpoints are right in their own ways, but there has to be some sort of middle ground that doesn’t leave me hollow inside and terrified of facing reality.

I have to laugh now when I think about the desperation of wanting to carve out “a life worth writing about” – it’s sort of like walking willingly into quicksand.  Before you know what you’ve done, you’ve gotten so far off track – one leg stuck in the muck, no escape foreseeable. I have spent SO much of my time in this life wishing for something better, something bigger, SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT – but I have very rarely been willing to actually work towards the promise of a better tomorrow. If wishing hard enough created reality, I would be the richest woman in all the world. But instead I am poor, because I have robbed myself blind. I’ve stolen my own ambition, I’ve bartered away my strength and confidence, and I’ve crippled and hobbled the purest and best part of me – my imagination – and replaced it all with cynicism and fear.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop wishing everything away, to stop questioning everything so damn much and just take each day one at a time. Because we do all die, and you don’t get a second chance, and you should never waste your time worrying or being afraid. Instead of letting that reality be my touchstone, I have spent nearly 30 years wringing my hands and wondering if I’m doing it all wrong. An entire life that has always been a game that I am playing against myself and am still somehow losing. If I could go back in time, i would shake my old self by the shoulders and tell her that life was and will always be worth writing about, even on the hardest day, and to never, ever lose that good and pure part of yourself. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be documented. Face your fears, every single one of them. Don’t NOT try because something might not come from it.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time here – none of us ever really get it all right – but the biggest one that I ever made was putting down my pen and shutting myself up because I got scared. It may take everything that I’ve got, and it may truly be for nothing in the end – but a life worth living, much less writing about, would not mean a damn thing without this, my purest expression, my most honest release. And I know that I can do this, because just like I know without a doubt that I would go back in time to tell my younger self to never stop writing, my younger self would visit me in the future and be shocked that I ever had.

Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

SMELL YA LATER, 2015

When the end of the year rolls around, you can’t help but look back in review at all that has happened to you and in your life throughout the last twelve months. That’s human nature. We tally it all up, all these events and changes and milestones, compare it to our neighbors and friends, decide whether it was a good year or a bad year, and then dismiss it. And a Happy New Year!

A year ago today was my first day at work at my old mortuary, and I remember thinking, as I walked into that place for the first time as an employee, “This is it. I’ll be here forever. I’m set for life”. I was going to work side by side with my best friend. I was finally doing what I wanted to do and have dreamt of doing for so long. It seemed like the best and maybe only way for me to get everything that I wanted. Maybe I was naive to think that, but I bought into what I was sold and I was committed to holding on to it, no matter what.

The coolest thing about life is how it will find a way to shake you up when you get too complacent, or when you settle for something that is beneath you, or that you weren’t meant for. I will always believe, with all of my heart, that I was always meant to work at that mortuary. I was. There was a reason for that. I was always meant to go through the hell that I did there – but I was never, ever meant to stay there, and once that became clear to me, I was able to address my truths: there is something more than this. There is farther to go than just right here.

So if anything, when I look back at 2015, and all of the pain and struggle and hurt that I endured, whether it be job related or not, what I think this year really taught me is that maybe we don’t always get what we want, but we do get what we need … and really, isn’t that better? One year ago, I really thought I had what I truly wanted. And what I truly wanted was to stay forever at that old funeral home with my best friend, even if it meant enduring mental and verbal abuse at a constant rate and being treated worse than an abused animal – because I somehow believed this was my ONLY chance to do what I wanted to do. But what I really NEEDED was to get out of that toxic environment so that I could discover my own freedom and greet what my future held.

I always get so sensitive about the new year, because it always somehow signifies aging and getting older, and the idea of 2016 definitely has the potential to be horrifying – I mean, I’ll be turning 30. I’ll still be a college student living at my mom’s house. None of these things are what I wanted – but they are what I needed. And no matter how many different ways I have tried to escape my eventualities, they have found ways to re-emerge and shake me up and humble me when I was lost.

I spent 11 years being friends with a girl that treated me like garbage, because I felt like I had to stick in because I had already devoted so much time. When I finally had the confidence and strength to cut her out of my life once and for all earlier this year, it felt like being born, it was that freeing. I felt so light and so happy and so able to be my true self without having her hanging over my head like a sick raincloud. Yet, like my time spent at my old funeral home, I will never look at that time as time wasted – I know that I was always meant to be friends with her, because in the end, she taught me a massive lesson about what good friendship meant, and her inadequacies taught me how to value and love and hold on dearly to the people I have in my life.

Similarly, I spent nearly two years on and off with a man that turned out to be married. I never knew until he slipped up and I figured him out. When I confronted him, he claimed that it was an open relationship, and he didn’t want anything between us to change. I thought that because I wanted him, that I could deal with it. Fear of the future and what it may or may not hold, fear of what I might never have again, fear of being alone … it all forced me to try to yield and settle for something that I “wanted”, even if I had to sacrifice myself and what felt right to me to have it. Eventually and thankfully, I realized, HEY ASHLEY. GUESS WHAT. You don’t need this. You don’t need this AT ALL. And I stopped speaking to him from that moment on. And what did I learn? An invaluable lesson about how I want to love and be loved in the future.

Her friendship, his love, that job – they were all things I wanted, but were never things that I ended up needing in the end. They were necessary evils, instrumental in teaching me lifelong lessons, but they were only ever just that. Placeholders on the way to bigger and better – and that is why they aren’t moving forward with me in life. Because I am learning to pay attention to the difference between what I want and what I need. And I am saying no to settling or cowering out of fear.

A month or two ago, I would have steadfastly looked back on 2015 and declared it the worst of my life thus far – but from where I’m standing here at the very tail end of it, it was actually the best. It was the freaking best.  What I lost could never, ever, ever be tallied up to be nearly worth what I’ve gained. I can happily say that I feel better and stronger and closer than ever to the person that I know that I was designed to be. I have grown so much in my life that I can’t help but only feel happiness, freedom, and excitement to see what comes next.

And that applies, shockingly, even to turning 30.

So goodbye, 2015, and thank you for all the things you taught me. I never saw you coming, but I’m so glad I finally learned to listen to what you were trying to tell me. And to 2016, you beautiful and terrifying beast, bring it on.